Parent Advocacy Committee (review of Dec 7th meeting)

Last Friday’s Advocacy meeting went well, although a few of you will point out “done” much. We did have some excellent conversations, and aside from exploring and brainstorming our purpose, we don’t have much to show for what we did. That is a sword that cuts both ways.

 

Before I go on, I did want to point out that I created a couple online resources to aid the online community:

 

 

I grew impatient waiting for others to do this. 🙂 On a more serious note, why is it that the Unit 4 web presence does not empower its own employees to be co-creators? Or to zoom out, why is the web so hard? In our day and age, I expect much more of user interfaces. But now I digress.

 

So for last Friday. The majority of our time was spent trying to figure out what we were doing. 🙂 Don’t get me wrong, a lot of great ideas came up – when Cheryl posts the notes and minutes, you can read over them to see how the committee is shaping up. It is obvious that there are is no single working definition of “advocacy”, thus to find a “mission statement” or a succinct “purpose” was all but impossible. So we came up with a series of core beliefs about what we thought advocacy should do. As mentioned previously, there is a lot of overlap with Laura Taylor’s Social Justice Committee. In fact Sean Morrison (principal at Westview) was sitting right next to me and mentioned this very thing at the meeting.

The last part of the meeting was exploring the idea of a “Needs Assessment”. I had emailed the group earlier (as mentioned in a blog post) about other resources that are already doing this sort of thing – I have no idea if my email got any traction or not. The 13 or so of us that were present all ended the meeting with an action item to somehow access needs in our local circles. I think the point is that we will report back to the group in January and somehow address those needs. I think.

Afterwards I had a most excellent chat with one of the members who is a kindergarten teacher. She has done several home visits with the parents and has shared what an amazing impact that has had. I talked to her with the purpose of trying to figure out how to get other teachers to do the same. It turned out to be a very satisfying and exciting conversation, and I think we are going to try to cross school boundaries and first introduce this idea (and the impact it has had) to various parents first. It is my hope to get a groundswell of parents who see the value of home visits and actively desire it, hoping to build momentum to get the parent voice to demand this of the district. Of course, if we are misguided and most parents do not want this, there will be no strong voice. 🙂 I think this experiment to see if our ideas are in the right place or not.

 

Cheryl also suggested that I read Dan and Chip Heath’s “Switch: How to change things when change is hard” (found a free ebook for those interested). Having made my way about 2/3 through it, I have realized it shares a significant parallel to Malcolm Gladwell’s “Tipping Point” and Jonah Lehrer’s “How we decide”; very similar styles of writing and format, with extremely similar concepts just using different words. I read these kinds of books and I find them simultaneously invigorating and frustrating. Invigorating because there is a lot that strikes a chord with me and helps me understand the world around me. Frustrating because too often I see the big changes I would like to happen and loose track of the small “next steps” that are much more practical. The big picture often overwhelms me – I find myself wanting someone else to tell me what to do. I don’t want to make the decisions. Some times I don’t even want to talk. I just want to do.

Growing Roses in Concrete: thoughts about the Nov 29th Social Justice meeting

The title is borrowed from Jeff Duncan-Andrade (13 minute TED talk – a VERY worthwhile listen), who was inspired by Tupac Shakur’s “The Rose That Grew from Concrete” (wiki entry for book). This topic served as the basis for much of our discussion. And I would say that the conversations, both around the tables and at large, were excellent opportunities to learn from each other, explore the environment we live in and how that affects others.

 

So right up front let me say that I am torn about the Social Justice Committee. As I reflect upon this, I realized I could use the working analogy of concrete and roses with damaged petals to shape my thoughts.

 

The concrete

For lack of a more creative way to say this, Unit 4 does things a certain way. It’s the “way it has always been done” kind of thing. Unit 4 committees are typically heavily populated by Unit 4 staff and typically held at the Mellon Center. For the most part, these committees and board meetings struggle to gain any sort of publicity outside themselves; they are not visible on the website, you don’t see anyone blogging about them, nothing on twitter or even around the coffee pot. They are a part of the invisible machinations of the “machine” of Unit 4 district administration. I also get the sense that their goals (purpose, mission statement, etc) are too often looking inward; how to form policy, how to shape administration.

To make a more specific example of last night’s social justice meeting, I found it extremely hard to engage in the conversation at first because the first task made no sense to me. We were given two vignettes of fictional students whose performance started off greatly but had taken a nosedive. Based on an incomplete picture of the situation, we were told to discuss ways in which pieces of the existing system “engaged” certain areas. Like what does “Instruction” do, currently, to address these two downward sliding students? What about “Facilities”? “Curriculum”? It was too abstract for me. I have no clue how the buildings affect the fictional students. Granted, others at the table came up with ideas, but they all felt very “Unit 4ish” to me. Like, very vague and barely relevant ideas, nothing to me that could be made specifically applicable to these students in mind.

 

The Roses

Given the hard adversity of these tradition-bound forms, good things still happen. There are really fascinating facts buried in the EEE and PMPK meeting reports. More recently, the Social Justice and Parent Advocacy committees are having these little examples of excellent conversations, awesome intent and lots of potential. There are some really hard-working, liberal-thinking and risk-taking individuals in the meetings. I love that!

I would also say an emerging ‘rose’ is that of the new administration’s attempt to grow trust, to be transparent and to engage the community.

Going back to last night again as a specific example, one lady at a table reported out on her table’s brainstorming on ways to improve the current system, and WOW, they had some awesome ideas! I very much hope to see that list put up on the website. And since I saw two of you readers sitting at that table, I hope you can say more as well. 🙂

 

The damaged petals

As a result of the concrete, it is my observation that most community folks are disengaged. My perspective is that it seems most people view the whole of Unit 4 as an antiquated system, most likely due to practices from the past decades that have eroded trust. There is a general sense that these committees are not doing much. And here is where I am torn. For all these great conversations that we are having, what actually gets done? How are students helped? How is the community helped? This is very hard to measure. I think there is a lot of personal satisfaction by those who attend (and also dissatisfaction in many cases), but how does that translate outwards?

 

For me, I was reminded that there is beauty all around us. I am extremely grateful that Ellen Dahlke and Jaime Roundtree led us through the examples of Tupac’s vivid and gripping universe.

Building bridges with Shadow Wood

Unit 4 finally made good on their promise to return to Shadow Wood after their August 17th meeting (I think that was the last one); a group of residents and a bevy of Unit 4 reps crowded into the Shadow Wood Community Center. Superintendent Dr. Judy Wiegand opened the evening with introductions, joined by Assistant Superintendents Dr. Susan Zola and Dr. Laura Taylor; Barbara Ramsay had two of her Transportation guys there to listen and take notes, ESL Director Maria Alanis was there to do the bulk of the translating,  Board Member Ileana Saveley also helped bridge the language obstacles and engage the residents, and Central Assistant Principal Bryan Yacko was there to represent the high school district in which Shadow Wood now resides. Champaign City Council Member Will Kyles also dropped by and addressed the group.

The first order of the night was Transportation and the ongoing issues with buses. It was amazing to witness the interaction; the residents spoke about inconsistent pickup/dropoff times and how some drivers are just rude, and the administrators actively listened, showed concern, and then stated what they are going to do about it. That was the best part; “Ok, I hear what you are saying, this is what we are going to do to fix it.” And so on Monday and Tuesday, the bus that serves Shadow Wood is going to have a tail, checking to see what is going on with the route. The residents suspected that the bus was going to Savoy to drop off one child first, and then coming all the way back north with a 99% full bus. Having just done that exact route myself, I know it takes a while, and I also know it makes absolutely no sense for a bus serving Garden Hills to go to Savoy first for dropoff (for pickup, yes, sure, it makes sense). The folks from the Transportation Department said that should not be happening. But they are going to check. They also mentioned that one of the buses broke recently (I had this picture of a bus literally breaking in half) which might have accounted for some disruption today. What was really good, also, is that Maria explicitly said that if after Tuesday things are still not good, they should call her or Ileana. It was clear that the residents felt very strongly about this – and so they should! The mothers talked about how they have to drop off their kids and get to work, and if the bus is not consistent, they are sometimes late to work. It was equally clear that the Unit 4 staff were very concerned and want to make sure things are right. And this is what I love about this kind of environment – the residents were being empowered. They were encouraged to use their voice (and they did!).

Next up, Read the rest of this entry »

Review of the Oct 8th Board Retreat: the conundrum of public education

Tonight’s post is partially inspired by an Old Spice commercial featuring Bruce Campbell and an intriguing statement by Henry Ford. You can google the commercial if you like – I am not going to link youTube because that can lead to all sorts of unknown troubles, but it starts of “If you have it you don’t need it. If you need it, you don’t have it.” The quote from Henry Ford I am going to steal is “If you need a machine and don’t buy it, then you will ultimately find that you have paid for it and don’t have it.”

First off, a couple of announcements came out of the retreat:

  • The state of Illinois is going to mandate a state-wide climate survey. This year! (I presume this school year, not this calendar year) Upon asking Dr. Wiegand for more details, she indicated that she is going to pass the buck to the Executive Director of LUDA and hopefully get back to me.
  • The Board and the Administration will hold another retreat in the Spring (TBA)
  • Unit 4 is forming two ad hoc teams/committees, one for Parent Advocacy and another for Transitions (ie, entry into Kindergarten, 5th to 6th, 8th to 9th). I ask for and received assurances that each committee would have its own dedicated webpage on the school website and that the chairs would be asked to keep the web spaces well maintained.

Dr. Laura Taylor got us started off with her “Social Justice Wheel“. This is the same wheel that was used for the Social Justice Committee (Sept 27th); in fact, Dr. Taylor even divided the room between those who already started that conversation so they could jump to the next application – what keeps parents and children out (in the context of the night’s focus on “Services for Parents and Students”)? We discussed this at each table – I ended up at a table with administrators since there were like…. zero other “parents” there (and by “parents” I mean someone who was not either a Unit 4 employee, Board Member or Media). In fact, I highlighted this point, sweeping the room and saying “look who is not here  – why are they not here?” For truly Read the rest of this entry »

Reflection of the Sept 27th Social Justice Committee meeting

I think we barely scratched the surface. But we did scratch.

Dr. Taylor, who says she was called Laura or ‘LT’ while at Urbana, followed her publicized agenda very thoroughly. I totally failed on naming the musical selections – I might have recognized one of them. One of the ladies at our table couldn’t stop dancing to most of them. 🙂

On “The Purpose of the Committee”, I am pretty sure Laura said that this will NOT be a committee. I had to grin at that. She talked briefly about some of her visions for this group, about how we are going to try engaging in “Courageous Conversations” (hat tip to Karen) and how we have to put ourselves in uncomfortable situations. I very much appreciate her passion and vision for this.

We were divided into about 8 tables averaging about 4 or 5 each and Laura did not take long to give us our first group task; discuss the ground rules. For instance, our table talked about things like respecting each other, employing active listening, don’t take things personally, don’t dominate the conversation, have a thick skin and just be honest. Each table had an opportunity to relate to the whole some of these ground rules, which were complied by Angi Franklin (the designated notetaker). I am anxious to see that list posted on the website.

Although Laura never really attempted to define “Social Justice”, she did have us collaboratively come up with thoughts about the term “Ideology”. Several folks shared common ideas about belief systems; I wrote down “A framework for belief or world views”. She used this as a springboard to launch into the Big QuestionⓇ – Who defines what is ‘normal’? She passed out her “Circle of Ideology” (will link when I find it) and we spent a bit of time Read the rest of this entry »

Social Justice Committee Meeting, September 27, 5:00 – 6:30 pm

re: http://www.champaignschools.org/news/news_files/2012-09-24_SJC_First_Meeting_Agenda.pdf

 

As stated earlier, Chuck Jackson and I are keeping ears to the ground and eyes open. 🙂 “Why?” you might ask.

 

Whatever images come to your mind when you hear the words “Social Justice”, I can almost guarantee you that we each have a different mental image, but some where in that swirl of subjectivity we have to boil it down to some form of “justice” in the context of something that is “social”. The way I see it, the “have nots” are constantly getting screwed over by the “haves”; sometimes deliberately, but probably more often than not it is subtle, unconscious, maybe even systemic. Note that even when it is systemic, injustice is still not right; just because it is hard to take responsibility at the individual level does not absolve one of taking action.

 

To that latter point, I see something like a social justice committee addressing the ‘systemic’ issue dead on. I am not saying it is a perfect approach, nor that it will solve all our problems. My hope is that it starts to open the door so we can better understand each other and learn to walk in each others’ shoes. “We make the path by walking.” I believe (I could be wrong, and it wouldn’t be the first time) that this is the first step to take towards things advocacy and helping each other have a voice and a place to stand. When you think about it, we don’t need a manual to tell us how to do things – what we really want is someone to walk next to us. This is what I personally see “social justice” doing.

 

Of course, you are free to disagree. As always, I very much welcome different points of view, so let me have it. 🙂

Unit 4 posts a weekly newsletter

In the past, Unit 4 put out a district-wide newsletter about once every 2 months or so. It looks like they might be stepping up to once a week now:

http://www.champaignschools.org/news/news_files/2012-09-13_WeeklyNewsletter.pdf

 

In this first issue, Dr. Wiegand emphasizes the need to connect with the community, and how this newsletter is hoping to “open the door even wider”. The bulk of her update deals with facilities; how exploding growth in enrollment is rapidly driving a need for more and better equiped buildings. She recognizes how the community needs to be a part of this process and expresses a desire to be transparent in the process, explaining that this is the root reason they have hired DeJong-Richter (URL to the RFP Proposal included). One of the nice things about the proposal which I missed before is that it includes a rough time-line. Now I only hope they provide a well-maintained dedicated webpage to this project.

 

One of the events listed at the bottom of the newsletter is the Social Justice Committee on Sept 27. Chuck Jackson and I spoke with Dr. Laura Taylor this morning, and we are all very much excited about her plans. She indicated that she will be posting minutes and such, but I hope she is a bit more ambitious and posts her plans, notes and thoughts, etc. 🙂 Dr. Taylor has been busy making personal invitations to various groups and churches and passing out flyers. They are expected a very large turnout. Dr. Taylor also expressed the hope that perhaps satellite groups would host future Social Committee meetings. Along the vein, I spoke with William Jones (co-owner of the Rose & Taylor Barbershop) and he is very interested in hosting a satellite meeting. Keep your eyes open. I am also asking Board Member Ileana Saveley about the possibility of bringing a satellite meeting out to Shadow Wood.

 

PS – Karen, you have raised some points in previous comments. I still intend to get to them, but I am really hoping that Dr. Taylor will respond in one way or another.