More numbers to chew on

In light of Dannel McCollum’s June 15th letter (“Board’s performance is a definite downer“) and a follow-up letter by Central alum Stephen Witt (“Central discussion is a confusing mix” – June 19th), I got to thinking about how we arrived at the place we are today. Which further inspired me to develop this timeline:




While doing the research for this, I stumbled upon a 2007 article which pretty much laid out some stark (and not very flattering) observations about how Unit 4 enters into these bond referendums (referenda?):


Another is a NG Guest Editorial written by Laurie Reynolds in 2011:


There are hundreds, if not thousands, of other details that did not make the cut for the timeline above; I even unearthed an ancient 1955 bond referendum. 🙂 There have been many efforts to discuss, adapt, upgrade, enhance, replace and build new schools over the past half-century. More recently, things like the Unit 4 “Town Hall Meeting”, the many “Community Dialogues” and the various surveys are not included either.


In conclusion, I noticed that Urbana is planning “Renovation without taxation“, also noted in this NG article: Urbana school board mulls building projects. I wonder if they hired a bunch of consultants to help them with that. I wonder how they built consensus (the article merely mentions that they have consensus, not how they achieved it, or who exactly is part of the group).



Bonus Points

Anyone interested in compiling all these facts into a dynamically zoomable Prezi?

where are all the people?

There are several big things floating around, a lot of great achievements and some things to watch out for on the horizon, occluded by various rumors. I am going to try to keep this positive but not in the warm-fuzzy-feelings kind of way, but rather in the look-at-what-we-can-accomplish-together kind of way.

First off, I have to give a big huge shout out to the Champaign-Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice (CUCPJ); they had a very significant victory over Champaign County’s plans to dump a ton of tax money into new jails. Instead, they have successfully argued for alternative approaches like new re-entry programs and services to keep folks out of jail in the first place. In my own personal experience, I have observed have fundamentally critical these two approaches are, and how severely they are lacking in our “modern” view of criminal justice. The folks at CUCPJ had an amazing uphill fight, but they carried the day. Perhaps what stands out to me is that CUCPJ operated within the confines of a hairy bureaucratic machine, which is no easy task in and of itself, but they did so with aplomb and perseverance.

On the topic of community citizens banding together for the good of the community, a reader forwarded the following story to me as an inspiration for what determined people can do:

What these two stories tell me is that when people unite together for a shared central belief, they can be powerful. Granted, in both cases you have passionate visionaries who do not waver at the sight at lawyers and persist through obstinate challenges.

With that in mind, Read the rest of this entry »

we missed you at houlihans (Sept 12)

Board Members Kristine Chalifoux and Tom Lockman were kind enough to join Chuck Jackson and I today at Houlihans. Kristine says the weather is utterly irrestible; I would tend to agree. 🙂


So you other three that were there will have to help me with the details. We spent a bit of time (on and off) exploring the idea of a shared vision, or a common inspiration, in our schools and our community. In retrospect, it is possible we succumbed to scope-creep from time to time; Kristine mentioned many times that some of the short-comings we have with community engagement is the entire reason we are hiring a public engagement firm. We reflected on Great Schools, Together a few times, in light of the obvious similarities and glaring differences. One thing I think we all agree on is that we cannot simply hand DeJong-Richter a grocery list and tell them to come back with full bags; we all have to walk and work side-by-side with DeJong-Richter to maximize the “investment” of their contributions (or contrawise, the money from our wallets).


We seemed to have some difficulty in identifying what was not working previously, in order to improve and/or mix things up and try a different angle of attack. What will it take to get our community engaged in the school district? Tom mentioned that the district and the board is putting a ton of information “out there” (ie, via board meetings, boardDocs, press releases, etc); I responded that while that was true, people are not able to access the deliberative aspects – the present forms of communication are essentially one-directional or siloed in the sense that some really great conversations are happening and nobody knows about them. I am convinced that people will engage more when they feel (keyword, “feel”) they are a part of the invisible clique, where they can join in the ongoing conversation by which their own thoughts and opinions are constantly in flux and being added to the general soup.


Kristine reminded us that there is a flip side, a side which she seems to very much regret gets overlooked – there are a lot of positive and good things happening. I would agree it is important to take a step back and look at how things have changed over the past 10, or even 2, years. Under Dr. Wiegand’s leadership, many things are starting to slowly change for the better. Personally, I know of how David Hohman is making changes to not only the website, but the underlying technology. Dr. Wiegand has initiated “safe environments” and given more freedom and more space for teachers and staff to lay out their honest thoughts. Others like Sheri Williamson are organizing some very beneficial events for students, parents and service providers. Tom is making stronger points that the board needs to get out in the community, while Ileana is paving the path on doing exactly that. Schools are doing awesome things, teachers are winning awards (or at least “running up”), some students are absolutely thriving in the current system. Yes, there are good and awesome things going on. No doubt.


We did not come up with any action steps like I had hoped. Unfortunately. But it was a good discussion. There were several points of irony that I will highlight because they are relevant. And even somewhat humorus. 🙂

1. Chuck Jackson and I have been meeting at Houlihans for close to two years, inviting any one who wants to join us. We who are trying to push engagement and involvement so much, have held several open forums, we only get a small handful of folks to join us at Houlihans. And even with that, we haven’t seen a new face in a long time.

2. The topic of Holly Nelson’s efforts to start a conversation came up. It came out that Chuck didn’t participate in her blog. Kristine had a hoot digging into that! 🙂 But I wish to say it here because it probably reflects a large part of our community; he felt that whatever he might want to say would probably already have been said. How many other folks feel exactly the same way, on any issue?

The High School dilemma: weighing the options

Giving out a shout out to Holly Nelson and her website about the study of what to do with Central. Especially take a look at the “booklet” she has created – very succinct yet also very informative:

I have read bits and pieces of the source document and research as it has accumulated, but have not taken it all in at one reading session, yet. Holly has done a great job exploring the topic and the options from many different angles and has presented as clear and as unbiased a picture as possible.

Now the task is ours to digest this information and figure out what we really want. Sooner or later, Unit 4 is going to send a PE firm asking similar questions, and then followed by a referrendum in which we all get to make a binary choice. The more we cogitate on this now, the better informed we will be and the more fruitful discussion we can have.

PS – Holly is presenting at the June 11th Board meeting.

High School Options Research

UofI Masters student Holly Nelson continues to make headway in her research of the various sites identified as possible locations for a new high school. She has a wordpress site up that is waiting for your perusal and comments:


In addition, she has also provided a nice 46-page document about the Social Impact which she will present at the April 23 Special Board Meeting (I have yet to read it, but have added it to my short-list).


UI researcher looking to interview parents about high school options

From Holly Nelson (

I am a masters student in UIUC’s Urban Planning program and I was a 2004 Central graduate. Given recent discussions in Unit 4 about building a new Central, I decided to focus on the school siting issue for my thesis project. I have been coordinating with the City of Champaign and Unit 4 but I’m also very interested in perspectives of community members. My research focuses on the impacts of choosing various sites (I selected five sites, meant to be demonstrative of a whole range of options), including transportation, social, environmental, and cost impacts. I completed the transportation analysis last semester and will likely be presenting the results at next Monday’s [Jan 23rd] school board meeting.

My goal with the project is actually not to make a specific recommendation (although I’m happy to share my opinion), but to make tradeoffs more explicit. I think we as a community can make a better decision if we know more about potential impacts. No solution is going to satisfy everyone but I think we can all be better negotiators if we can lay out the tradeoffs that must be made in order to reach a compromise.


If anyone is interested, please let her know. I am having an interview with her tomorrow (Friday) and can report back.