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.

PMPK March 13th meeting agenda and notes

PMPK Agenda March 13,2014

PMPK Meeting Notes 031314

 

“27 iPads were purchased for $10,573.00”

Wow!

 

WebQuery, iPad RFP and normalized deviance

In a previous post, I talked a little about the WebQuery tool. The Unit 4 Educational Technology team has replaced that tool and now has a new one:

the Proximity App

proximity_app

It simplifies the entire tool significantly; no grade level to worry about, no other non-Unit 4 schools….  However, I kinda still wish that ALL other schools were still listed. What if I really really want to go to BTW, but want to compare the distance to other schools? In any event, I think this new interface is significantly less confusing, and thus more useful.

iPad RFP

My RSS reader recently noticed that several RFP have been filed, including two for ChromeOS laptops, another for Desktops and laptops, and another for iPads. I have questions about all of them, and rifled through the online documentation trying to learn more. Unfortunately, none of the posted documentation really says what these things are needed for or why the district is seeking them. So I looked a little more carefully at the iPad RFP and noticed that they want 180 of 2nd Generation iPads. 180. I had to pause for a little. And then I asked Executive Director of Business Matt Foster about the RFP and he informed me they were for “student instruction.” So I then asked the Board and Stephanie Stuart for more details. Stephanie replied that they would be used for the “ESL Department for world language instruction across the district.” A quick look on Amazon shows these selling for about $330; so the upper limit on this bid should be in the neighborhood of $54,000 (give or take, depending on bulk discounts, taxes, etc), right?

The whole purpose for posting RFPs online is so that public can see, to affect some level of transparency. Therefore, I have told Matt Foster and the Board I am quite thankful. Of course, this allows the public to form questions as well, which I think is a natural part of the stakeholder’s job. So what questions do you have?

and finally….

Normalized Deviance

What the heck is this, you think to yourself. It is a little bit of a tangled tale how I ended up at a wikibook site about Diane Vaughan’s theory on the “normalization of deviance.” To break it down in simple language, basically this describes what happens if you do something wrong enough times, you lose that “it’s wrong” feeling and start to think it really isn’t that big of a deal. Until something REALLY BAD happens like a space shuttle blowing up.

What strikes me is the “Solutions” section, which gives a very good justification for true transparency and a type of accountability that has long-term mutual benefits. The same kind of stuff that can make a marriage really strong (or break it if these things are not found). It is having a team mentality, as opposed to a individualistic mindset. Unfortunately, the popular American machine rewards and idolizes the individual, which probably goes a long way towards explaining a number of problems we have today (massive inequities, the “1%”, a heavy-handed government, etc). Dr. Vaughan points out that many people withhold from bringing problems (aka, deviances) into the light for many reasons; pride, fear of retribution, assuming the experts know best to name a few. Yet, if we focus on a true education of facts with an open eye towards the larger group, we can avoid the ritual of glossing over or ignoring the problems we see around us.

Which leads me to conclude with a thought I have for another post.