It takes a village, part 2

takes_a_village

In Kijita (Wajita) there is a proverb which says ‘Omwana ni wa bhone,’ meaning regardless of a child’s biological parent(s) its upbringing belongs to the community.

 
 
Previously, I mentioned I talked with Angela Smith and Orlando Thomas on the topic of discipline, a conversation which ranged into the topic of community partnerships and collaborations. Specifically, Ms. Smith and Mr. Thomas both suggested I talk to Ms. Karen Simms. It was great advice. 🙂
Ms. Simms presented at the Feb 13th BOE meeting – I encourage you to look through the documents posted on BoardDocs:
I recently had the privilege to speak with Karen Simms. I first gave a little background about why I had visited Ms. Smith and Mr. Thomas, namely Mr. Terry Townsend’s letter of complaint to the OCR. Ms. Simms indicated she was quite familiar with the Consent Decree and the Plaintiff class. She went on to say that one of goals of the Promise Zone initiative is to “build on the work of the consent decree”, specifically by changing policies and practices. This is important as district leadership and boards change over time.
When I mentioned that the information she presented on the Promise Zone looks like Imani Bazzell’s work with “Great Campus” and “At Promise of Success”, she said that Promise Zone “gives teeth to Imani’s ideas.”
I have a lot of respect for what Imani has done in regards to “Great Campus” and “At Promise of Success”. Here are two earlier blog posts on that topic:
I love it that certain entities have been working hard to create tailored environments for some of our most “at risk” children. I want to be careful about using a label like “at risk”; perhaps another way to say it is that Promise Zone creates a village for students that do not otherwise have a village. In Ms. Simms’ Feb 13th BOE presentation, on slide 5 she references the work of the Community Schools initiative (also shared at the Feb 13th BOE meeting) and that of Cradle to Career. At the bottom of the slide, she has a quote that is most apropos:

Community building must become the heart of any school improvement effort.
— Thomas Sergiovanni

A few years ago I suggested that perhaps we are asking the wrong question when we ask about money – we should be asking about how we can provide optimal learning environments. It seems to me that Promise Zone tackles this question for minority students that are currently not served well by the status quo.
In time, I truly hope this idea catches on and is able to scale up. I firmly believe we need more overlap and intersection between what we call “community” and “school”.
PS – for those that wish to watch the Feb 13th BOE meeting, it is up on Vimeo:

“It takes a village to raise a child”

Time and time again I have circled back to the thought that one or two parents cannot possibly bear the weight alone of nurturing, educating, training and preparing a child to live “in community”. And every time I bounce to this thought, I wonder “why?” What is it about parenting and raising kids that make it nearly impossible to do in isolation? And it occurs to me that parents themselves have not yet learned everything about parenting; we don’t magically acquire perfect child rearing skills once a kid pops out. And yet there is a much more subtle undercurrent that begs for attention on the topic of raising kids in society; “community” is not merely a telephone book of anonymous individuals. We see each other on the streets and sidewalks, we rub shoulders in grocery stores and libraries, we provide commodities and services for each other, we worship together in churches, but perhaps most importantly, we relate, socialize, talk with, and learn from one another. We are constantly changing, growing, learning – we don’t “arrive” at being parents, rather it is a long journey.

Having just finished Robert Putnam’s “Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis“, I came away with three main points:

  • it posits an excellent argument that by investing in the “have-nots” (whether you call them poor, low-SES, low-class, less educated, etc), we better our community overall more than if everyone only looks out “for their own”
  • throwing money at “problems” does not automatically fix them; the more impactful approach is listening to and caring for one another
  • there are no fast-acting, overnight solutions, much less a panacea; we have to be committed to the long-haul

The main point of Putnam’s book is that there is an “opportunity gap” widening between the “haves” and the “have-nots” of our nation. And perhaps what hit me the hardest is that a child does not have a choice into which environment she is born, yet that very environment stacks the deck either for or against her. Putnam carefully researches the differences in opportunity between 1960 and 2000 and discovers that one of the biggest factors in the “opportunity gap” is that the “haves” used to mingle with the “have-nots” much more than they do now. There is a strong correlation between the “opportunity gap” and how well the various classes are integrated. If Putnam were to expand his scope to other countries, I wonder if he would have found the same to be true elsewhere (I am thinking “yes”).

Like Lisa Delpit’s “Other People’s Children“, Putnam points out the many advantages of viewing all kids as “Our Kids”. I would go further and say, in alignment with Dr. Edna Olive of Rocket, Inc, that we are morally obligated to take responsibility for all the children in our community.

Todd Lash, an Instructional Specialist at Kenwood, recently wrote the first of many blog posts (*wink*) documenting the work going on at Kenwood via CTRL-Shift. Titled “Shifting Education Through Local Community Building“, Todd talks about the “powerful and transformative” impact of local learning communities for teachers (and building staff). He mentions that they often develop more questions than answers, which to me is perfect – they have formed an inquiry-based group that is traveling together on a journey. This is just one example of community coming together to make the educational experience for children more relevant by empowering students (and teachers) and providing students with the tools they need (ie, critical thinking skills) to live well in community.

Putnam highlights another “school-community approach” known as the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ). Local activist Imani Bazzell has worked with a number of groups to form “At Promise … of Success”, a form of “community schools” approach based on HCZ and tailor-designed for the north end areas near Garden Hills, Stratton and BTW. It is an excellent “wrap-around” system to provide for the educational and social/mental health needs of children and families in need.

Putnam does have a suggestion for those that want a “quick fix”. First, he suggests that all “pay-to-play” schemes for extracurricular activities be addressed, removing any and all barriers for those of “low opportunity” to participate. Second, he suggests you become a mentor. Or if I may extrapolate that a bit, be the “village”.

I will conclude this post by reflecting on a meeting I had at the United Way offices yesterday. I really love how the main thrust of United Way, both worldwide and locally, is to promote and sustain unity as a way to have a positive impact on their three pillars, Education, Health and Income. I learned about the different funding initiatives, how decisions are made, the desire to fund programs and not agencies, and even some of their struggles. In a sense, they are providing a basic “asset-mapping” service in regards to taking the pulse of the community, learning what the needs are, and working to facilitate those needs by partnering with service providers and donors.

I love that there are so many good things going on in our community. We have many awesome people, even some that are yet undiscovered. Who is awesome in your “village”?

Referendum discussions; candidate endorsements

The Young Dems North End Breakfast Club and NAACP have called a Town Hall Meeting this coming Sunday (March 15); the first item on the agenda is about an hour of moderated discussions on the Unit 4 $144 bond issue referendum item (2:30 – 3:45, moderated by Imani Bazzell and Patricia Avery). The meeting will take place at the Douglas Community Center.

 

There is a fair amount of confusion surrounding another potential forum on the referendum; board member John Bambenek tells me that Unit 4 actually did respond to the initial email from the League of Women’s Voters, but only to say that they had a conflict on the suggested night. I expect that within the next day or two, we will have more information that will clear this up, and perhaps another (third?) forum.

 

UPDATE: Nicole Lafond has a late-night response to the KCC invitation:

http://www.news-gazette.com/news/local/2015-03-09/champaign-school-board-will-respond-deadline-forum-request.html

 

Lastly, I have compiled endorsements for school board candidates into a table for easy cross-reference; I hope to add a couple more soon.

State of the District

Last night at the PTA Council meeting, Dr. Wiegand gave a “State of the District” presentation to those assembled – here is the PDF slidedeck of the presentation:

http://www.champaignschools.org/sites/default/files/news/files/StateoftheDistrict2015.pdf

 

I am told there were some additional things shared by folks like Marc Changnon on the awesome progress with trades, and others on the topic of computational thinking.

 

At 50 slides, it doesn’t take too long to flip through them all. I would direct your attention to the slides on the “Great Campus” idea (what Imani Bazzell has re-christened as the “At Promise … of Success” initiative); obviously there is more behind the scenes then what you can read on those slides. Pattsi is going to ask “what more is behind the scenes?”, so I will reference an earlier blog post:

https://thecitizen4blog.wordpress.com/2014/09/05/sept-8th-board-meeting-has-a-number-of-interesting-topics/

 

I believe Dr. Wiegand and Imani (and others) have been meeting on this topic a bit.

 

There are also a fair amount of slides on the U4Innovate initiative.

For me, I was disappointed about the lack of meat in the slides regarding Goal 2 (“community-involved planning process”). Also, the last goal (Goal 6) is about capital planning, and I would like to take some to chew on the HLS numbers a bit. I still very much want to see participatory budgeting come to Unit 4, especially in light of how the saga of the referendum is unfolding. My goal is to build consensus and ownership among the stakeholders so we are not constantly splitting votes down the middle and having these 11th hour pseudo-public debates about how to spend tax dollars.

Sept 8th board meeting has a number of interesting topics

There are some fascinating things being talked about at the Sept 8th BOE meeting next week. For those that are curious, you can view the agenda on boarddocs (you have to manually drill down, as the interface does not allow to “deep link” the agenda directly):

http://www.boarddocs.com/il/champil/Board.nsf/public

 

Three topics in particular jump out at me:

  • Community Schools Presentation: Dr. Judy Wiegand
  • High School Programming: New Central and Renovated Centennial: Marc Changnon
  • Memorandum of Understanding – School Resource Officer Program: Tom Lockman

 

 

Community Schools Presentation

This is the fruit of Imani Bazzell’s Great Campus labor; it is a reflection of the Coalition for Community Schools attempt to forge partnerships between the schools and the community. There is so much awesome wrapped up here, I hope you have an opportunity to look through the documents and digest this a little. Hats off to SisterNet, Root Causes, “At Promise … of Success” and everyone else involved; you all have done some amazing work.

One of the things that tickles me pink about this effort is that it specifically targets the special needs of at-risk kids, not by forcing them into some kind of standardized or institutional “program”, but rather it encourages the local community to embrace the children (and adults) in a way that is mutually beneficial. They are using the Harlem Children’s Zone as a model. I dearly hope that the larger community, not just the target zones on the north end, will be compelled and inspired to join hands with this effort as well. I know I want to plug in and play a small role in improving the community I live in.

Check out these links available on boarddocs:

 

High School Programming

Mr. Marc Changnon is just a really cool guy. 🙂 His presentation on being “college and career ready” is very similar to what board member Kerris Lee has been saying about the Center for Advanced Professional Studies (CAPS). There are a lot of imbedded ideas that really excited me about these initiatives, speaking as one who grew to abhor the traditional delivery of education the “higher” I got. I love the idea of project-based tasks, of students taking control of their educational path and empowering the students to think critically. I love the hands-on nature of these concepts, of not being satisfied with mere theory, but placing an emphasis on doing it, right now. And it really excites me that these experiences are being tied to larger, long-term life goals.

 

Memorandum of Understanding

Otherwise known as a MOU, this legal document is the result of the discussions and dialog surrounding the contentious decision to move forward with the School Resource Officer (SRO) program. It is my understanding that there is also a concerted effort to more frequently evaluate the program and provide a deeper level of accountability.

 

 

Of course, there are other topics on the agenda as well. If something perks your interest, feel free to share.

updates around the district

Today, Unit 4’s Stephanie Stuart and Carla McCrory of the Champaign County EDC are hosting another Twitter Chat, specifically about the high school “future facilities” and the November tax referendum. Use hashtag #AskUnit4, from 12-1:

“Don’t forget to join us today from 12-1 for an chat with on the upcoming referendum. Simply use the hashtag to ask your q!”

 

Kenwood recently had an Open House to kick off their Community Tech Center:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/KenwoodStars

 

Barkstall is looking for old (but working) computers:

“Miss Winters’ kindergarten classroom needs a couple of elderly laptops for listening stations.

 
We are digitizing her decaying books-on-tape collection. Anything capable of running Windows Media Player 9 (or iTunes 1.0) is good enough. Tiny hard drives. weak processors and minuscule RAM will not be a problem. An audio jack, however, is necessary.
 
Each will have a fresh OS install. Let me know if you need help wiping your disks.
 
Thanks Freecycle!”
 
On Wednesday, Imani Bazzell invited Superintendent Dr. Judy Wiegand an ACCESS Live at WBCP 1580 AM. The recording should be online soon (I will link it when I find out).

April 14th BOE meeting agenda has been posted

As I was typing up this post, it occurred to me that perhaps my tone is critical and even negative towards the school district. Know that I very much support Unit 4, and I love many of the things that are going on. Yes, I am critical – but I aim to be constructively critical. The main goal of this post is to raise awareness in the community on various issues and developments, to make people aware and maybe even to generate discussion. I am of the belief that the more we involve ourselves, the more we care and the better we can work together. Yes, we will always have differences of opinion. That is a good thing. 🙂

 

A number of items are on the agenda for Monday’s regular board meeting. One of the first things is a continuation of the future facilities discussion (aka, strategic planning):

We have spent time learning about several potential scenarios regarding our facility strategic plan.  The administrative team would like to recommend that the Board narrow the scenarios for consideration to Scenarios One, Eight, and Nine.    We believe that these three options have many positive elements to consider as we continue to work towards one comprehensive facility strategic plan. 

The three scenarios have been posted as well if anyone wants to compare them:

The meeting minutes from the last few meetings will be “approved” at Monday’s meeting, so we can’t see them, yet. For those that want to get “caught up” in this ongoing discussion, you will have to go back and watch the videos (Vimeo). The News-Gazette also has a bevy of relevant articles and “letters to the editor”. Several of those have a long list of comments from a small group of readers that make for interesting reading in their own right. If I had to summarize, I would say it like this.

The school district feels pressure to get a high school built because 1) previous administrations and boards didn’t do diddly squat to help plan or prepare for growth, and 2) the current projections for growth warn us that within the next eight years, we will be exceeding capacity at all schools. Right now, the school district is concerned that the high schools are already at 103% capacity. There also seems to be a huge amount of pressure to have schools ready for the “21st century”, but it is not clear to me where this comes from. On the other hand, the predominant voice I read/hear from those who are not Unit 4 employees orbit around feelings of frustration, anger and consternation. Especially about plans for land-hungry athletic fields, building out on the edge of town, contributing to sprawl and how much worse the traffic on north Prospect will be.

In the middle of all this, I reflect upon the district’s desire for “community involved planning.” There have been some token efforts in the past to engage and involve the community; much of the current planning and directives come from goals set forth in the 2008 “Great Schools, Together” project. Some of the decisions have been shaped a little by the 2012 DeJong-Richter work. And right now, the Facilities Committee is pretty much carrying the torch (the genesis of the “three scenarios” above). The deadline for the district to submit  a referendum for the November ballot is August, which leaves us with about four months. As expected, the Unit 4 PR machine is in full swing, with a lot of help from the sharp Shatterglass videos (more are in the works). What I long to see is an effort to build unity. How are we addressing some of the deeper issues in our community? What are the deeper issues of our community?

Don’t get me wrong, there are some really awesome things going on in Unit 4 – there is a ton of positive energy and excitement all around. Stephanie Stuart has been a “veritable cornucopia” of many of those things; there are also lots of really cool things going on with the Magnet programs, STEM at various schools (not just BTW), cultural understanding and appreciation via efforts of a group out of NYU and also local activist Imani Bazzell. The list goes on.

Back to the agenda.

This next one really concerns me, and I have to get my ducks lined up to make sure I am reading this right.

Agreement for Consulting Services Approval: Tom Lockman

Administration is recommending the approval of the Agreement for Consulting Services with the team of Gorski Reifsteck and DLR Group.

Architectural and professional services would be provided under this Agreement for a fee of $120,000.

 

There is a lot going on here. First off, Gorski Reifsteck was hired to the tune of some $60,000 last year to help the district narrow down the list of 16 different potential high school sites around Champaign down to one. So the fact that they are now being hired to consult on and design the school on a site where they acted as primary consultants in choosing seems a bit controversial to me. Second, this isn’t just about consulting on the architectural designs – this is also about promoting and building support for the November referendum; Gorski Reifsteck is going to be tasked with making sure at least half of the Champaign community votes in favor of a $100+ million referendum.

These raise my eyebrows quite a bit. Like I said, I need to chew on this some more and read up to make sure that I understand this correctly.

 

And to round it off, that previous RFP for 180 second generation iPads was upgraded to fourth generation because nobody wants to sell 180 IPAD 2 units:

Administration recommends the award of the RFP for iPad 4’s to Apple Computer for $68,220.00.

 

I am concerned about the push for “21st century” technology, and all these cool little gadgets (not to mention all the other computer equipment being purchased). I did follow up and talk to a few folks about the World Language program and how these iPads will be used. Again, there is a lot of positive energy and even synergy at various levels. However, there are some downsides as well. One employee I talked to said that they do not even want the iPads because they do not support Flash, and many of their programs require Flash. If the district is pushing these devices, what input from field staff did they take? How are the people who are actually using these things playing a role in the decision and planning of the utilization of technology in the curriculum? Also, in my own experience, using tools like eToys is a bit of a challenge on the netbooks; the trackpads are not that great for general navigation, and some of the finer details are really hard to appreciate. However, in the end what amazes me the most is how kids adapt! You give them a challenge and you watch them figure it out. It is so cool when that happens. Yet we have to figure out how to work with those children for whom these technological approaches are not a good fit.