Quick update

First, I have the recording from Monday night’s Special Board Meeting:


I am also trying a box.com account – see if you like this better (same file, just possibly faster download):


I still have not yet had a moment to watch it all. I was actually at the board meeting for the first part of it, but had to leave when Cheryl Camacho [edit: sorry about the typo] wrapped up the Magnet programs. While that segment was a tad long, it was all very impressive! Representatives from each magnet school demonstrated what they were doing; we met the newly elected Mayor of Strattonville, heard various languages from Garden Hills and the board members got to play with a cool ProScope from BTW. At one point, Dave Tomlinson gleefully said that he could do this at every board meeting. 🙂 Maybe we will see a new trend….  Cheryl posted a metric TON of presentations on BoardDocs – good luck reading all of them. She went over a few during the meeting, and I am glad she did not cover all of them. I felt bad for the kids that were waiting and waiting and waiting to go – I guess you could say I empathized with them.

So even though I Read the rest of this entry »

School assignment: Wake County pulling off the gloves

The News-Observer has been reporting over the past few weeks a number of articles that highlight the displeasure of some folks about the “choice” school assignment based on Dr. Michael Alves’ program. Personally, I find all the riff-raff of anonymous haters and rare thoughtful comments to be confusing, only making the waters more muddy. In the latest piece, supposedly the Wake County Board is directing the superintendent to develop a “node-based” assignment process (fancy talk for “neighborhood schools”).

I ran this by our Unit 4 Board, and one of the emails I received in response was that the “directive” looks very much like the system we have now; a hybrid solution (a mix of Proximity and SES priorities, weighted towards Proximity by the way), a “stay where you start” clause, and still some measure of unpredictability.

In all my reading of Wake County and Unit 4 articles, blogs and comments, what strikes me the most is the perception that people have of the system. I am inclined to think that for the most part, the current system gets the job done. Not perfectly – there are still some big issues with those who end up on a wait list. But the bigger problem, I think, is when folks either have an expectation of having the privilege of choosing one (or maybe two) school and getting it (for any number of reasons) or being totally overwhelmed and drowned in all the technical details (Proximity? Priority? SES?). The system, as it operated in March 2012, did not avail itself well for either end of that spectrum.

I don’t know what the perfect system is. Greg Novak had some pretty interesting ideas that tweaked the current system just a tad more, but Read the rest of this entry »

Lynn Peisker joining The Daily Blur

just a quick note (hat tip to a little bird)



The wrong question

“Shall the Board of Education of Champaign Community Unit School District Number 4, Champaign County, Illinois, be authorized to issue $14,500,000 bonds for a working cash fund as provided for by Article 20 of the School Code?”

— Unit 4 March 2012 Petition

I have been bothered by this whole thing (“torn“), and I think I finally put my finger on it; we are asking the wrong question. In my opinion, the real question is “How shall the Board direct the Superintendent to provide the best learning environments for all our citizens?” Allow me to deconstruct the current question that we have before us, and then build up the question I think we should be asking.

What the heck is a working cash bond? Read the rest of this entry »

(re)starting a conversation

From Lynn Peisker:

Here’s something we would like to hear from younger parents about – those who have up and coming pre-school and elementary students who will someday be attending our high schools in whatever form that takes in the future.

Do you prefer a traditional grade configuration of 6-8 for middle school and 9-12 for high school?  Or would you be interested in a grade configuration with middle school for 6-7, a prep academy for 8-9, and one high school for 10-13?

I would go further and say “Let us know what you think no matter what ideas you have”. For instance, what about K-8 schools? Neighborhood schools?

I think this is a great start. It is a very important topic to discuss, and a great way to open the doors to let the community voice their opinions. If nothing else, it will be like buying someone a drink with the intents of getting them to talk a little more. 🙂 I hope. In a good way, of course.

Lynn put a poll on the Unit 4 FB page, and I see Jamar Brown has propagated the question as well.

Reflection upon the Jan 10th "Choice" Community Forum

I am glad I rearranged my schedule to make it to this forum; as with all meetings I find myself in, I personally place a much higher value on the one-to-one conversations I have, over and above the information that is disseminated and dumped upon attendants. So here are the pros and cons, from my point of view:

Cons Read the rest of this entry »

Where does negative perception come from?

After speaking with School Exec Connect representatives Dr. Ed Olds and Dr. Kent Johansen, I come away with mixed feelings. Again. In some ways, I hope that this blog entry raises questions and invites folks to disagree. I always invite others to disagree with me – for me, that is a healthy and even necessary way to grow.


So here it is: I think this community is its own worst enemy.


Today, I and several others met with School Exec Connect on two different occasions. Once during a PTA Council session at the Mellon center which Gaby help set up, and another Junior League sponsored event at Centennial, for which about 30 (max) community members showed up. They presented a few bits of information, like what to expect next, how things are going to roll, and some stats on the surveys that some 850+ of us have filled out. A large majority of the survey respondents (515 I believe) were parents. I was also surprised by the top ranked characteristics people wanted in a Superintendent:

  1. “Student-first” philosophy
  2. Serve as a model for high standards (integrity, personal performance)
  3. Has administrative experience in a similar district
  4. Necessary leadership skills to respond to a ethnically diverse community
  5. Experience to select/implement priorities aligned to interests/needs of students & communities
  6. Develops a good admin team that progresses the district’s vision


Nothing about transparency, nothing explicit about communication, nothing overt about strengthening ties with school building staff.


Tonight’s session was, in a way, a turning point for me. Maybe only in small way. But it dawned on me how cynical we can be. For instance, try to come up with a list of stregths of our school district. Right now, make up your own list. See how long it takes. See if you can think of more than two.


My own list took a while (over 20 minutes) – allow me to point out some of the strengths I see in our school district, qualities that most people will probably agree with but spend a disproportionate amount of time pondering:

  • We have some really awesome teachers
  • Gene Logas; he might speak a different language, but he has set this district on solid financial ground
  • Lynn Peisker; possibly one of the best decisions that the BOE and Administration has made in a long time
  • Several community-engagement programs that do not often make the spotlight (Champaign Urbana School Foundation, Junior League of Champgin-Urbana, various backpack-stuffing groups/efforts, mentors, volunteers, after-school programs, college students who help out in various ways and several college courses that interact directly with students)
  • Lots of exciting things happening in practically all the schools (thanks to Peikser’s newsletters)
  • Some passionate school principals who have a huge heart for the kids
  • Lots of good people with good intentions in Unit 4
  • A majority of children are having a positive experience (if we take the Climate Survey at face value)


We can quickly point out the things we do not like about the school district, but it tends to be more difficult to find the positives. At tonight’s session, I heard a story that I have heard numerous times in the past; a couple is considering Unit 4, but they are finding it really tough to not sent their precious child to private school. To rub salt in the wound, they are a product of Unit 4. We heard from another well-spoken gentleman who is concerned about the lack of African-Americans in teaching positions. Read the negativity expressed by some commentors who graced chambanamoms recently (warning, some are flagrant trolls). I myself have contributed to the Pool of Distraught Outlooks as well, and have been decrying the state of IT in Unit 4.


There are problems with the school district. Most definitely, no doubt about it. But I think we whip ourselves up in too much of a frenzy about it. I am not convinced that we have to wait on Unit 4 to change, nor need we wait for a new superintendent, for a change in perception.


I really like how Dr. Johansen emphasized near the end of tonight’s session that the Superintendent is accountable to, and in fact is hired and evaluated by, the local Board of Education. The BOE is powerful! Or at least, should be. The BOE is elected by, and thus accountable to, the people. When the Superintendent does not work under the jurisdiction of the BOE and the BOE is not listening to the people, you have a very dysfunctional system. I think we had that system recently. I think we are slowly shedding the vestiges of the old system like an ill-fitting chrysalis. I think it is paramount that we see the fruits of this metamorphosis and work together to unfurl our wings and make something really good come of this.


What am I trying to say? It would behoove us to spend a lot more time focusing on the positive and less time pointing out the negative. I am not saying that we should stop saying negative things. By no means! Rather, that we should put a “constructive criticism” spin on them.


I know I am not pioneering a new path. Others have been down this road. Some burned out, some gave up, some turned back. Some just plain disappeared. But why?


Congrats to Lynn Peisker and Beth Shepperd

re: https://www.facebook.com/notes/champaign-unit-4-schools/district-wins-communication-awards/182215505179839

The Champaign Community Unit School District #4 has received three state level communication awards from the Illinois Chapter of the National School Public Relations Association.  “Marketing our Magnet Schools”, a campaign to introduce Booker T. Washington and Garden Hills Elementary Schools to the community, earned the Golden Achievement Award for Community Relations Coordinator Lynn Peisker.  Peisker, along with Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources and Community Relations Beth Shepperd, earned a Communications Contest Award for the District’s “Fast Facts Brochure.”  “Academic Spotlight”, the District’s video highlights of each school, earned a Communication Contest Award for Peisker and videographer Brandon Minett.

Professionals who have earned their accreditation in Public Relations judged the Golden Achievement Category, and the communications category awards were judged by members of the National School Public Relations Association from Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Minnesota, Ohio, Tennessee, Wisconsin, and the Chicagoland chapter of Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).

“These awards constitute outstanding recognition of Unit 4’s external communication tools.  Lynn Peisker is to be credited with bringing creativity and innovation to Unit 4 communications.  She is the reason for these awards, and it is outstanding to see such recognition during her first year in school communications,” said Shepperd.

“Fast Facts” brochures, which contain academic, financial and demographic data about Unit 4, are available at the Mellon Administrative Center, 703 S. New Street.  “Academic Spotlights” can once again be seen on Champaign Government TV on Cable Channel 5 in Champaign beginning September 1st.

Reduced-cost internet for families receiving free lunches

re: http://cu-citizenaccess.org/content/comcast-offers-lnternet-plan-low-income-households

This sounds promising. I acknowledge up-front that there are going to be many naysayers about this program, and some of them might even have legitimate concerns. Martin Wolske has striven to provide Broadband access to impoverished areas of Saint Louis, and after talking with him, I was highly encouraged to hear how such a project impacts the residents. Which is why I think this news from Comcast is promising.

I say this on the heels of Peisker’s latest update concerning “To The Point”, which is going paperless. It becomes a question of how folks consume news, which varies more and more as technology evolves. Some still like the tangible, tactile nature of printed things. That is how I personally prefer to read books. But some like RSS and feeds (count me for RSS feeds of Facebook and news). And there are many other options. Most of those options are online, especially the “cheaper” ones. In reality, “cheap” just means you are pushing the costs from one category or entity to another. Perhaps the only real “free” form of communication is face-to-face.

News from Lynn Peisker (Great Schools, Together; new staff; etc)

Lynn Peisker of Unit 4 continues to crank out helpful and informative tidbits. Her latest is the next installation of “To The Point” and includes an update about “Great Schools, Together”. I have not yet had a chance to read it, but hope so soon. Lynn has also been very active in updating the Unit 4 Facebook page (which I encourage you to subscribe to).


More to follow soon.


Here is a syndication of what she supplied to the KCN:

Today, we welcome new administrators approved by the Board of Education at last night’s meeting:

Barb Daly has been approved the Champaign Unit 4 Board of Education on August 8 as the Interim Principal of Westview Elementary School.  Under Ms. Daly’s leadership as principal, Bottenfield Elementary earned Unit 4’s first Illinois State Board of Education Academic Excellence Award.  She also served as Principal for South Side Elementary, as well as a teacher and a teacher’s aide during a 34-year career in Unit 4.


“It is exciting to have an educator with Ms. Daly’s skill and experience available to lead Westview.  Her expertise will allow students, families and staff to make a smooth transition and have another successful school year.  We are elated to have her back in Unit 4,” said Dr. Robert Malito, Interim Superintendent.


In addition, The Board of Education has approved:


James P. Eastin has been named Assistant Principal at Garden Hills Elementary School.  Mr. Eastin holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Milliken University and a Master of Science in Educational Administration from Eastern Illinois University.  He was most recently the K-12 Principal at Oakland CUSD #5 in Oakland Illinois.


Christopher D. Gilbert has been appointed as Assistant Principal at South Side Elementary School.  Mr. Gilbert holds a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from Ohio State University and a Master of Education from Cleveland State University.  He most recently served as a Resource Teacher at the Achievement Center for Children in Highland Hills, Ohio.


Rachel Maehr has been appointed as Assistant Principal at Barkstall Elementary School.  Ms. Maehr holds a Bachelor of Science from the University of Illinois and Masters’ Degrees in Social Work and in Education, Organization and Leadership, both from the University of Illinois.  She was a School Social Worker at Centennial High School and previously served as Student Services Coordinator at Barkstall Elementary from 2005-2009.