Finding the good: board meetings


As with all posts in this “Finding the good” series, it is quite easy to find things that are bad, need improvement, or candidates for complaint. But the point is that there are also good things if one is willing to look a little harder.


finding_good_1Take Unit 4 school board meetings for instance. The current board has taken significant steps to listen to stakeholders, constrain their discussion of public matters to public meetings, and reflect openly on their progress. On top of that, there are often times many excellent informational items that broadcast the priorities of the district. Let’s look at a few examples.

Back in early February, the Administration kicked off a series of “Goals and Indicators” for High School, Middle School and Elementary School. Each document spells out the relationship between Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment, fortified with details of the the players involved (and how they work together) as well as specific programs used to reach these goals. For indicators, the presentations focus on how tests are used, how often, what is being measured, etc. Over and above the documents by themselves, the “live” presentation (as one can watch via the Vimeo recordings) were much more charismatic, lively and the presenter often went into much more detail. My point in raising this as an example is that the district is throwing open the doors – there is nothing hidden here. If you want to know how education happens in Unit 4, you can dig into these resources.

Another example are the times when various programs are featured; lots of amazing awesomeness being shared with Operation Hope (and Operation Hope Jr), PBF (Positive Behavior Facilitation), social justice clubs (RISE, “Real Talks”), and recently at the July 11th meeting, Marc Changnon spoke about ‘Education to Career and Professions’ (ECP) and the Summer Youth Employment Program/Summer Trades Apprenticeship. This is just a very small sample of really cool opportunities that our students have. There are also the other partnerships and afterschool programs that we learn about; United Way, Champaign Urbana School Foundation, Tap In Academy, Freedom Schools, etc.

Train-your-mind-to-see-the-good-in-every-situationI will wrap up with the approach this current board has taken to governance. There have been changes, some small, some more noticeable; a new BOE blog maintained by board member Kathy Richards; the Board President now reads through and sometimes asks for details in the Consent Agenda; there is a metacognitive exercise in the form of the question “Whom did we affect and whom did we tell?” at the end of most meetings; communications to the board, in the context of the referendum and facility planning, have all been published on the district website, as well as any responses. In fact, did you know that a majority of the board members were always in attendance at every Tier Two committee meeting? I found that to be quite impressive. Last week, at the July 11th BOE meeting, the board took some extra time to talk in open session about their thoughts and opinions on the work and recommendation of the Tier Two committee. As Dee Shonkwiler was spotlighted as the only member in the audience, the rest of us can watch the video. I point out that the board took time to discuss in open session because, in my experience, this kind of lengthy dialog between board members while in open session is somewhat rare. Why should you care? Because you elected these people to make decisions, and here they are reflecting on all the feedback they have received and telling you what they think about it. We need to do our part and urge others to make their voice known as well – without your participation, there is no democracy. This board is listening to you.

Unit 4 on the radio

Dr. Wiegand was featured on both WIXY (with Steve Holstein “HoCo”) and WDWS (Jim Turpin “Penny for your thoughts”). Sounds like they had a ton of fun on HoCo, and Steve asked some really good questions – I highly recommend you check it out. Many of the same things are repeated on the Penny show, but Dr. Wiegand had Marc Changnon and Stephanie Stuart with her, to help answer a range of questions/comments from callers (some obviously opposed to the referendum, some clearly in favor).


Along with Jess’s comment last night, I feel these are great conversations to be having, if only a year ago. 🙂 There was a comment on one of the shows about how Dr. Wiegand’s campaign is doing really well. It is not quite her campaign, but I do give big kudos to the “Friends of Champaign Schools” for running such a well-organized and well-done effort.


On the radio show, Dr. Wiegand highlight two of the main priorities they are addressing via the referendum; capacity and programming. When I heard the explanation, I could not help but boil it down purely to capacity issues; it seems to me that the current problems with programming (as mentioned on the show) could be vastly alleviated if capacity were not an issue at all. Marc Changnon also spoke at lenght during the Penny show about the Trades. I found it interesting that one caller submitted that the Agricultural Trades are actually exeperiencing a drastic decline in employment because of the rise of mega- and corporate forms, which comes with large farming vehicles and significant amounts of automation. Another discussion point was that of how much is being spent per square foot and per student. Dr. Wiegand says that we would be right in the middle for schools in the area (Unit 4 has had several slides to this effect). One caller made the comparison to Texas, which (if I recall correctly) ranged from $76 to $180 per student, quite a bit less than what we are planning on.


I encourage you to listen to both as you have time.

Sept 8th board meeting has a number of interesting topics

There are some fascinating things being talked about at the Sept 8th BOE meeting next week. For those that are curious, you can view the agenda on boarddocs (you have to manually drill down, as the interface does not allow to “deep link” the agenda directly):


Three topics in particular jump out at me:

  • Community Schools Presentation: Dr. Judy Wiegand
  • High School Programming: New Central and Renovated Centennial: Marc Changnon
  • Memorandum of Understanding – School Resource Officer Program: Tom Lockman



Community Schools Presentation

This is the fruit of Imani Bazzell’s Great Campus labor; it is a reflection of the Coalition for Community Schools attempt to forge partnerships between the schools and the community. There is so much awesome wrapped up here, I hope you have an opportunity to look through the documents and digest this a little. Hats off to SisterNet, Root Causes, “At Promise … of Success” and everyone else involved; you all have done some amazing work.

One of the things that tickles me pink about this effort is that it specifically targets the special needs of at-risk kids, not by forcing them into some kind of standardized or institutional “program”, but rather it encourages the local community to embrace the children (and adults) in a way that is mutually beneficial. They are using the Harlem Children’s Zone as a model. I dearly hope that the larger community, not just the target zones on the north end, will be compelled and inspired to join hands with this effort as well. I know I want to plug in and play a small role in improving the community I live in.

Check out these links available on boarddocs:


High School Programming

Mr. Marc Changnon is just a really cool guy. 🙂 His presentation on being “college and career ready” is very similar to what board member Kerris Lee has been saying about the Center for Advanced Professional Studies (CAPS). There are a lot of imbedded ideas that really excited me about these initiatives, speaking as one who grew to abhor the traditional delivery of education the “higher” I got. I love the idea of project-based tasks, of students taking control of their educational path and empowering the students to think critically. I love the hands-on nature of these concepts, of not being satisfied with mere theory, but placing an emphasis on doing it, right now. And it really excites me that these experiences are being tied to larger, long-term life goals.


Memorandum of Understanding

Otherwise known as a MOU, this legal document is the result of the discussions and dialog surrounding the contentious decision to move forward with the School Resource Officer (SRO) program. It is my understanding that there is also a concerted effort to more frequently evaluate the program and provide a deeper level of accountability.



Of course, there are other topics on the agenda as well. If something perks your interest, feel free to share.

Other Board Meeting tidbits

With all the hoopla surrounding SROs and the Central relocation saga, I did not see anything in the media that mentioned two other awesome things that transpired at the Board meeting on June 9th.


1. Parent Advocacy Committee

Three representatives of the Parent Advocacy Committee, including new Edison Principal Mr. Tony Howard and Edison Math/Avid Teacher Ms. Tomeka Whitfield, presented an update from the committee. However, the PDF by itself does not do their verbal delivery justice, hence I very much encourage you to tune into the Vimeo recording of the meeting and fast forward to 36:17.

For a little disclosure, I am listed as a member of the Parent Advocacy Committee, but I have not attended any of the meetings during the past school year. During that time the committee met almost monthly to hash out how to realistically implement recommendations they made to the board last year, as well as meeting with many area experts on the topic of family engagement. They have formed partnerships and come up with some tangible action steps; an “engagement” survey at several schools this year and planning to have a significant welcoming initiative in place for the 2015-2016 school year.

I have to confess, these timelines are … a bit slow for me, and I want to see “more” (more initiatives, more action steps, more people involved). *grin* However, I was completely inspired as I listened to Mr. Howard and Ms. Whitfield speak at the board meeting. They even roped in Board President Laurie Bonnett to participate and support their efforts. I think their ideals and the concepts they embody are crucial to the success of our community and the school district. There must be a solid sense of collaboration and cooperation between the schools and the community in order for us to succeed.


2. Trades and Unit 4 Partnership

Marc Changnon (Director of Education to Careers & Profession) is no less charismatic than Mr. Howard and Ms. Whitfield – it was a double-header of passionate people trying to make a positive difference in the lives of those around them. On this blog and in comments to various online NG articles, many folks have talked about basic skills needed for “the trades” (carpentry, electrical, plumbing, automotive, etc). What I really liked about Changnon’s approach is that he makes it clear that college isn’t for everyone, and that there exists the very real, very much needed, and rewarding alternative of pursuing a job sans a four-year degree. While this portion of the meeting got a little long-winded (another guest speaker was invited up to augment Mr. Changnon’s presentation), I was reminded of how much we need people like Mr. Changnon, Mr. Howard and Ms. Whitfield to champion these ideas before the board. And part of that work involves being persistent – many issues clamor for the board’s attention, so unless it is consistently percolating to the top, it will not see much action.


3. (BONUS) TALKS Mentoring

Last but certainly not least, I noticed in today’s NG an article about Rev. Harold Davis and his work with the “TALKS” mentoring program. As a mentor in the Unit 4 One-to-One mentoring program, I have rubbed shoulders with folks from TALKS on several occasions. I am glad Rev. Davis has been honored with this aware, but more importantly, that he had an opportunity to share his beliefs on the topic of mentoring and fathering, and how these small steps can have such a positive impact on our society.

Quick review of the Feb 25th board meeting

Here is the video; I had to splice it in two because TiVo gave me a larger than 4gb file to work with. 😦

I have not made my way through all of them, yet. Board Member Phil Van Ness had some very direct words to share about how the board needs to work hard to earn the trust of the community, and how he is worried about that particular pursuit. I find it very interesting that no other board members echo this concern. I happen to very much agree with this line of thought; but what good does it do to agree?


Several questions and comments were directed towards the “research” done by Fallon Research and DeJong-Richter; even though I know some of the answers, I still want to find out how the board responded. Paul Fallon had a long segment and Stig was pretty adamant (at first) about Mr. Fallon’s presentation not being a “death by powerpoint”. Ironically, I thought that is exactly what we got, but Stig seemed pretty happy with it. I guess my powerpoint tolerance is rather low. I also have the correlations between questions 19A and 19B, and 20A and 20B – I tried to put this into a picture, but Excel is giving me fits and I just don’t have time to make a pretty picture right now (I’ll add it later). Here is the cross-tabulated data:

Q. 19A. Supposing for a moment that a 20-year bond issue for $206 million dollars was on the ballot to pay for construction to replace Central High School, build new schools for lower grades to accommodate growing enrollment, and make repairs…

Table Total








Q. 19B. Does knowing that it will cost homeowners $251 per year for each one hundred thousand dollars of property, make you more or less likely to vote for it, or does it make no difference in your decision? More likely





Less likely





No difference










Table Total





Q. 20A. Supposing for a moment that a 20-year bond issue for $80 million dollars was on the ballot to pay for construction to replace Central High School and make some basic repairs or renovations to other schools that are in poor condition…

Table Total








Q. 20B. Does knowing that it will cost homeowners $96 per year for each one hundred thousand dollars of property, make you more or less likely to vote for it, or does it make no difference in your decision? More likely





Less likely





No difference










Table Total





So in general, out of 400 phone surveys, most people want to dump more money into taxes for the schools. We have a lot of education (of the public) to be doing.


There were some other gems buried in the board meeting. Marc Changnon had a large number of folks up to talk about eToys and other cool things (lots of demos). Cathy Mannen got up a second time to talk about teacher evaluations, which I am very interested in hearing more about.


More later, as time allows.

Feb 25th Board Meeting

First, an announcement. Unit 4 is urging parents to take a survey from the ISBE that basically asks parents how welcome they feel at the school. I am curious if paper copies are being circulated. It’s a relatively painless and short survey:

And then the Board Meeting this coming Monday. It’s a Special Board meeting, which means there are more opportunities for comments. I am unable to go, but I encourage you to attend and ask some questions. Because questions need to be asked.

“Opinion Research”

First up is Paul Fallon (Fallon Research) in association with DeJong-Richter. In the BoardDocs agenda, the blurb only states that Mr. Fallon will be talking about the two 90-minute focus groups. However, I cannot see how he can completely skip the 400-person phone survey they did as well, which was the whole point of the focus group. I still very much dislike how the raw data is being held until it can be provided in all the glory of the “historical context”. I didn’t like how that went down the High School Siting options presented at the Community Discussions. The really major bad part of it is that folks will not have time to digest the data and formulate questions while the expert is standing right there. Yes, we can look at the summary reports we have now, and we can ask questions based on that, but the questions most pressing on my mind are answered by the raw data that I cannot see. For example:

how many of the 216 people who responded favorably to 19A make up the 170 people who said they were less likely to vote for it in question 19B?

We cannot correlate 19A to 19B at all. We have to wait for the “big reveal”, and by that time I fear it will be too late to ask further questions. Hopefully Mr. Fallon will answer this question (and the related one for question 20) and any others the community has been asking. Lastly, I am still very concerned that the “research” really only touched some 430 people – that is less than 1% of the voting population. Not a good sample size, imo.

“Community Collaborations”

Marc Changnon has the pleasant task Read the rest of this entry »