What do you want out of your school board?

datesThis is both an announcement/reminder post, but also an attempt to provoke your grey matter and maybe even generate discussion.

First, I am going to assume you do realize that you, as a tax-payer and vote-caster, do indeed have a voice that the school board members, as your publicly elected officials, are obligated to pay heed to. 🙂 This means that we voters have to hold them accountable, and the board members have to allow themselves to be held accountable. In an ideal and somewhat Utopian fashion, this relationship would be built on trust and mutual respect. Unfortunately, our State has done us a disservice in terms of being role models in this regard; none the less, let us remember our obligations.

Having said that, there are elections coming up on April 9th, 27 days from now. Within the next 27 days, do you know who you will vote for and why? Perhaps at this stage of the game you had not even planned to vote. Or maybe you had the election on the back burner of your brain and figured you would get around to contemplating the candidates “tomorrow”. Well, this is your lucky day! For in fact, tomorrow there is a candidate forum – an excellent opportunity to hear more about the candidates that are running:

PTA Council Candidate Forum tomorrow night (March 14th) @ 7 p.m. at the Mellon Administrative Center. The forum will also air on Champaign Government Television starting Friday.

In addition, Meg Dickinson will be running an article in the near future on the candidates, so keep your eyes peeled. And finally, Laura Bleill of chambanamoms.com talks about some of the qualities that she, as a parent, would like to see in a board member:


Just as a reminder, there are two sub-races for the board this time; three 4-year seats and two 2-year seats. The 2-year slots are uncontested and filled by incumbents. The three 4-year seats will be decided between five candidates (alphabetical by first name this time):


For the sake of disclosure, I Read the rest of this entry »

What does Unit 4 really need?

This is an open question. And I really do expect to get some responses, even if only privately.

[EDIT: Added a POLL at bottom]

I had the opportunity to catch a little bit of a Dr. Malito presentation at a PTA Council meeting last night (unfortunately I was a bit late). It was interesting to hear his take on the lack of “competitiveness” in our school district. Not so much athletic competition, but rather, spitting out products worthy of notice in the global market.

After having discussions with others and trying to set up community forums and such, I had the occasion to sit back and hear from someone who is not a “townie”. Dr. Malito was very clear that he brings a 3rd perspective, and he expects there to be some flak. He comes from the business world and brings experience from big cities. I appreciated this perspective. It forces me to think, “Do I really have any clue what Big Picture issues Unit 4 has?” I have this sinking feeling that I have a corner on a niche market.

So now I am asking. Really, seriously.

An attendee of last night’s meeting brought up a very salient point that easily touches nerves and can fork into tangents. What about “neighborhood schools”? If you buy a nice house next to a nice school, there is absolutely no guarantee you will go to that school. For people coming into the system fresh, this might be a bit of a surprise, in a bad way. Laura Bleill of Chambanamoms has summarized this and other related issues as an “image problem”. However, that draws me back to the original question, namely, is the perception of Unit 4 one of the Big Problems? Maybe it is – I am still asking. 🙂

Granted, there is a bit of “chicken and egg” going on. The perception of the school district must inevitably be based, at least partially, on truth, facts and raw data – I personally find it impossible to believe that an entire community’s negative perception can come solely from hearsay, rumors and gossiping. But if the school district responds to baseless complaints, it is driven away from that which is Really Important. Thus, have we even identified those things yet?

I am confident this question has been asked a thousand times in a thousand different ways. So I will look for those answers. Have any you would like to share?


Family Engagement

“Family Engagement” is hitting me from three separate but related angles today. Again, a little link heavy this time. And a sorta long read. Sorry.

One Voice/PTA

One Voice has a PTANewsRoom blog post; they reference a recent PTA article highlighting a new bill introduced that emphasizes Family Engagement (Family Engagement in Education Act of 2011 (S.941/H.R.1821)). A lot to read (and I need to go over it again), but these points stuck out to me:

  • “The bill would provide incentives to districts and schools to implement best practices, such as parent leadership academies, place family engagement coordinators in schools, and provide professional development for educators on how to partner with families.”
  • “The Family Engagement in Education Act would also strengthen the sole federal program dedicated to parent engagement, the Parental Information and Resource Centers (PIRCs), to scale-up research-based strategies for engaging families.”

I would want to read the Bill at some point (I hate reading long-winded treatises written in the Legalese language), but right off the bat I wonder how those incentives would play out. I mean, it certainly sounds like a great idea. Right? But let’s take a look at PIRCs – have those been successful in enticing and encouraging parent’s to “join hands” with the school districts? What about schools that already have strong parental support? Is there a way to focus on schools (especially communities) that would benefit from providing incentives?

I am a big huge proponent of family involvement, and I have already put my support in action in various ways. My whole family is involved at Carrie Busey, and we constantly try to reach out to other parents. Last month, we sent out an invitation to meet with families that were not able to attend PTA meetings in an effort to provide an opportunity for them to voice their thoughts and opinions in a safe place of their choosing, at a time more convenient to them. Only one person responded. You cannot force people to get more involved. However, despite my own experience, I think it is crucial and imperative to not give up.


The online NG put out two Jodi Heckel articles articles today (1,2) talking about the superintendent search. The first one focuses more on the company the school district intends to hire (narrowing it down to two candidates), the second more about how the school district is seeking input from the community. In my opinion, Sue Grey is being much more vocal about seeking community input than the previous BOE president, and I dearly hope this translates into a BOE that is seen as being more receptive and responsive. In fact, Sue Grey comes right out in what will probably be one of the most quoted phrases for quite some time, “We really feel like we need to — for lack of better terms — shut up and listen.” I view this as a good thing. And I am glad she is the one who said it, because a number of folks (myself included) feel this way. And have a hard saying it in such a way that it does not automatically put the BOE on the defensive.


Last, but definitely not least by any means, Laura Bleill posted a thoughtful article that encapsulates the unique opportunities open to us. The school chief search is but the tip of the iceberg, and what better time to set a high precedent? I’ll quote one of Laura’s statements:

Champaign Unit 4 has an image problem, pure and simple. And the school assignment process is not the only reason for that — but it is a big part of it.

But instead of quoting the whole thing left and right, you really ought to read it yourself.


So let me add two more sections, my own reactions to these three stimuli. I will talk about the “Why?” and the “How?”


Why is Family Engagement so important? Why is it popping up, why are members of the legislature introducing a Bill on it? It goes way beyond getting better grades (which inevitably helps everyone feel good, but that is besides the point). I believe, as touted by those quoted in the PTA articles, that when parent’s help plug in with their kids, the kids become better people. Better kids lead to better communities. Over the past several years, I have read several articles and seen research that supports this, so I am making a note to myself to collect these references and post them here. Because I hate it when people make broad statements and follow it up with “research shows” and yet they do not show research. A quick search on google will show an astounding number of papers and bibliographies, but I am not quickly finding the ones I have read. If I have not read them, I cannot exactly tell you what I think of them. 🙂

So anyway….  I firmly believe that when the community as a whole comes together (to work together), they implicitly and explicitly benefit the whole. When we all work towards improving our children, we also sow the seeds for long-term community health. This sounds Utopian, some sort of pipe dream – who wouldn’t want that? It is not so much that we do not want improved communities, but rather that our American culture has so permeated our livelihoods that we unconsciously seek the “American Dream” in all aspects of our lives. So much so that we have placed Independence (financial, emotional, etc) on a pedestal and “I want what is best for my child” is our mantra.


I have to confess, I do not have an answer for this. In fact, I do not think there is an answer that would fit in a small book, let a lone a humble blog post. I have traded emails with Elizabeth Perrachione (one of the professionals who helped to give birth to Great Schools, Together) about engaging the community; we have a diverse community, and the challenge with reaching out to such a community is that one must be aware of how each wants to be reached out to. And they differ quite a bit. I am in touch with the blogging and online crowd. But there are lots of other groups, classes, cultures and interests out there.

Part of it, I think, is working against the negative aspects of the pervasive “American Dream”. To engage a community, I believe we have to acknowledge our brokenness, to be willing to show how we are weak and need help. Actually, this not merely counter to the American Dream, but human nature. Period. The other side of it is acknowledging the worth that each person has, and making sure that the message of worth is communicated by listening (really listening, not just the “uh huh” every 43 seconds). Which is why I am so thrilled that Sue Grey was so blunt in her quote. I look forward to the community being able to say that to each other as well.

In conclusion, I will say that I have met with a small team (VERY small), and we are hoping to fire up some community forums in the very near future. Real community forums, where you all get to talk. 🙂 One of my goals is that we get to model what we have been hoping Unit 4 would do. Ironically, if what Sue Grey and Laura Bleill are saying comes to fruition in the very near future, perhaps the community forums will start to happen at the behest of the BOE. That would actually be a very good thing.

Your homework assignment tonight (??) is to list the various groups in our community (along whatever lines you like) and how to engage them.