Letter to the Board

update: edited for better formatting (curse you WordPress!!)

Good evening,

I know each of you has been extremely busy with many different topics related to Unit 4; I thank you for serving on the board and fulfilling a much needed role.

I would like to take a moment and remind the three board members that were voted in during the April elections what you said you were going to do as a board member. The full list I culled together can be found here:
https://thecitizen4blog.wordpress.com/2013/04/13/another-look-at-the-school-board-candidates/

From that list, I would highlight a few things, especially as tensions rise around the topic of the CFT contract negotiations. The questions I ask below I ask out of respect and sincerity – I ask because I truly wish to learn.

Mr. MacAdam: You said you were committed to fiscal responsibility, especially given your background and experience with Busey Bank. One of your goals was to develop strategies so the school district can be financially sound. You also spoke about being transparent and speaking in public. What strategies have you developed in the past 6 months? How do you intend to communicate those strategies out to the community? How have your plans and efforts contributed to teachers feeling appreciated and valued?

Ms. Bonnett: Your campaign spoke significantly of engaging the community, earning trust, being transparent and having quality communications, among other things. I thank you that you have retained your facebook page as an effort to remind us of your goals and also to have an extra open door of communication. As the Board President, you are the voice of the Board. How have you striven to build, earn and keep trust and engender accountability with the community and among your colleagues on the board? How have you encouraged communication and aided community members in gathering and checking facts?

Ms. Stuckey: You have a goal specifically tailor for the CFT negotiations – one of your goals was to attempt to support budget talks with the CFT early in the process and to ease cooperation between the Board and the CFT. How did that go? You also spoke frequently of working to make sure that any budget cuts would have the least negative impact to children (or impacting the least number of children). You also spoke of motivating community members to get involved and (along with the other board members) board transparency. What work have you done to make sure children are impacted as little as possible? How much success has your efforts to increase community participation met with? Read the rest of this entry »

Cliff notes from the June 10th regular board meeting

As with my other cliff notes:

  • all errors are my own; keep in mind these are not authoritative minutes, just my own notes
  • all times are offsets from the video I link
  • if you spot any problems or inaccurate statements, please let me know
  • feel free to fill in areas I did not cover

 

Video link

{note: the video is from TiVo and starts at 5:30; the board meeting starts at 6:00pm so be prepared to fast forward. Also, there is quite a lot of dead space at the end of the video that I have not truncated}

 

Read Meg Dickinson’s NG article for another take on the meeting, and her twitter feed (you have to scroll back to June 10th, I don’t know how to deep link all her tweets as a group for the night).

 

Cliff Notes

00:00 – 09:35
Press conference about gun violence by several prominent members of the African-American community.
33:42 board meeting starts with recognitions and academic spotlight
40:15 Laurie Bonnett asks what credit/remunerance kids get for the summer entrepreneurship program. Marc Changnon says they get nothing, 100% volunteer. Except personal satisfaction. 🙂
41:55 Jamar Brown gives kudos to Marc, thanks Marc for thinking outside the box. Also notes how the adults in the program are growing as well.
45:16 Kristine Chalifoux asks for list of companies that are involved in the program so we can thank them.
45:41 Recognitions
49:23 public comment
Dan Goines (sp??): site director, expressing a concern about why MTD avoids Carrie Busey.

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 »

Whirlwinds, bees and cornucopias

There is a lot going on in Unit 4 and I can only scratch the surface. For starters, Meg Dickinson at the News-Gazette has been doing an awesome job covering most of the highlights – the following is the NG aggregation of Meg’s articles:

http://www.news-gazette.com/author/meg-dickinson

You will see that we not only have 3 brand new board members, but a fascinating change in board officers as well; Bonnett is president, Brown is the VP, Saveley is the Secretary and Stuckey is the Parliamentarian. Next Monday’s regular board meeting (May 13th) will be interesting to say the least. 🙂

Among other interesting things to read, Meg also has a nice Sunday article about the “Newcomer Academy” (not to be confused with the Novak Academy). This is a basically an intermediate transitioning service to help those who are struggling with English. Apparently, we have a lot of foreign nationals (especially from DR Congo and Mexico) and this is the solution Unit 4 has arrived at to meet those needs head on.

Stephanie Stuart of Unit 4 has also been hard at work populating their facebook page with lots of little goodies:

https://www.facebook.com/unit4schools?fref=ts?sk=h_chr

In addition to highlighting several awesome events and achievements, she also canvasses several opportunities like the annual Garden Hill’s “Resource Day” and the PTA Council’s push for the Summer Reading program, both excellent outlets that reach out to help those in need.

There is also the Unit 4 newsletter which is surprisingly not now on the Unit 4 website. Dr. Wiegand covers the NAACP ACT-SO Awards, a special recognition for achievements of African-Americans excelling in our schools. Several students are heading to Florida with hopes to squash the competition in mid July.

In other news, taxes are going up while at the same time many employees are having to fork over more money for benefits and pensions. Don’t get me wrong, it is not my goal to throw a pity party for myself. Rather, we as a whole community need to be aware that there are those who are already hurting, and it looks like more people will be slipping below the various poverty lines. We have a ton of kids who are homeless and/or living in less-than-ideal situations. Hence stories about various initiatives to provide assistance to these groups are not only “nice” and “feel good”, but in my opinion they are essential, fundamental and critical for the health of us all. In fact, we need to do more. Get involved.

Why the weird thread subject? I just have lots of thoughts swirling around my head and hard to bring them into focus; not updating the blog that much means I have been missing a lot. 🙂

Another look at the school board candidates

I was reflecting on my previous post, and after talking to a few folks, came up with a more objective look at what the candidates are saying about themselves. So instead of just linking to their public profiles, this time I am going to dive into them to see what they say. I will come away with promises these candidates are making and what we can hold them accountable to. Please bear in mind, by “hold accountable” I am speaking to the necessity and mutual benefit of the voting community holding their elected officials to the promises they have made; I firmly believe this engages the voters and empowers those elected. Everyone says they want to collaborate and work together – let us (all of us, you and me) not just say that, but do that.

Additionally, at the April 8th Board Meeting, Arlene Blank specifically said the board needs to do what the board said it would do. Admittedly, that is a larger scope – this post is to break that down into the context of the three new board members.

With that being said…

Scott MacAdam

It’s hard to find much online about Scott. We can dredge through previous board meetings (google helps but it is still a lot to read: http://lmgtfy.com/?q=site%3Achampaignschools.org+%22scott+macadam%22). There is his NG advertisement in which talks about being “[c]ommitted to fiscal responsibility and transparency”. Probably, the bulk of any online search is going to come up with his responses to candidate surveys. And finally what he shared at the 2013 candidate forum. What has he said he is going to do?

  • develop strategies so the board can be sound financial stewards
  • speak in public
  • embrace diversity
  • be accountable, accessible, transparent to the community; “serving at the mercy of the public, we are there to serve their needs, they need to know what we are trying to accomplish”
  • To address achievement gap,  we need engagement; starts in the home, reach out in various ways.
  • Leverage relationship with UofI to upgrade/enhance technology.
  • work closely with the administration to guarantee that we have the absolute best teachers available for our students, and that they have the resources they need to teach successfully and continue to feel valued and appreciated
  • is committed to fiscal responsibility and transparency

Laurie Bonnett

Laurie has a good bit of information on her campaign facebook page including her video ad (don’t know if that will stay up after May 6th or not, but right now she is still updating it). But she has been engaging with Unit 4 even before this; she went for the open vacancy last year (video of April 2012 Candidate forum), has served on at least one committee (search for superintendent) and put her name in for the January vacancies (after Tom Lockman and Sue Grey left). We have her responses to the NG surveys, and what she said at the 2013 candidate forum. Here is what I found:

  • work with other stakeholders and ensure we move forward taking into account multiple perspectives: the needs of the students and parents; the needs of the teachers and staff; and the needs of the broader community of Champaign.
  • Current and future board members must always look to engage our community in dialogue — in whatever method works best
  • Being available to meet with people and having regular informal discussions to hear people’s concerns and answer questions is something I am committed to do.
  • have communications that are back and forth where people have an opportunity to know what is going on and ask questions and hear honest answers.
  • operate from a place where the board values the trust of the community and actively works to earn and keep it.
  • The board must tell the truth, not always an easy thing to do but it is at the heart of most matters concerning the school district, and finally it must be transparent.
  • Make sure transportation is not an issue for new high school (ie, after-school events).
  • Access to technology not dependent on income level.
  • getting all members of the community to work together
  • fiscal health; become self-reliant
  • To address achievement gap, learn and experience the culture; let the students teach us.

Lynn Stuckey

Lynn has run several times for the board and has put her name in for multiple vacanies – she has obviously been trying for this position for a while. 🙂 Her campaign page has gone through several transitions over the years; for this post, I am using her latest (since I do not have copies of previous versions). We also have her NG responses, and the candidate forum:

  • support efforts and discussions with the CFT earlier in the budget creation cycle, in an attempt to work cooperatively with our school board, and as a means of helping assure that future cuts impact the fewest number of students.
  • Voice concerns and enact proper safeguards to ensure that any and all cost-shifting efforts by the City of Champaign to Unit 4 schools are shifts that truly are in the long-term best interests of the taxpayers.
  • I will support energy efficiency and “green” initiatives and push Unit 4 to aggressively pursue federal grants and foundation monies to implement them.
  • Remodel and revamp elementary schools, including embracing and building K-8 schools.
  • Connect with community by continuing to be an active member of my community, mixing with large numbers of people throughout the week and seeking discussion on matters regarding our schools and facing our School Board.
  • Making sure a report is compiled and delivered every year, detailing savings from “greening” efforts (this same report should also be a feature on the district’s website).
  • Work towards making sure each child is achieving to the best of their abilities; different configurations, different environments.
  • Making sure budget cuts impact the fewest number of children.
  • Utilize technology to compensate for reduced state funding.
  • Ensure we will be financially sound despite the State.
  • Work towards more engagement with the UofI
  • The board will be more transparent
  • Work on better building plans than we have now
  • Motivate people to become more involved

Conclusion

Here are some common themes I found in these promises – I invite you to compile your own list:

  1. A Board that actively pursues multiple bilateral communication opportunities in an effort to educate, to listen and to build trust by being accountable.
  2. Better partnership with the University and the community businesses
  3. Financial independence
  4. Cultural and ethnic awareness, seeking to embrace the diversity within our district

Who to vote for on April 9th

In less than 7 days, we will be wrapping up the 2013 Consolidated Election. Unfortunately, most races are uncontested. There are a few that are in fact contested, including the Parkland Board of Trustees and the Unit 4 Board of Education. This post will focus on the latter, but the theme I wish to put forward is “embracing change.” To that end, there is only one candidate for the Parkland BOT that effectively meets that criteria.

You will be voting on April 9th, right?

For the Champaign School District, there are 5 candidates running for 3 seats (each are four-year terms). One of my desires in writing this post is to join in and aid the ongoing discussion about these candidates; it is exceptionally difficult (if not impossible) to be purely objective, so I am throwing in with my subjective thoughts as well. Some of you will disagree with me, maybe even strongly – that is good. I invite those who disagree to speak up. That’s the whole point. (NOTE: I already voted so I am not engaging in this conversation for the sake of figuring out who I want to vote for). Overall, I think each candidate has good intentions and brings something to the plate. The question is, do they bring what you want?

The candidates

Chuck Jackson: I have written before about Chuck, whose campaign I am very much involved with. He brings a desire for improved and enhanced bilateral communication, which of course I am hugely in favor of. 🙂 Chuck helped me out with pitching a proposed change to Board Policy to include Conversational Meetings last year. He has a bit of good experience and rapport with teachers and a true desire to see all kids excel, not just the ones for whom our current educational models work well.

Lynn Stuckey: Lynn is the only candidate who has been attending board meetings “forever”. She obviously has a passion to speak up as a community member, a quality I respect very much. As such, some people will consider her stance and approach as either very good and much needed, others will think she is hard to work with. To me, they are different sides of the same coin; personally, I think she could really shake things up, which I find a very interesting prospect. She is very good at doing her homework and researching the facts, and then telling people about it whether they like it or not.

Laurie Bonnett: Even when I was running for the board appointment last year, I respected that Laurie not only is concerned about her constituents (granted, she is not serving in a public capacity but is employed for an elected official)  but she has a bit of experience, in a number of different contexts, in listening to and interacting with her constituents. It is interesting that she has slowly evolved her platform closer to themes that I want to see in a board.

John Williams III: (EDIT: Updated with new website) In all my interactions with John, I have been pleasantly pleased with his congeniality and open nature. I respect that, like current board member Jamar Brown, John Williams is very concerned about discipline issues within Unit 4. Some may ask, is discipline really that big of an issue, big enough to invest in two African-American men on a board of seven people? Given all the racial issues that exist in our society, given the overwhelming disproportionate number of people of color in various forms of correctional systems, I have to say “yes!” Read the rest of this entry »

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:

http://www.chambanamoms.com/2013/03/12/at-the-editors-desk-if-i-was-running-for-unit-4-school-board/

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 »