Finding the good: board meetings

finding_good_2

As with all posts in this “Finding the good” series, it is quite easy to find things that are bad, need improvement, or candidates for complaint. But the point is that there are also good things if one is willing to look a little harder.

 

finding_good_1Take Unit 4 school board meetings for instance. The current board has taken significant steps to listen to stakeholders, constrain their discussion of public matters to public meetings, and reflect openly on their progress. On top of that, there are often times many excellent informational items that broadcast the priorities of the district. Let’s look at a few examples.

Back in early February, the Administration kicked off a series of “Goals and Indicators” for High School, Middle School and Elementary School. Each document spells out the relationship between Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment, fortified with details of the the players involved (and how they work together) as well as specific programs used to reach these goals. For indicators, the presentations focus on how tests are used, how often, what is being measured, etc. Over and above the documents by themselves, the “live” presentation (as one can watch via the Vimeo recordings) were much more charismatic, lively and the presenter often went into much more detail. My point in raising this as an example is that the district is throwing open the doors – there is nothing hidden here. If you want to know how education happens in Unit 4, you can dig into these resources.

Another example are the times when various programs are featured; lots of amazing awesomeness being shared with Operation Hope (and Operation Hope Jr), PBF (Positive Behavior Facilitation), social justice clubs (RISE, “Real Talks”), and recently at the July 11th meeting, Marc Changnon spoke about ‘Education to Career and Professions’ (ECP) and the Summer Youth Employment Program/Summer Trades Apprenticeship. This is just a very small sample of really cool opportunities that our students have. There are also the other partnerships and afterschool programs that we learn about; United Way, Champaign Urbana School Foundation, Tap In Academy, Freedom Schools, etc.

Train-your-mind-to-see-the-good-in-every-situationI will wrap up with the approach this current board has taken to governance. There have been changes, some small, some more noticeable; a new BOE blog maintained by board member Kathy Richards; the Board President now reads through and sometimes asks for details in the Consent Agenda; there is a metacognitive exercise in the form of the question “Whom did we affect and whom did we tell?” at the end of most meetings; communications to the board, in the context of the referendum and facility planning, have all been published on the district website, as well as any responses. In fact, did you know that a majority of the board members were always in attendance at every Tier Two committee meeting? I found that to be quite impressive. Last week, at the July 11th BOE meeting, the board took some extra time to talk in open session about their thoughts and opinions on the work and recommendation of the Tier Two committee. As Dee Shonkwiler was spotlighted as the only member in the audience, the rest of us can watch the video. I point out that the board took time to discuss in open session because, in my experience, this kind of lengthy dialog between board members while in open session is somewhat rare. Why should you care? Because you elected these people to make decisions, and here they are reflecting on all the feedback they have received and telling you what they think about it. We need to do our part and urge others to make their voice known as well – without your participation, there is no democracy. This board is listening to you.

A totally new school board

Tonight’s short meeting resulted in four new board officers, and personally, I am glad that the President and VP votes were unanimous:

  • Chris Kloeppel (President)
  • Amy Armstrong (Vice President)
  • Kathy Shannon (Secretary)
  • Jonathan Westfield (Parliamentarian)

There were a number of tweets, and Nicole followed up with an NG article. It is exciting to witness and hear about the synergy that has already been building between various board members (new and old), not to mention some of the things they want to tackle. For instance, how to take advantage of social media? How to engage the community and make board meetings more “friendly”? How to work together as a board but still have individual passions? And with Mr. Kloeppel being the youngest board president in a very very long time (ever?), their path as a team will be both challenging and exciting.

My number one priority for the board is that they continue to more fully embrace the model espoused by the Illinois Association of School Boards (IASB), called “The Foundational Principles of Governance.” The IASB model does several things that I like, taking a lot of cues from John Carver’s Policy Governance; one of the most exciting things, in my opinion, is “Effective Community Engagement”. The model also establishes clear relationships between the board and the Superintendent, the administration and the community. And finally, it guides the school board in focusing on policy and school-wide direction, not falling into the trap of micromanagement, which I think has been a sand trap for quite a while now. All these facets will be even more critical as this school board contemplates the process to select a new superintendent in two years time.

The new board will have a Board Retreat later this month, where I believe they will meet with IASB representative Patrick Rice, Dr. Wiegand and other members of the administration to lay the ground work for their collective goals and ambitions for the coming year. In the meantime, I am going to go out on a limb and put forth the idea that board members (all of them) really want to hear from the public, so I encourage you to contact them at:

u4boe@champaignschools.org

5 new board members and back to the drawing board on the referendum

First off, hats off to the candidates that won a seat on the school board:

  • Amy Armstrong
  • Chris Kloeppel
  • Kathy Richards
  • Kathy Shannon
  • Jonathan Westfield (2-year seat)

UPDATE: Chambanamoms posted an Instagram pic if you want to see them

With a 10:4 ratio voting against the referendum, I was actually surprised with such a huge margin; I expected it to be much closer. Obviously, the Keep Central Central’s strong campaign efforts (and lack of a corresponding thrust by the “Yes” crowd) made an impression, which is also reflected in the choice of board members; every candidate that took a strong stand for the referendum failed to claim a seat.

So this is what democracy looks like at the ballot. Now the harder part – how do you get all those “No” votes to actually agree on a solution, and then sell that to the everyone else? This will be a challenge for the new board. Another challenge will be if they desire to choose a new president, and building bridges with the North End Breakfast Club (which I think is very important and healthy).

For the referendum, I would love to see a multi-staged effort take place. First, break the referendum up into pieces that actually address individual goals. One for Dr. Howard, one for the current Central (ie, the dreaded lack of AC we keep hearing about in the summer months), one for Centennial and one for a new Central. All of that needs to be put under the umbrella of a comprehensive and community-vetted long-term strategic plan than can be summarized in a one-page infographic. I would love to see an effort towards participatory budgeting whereby the guts of how finances work are simplified and made accessible to the average Joe, and give stakeholders a sense of ownership by giving them the power to vote on more granular items (as opposed to a carte blanche $144 million).

Here are a few short-term goals I am going to push the new school board to jump on.

  1. Figure out a way to have informal get-togethers that do not violate OMA but yet do not require an agenda, much less Robert’s Rules. Most of the candidates have already been practicing this; now to make it official. Happy Hours at Jupiters/Sun Singer/Blind Pig? 🙂
  2. Even though KCC won tonight, don’t let the referendum dominate your role as a board member. Keep things in perspective. Focus first (please!) on governance and serving the people that elected you.
  3. Connect with the North End. Make it a priority to adopt some of their issues, like inequities in discipline and the achievement gap. Jamar’s voice will be missed, so find a way to fill the gap.

There are very exciting times ahead. The public has voted in some good people, even if they are not the ones you wanted. Each of them has promised to bring a listening ear, so it is up to you to make sure they do exactly that.

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.

Board Member Kerris Lee @ Cafe Kopi, Wednesday, December 17th, 3:30 pm to ?

Just a heads up that Kerris will be at Cafe Kopi tomorrow (Wednesday, December 17th) from 1:00 to 4:00 pm 3:30 pm to ? Hit him up with school board issues, the high school site, CTRL -Shift, or anything else that strikes your fancy.

 

If you are lucky, you may even run into another board member candidate (hat tip to Kathy Richards) as they hash out ideas.

A few more board member candidates

I found out that this morning three more folks submitted all the necessary paperwork and signatures for the April 2014 BOE positions (I’ll try always listing candidates in alphabetical order by last name):

  • Chris Kloeppel (I pronounce it “Kleppel”)
  • Kathy Richards
  • Kathy Shannon

 

Both Kathy R and Kathy S hang out here from time to time, and I know they would love to answer your questions and/or interact with you. I know Chris personally and would be happy to pass along questions to him if the need arises.

 

There are a couple other folks that I am waiting to hear the final word on. All in all, it looks like April is going to be an interesting month. I encourage you to learn as much as possible about the issues and candidates.

Collaboration and compromise

Recently, Kathy Richards presented her petition to the Board (Nov 10 BOE meeting). I have been waiting for it to pop up on Vimeo, but I might just try to record it off CGTV 5 at some point. Maggie Hockenberry of WCIA caught up with Kathy and interviewed her yesterday:

http://www.illinoishomepage.net/story/d/story/support-for-district-if-location-changes/42339/8oXxaq0_E0S1BKl9TAWIgQ

 

I think one thing Ms. Hockenberry perhaps missed is that a vast majority of us support the school district regardless of the referendum, there are just details about the referendum that we disagree about. For some it is location, others it is Dr. Howard, and a whole bunch of other reasons are thrown in the cart.

 

A recent twitter thread evolved into a sort of a challenge, calling folks to get together and hammer this thing out; Park district, city council, MTD, CCRPC, the YES Committee, those who voted “no”, UIUC students urban planning, LA, ARCH, NRES…. I am sure we could pile on more. Obviously, we should have done this two years ago. But here we are.

 

I don’t know how else to say this, but perhaps we should in a sense just shut up about it and start “doing”. For those that support the referendum but are willing to look at other options, can we open up the box and think about sites that are smaller than 47 acres? For those that opposed the referendum, find a site that works and meets all the needs of the district (sans 47 acres). Pattsi has one idea that we need to flesh out a bit more. Others have re-suggested Spalding/Judah. It is not enough to say that Interstate Drive is bad for this and that reason; we need to go beyond that and come up with a real, practical solution. And we will have to compromise – it has been said a bajillion times “there is no perfect site.” So we need to prioritize and figure out what we really need. What are the non-negotiables? We have to be willing to give up some things, on both sides of the fence, to focus on what is really important.

 

From my point of view, the biggest driver is sheer capacity. If we reduce the number of children that are jammed-packed into the current buildings, we solve a lot of problems just with that alone. I agree, there are still other ramifications that need to be addressed. So let us stop talking and start addressing. Pattsi, when is our first charrette scheduled for? 🙂