Finding the good: the many names of social justice

I found this post hard to write because there is so much awesome wrapped up in the broad label of “social justice” that it is hard to convey a sense of scope while trying to provide some details as well. And perhaps most vexing is how to convey why exactly I think “social justice” should be viewed by the community as an extremely high priority.

 

I’ll cut right to the chase – each of these efforts give an example of what a child-centered approach looks like. In my opinion, if public education is not child-centered, it has no place being funded by the public. Or in other words, you and I are are throwing our money out the window if it does not benefit the whole child, every child. I’ll come back to that.

 

In a Feb 19th U4 Board Corner post, Kathy Richards shed a little light on the social justice efforts going on within Unit 4, specifically focusing on the English learners of very diverse backgrounds. Ms. Richards closed by talking about the Social Justice Initiative; let me quote from the webpage:

During the 2012-2013 school year the social justice committee focused on learning about social justice by studying relevant literature and engaging in collaborative learning sessions. The committee generated a definition of social justice and a social justice framework for our district. Having met the two goals of creating the definition and framework, the planning group now provides professional development and project opportunities via social justice seminars and topic specific task forces.

At the February 8th BOE meeting, Dr. Wiegand and Dr. Taylor presented on the state of the high school curriculum; starting with page (slide) 35, they cover other social justice initiatives and partnerships (like “Culturally Responsive Education”, aka CRE), followed by this list of “action groups” on page 37:

  • Special Education Action Group
  • English Language Learners Action Group
  • LGBTQ Action Group
  • Homeless Action Group
  • Social Justice Educators’ Collaborative
  • RISE – Racial Identity Student Experience
  • Choose Kindness and Real Talks

 

We have some really amazing staff involved in these efforts. I have had the honor and privilege of meeting some of them and sitting in classrooms – I hope to spend more time learning about these action groups. Since many of these groups are student-organized and student-led, they don’t just allow any stranger (or blogger for that matter) to sit in, so it might be a while. *grin* I love it that students are taking these responsibilities seriously, and that the staff sees the vital importance of student voice and provide for these spaces to happen. That just blows my mind.

 

I’ll let another little secret out as well. Those that are following along with CTRL-Shift (notice the nice NSF grant they recently won?), it might be easy to get distracted by the focus in technology. I might be going out on a limb here, but I don’t think computers were ever the main focus of this group; instead, they strive to empower learners, regardless of finances or ability, by giving them the computational skills to tackle problems. I believe the “shift” is away from teachers monologuing to students, and instead providing a path where teachers transition to facilitators and create environments of student inquiry.

 

Which is a very common theme when I talk to teachers involved in social justice as well. Each of these adults realizes the importance of truly listening to the kids, of trying to learn from the child. I paid a visit to a local Montessori school, and was pleasantly surprised to learn that this is essentially the magic sauce behind what makes Montessori so attractive (there are other details the flow out of this methodology).

 

At this point in time, I feel strongly that as we look to hiring a new superintendent in 2017, one key priority of this new superintendent should be to maintain (the current efforts) and enhance (where we are lacking) a district-wide atmosphere of student-cenetered learning. And unfortunately for the folks at Pearson, this means we should turn away from standardized testing in bulk as a means of assessment; too much of what we currently do is adult-centered, and it is making me sick.

 

It doesn’t matter if you use words like “social justice”, the bottom line is that we are talking about people, not numbers. And young people at that. People with lives, backgrounds, personalities and gifts. We have a moral obligation to ensure that these young people (every single one of them, not just the privieleged) have an nurturing environment that promotes success at life. It comes down to relationships, of getting to know other people, and other people’s children, enough that you can care about them.

 

It’s easy to not care. But it is expensive.

 

UPDATE:

“Tell me the truth! If you cannot tell me the truth, we cannot trust each other. If we cannot trust each other, we cannot have a relationship. If we do not have a relationship, we have nothing.”

— Dr. Joy DeGruy “Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome

 

PS

Some things that have influenced my thinking:

  • Ted Dintersmith and Tony Wagner “Most likely to succeed”
  • Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish “How to listen so kids will talk and talk so kids will listen”
  • Nikhil Goyal “One size does not fit all”
  • Jose Vilton “This is not a test”
  • Edna Olive “Positive Behavior Facilitation”
  • Trevor Eissler “Montessori Madness”

 

Basic building blocks of community: trust and relationships

I have been referred to a number of books, research papers and TED Talks in the past couple of months, and I have observed a common lens through which I am viewing most of these resources – the blueprints for how people optimally work with each other.

Since this post is a little long, I’ll give you the cliff note up front (aka, “too long; didn’t read” or tl;dr). If you want things to get better in our community, you gotta put your pride on the shelf and go listen to someone else. You gotta walk in someone else’s shoes for a little while.

Make sure you check out the references before you completely walk away from this post; the TED talks in particular are quite engaging (Mitra, Semler, Sirolli, Varty).

And now for the full-blown version…. Read the rest of this entry »

Why I voted “no” to the $149 million bond referendum

The question on the ballot reads:

Proposition to Issue $149,000,000 School Building Bonds
Shall the Board of Education of Champaign Community Unit School District Number 4, Champaign County, Illinois, build and equip a new high school building to replace the Central High School Building, build and equip an addition to and alter, repair, and equip the Centennial High School Building, improve school sites, and issue bonds of said School District to the amount of $149,000,000 for the purpose of paying the costs thereof?

I also noticed that folks are searching for “champaign school district 4 proposition to issue $149,000,000 school building bonds”

 

After talking to folks on both sides of the issue, reading what materials were available, considering the historical context, I was definitely torn on this issue, but in the end I was compelled to vote “no” on this proposition.

 

In talking to others who also plan to vote “no” (or who already have voted), their reasons are many and varied. Some think the location is horrible, some think the price tag is too high, some just outright do not trust the school district nor the board. In talking to those that support the referendum, they are full of energy and excitement, and full of conviction to give our children “the best.” This made me chew a lot – if anything, I fall in the middle. I found it interesting that when I talked with those who generally did not feel good about the referendum, they often expressed that they felt they were being labeled as being “anti-student” or “anti-public-school”. I have also heard a rumor that teachers are being told that anyone who votes against the referendum also votes against teachers; so far, this remains unsubstantiated (I asked several teachers). Is it possible to oppose the referendum and yet still show teachers and students that you support them? I believe so.

 

Back in April, I mentioned several things that I personally was looking for that would catapult me into a “yes” vote. There are still a few outstanding items on that list. Having said that, there are three factors that have persuaded me the most:

  1. The school district has not had a dedicated planner on staff, and as such, there is no consistent long-term plan, let alone one that has fully engaged the community. To my knowledge, the “living document” of projections and demographic statistics has not been updated, nor was the district left with the necessary tools to do so. The current 20-year strategic plan calls for addressing Garden Hills in 10 years and Edison in 20 years. “Our children deserve world-class educational facilities”
  2. We hear a lot about a “21st Century Education”. However, the precepts of a 21st Century Education are already taking hold in our schools. The vast and ambitious plans to build hi-tech modern high schools are definitely a way for the school district to jump in with both feet in a very public fashion, but I firmly believe a 21st Century Education does not depend on a $98 million high school. I do believe new construction and new renovation would certainly help in a big way. Additionally, it is obvious that many on the board and in district administration want to open the doors of the future by ushering in new facilities. I applaud the forward-looking vision; yet I maintain that the future does not need bright shiny new buildings.
  3. I am very much disturbed by the trend of hiring consultants that do a bare minimum of community engagement, and then turn around a very expensive plan which evolves into a big ticket referendum. Looking at the historical context of referenda (past ballot issues, consent decree and enrollment), we have seen that the school district has a long-standing penchant of seeking new money for new construction as a way to address old problems. When the 1% Sales Tax was passed, the district placed a higher priority on building new schools, renovating several others and paying off previous debt than focusing on the looming problems of Central, Centennial, Dr. Howard and Edison. It is odd that the August heat at Central was not even on the list for mitigation.

 

I wish to reiterate that there are many good reasons to vote in favor the referendum; I want to give credit to those who passionately stand behind Unit 4 no matter what. People like that are much needed. I also note that many stalwart organizations and groups are casting their support behind the referendum, including CUC2C, CFT and possibly “At Promise of Success”. Like I said, I have not arrived at my own personal decision easily, and I am still torn even now.

 

So as not to merely vote “no” and call it a day, I suggest an alternative. In the past I have referenced a “Plan B“. That plan continues to morph and change as I learn more from those I talk with. For instance, Dr. Laura Taylor has convinced me that high school size does not matter (at least, not as much as other more weighted factors in terms of total student achievement). I have also learned that the current building that houses Judah Christian School will not be up for sale in the next two years, probably even further out. It seems to me that one of the most significant priorities of any plan going forward must revolve around what makes an awesome educational environment. I truly believe that the administration and the board believe with their heart that they are pursuing this goal, and I give them all kudos for the bold plans they have laid down, and the taking the initiative in buying a huge swath of land to get the ball rolling.

 

Having said that, here is what I propose:

  • Fully embed and incorporate CUC2C and “At Promise of Success” into the Strategic Plan
  • Retain Central as a high school but cap the enrollment between 900-1000 students to reduce the number of students in each classroom
  • Build a third high school (personally, I don’t really care about the location anymore)
  • Continue to pursue CAPS, Computational Thinking and investing in preparing for the Trades
  • Provide a way for community members to help teachers create awesome learning environments
  • Hire a full-time planner
  • Come up with a new Capital Improvement Plan that prioritizes maintenance projects (including renovations) so as to lengthen the life of all physical structures
  • Pursue and implement distance learning options, with the intent to eliminate busing between schools for classes at one physical location
  • Don’t hire any more consultants; moderators that facilitate discussion panels and deliberations are ok
  • Always invite disagreement and healthy, public debate

 

Of course, I could be completely and utterly wrong. You are welcome to comment either way, but I especially value your constructive criticism and ideas for how you would improve the future. Regardless of how we vote, I do think it is very important for each of us to be involved with students, teachers and/or schools. I urge you to volunteer, whether it be over lunch, as a tutor, or just giving up an hour whenever needed, or sign up to be a mentor. The mission of the Unit 4 School District says it works “in partnership with the community”. We all need to work together to make that happen, and I am convinced that getting involved is one of the best investments you can possibly make.

“a fair shake”

Over the past couple of months, I have had several email conversations with Denise Martin (co-chair of the “Friends of Champaign Schools” campaign), board members, teachers, a student, Dennis Bane (architect for DLR), Stephanie Stuart, Dan Ditchfield (the other co-chair for “Friends of Champaign Schools”) and the Unit 4 Executive Leadership Team (Dr. Wiegand, Dr. Taylor, Dr. Zola, Mr. Foster). A couple Saturdays ago Mark Nolan knocked on my door as part of the “Friends of Champaign School” campaign effort to encourage people to vote for the Nov 4th Unit 4 property tax referendum, which is quickly approaching.

The title of this blog post is “a fair shake” because those are the words Dan Ditchfield used when I met with him in the context of me “covering” the campaign he is involved in. In writing this blog post, I will be pulling in observations from all the above conversations I have had.

You might ask, if I am opposed to the referendum, why am I spending so much time talking to people who obviously support the referendum? For me, especially on this particular issue, it is important to be informed. Better yet, I have learned so much about the people who support the referendum and I have been encouraged by a lot of commonalities between myself and those I talk with.

Both Denise and Dan asked a key question, and I have a sneaky feeling they conspired. *grin* “Do you trust Unit 4?” That is basically what this vote will boil down to. It is however a deceptively simple question – for instance, I cannot say “yes” or “no” because I trust certain individuals involved with Unit 4, but not all.

Yet the main impetus which drives me to write this post in the first place is because I absolutely love the public display of support by so many people involved with the “Friends of Champaign Schools”. As I have told Denise, Dan, board members and others, I do not want to hinder those who rally around our public schools, because I myself am a public school fan, and it is awesome to see so many people put forth the effort to help the schools succeed. I appreciate and value that many folks have volunteered to go knocking on doors, to meet with various groups (ie, churches) and project a very positive image of Unit 4. These passionate folks will need to continue building support regardless if the referendum passes or not because there is still a lot of work to be done.

On top of that, folks like Denise and Dan are not one-trick ponies; they are involved in many other ways. For example, Denise is helping to spearhead the Champaign Urbana Cradle to Career initiative, an awesome project in an of itself. Among other things, Dan is also a Unit 4 One-to-One Mentor and working with CTRL-SHIFT. As I talked with them, we all agreed that the referendum is not perfect, and that many years of neglect, bad decisions and “kicking the can down the road” has led us to where we are. We differ on some points, but we also agree on a number of points.

What points do we agree on? Capacity is a very real issue right now. I have been to Central on several occasions, and the classrooms simply are not designed for the number of students that curretly get stuffed inside. The science labs on the third floor might have been designed for half the number of students, not to mention the band room and other rooms. On top of that, I believe the general gist of the Dejong-Richter projections that things are only going to get worse for the next 8 years.

Next but not any less important are the deferred maintenance items that have been lingering for years. As a district (not just the decision-makers, but all of us) it is utterly irresponsible to let those items go unattended. Based on what I have read in the 10-year CIP (Capital Improvement Plan) and HLS (Health-Life-Safety) report, and from my own obsevations from being inside both high schools, I am aware that there are a number of conditions that have only worsened.

I think it is fair to say that the three of us also agree some form of property tax increase is imminent simply due to the neglect and poor planning of previous administrations and boards. At this point, we agree to disagree on the exact implementation and scope of that work. 🙂 And I believe we all agree that this referendum isn’t “the end” (pass or fail), because of the middle schools and Dr. Howard.

The Unit 4 Executive Team also invited me to a morning meeting to address my question of “What size high school is ideal for Unit 4?” To my pleasant surprise, Dr. Laura Taylor mentioned that her doctoral thesis indirectly addressed that very question; not to be cliché, but size doesn’t matter. Rather, it is the quality and quantity of “teacher care” that has the most impact. I find it quite inspiring that someone who has dwelled deeply and broadly on a contentious topic like the academic achievement of African American students (and the surrounding perceptions) is helping to shape the future of our schools.

One thing I have really appreciated about the folks at the Mellon Center, the administration, the student I spoke with, the board members and the “Friends of Champaign Schools” is the passion and energetic excitement they exhibit in regards to the future of our schools. It is rather intoxicating actually. To reiterate, this is something I want to see grow. When I spoke with Stephanie Stuart and Dennis Bane (before “Friends of Champaign Schools” kicked into high gear), I mentioned that all this awesome charisma almost seems locked within the four walls of the Mellon Center, and that the general public is not yet on the same page. I cannot help but think to myself “what if all this positivity and synergy spilled out into the media and around dinner tables two years ago?”

There is a lot to love about Champaign Schools. Denise Martin and Dan Ditchfield are only two examples of hard-working folks trying to share that love with others. I very much admire what they are doing.

So Dan, is that the “fair shake” you were expecting? 🙂

June 24th board retreat

This afternoon, the board held a Special Board Meeting dealing with the goals of/for the Superintendent, Dr. Judy Wiegand. Outside of the Unit 4 employees and the Board Members, I think NG staff writer Meg Dickinson, Chuck Jackson and I were the only others in attendance. There was a NG photographer who swung by, so depending on which pictures are made available, you will see that there were about 32-34 people total.

I appreciated that both Board President Laurie Bonnett and Dr. Wiegand made it very clear that public participation was very much welcome and that there would be a free-flow discussion. I like that format a lot; it probably would be a bit more challenging to adhere to that format if more community members (and more vocal ones *grin*) were in the room.

I was only able to stick around for the first hour. I believe that in that first hour, we only covered the first of the five goals outlined in the one public document made available online. Which reminds me, there were a number of handouts available for the public, but I do not know where they are online (maybe they are not posted? Yet) {updated} Documents now posted on BoardDocs – see the full slide deck for more details on what was covered. In that first goal, the Assistant Superintendents and the Superintendent spent a lot of time covering the “Achievement Framework.” I am still trying to wrap my head around it, and I cannot possibly do it justice here. At least, not yet. There was a lot of talk of utilizing more metrics and constant monitoring, of being very intentional and mindful of key waypoints (ie, Kindergarten, 3rd grade, 5th grade, 8th grade), and implementing Common Core with the idea of ultimately making all kids “college ready”.

Also, in a brief chat with the tech guys before the meeting, I learned that the “screen” (the computer monitor to display the various presentations) would be recorded, and Mr. David Hohman tells me that audio is going to be synchronized after the fact. I do not see either online, yet, but will keep my eyes open. My biggest concern, especially in regards to involving everyone who could not make it, is that the audio might be a bit lacking at times; they had technical difficulties with one microphone and ended up passing another one around which sounded a lot different; many times the mic cut out, and sometimes the speaker (ie, from the audience) was not near a mic. I hope the end result is enough for folks to bite into.

More later. I would love to get feedback from board members as well – we will have to see if anyone wishes to share their thoughts.

 

UPDATE: Vimeo video now available:

http://vimeo.com/69751582

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 »

Notes from the April 8th BOE Meeting

Stig opened the meeting to give special mention of Dave Tomlinson’s last day on the Board, and to open the floor for Board comments praising Dave for all his work over the past few years. Stig honored Dave with a plaque, after which Dave shared how he feels best about advocating for teachers.

No public comments.

Board member comments
Tomlinson: talked highly of the early childhood center, good news about not RIFfing anyone. (note: RIF = Reduction in Force, a practice of letting staff go with the hopeful promise of being hired again)
Jamar: good stuff at college and career center, good “state of the district” address at Carrie Busey, good feelings all around at address; talked about how Dr. Wiegand met all her goals and is changing the perception.
Chalifoux: go vote tomorrow
Van Ness: one positive and one negative. positive = “Gold card” thing, college and career center. Negative = some schools still have no Proximity A – 1) either get rid of Proximity or 2) give every child Proximity A, the 1.5 mile thingy is IRRELEVANT (his emphasis).
Chalifoux: “Gold card” thing is good; asked about doing a REALTORS brunch. Wiegand responds that we are doing them, and in fact one is scheduled for May (if I heard correctly).
Stig: acknowledges present candidates again.
Upcoming events (among the many events, I focused on one)
May 6th, special board meeting to swear in new board members

Item D moved up to the front.

Future facilities presentation:
Steering Team Co-Chair Bruce Knight started; lots of background provided; enrollment projections need to be looked at annually.  I ask (and have asked previously) “who is going to do that?” More on this in just a little bit. Most dense population around Garden Hills. Population shift moving north and east.

In discussing the “opinion polling” by Fallon, Bruce Knight says a majority of they “yes” votes came from low-propensity voters. So his solution is to get more people to vote. I wonder about that; to me, it essential to make sure folks are first educated properly about the issues (and candidates where relevant). In addition to the above, the majority of “yes” votes came from the younger generation, while the majority of “no” votes came from those who are older. Are the older folks just stodgy? Are the younger folks just naive? We cannot really assume anything – we just don’t know.

Given all the Read the rest of this entry »