Next book: Rac(e)ing to Class

Rac(e)ing to Class: Confronting Poverty and Race in Schools and Classrooms – H. Richard Milner IV

This book was suggested to me recently while I was going through another research paper and also reading Putnam’s “Our Kids”. I just started reading Rac(e)ing to Class, and after a 26-page Introduction (with charts!) and scratching the first chapter, I can already tell it is packed with a lot of relevant and timely information. For starters, Milner makes a big point about not using the term “poor people” but rather “people who live in poor circumstances”; being poor should not describe or define a person, but if relevant, it should definitely describe the environment. Milner also is not afraid to tackle head on the correlations of race and poverty, but he makes some extremely astute observations. For instance, because Blacks and Latinos are over-represented in poverty situations, it is essential that we ask “why?”. But at the same time, on the quest to improve school for all students, the way we address inequity in education for other races in poverty situations will most definitely look different, while no less important. Milner, like Putnam, also highlights the significant role of after-school programs and posits that they can be tremendously advantageous for families classified as living in poverty. A little mischievous thought popped into my head – if afterschool programs are so great, why are they “after” school? Why not just do them all day? *evil grin*

Milner states that he desires a systemic change in the way we approach poverty via education, and he makes that desire explicit by yearning for the day when a superintendent will contact him and ask how to change an entire district (instead of being contacted by teachers or a principal). I get the sense that Milner is mainly targeting educators at all levels (teachers, principals, administrators), but not so much community members. I hope to learn more about this as I dig further.

It does give me a mind to do a bit of research on my own. How exactly has the “achievement gap” evolved in Unit 4 during the past 20 years (roughly starting with John Lee Johnson et al engaged the Office of Civil Rights about inequities for African-Americans)? What efforts have been measurably helpful, which efforts have had no apparent effect, and which efforts have been harmful? How do we gauge “help” and “harm”? What trends do we see with Unit 4 families that find themselves in challenging and vulnerable positions?

One last thought. As I read Milner, I am reminded of Michael Alves work; much of what Alves was trying to accomplish with his choice program falls in line with Milner’s method of determining how vulnerable a family is, using metrics like parent educational achievement, size of household and support network, above and beyond just enrollment in the Free and Reduced lunch program.

I will circle back when I have finished reading the book.

In other news, board meeting tomorrow (Monday). The Board posted a draft of the agenda more than a week ago (did anyone else see that?), and while some things have been altered (inserted or removed), I don’t see much of a controversial nature.

Regular board meeting tonight

Agenda for tonight:

  1. Call to Order
    1. Roll Call
  2. Agenda
    1. Approval of Agenda (Items may not be considered in the same order as the agenda)
  3. Executive Session – 5:30 p.m.
  4. Recognitions
    1. Recognitions
  5. Public Comments
    1. Public Comment on Agenda & Non-Agenda Items
  6. Communications
    1. Communications from CFT
    2. Communications from CESP
    3. Communications from PTA Council
    4. Communications from Board Members
  7. Informational Items
    1. Upcoming Events
  8. Reports: New Business
    1. Middle School After School Programming/40North Grant: Angela Smith This item has files attached
    2. Engaging Solutions Presentation: Matt Foster This item has files attached
    3. Preliminary FY14 Budget Presentation: Matt Foster This item has files attached
  9. Action Agenda: New Business
    1. Administrative Appointment: Ken Kleber
    2. Bills and Treasurer’s Report – August: Matt Foster This item has files attached
    3. Promises Made, Promises Kept Committee: Dr. Judy Wiegand
    4. Approval of Robeson Change Order No. 3: Matt Foster This item has files attached
    5. Approval of Robeson Change Order No. 4: Matt Foster This item has files attached
    6. Approval of Carrie Busey Change Order No. 20: Matt Foster This item has files attached
    7. Approval of the Contract for Sale of Real Estate – 801 Pioneer St./806 Dennison St.: Tom Lockman
  10. Consent Agenda – New/Unfinished Business
    1. Motion to approve the Consent Agenda – New Business
    2. Human Resource Changes: Ken Kleber This item has files attached
    3. Minutes of August 5, 2013 and August 12, 2013
    4. Policy 415.07/R Minority and Female Business Enterprise Goals: Tom Lockman This item has files attached
    5. Policy 720.11R Exemption From Physical Activity: Tom Lockman This item has files attached
    6. Policy 415.06 – Vendor Relations: Tom Lockman This item has files attached
    7. FY14 Consolidated Grant Application to Serve Limited English Proficient (LEP) Students: Maria Alanis This item has files attached
  11. Executive Session
    1. Motion to move to Executive Session
  12. Open Session
    1. Reconvene in open session for possible action on items discussed in closed session.
  13. Adjournment
    1. Motion to adjourn the meeting.
  14. Future Meetings
    1. Special Meeting: September 23, 2013, Regular Meeting: October 14, 2013, Special Meeting: October 28, 2013, Regular Meeting: December 9, 2013


Based on what transpired last week in terms of Kenwood, the discouragement of parents paying for PTA activities and the PTA Council, I expect there to be some comments during Public Comment and the timeslot for the PTA Council.


There are a number of line items dealing with a focus on minorities and women in the workplace (ie, 8.2, 10.4).


Sheri Williamson (PTA Council) and R. Scott Davis (CFT) being added to the PMPK committee (9.3).


9.7, the District is seeking approval to buy two properties for the Bus Garage. The Satellite view of google maps gives a good idea of what the area looks like, including the busses parked across the street. This was previously discussed in Executive (Closed) session.


In 10.7, we get to see a preliminary FY 2014 budget. I encourage you to read it and try to wrap your head around it; it is important that we start to ask questions. Now. I say that as a way to entice stakeholders to understand what all the numbers mean – I know I don’t.


There are a number of other things. I don’t fully understand or follow all the various change orders. There is a part of me scratching my head on why we need so many change orders. Also, I just happened to browse the online check register and noticed that we sent another %5750 to Dr. Alves last month even though his contract expired in May or June. The discussion of the Choice RFP is not on the agenda at all.


What catches your attention?


Financial accountability: one small step

Last week I was browsing for monies being spent on the “Educational Consultant”; the school district has been doing a good job of posting electronic check registers, but unfortunately, they were not organized at all, and only listed from respective regular board meeting agendas. So last Friday I asked for an index on all check registers, and this morning I was pleasantly surprised that they delivered one:




Thanks to Stephanie Stuart and David Hohman.

Special board meeting tonight, update on Schools of Choice RFP

Tonight is a special Special Board Meeting. Occasionally the Board is called in to deal with one of these issues:

  • 120/2(c)(1) Employee appointments, employment, compensation, dismissals, complaints
  • 120/2(c)(2) Negotiations
  • 120/2(c)(5) Property Acquisition/Lease/Purchase
  • 120/2(c)(8) Emergency Security Procedures
  • 120/2(c)(9) Student Discipline
  • 120/2(c)(11) Actual/Potential Litigation
  • 120/2(c)(16) Self-Evaluation, practices and procedures or professional ethics when meeting with a representative of a statewide association of which the public body is a member
  • 120/2(c)(21) Closed Meeting Minutes Discussion/Review


What I am torn about is that I think they are technically abiding by OMA, but they are not disclosing as much information as they possibly can. For instance, I have since learned that the meeting was specifically called for 120/2(c)(9) Student Discpipline. Why is that not mentioned on board docs? The only reason I have right now is that it is not required (not by OMA nor by Policy). I get it that it is the “easy” thing to do to announce all the possibilities for Executive Session “just in case”, but I sincerely wonder, is that the best way?


Here is the flip side. What if I just shut up about this? I have to question myself, is my pestering of the Board in this manner productive in any way? I really don’t know. I hear both sides; some of you like what I am doing, some of you think I am a hindrance and an obstruction. As always, I am glad there are differences of opinion – I highly value that! But what good is my question-asking really doing? That is what I am searching for right now.


On that note, I recently asked about the progress with the Schools of Choice (SoC) RFP. From the school attorney, Mr. Tom Lockman:

I have been working with District staff on the Choice RFP and am comfortable with where it stands at this point.  The District is planning to follow the same schedule as last year in terms of issuing the RFP.  This will allow us to have gone all the way through the selection, determination and notification processes to determine if there is anything the District feels needs to be added or changed to the existing language based on how things go.  If you do have additional thoughts beyond what was shared at our first meeting which you wish to share, please feel free to email me.  Thanks.


I told Mr. Lockman at “our first meeting” that I had at least two bottom lines (sometimes you just can’t have one *grin*):

  • make a system that is intuitive and garners a positive experience from all who interact with it
  • we don’t waste taxpayers dollars (which I fully believe we have been doing for many years)


So again, I wonder about my effectiveness. Is it worthwhile for me to raise my voice and become a “squeaky wheel”? Or what would happen if I just turned my attention elsewhere? I really really want to hunt this down. But at what cost?


For my part, I want to see the RFP; I want to make sure we stop sending money to Massachusetts; I would love to have the software solution be handled locally. But I personally do not need these things. My question then becomes, what is best for all of us? That I do not know.


Tom is no stranger to the Schools of Choice saga; just a couple years ago, he was instrumental in writing some enhancements like going from 3 to 5 choices (5 was a compromise, we wanted more), and I think helped to spur the video and other little things that have slightly improved this beast. One of my options is to just trust Tom and see where this goes.

Interesting news from Unit 4 about the new registration "dashboard"

From Stephanie Stuart about the new registration “dashboard“:


Statement Regarding Online Kindergarten Registration Dashboard
March 7, 2013

This year, Champaign Schools made it a priority to improve transparency around our Schools of Controlled Choice system for kindergarten registration. As part of this effort, we launched a parent dashboard as part of our online registration system, which allows parents to track specific information on the number of applicants to each elementary school. While are excited to offer this new feature, we’re aware that many parents have experienced errors when registering online and have found it difficult to access the dashboard after submitting their application.

We are very concerned about these issues and are working with our technical team to resolve them. We are also working with our team to provide a stand-alone parent dashboard so that this information is more easily accessible on our website. We anticipate these issues will be resolved and live on our website by Tuesday, March 12, 2013.

We are also offering daily technical support for the online registration and choice application system from 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Central Time Zone. If you experience an error with the on-line system please email

In addition to visiting or calling our Family Information Center (1103 N. Neil Street in Champaign, 351-3701) you may also contact any of the following District employees who are happy to assist with your questions and concerns:

For More Information, Contact:
Stephanie Stuart, Community Relations Coordinator
(217) 351-3822


I have an outstanding question to Dr. Wiegand and Tom Lockman (as of March 3rd):

“I am curious, we have contracted to pay $92,000 to Dr. Alves’ company, but in the contract he also specified that he would work on an hourly basis as needed (just like his previous contract). I believe he listed $100/hour and another rate ($62/hour?) for his colleagues. Is the work that Dr. Alves is doing this weekend and ongoing to fix the problems of the initial software deployment part of the $92,000, or are we now above and beyond that amount?”



Brand-new registration website is now live, with working* version of EduLog interface

school_choice_edulog_interfaceGoing to make this quick.

This is the new website for Unit 4 registration. It is also referred to as the “dashboard”; I have not yet read up on it too much, but one would infer that one can “manage” one’s school choice from such an interface.

I am quickly going through the registration process and am noticing several things. First, there is extremely little data checking; I am entering bogus data for most fields and the web interface assumes they are all good. The one field that has been checked so far is the birthdate, so at least a very minimal amount of checking is happening. Of most interest to me was the EduLog interface, which you can find on the fourth screen after you have successfully entered your birthdate and address (you get an error message if either one is whacky, I found out).

Big caveat!! The software interface is not working well. My child, A A (yes, that is the name I gave my fictional child, very easy to type) has a proximity to Barkstall. Proximity B at that. And yet Carrie Busey is a 10 minute walk and I already have one child there as a Proximity A student. So… be warned, there are bugs. Wow, Carrie Busey doesn’t even show up on my list…..

Overall, the registration site looks and feels very much like Dr. Alves’ previous incarnations. That lack of data checking really worries me a lot. We paid over $100k for this? Yuck. And it was late. And we didn’t beta test it. Yuck.

*working means that it does accept an address and tell you how far they think you live from each school.


UPDATE: as of 8:36pm, March 1st, it looks like the Carrie Busey problem has been resolved. Go forth and find new problems. 🙂

School Assignment

On November 5th, Dr. Susan Zola will present the first reading for some modifications to the existing student assignment process via Policy 705.09 (they vote on it Dec 10th).

Over the last two days, I have been reading the policy, reviewing past emails with members of the Board, Gene Logas, Greg Novak, Michael Alves, Sandra Duckworth and posts on this blog. And I have been crunching some numbers. I have come up with 4 suggestions for the Policy that fall into two groups, and two further suggestions that probably fall outside the scope of Policy. In summary, my suggestions are as follows:

Choosing schools

1. Allow incoming parents to rank-order all schools, not just 5

2. In light of how Magnet registration will occur concurrently, place the magnet schools on a separate list from the non-magnet schools

Defining SES

3. Standardize the definition of SES to match all other areas of District Administration and Title I funding

4. Publish the SES ratio for the current year to be used to determine what SES “quotas” are in effect

Non-policy requests

5. Explain how Choice and diversity promotes academic excellence

6. Provide parents with a personalized table of schools and distance from their house sorted by distance. Don’t use the word “proximity”

Looking over the proposed changes to Policy 705.09, I am really glad that District Administration is continuing to act upon suggestions provided to the Board back in 2010; for example, getting rid of Proximity B (that was SO confusing!) and changing the name of the process from “Lottery” and “Choice” to something else. It is obvious and encouraging that the district is acknowledging the need for changes and are doing something about it. I applaud this recent effort. Having said that, I feel it is important to not stop here but push for a few more changes that I believe will make a world of difference.

Choosing Schools

My first two suggestions Read the rest of this entry »

Next Board Meeting (Monday, August 13th)

[updated 13-Aug: Moved WCBs to the top]

Working Cash Bonds will be discussed tonight. Keep in mind this is a 20-year loan (I believe). From BoardDocs:

In February, 2012, the Board approved the Resolution indicating their intent to issue Working Cash Bonds in an amount not to exceed $14,500,000.  The purpose of the Bonds was to provide money to undertake certain construction projects including HVAC, energy efficiency, technology upgrades and a transportation facility.  Administration is now seeking Board approval to issue approximately $9,800,000 in Working Cash Fund Bonds. […] It has been estimated by Stifel Nicolaus that the tax increase on a $150,000 home will be a 5¢ increase for 20 years ($22.50/per year).

I must confess, when the agenda was posted on BoardDocs, I skimmed through it looking for an agenda item to change policy 270.01. Alas, there is no agenda item for that. What is even more strange is that the a very full list of future meetings (at the bottom of the agenda) does not list any special meetings in August; I believe Dr. Wiegand indicated to me that there would be one on the 20th (budget stuff) and one on the 27th (possible first reading of policy 270.01 draft, possible high school options presentation, and something else).

So what is on the agenda?

Aside from the Academic Spotlight, Recognitions and Upcoming Events, the first thing on the “New Business” section is a report on Mentoring and Volunteers from Lauren Smith. Looks like last year was very positive in this sense. As a member of 1-to-1 Mentoring, the numbers are “feel good”, but I also very much want to see Orlando Thomas’s statement of acquiring 100 new mentors this coming year err on the side of being too conservative. With all the churches and volunteer organizations/efforts in our town, 100 new mentors should be easy-peasy! And I personally see mentors and volunteers as such a huge positive for our school district.

The next item is a proposal to change the legal limit at which purchases and bids must go through the RFP process – Administration wants to raise the limit from $10,000 to $25,000. As a taxpayer, I would be able to support this %100 if (and only if) I felt I could keep the district accountable and felt confident with the level of fiscal transparency, and more important, proactive reporting. The district has dipped their toes into the transparency waters by putting check registers and initial RFPs online, and I am thankful for that. I personally think there is still a little more work to be done before the level of trust between the district and the voting public is at a sufficient level where these kinds of caps become arbitrary. But hey, maybe only a small handful of us feel that way. Rather makes me wonder if many other folks even care. 🙂

The third item (C) is a presentation by Orlando Thomas on the topic of High School Climate. The short line-item description perhaps does not do justice to the entire presentation. I’ll 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 »