What are public schools supposed to do?

I have often asked myself variations on the question “what is the purpose of school?” When asked, my then 9-year-old daughter offered her perspective, “to learn how to learn.” I asked her a year later about the purpose of the teacher, and she said “to make learning fun.” (for more reading, “The purpose of Education” part 1, 2, 3)

 

I find myself aligning with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, and many others both before and after MLK, who paints a picture that the purpose of education is to generate successful citizens. Citizens that can navigate and participate in society, that know how to collaborate and compromise, engage in healthy debate to voice different ideas, and overall “be family.”

 

 

A related question is “what is the purpose of the board?” (part 1, 2) Basically, the school board sits at the 10,000 foot level (right below the clouds) and determines where the bus is going to go in the long run.

 

Having laid all that out as a preamble, I now turn your attention to the November 16th school board meeting, the agenda of which can be found on boarddocs (I still do not have a way to deep-link the agenda – you will have to navigate there manually). In particular, the interesting presentation on High School Configuration. First, I think it is great that this board is trying to 1) be very open in their discussion, and 2) are trying to invite the community to the table on “big issues”.

 

The High School Configuration document is interesting because it starts off with a summary of Lisa de la Rue’s literature review. For those that want to rewind back to the June 11th, 2012, meeting, I have a couple notes you can look over; June 9th, before the meeting, and June 12th, after the meeting. Basically, there is a weak correlation between school configuration and student achievement (too many other variables). This current document goes on to list several pros and cons between a 1-HS model, a 2-HS model (current) and a 3-HS model. I noticed a trend in the carefully phrased “possibilities” – the single high school model might increase the number of opportunities/services while at the same time might decrease climate, while at the other end (not really an extreme) the three high school model looses the number of offerings (due to lack of consolidation) but increases the innate intimacy. Funny how the two high school model has one and only one “concern” listed. Oh, by the way, the current HS principals will be spearheading this presentation. 🙂

 

I am not shy about my own preference, but the point I want to make with this post is that I believe the board as a whole needs to focus first on what kind of students they want to produce. Regardless of configuration or location, when you hand a diploma to a kid, what qualities and traits will they have acquired because of Unit 4? What exactly is a successful citizen? What about those students for whom the current system is not working at all? What are we doing wrong if students (young citizens) are “failing” the public school system?

 

The district administration has recently taken a stronger stance in support of Positive Behavior Facilitation (PBF, a concept originated by Dr. Edna Olive who has a book by the same title). Mr. Orlando Thomas and Ms. Katie Ahsell are pushing PBF, with good effect, with ACTIONS staff used throughout the district. During a recent email exchange with Dr. Wiegand, it sounds like the district is looking at including PBF and cultural relevancy more thoroughly within Professional Development in the near future. Having read Dr. Olive’s book, I find myself agreeing with her belief that “relationships are everything.” In fact, Dr. Olive goes so far as to call PBF a paradigm not a program; it is more of mindset, a method of taking a step back and thinking about all the factors going on in a given situation, starting first with yourself.

 

My own high-level goals for any student going through Unit 4, regardless of the physical building they happen to be in, are:

  • her sense of curiosity, creativity and wonder are encouraged and enhanced; she is a critical thinker who, because she is a life-long learner, questions everything
  • although she is a single citizen, she is a valuable citizen who appreciates the value of others around her; ergo she seeks to resolve conflict, collaborate, and compromise as needed
  • alongside her repertoire of reading, writing and math skills, she also gains the confidence that she can acquire new skills as desired
  • she is both street-wise and world-wise

 

What goals do you have? What goals do our students have? And how will we realize those goals?

 

I hope lots of people show up for the chat tomorrow, and I hope many more continue to provide input on their own priorities. I urge the board to focus more on the purpose of Unit 4 schools, and provide course corrections to the administration as necessary. Personally, I don’t think the board as a whole should decide the location or the configuration; certainly as individuals and voters they have an opinion that should be expressed, but as a board, I see their job as setting the big picture first.

 

Let’s make learning fun. 🙂 And let us learn how to learn. Always.

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More numbers to chew on

In light of Dannel McCollum’s June 15th letter (“Board’s performance is a definite downer“) and a follow-up letter by Central alum Stephen Witt (“Central discussion is a confusing mix” – June 19th), I got to thinking about how we arrived at the place we are today. Which further inspired me to develop this timeline:

 

u4_timeline

 

While doing the research for this, I stumbled upon a 2007 article which pretty much laid out some stark (and not very flattering) observations about how Unit 4 enters into these bond referendums (referenda?):

http://www.extremewisdom.com/champaign-school-building-scam/

 

Another is a NG Guest Editorial written by Laurie Reynolds in 2011:

https://thecitizen4blog.wordpress.com/misc/news-gazette-editorial-feb-6-2011-laurie-reynolds/

 

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of other details that did not make the cut for the timeline above; I even unearthed an ancient 1955 bond referendum. 🙂 There have been many efforts to discuss, adapt, upgrade, enhance, replace and build new schools over the past half-century. More recently, things like the Unit 4 “Town Hall Meeting”, the many “Community Dialogues” and the various surveys are not included either.

 

In conclusion, I noticed that Urbana is planning “Renovation without taxation“, also noted in this NG article: Urbana school board mulls building projects. I wonder if they hired a bunch of consultants to help them with that. I wonder how they built consensus (the article merely mentions that they have consensus, not how they achieved it, or who exactly is part of the group).

References

 

Bonus Points

Anyone interested in compiling all these facts into a dynamically zoomable Prezi?

norepinephrine

Wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norepinephrine

Fight or Flight? Which one comes to mind when you think about the high school siting saga? More importantly, if our community were a living body, what kind of neurotransmitters would be coursing through our collective circulatory system?

I am concerned that there is a lot of emotion building up over this one topic. To be clear, we have many issues before us that grab our attention and cause our heart rate to spike; pension turmoil, Obamacare, now the holidays are upon us, slick roads, the promise of more taxes, Common Core, potentially big Primary and General elections next year… The list goes on. I am not saying emotion is bad; Malcolm Gladwell and Jonah Lehrer will point out, with many words and anectdotal stories, how emotions play an important role in our decision-making process. But we have to balance that with a method of rationalization as well.

So Read the rest of this entry »

More about High School Configuration

Apparently, Unit 4 has been putting some serious thought into a part of Greg Novak’s “master plan” (I’m not sure that is what he called it, but that is what I am calling it). When looking through the June 11th Board Meeting agenda, one of the first presentations is by a University Master student:

The high school options under consideration include a change from the current grade configuration of K-5, 6-8 and 9-12.  One of the options under consideration includes changing the middle school grade configuration to include grades 6 and 7, a prep academy that would have grades 8 and 9, and one high school grades 10-12.  Previous presentations from Central and Centennial Administration highlighted the positive aspects of this configuration, along with the limitations.

In order to inform the Board and the Champaign Community, a thorough literature review was conducted by University of Illinois Graduate student, Lisa De La Rue.  This evening, Lisa will share her findings as it relates to grade configuration, student achievement and participation.

[Note: the “[p]revious presentations from Central and Centennial Administration” were mostly negative towards this configuration :)]

School Configuration – A relatively short (22 pages) look at how “configurations” affect achievement. Basically, there are tons of factors that affect achievement and one kinda has to roll the dice on configuration. More significant factors are probably the downstream effects of the configuration; for example, how resources are allocated, the number of transitions, the climate of the school atmosphere, etc. Great short list of “quick points” starting on page 19.

Bibliography – Includes an almost one-page summary for each of the 23 sources cited

 

It is interesting that Unit 4 is stepping up the ante by engaging the University this way. I think this is what some of us have been wanting for a while. I also wonder if Dr. Wiegand is taking advantage of the fact that she graduated from the College of Education from the University. 🙂 That would so totally make sense.

 

So if you are at the Board Meeting on June 11th, you are going to get a double whammy of high school options. Come prepared with thoughts and comments.

 

Looking at the rest of the agenda, I am amazed at how huge it is. Wow! And most of it is via Dr. Wiegand. This is going to be a challenging meeting for her; Gene was such a core piece of the team and carried a lot of weight, and now not only is Dr. Wiegand picking up that weight, but she also has to deal with the loss of a person. My thoughts and sympathies go out to her.