School Board Candidate filings

Per the News-Gazette and Gordy’s tweet this evening, here are all 10 candidates for the April 7th elections (the number following the name indicates either a 2-year seat or a 4-year seat):

  • Amy Armstrong (4)
  • Jamar Brown (4)
  • Azark David Cobbs (4)
  • Christopher James Kloeppel (4)
  • Kerris Lee (4)
  • Kathy Richards (4)
  • Prudence Runkle (2)
  • Kathy Shannon (4)
  • Jonathan Westfield (2)
  • Alissia Young (4)

 

I will be seeking out more information on each of these individuals; I am told that the media has already started to reach out to them as well, and I know the REWIND citizens group is contacting candidates. From memory, Cobbs, Westfield and Young have all tried for seats in the past. Brown and Lee are currently board members.

 

I am sure there will be candidate questions, forums (the PTA Council already has plans for one in April) and more media spotlights for each of them. Feel free to submit your own questions/thoughts here. I’ll publish what I have gathered soon.

Still missing the point

There have been a number of NG articles about Unit 4 lately; I am glad to see them and that Unit 4 is getting such coverage. I was also pleasantly surprised to learn that roughly 80 community members attended the Board of Education meeting last night at Mellon Center, including prominent figures.

 

There are a number of things that caught my attention.

 

1. School Resource Officers (SROs, or the pejorative “cops in schools”)

Based on what Tim Mitchell reported in the NG, it seems like a bulk of the those attending last night’s BOE meeting were there for this topic; whether the board should keep the SRO program going or pursue an alternative (someone suggested some kind of security guard for example). There are good arguments on both sides of the fence, and obviously some very passionate folks who support either side of the argument.

But it seems we are being distracted from some of the root problems. Why is it that 19 out of 21 children arrested last year were black? This tells me that something in our society and even in our schools is utterly failing. I would even go so far to ask why is even one child being arrested? Where have we (collectively, you and I) screwed up? I have often quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Dr. Edna Olive on their views of the purpose of education; it is our moral and societal obligation to do all we can to make sure each child is successful and supported.

So we want to spend $291k/year on two(*) well-meaning and well-trained officers. How much are we spending on prevention, and truly educating and providing for the success of these children?

* We pay for two, but we actually get 5 SROs, as the Champaign Police Department pays for the other three

 

When I talked to a barber at Rose & Taylor, he readily echoed what Jamar Brown has been telling us about the “north end”; they are much less concerned about the location of the high school, but rather they are very concerned about discipline equity issues. I feel we need to take a long, hard look at the “whole enchilada” and figure out how to dig at the root of this vexing issue.

 

2. High School capacity needs

DLR painted a pretty grim picture last night – we are led to believe that by 2022 (eight years from now) we will be short by 33 classrooms, 4 small classrooms, 15 science labs and 7 PE stations. I do not necessarily agree with the “need” for all that, but let us assume they are all legitimate for the time being. This is going to be one of the pivotal arguments in building a brand-new Central and remodeling Centennial. It is winding up to be a huge tax referendum, one that is complicated by many factors such as the fact that we are two months out from needing a firm number and language for the November ballot, but we have neither. A number of folks have expressed dismay about the north Neil site suggested to the BOE, which has caused the BOE to double-back and spend extra effort and attention (and surveys and open forums, etc) to tackle whether or not the Spalding area would help the referendum pass.

But again, it seems to me that their are some serious distractions going on. If capacity is such a huge issue (and I believe it will be somewhat soon), and a monstrous tax referendum has very little chance to pass, why don’t we address the capacity issue in a more simplistic and less expensive manner – what about a third high school? It can be smaller, and gives the district the necessary agility to better respond to future oscillations in enrollment. In my opinion, large high schools lock us into a certain size mindset and further set a precedent that I think is unhealthy.

From what I can tell, the surveys and all the hundreds of thousands of dollars we are pouring into “experts” and “consultants” are all narrowing our perspective instead of broadening the horizons. Hence all the strong passions, both for and against. There is a unfortunate lack of other alternatives.

Lastly, we must be careful about how much we tax the lower income brackets. I have slowly come to realize that the poor among us are desperately in need of understanding and compassion. Not pity. Not empty sentiments. The Urbana school board has taken the stance of not raising property taxes at all but rather to fund their capital expenditures as money becomes available via the 1% sales tax (“Renovation without taxation“, also 2). Hmm…. that seems to be what most Champaign residents were led to believe as well.

 

3. Yet another administrative position

After seeing 5 new appointments (as reported in the NG and broadcast by Stephanie Stuart), I was curious about this “Director of Elementary Teaching & Learning” position. So I have asked Stephanie Stuart a couple questions and am waiting to hear back. I am unable to find it in any of the org charts or responsibility matrices, which makes me think it is a new position.

 

UPDATE from Stephanie:

This was Trevor Nadrozny’s position. The title changed from curriculum to Teaching & Learning during this school year.

 

ACTIONS

ACTIONS: Acronym meaning “Alternative Center for Targeted Instruction and On- Going Support”

The news media has totally overlooked this one topic that easily took up half of the entire board meeting last night. For me personally, I was blown away by the reports. One student bravely stood up during public comment (that takes some chutzpah!) to talk about how he specifically has benefited from this awesome program. There were several other reports throughout the meeting. One student was quoted as saying “Thank you for suspending me” and went on to testify how his/her life has changed. Mr. Orlando Thomas will be forwarding me the presentation used at the board meeting (which for some reason is not on boarddocs), and I will post it here when I receive it.

There were several points that made an impact on me.

First was the desire and ability to target the needs of the child. I realize there is a segment of society that just wants to punish bad behavior and close the book; I believe that type of attitude is detrimental, not only to the individual child, but ultimately to society as well. Just take a look at our misnamed “correctional systems” – do you think everyone who goes to jail is “corrected”? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think these students are being pandered to in any way, their suspension is not a mere hand-slap. Instead, there is a serious attempt at reflection and building up a “next time” scenario.

Next, I rather like the emphasis on engaging the families. It is not clear to me how successful this actually is, but just the initial “enrollment” is somewhat of a choice. Somewhat. In the course of the suspension hearing, the child and the family is told that the child is assigned to ACTIONS, and the child and/or the family could (conceivably) choose to not take advantage of the opportunity, in which case the suspension would be like an out-of-school suspension (opposed to an alternative in-school suspension). It seems like a good thing that the staff realize the importance of involving the family. I am curious how the families on the receiving end view this whole thing.

In the end, it seems this program is empowering certain students who otherwise have difficulty functioning successfully among their peers. Empowering them in a very positive way. When is the last time a student got up at a board meeting to address the board, about his own struggle and how we overcame it, to boot? Board members also gave a shout out to other students who had emailed the board about various issues. The implication is that this was a very rare thing, but the board very much encourages this type of communication.

I am reminded of a Jim Dey editorial from 04/15/2013:

http://www.news-gazette.com/opinion/editorials/2013-04-15/new-approach-suspensions.html

“Rather than suspend the students, they wish to create a special environment where these young people can develop social skills and improve their academics.

Good luck with that. It would be great to be wrong, but it’s hard to imagine that something so basic as what’s being proposed actually will have the desired effect.”

It would appear that this program really is having the desired effect. During the ACTIONS presentation last night, several numbers were quoted, including graduation rates and academic progress. When I receive the presentation, I’ll update the numbers – I think they tell a significant story. Special thanks was given to all the volunteers and mentors that helped to make this program a success. Which got me to thinking…. it would be awesome if more volunteers and mentors stepped up to the plate.

Board Member Jamar Brown made the point that while most people were concerned about the high school location, he considered ACTIONS to be even bigger. In a lot of ways, I agree. True, the new high school is going to hit our pocketbooks rather hard (speaking from the viewpoint of those who are already struggling), but a new high school does not in and of itself have any impact on transforming society. I believe ACTIONS does.

 

UPDATE: Mr. Orlando Thomas has sent me the powerpoint used during Monday’s BOE meeting – it is a good read:

https://thecitizen4blog.files.wordpress.com/2014/01/actions-boe-1-27-14.pptx

Another perspective of siting the high school north of I-74

I had the opportunity to have a really great conversation with Jamar Brown Wednesday morning; I am thankful that he opened the door and allowed me to gain a different perspective. So just to qualify – Jamar speaks for himself. He doesn’t speak for the Board, but for his own person. And he didn’t ask me to say that, I am just getting that formality out of the way up front. 🙂

We hit on a number of different aspects of how the board is going about siting the new location for Central. I’ll bounce around a little bit and re-arrange how our conversation actually went to give you an overall picture.

Again, we have to go back to the bigger picture. Jamar reminded me of the urgency to get something going; due to the lack of chutzpah (not lack of foresight, per se, just lack of acting on any foresight) from previous administrations and previous boards, we are kind of in a bit of a pickle since the student populations are notably growing and the high schools are already at capacity (bursting). So even if we completely remove the need for athletic fields, band fields, parking, etc, we still need more raw seats. At least that is what the current trends and demographic data are telling us. To this, I would agree. The timeline does get a little tricky. If a referendum does not pass in November, what happens? Will there be enough time to go hunting for yet another site and then build a new high school. I get the impression that the current board is not willing to take that risk. Another sense of urgency was the clear message from the Town Hall meeting that we need to stop talking and start doing. This has been echoed elsewhere, and in general, it can be a good idea. I know I am often told that myself. 🙂 Granted, all around there is some question about how the Town Hall was conducted in the first place.

The issue of transparency and accountability is sticky one. I think this is partially because, on the one hand, community members (myself included) have a super high expectation of how open and communicative the board should be. For instance, in regards to the discussion of potential sites, the public does not have any access whatsoever to the great discussions that are going on behind closed doors. We were told that the Board would not publish the list of candidate sites (and then they did list the four sites), and then we are told the Board will not publish the final site due to “negotiations”. On the other hand, Jamar feels that the current board and current administration is a totally different ballgame than what we have had in the past, and that the board is slowly rising to those expectations that we have. I heartily acknowledge his point that the current situation is much different, and I acknowledge that there has been more openness. Jamar reiterated the point about how the board was all set to make a high school siting decision last year and instead, because of feedback from the community, made the conscious decision to put it off and gather more community input. Another case to look at; both Holly Nelson and Minnie Pearson shared stern warnings and thoughts at the December 2nd BOE meeting, and both publicly apologized at the December 9th meeting, acknowledging the hard work of the Board and wanting to collaborate and keep each other accountable. Perhaps one thing that is happening is that folks are hypersensitive to buzzwords like “transparency”, and when we start tossing those terms around and painting with a huge brush, we gloss over the finer details both of the good that is happening and the challenge areas where we need to improve.

We also discussed the desire to “remove the emotion” and deliberate on numbers. While I think this can be a good exercise, we have a couple obstacles before us. One, it is impossible to remove the emotion. Two, we don’t have the numbers. Jamar acknowledges this is a problem – even the board members do not have all the numbers. For instance, the MTD has not been able to disclose how much it will cost to route busses up to any of the new sites. We do not know how traffic patterns will escalate the already crowded north Prospect route – what will a big football game do? Since the sites of I-74 will have extremely limited “Safe Routes” to nearby homes on the other side of the highway, busing will have to increase as well. How much? We don’t really know. I also mentioned to Jamar that the community does not have any access to the metrics and weights the board has been developing for each site. I believe he is going to ask around about that (I hope! *grin*).

We got to talking about serving the needs of the demographics that are on the “north end”. Jamar mentioned that he has personally talked to a number of groups north of University, and the predominant message he has received is that the residents and parents are more concerned about what goes on inside the school rather than where the school is located. For me, this shifts the priorities a bit; if we assume that the location of the school is not the most important variable, then what are we doing to address that which is most important?

As I told Jamar, I do not envy the position of the Board at all. People are clearly fed up with hiring consultants and holding community discussions with no follow-through. If the Board decides to stick with a minimum of 45 acres (which, Jamar is quick to point out, has come down since the 80-acre recommendation from earlier), the number of sites that are “central” are exceptionally limited and hard to work with. If I were on the Board and was told that I had to choose land to buy RIGHT NOW, it would be hard for me to look at the areas south of I-74 right now and find something that would work for 45 acres. I did mention to Jamar that there are other options – there is some support for 3 high schools and multiple campuses (and smaller schools). Jamar observed that perhaps one of the prevailing factors in the Board’s current direction (again, Jamar speaks for Jamar) is that most of the people from the DeJong-Richter “engagements” want what we already have. Some of us cringe at that, for various reasons, but if we go straight off the numbers that we do have (as opposed to numbers we do not have), I have to agree, yes, most of the people who voiced their opinion indicated they wanted two high schools of roughly the same size (number of students) we have now.

We did not talk much about athletics and other programs that need additional land. I’ll leave it at that.

Finally, we did talk a little bit about the lack of a planner on the paid staff. We are in this pickle because we didn’t buy land earlier on when land was available, and there has not been a serious long-term look at how demographics change year by year. I think Jamar understands the importance of having a dedicated person for that role, instead of multitasking and/or sharing a planner with the City (which is no longer happening). As to how to tie new facilities into the goal of addressing the achievement gap? From my perspecitve, even though the District has been working on their “Achievement Framework”, the community has not been brougth up to the same page. Jamar tells me that the Board (and administration) has been inundated with various studies and research papers, and I get the impression that the Board believes a strong extra-curricular program will boost academics. This message came across very strongly from the December 9th board meeting.

In conclusion, I think we have to accept that no matter what the Board does, not everyone will be happy. We may even disagree with what is most important. I very much dislike how, not only with the school district but also at the State and Federal levels, we are getting screwed over because of poor decisions from past leaders. For me, complaining is unsatisfactory – I want to be a part of the solution. I believe this is what Board President Laurie Bonnett was trying to convey at the December 9th BOE meeting; given all our differences, how do we work together?

Cliff notes from the June 10th regular board meeting

As with my other cliff notes:

  • all errors are my own; keep in mind these are not authoritative minutes, just my own notes
  • all times are offsets from the video I link
  • if you spot any problems or inaccurate statements, please let me know
  • feel free to fill in areas I did not cover

 

Video link

{note: the video is from TiVo and starts at 5:30; the board meeting starts at 6:00pm so be prepared to fast forward. Also, there is quite a lot of dead space at the end of the video that I have not truncated}

 

Read Meg Dickinson’s NG article for another take on the meeting, and her twitter feed (you have to scroll back to June 10th, I don’t know how to deep link all her tweets as a group for the night).

 

Cliff Notes

00:00 – 09:35
Press conference about gun violence by several prominent members of the African-American community.
33:42 board meeting starts with recognitions and academic spotlight
40:15 Laurie Bonnett asks what credit/remunerance kids get for the summer entrepreneurship program. Marc Changnon says they get nothing, 100% volunteer. Except personal satisfaction. 🙂
41:55 Jamar Brown gives kudos to Marc, thanks Marc for thinking outside the box. Also notes how the adults in the program are growing as well.
45:16 Kristine Chalifoux asks for list of companies that are involved in the program so we can thank them.
45:41 Recognitions
49:23 public comment
Dan Goines (sp??): site director, expressing a concern about why MTD avoids Carrie Busey.

Cliff notes from the May 13 board meeting

As with my previous cliff notes, I apologize for the raw nature, and again, all times listed are elapsed video times.

boe May 13, 2013

Art Recognitions: 00:00 – 15:36
Service Awards: 15:37 – 27:53

public comment – 28:30
Chuck Jackson
Spoke about the DeJong-Richter Recommendations report. “What do we need and why do we need it?” There is a lot of information we do not have. Need more feedback on exactly what the weakness of each site are and why they are weaknesses. Be creative.
Recognitions: 32:19 – 38:29

38:28: Cheryl Camacho, Asia Fuller-Hamilton and Janelle Weinzierl going to Harvard for the summer:
http://www.gse.harvard.edu/ppe/programs/prek-12/portfolio/stl.html
Communcations 38:45
CFT (Cathy Mannen): welcome to new board members. Common goal to teach students.

Board members:
Stig: 40:20: important things going on. Facilities – very critical. Gotta move, waiting detracts from educational opportunities. Focus on best interests of school district, teachers and especially students.
Scott MacAdam: 42:07: mandatory board training. Enjoyed it
Kristine: 43:02: first year all the middle schools doing track and field, all three schools sending kids to state. Big kudos.
Ileana: 44:46: recognition from one of her schools, PBIS assembly, top scorers in Mathematics. Shout out to Robeson.
Jamar: 46:28: Marc Changnon taking all (45) students through a career program; graduation ceremony at the CPL, 30 grads. Shout out to Central. Shout out to 1-to-1 mentoring programs. Summarized involvement at Kenwood, including his adopted 5th grade class.
Laurie: 51:19: lots of diversity, learning the ropes.

52:47 Orlando – speaking about the Student Code of conduct.

54:06 Laura Taylor – High school graduation dates; can’t use Assembly Hall next year.

57:30 Future Facilities
Dr. Wiegand invokes a quote from “Great Schools Together”. Read the rest of this entry »

Whirlwinds, bees and cornucopias

There is a lot going on in Unit 4 and I can only scratch the surface. For starters, Meg Dickinson at the News-Gazette has been doing an awesome job covering most of the highlights – the following is the NG aggregation of Meg’s articles:

http://www.news-gazette.com/author/meg-dickinson

You will see that we not only have 3 brand new board members, but a fascinating change in board officers as well; Bonnett is president, Brown is the VP, Saveley is the Secretary and Stuckey is the Parliamentarian. Next Monday’s regular board meeting (May 13th) will be interesting to say the least. 🙂

Among other interesting things to read, Meg also has a nice Sunday article about the “Newcomer Academy” (not to be confused with the Novak Academy). This is a basically an intermediate transitioning service to help those who are struggling with English. Apparently, we have a lot of foreign nationals (especially from DR Congo and Mexico) and this is the solution Unit 4 has arrived at to meet those needs head on.

Stephanie Stuart of Unit 4 has also been hard at work populating their facebook page with lots of little goodies:

https://www.facebook.com/unit4schools?fref=ts?sk=h_chr

In addition to highlighting several awesome events and achievements, she also canvasses several opportunities like the annual Garden Hill’s “Resource Day” and the PTA Council’s push for the Summer Reading program, both excellent outlets that reach out to help those in need.

There is also the Unit 4 newsletter which is surprisingly not now on the Unit 4 website. Dr. Wiegand covers the NAACP ACT-SO Awards, a special recognition for achievements of African-Americans excelling in our schools. Several students are heading to Florida with hopes to squash the competition in mid July.

In other news, taxes are going up while at the same time many employees are having to fork over more money for benefits and pensions. Don’t get me wrong, it is not my goal to throw a pity party for myself. Rather, we as a whole community need to be aware that there are those who are already hurting, and it looks like more people will be slipping below the various poverty lines. We have a ton of kids who are homeless and/or living in less-than-ideal situations. Hence stories about various initiatives to provide assistance to these groups are not only “nice” and “feel good”, but in my opinion they are essential, fundamental and critical for the health of us all. In fact, we need to do more. Get involved.

Why the weird thread subject? I just have lots of thoughts swirling around my head and hard to bring them into focus; not updating the blog that much means I have been missing a lot. 🙂