Finding the good: awesome teachers and excellent opportunities

Today I was watching the most recent Board Meeting (Jan 23), and I was reminded that I wanted to write a post (several posts, actually). Aside from the important-but-dry communications about legal issues, bonds, finances, “construction management at risk” (it sounds worse than it is, lol), etc etc, I have been very impressed by the Staff Spotlights, not to mention the occasional report about some really cool things at various schools, like what was hinted by the Kenwood presentation.

 

At this last board meeting, there was a double dose of Staff Spotlights, honoring three outstanding individuals – from the Jan 23rd 8A agenda item:

Ms. [Lindsay] Green sees her students as people. She wants them to be successful both academically and personally. She was recently touched by the tragedy of a student suicide. She has since looked at her curriculum and how she can wrap around students as people and as students. She uses literature to help students be successful and active members of our society. She creates a space where students are heard, valued, and helped. Her students know and recognize her as a person who can be easily identified for support and advocacy. She is a teacher that I frequently use as a model to emulate. She is a teacher that all of us hope to be. She is a life changer. She is a safe space. She is an excellent teacher.

Every day, regardless of any outside factors or variables, both Tami [Fisher] and Iyana [Jones] show up to work with an attitude that puts what is best for our students first. They are experienced, confident, and understand how to work with students at baseline as well as those in crisis. The most amazing thing about these two is the work they put in outside of school hours to benefit our students. Be it service projects, going to see student sporting events, helping gather donations for students whose families are in need, or just always keeping their eyes open for rewards/prizes/snacks that students have stated they like, their devotion to our students never seems to diminish.

 

We are blessed to have people like this serving in our schools. Likewise, a shout out to Nicole Lafond for having a weekly teacher highlight in the News-Gazette; I would encourage you to check those out as well. Nicole seems to range all over looking for stand-out teachers.

 

In addition to the Staff Spotlight this past Monday, the Board was also treated to a presentation, via four students, about the computational work going on at Kenwood. These kids are being exposed to some really fantastic opportunities at such a young age, not to mention the enviable partnership with the University MTSE via CTRL-Shift. On top of that, while it is not in the limelight, for several years students have been able to attend the renowned Students Involved with Technology (SIT) conference; just as one other example of how doors are being opened. There is obviously a synergy happening, especially when you have folks like Wendy Maa, Kära Tanaka and Trevor Nadrozny, all of whom were supporting the students at the board meeting (there are of course many others, Kenwood has quite an impressive cast).

 

At one point during the meeting, Board President Chris Kloeppel praised the Choice program – and I believe he was very much right in that Unit 4 has a lot of exciting schools to choose from.

 

I don’t know about you, but these things warm my heart. Yes, there are still many challenges to address. But I believe we can and we will address them. If Unit 4 is full of such amazing people, how can we not? 🙂

Aug 24th BOE meeting (with new “candid conversation”)

Just dashing off a quick post here, but last night’s meeting was certainly intersting. The News-Gazette’s Nicole Lafond has a couple articles, one from the meeting itself, one from others who were not able to make it:

http://www.news-gazette.com/news/local/2015-08-25/enrollment-increase-spurs-unit-4-facilities-talks.html

http://www.news-gazette.com/news/local/2015-08-25/just-1-question-top-priority-unit-4.html

The district also posted a Vimeo video of the entire thing so you can watch it yourself, and I imagine the live-typing notes will be available in the very near future (probably already is online, just have to find it).

Lots was said, and there will be more. One thing that stuck out to me is that the board is going to try to host a moderated forum for Q&A with the community. They will start by asking that community members send email to u4boe@champaignschools.org, and they will then post those on a forum where they will respond. I imagine that will evolve – almost seems like it would be better to have a truly moderated forum and just bypass the email. But we will see.

More to come.

UPDATE: Live notes posted, via the new U4 Board Corner blog:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B7NP1K1OYcJOTXhzTTA1blMwSHc/view

A totally new school board

Tonight’s short meeting resulted in four new board officers, and personally, I am glad that the President and VP votes were unanimous:

  • Chris Kloeppel (President)
  • Amy Armstrong (Vice President)
  • Kathy Shannon (Secretary)
  • Jonathan Westfield (Parliamentarian)

There were a number of tweets, and Nicole followed up with an NG article. It is exciting to witness and hear about the synergy that has already been building between various board members (new and old), not to mention some of the things they want to tackle. For instance, how to take advantage of social media? How to engage the community and make board meetings more “friendly”? How to work together as a board but still have individual passions? And with Mr. Kloeppel being the youngest board president in a very very long time (ever?), their path as a team will be both challenging and exciting.

My number one priority for the board is that they continue to more fully embrace the model espoused by the Illinois Association of School Boards (IASB), called “The Foundational Principles of Governance.” The IASB model does several things that I like, taking a lot of cues from John Carver’s Policy Governance; one of the most exciting things, in my opinion, is “Effective Community Engagement”. The model also establishes clear relationships between the board and the Superintendent, the administration and the community. And finally, it guides the school board in focusing on policy and school-wide direction, not falling into the trap of micromanagement, which I think has been a sand trap for quite a while now. All these facets will be even more critical as this school board contemplates the process to select a new superintendent in two years time.

The new board will have a Board Retreat later this month, where I believe they will meet with IASB representative Patrick Rice, Dr. Wiegand and other members of the administration to lay the ground work for their collective goals and ambitions for the coming year. In the meantime, I am going to go out on a limb and put forth the idea that board members (all of them) really want to hear from the public, so I encourage you to contact them at:

u4boe@champaignschools.org

Around the district

The Jan 26th special board meeting agenda has been posted, which reminded me to write a post about several items.

 

Stephanie Stuart has been sending out notices of some really excellent news this past week:

“Thirty-five Unit 4 students will be honored in the 2015 Martin Luther King, Jr. Creative Expressions Competition, including 12 winning entries and 23 honorable mention projects. Students will be honored at the Annual Celebration at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday, January 24 from 10:00 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. This year, 182 of the 207 entries to the contest were submitted by Unit 4 students.”

Additionally, “nine Unit 4 high school seniors have received scholarships from the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Living the Dream” Scholarship Fund.” (Unit 4 news article)

Earlier today, Habeeb Habeeb dropped by Centennial to honor Aliyah Maldonado (Unit 4 news); I hear it was inspiration and emotional.

 

One of the items on the Jan 24th agenda is a presentation about Vision 20/20, which you can read more about on the IASB website; Dr. Wiegand serves on the Vision 20/20 Committee. There is also a short article in today’s NG about Tolono supporting Vision 20/20. I had an opportunity to chat with Unit 7 Superintendent Andrew Larson to better understand his purpose, and I was very encouraged to hear that others are getting sick and tired of the “same old same old politics” in Illinois, and want to take a stand against it, and stand for high-quality, truly accessible education for all children.

 

Nicole Lafond, Education writer for the News-Gazette, advertised the “first of many weekly school reports“. Among other things, we learn that Jefferson won a $5000 grant from Lowes to renovate the courtyard and improve the library, and mentions the “First Lego League Central State Tournament”, which sounds really cool to me. If you happen to attend, I would love to hear what you think.

 

Kenwood has been awarded $3500 to document the Kenwood brand of awesomeness; look for videos, tweets, demos and flyers that share not only what the Kenwood Stars are doing, but why they are doing it and what they are accomplishing. Along that line, CTRL-Shift will be at the first of two Schools of Choice Information Sessions showing support for Kenwood. I am sure the other schools will be showing off as well. 🙂 More info:

http://www.champaignschools.org/news-room/article/10381

Tuesday, January 27, 2015 at 6 p.m. at Stratton Elementary School.

The Info Session will provide families with an overview of the Schools of Choice process, showcase each of the District’s 12 elementary schools, and provide the opportunity to ask questions of Choice staff members.

 

The DLR architects will be meeting with the folks at Centennial next Monday (Jan 26th) to discuss the recent changes to the proposed referendum and how that affects the expansion plans. You can imagine that there will be a lot of heated discussion. 🙂

 

Lastly, I have to give a final shout-out for the #edCampCU happening tomorrow (Saturday, Jan 24rd), 8:00 to 2:00 at the College of Education (1310 South Sixth Street).

 

The new referendum

re: http://www.news-gazette.com/news/local/2015-01-09/updated-dr-howard-now-mix-champaign-ballot-proposal.html

 

At a reduction of about 3.36%, the overall price-tag of the proposed bond issue is not much different at all. The big element of change is what exactly that money is going towards: totally rebuilt Dr. Howard, needed upgrades and work at the current Central, at the cost of significantly reduced work at Centennial and no “turf” at the new Central. In my talks with Kerris, board members had also discussed a different version that weighed in at $139 million – still, not much but at least a token gesture. 🙂

 

I’ll say it up front – as I told Denise Martin and Dan Ditchfield (chairs of the 2014 “YES” committee), right now I am leaning towards a “yes” on this vote. But I still have big hangups (six, in fact) that I fear never will be addressed.

 

Hangup #1

Why can’t we vote on pieces of the referendum? Why is it all or nothing? I think it is outstanding that the board and district administration FINALLY put Dr. Howard in the spotlight, and FINALLY decided to put HVAC at Central (tired of the trolls about holding Central students hostage?). I am still dumbfounded why those were left off the table in 2014. But we still have a $94.5 million high school being planned for Interstate Drive (I am not even going to get into Dodds Park thing now). That’s a lot of money, and still at a site that a large number of people do not support. From my point of view, it totally sucks that we have to vote for all of it or none of it.

 

Hangup #2

All the focus is on location, capacity and addressing the issues of aging physical plants. Show me the correlation between $1 spent and an increase in academic achievement. In 8+ years of talking, why do we still have unanswered questions in regards to how a referendum will boost the “output” of our school district? We have some excellent educational initiatives, including CTRL-Shift, CU Cradle to Career, and At Promise of Success, but these are not rolled into the language of the referendum at all.

 

Hangup #3

While I appreciate that board members met with each other, and someone met with some “no” voters (who talked to whom?), I don’t like that so much is happening behind closed doors. I appreciate that board member Kerris Lee has been filling me in on a number of details (like the $139M alternative that we still have not seen), but why is so much hidden from public view? I don’t get it that “we have been talking about this for 8 years” but then in a last ditch effort to “tweak” a failed referendum, some very important items are put on the table. There is something very wrong with this picture.

 

Hangup #4

I still very much want to see a super-majority vote. Counter to what the article says about the expected results for the 2014 referendum, I expected things to be close. I actually thought it might be a little closer. I expect this tweak is going to win over a few more votes; it is hard to say what the expectation will be given how voters in Champaign vote quite differently in a Spring Consolidated Election. But personally I want to see a vote that is 75% united. How do we get that? See my previous post about a successful school board and community engagement. There is a lack of ownership and concensus that is going to continue to make public support challenging.

 

Hangup #5

I still don’t see a big overall plan. Yes, we have the 20-year facility plan (which will now have to be updated to account for changes at Centenial, the current Central and Dr. Howard); yes, I understand that took a lot of work to compile, and yes, I realize it signifies that someone is trying to do some planning. But more importantly, how are we going to keep ourselves from winding up in this stupid place again? Tom Kacich had a good response in today’s “Tom’s Mailbag” about why we are where we are:

“As to how Champaign got into the predicament, my take is that school administrators and board members for decades were preoccupied with other issues and ignored their aging buildings and growing enrollments. Now that those issues have finally been addressed school leaders have taken note.”

Yes, decades!! That should be a little scary.

Here is the problem with the current referendum and 20-year facility plan – nobody is painting the big picture that we are going to have to go out for YET ANOTHER referendum to fix up all the still existing problems. My understanding is that we have a number of “Health/Life/Safety” (HLS) issues that are supposed to be paid out of a HLS fund, but my understanding is also that we have no such fund. I am still trying to seek out the facts about that. Beyond HLS, what about the expansion work at Centennial that is supposed to help us prepare for future enrollment? Who is going to pay for that? We have a number of things that are stacking up that might get paid when 1% sales tax money becomes available again (2024?). We seem to be spending money we do not have, hence our current annual $8 million debt service and the need to go out and get a $144 million bond issue. Ouch.

 

Hangup #6

We are getting a minimum of 3 new board members in April; in other words, at a bare minimum, three people who worked on crafting the current referendum will not even be on the board after the vote. The number of new faces could potentially be as high as 5 (out of a total of 7). And if Board President Laurie Bonnett should happen to win Frerich’s old seat and choose to resign from the board (my understanding is that this is her choice, it is not required), that will be a maximum of 6 or a minimum of 4 new faces. That’s got to be a little rough.

 

Conclusion

So with these hangups, am I stupid crazy to be leaning towards a “yes”? We have been totally screwed over by previous boards and administrative officials. As the general rule in Illinois now, we have for too long borrowed against the future, and now our debts are due. In fact, for me personally, it is more imporant who we vote in as board members than how we vote on the referendum. That is the reason why I wrote my previous post, and why I intend to follow-up with another post about characteristics I am looking for in board members (and the board president). If we want better results, we must change the very process itself. Unfortunately, it is easier to address the “surface” issues of a school site or whether we put in HVAC at an old building. I hope we begin to wake up to the fact that we will forever have disagreements about many of the details, but at some point we must work, and even collaborate, on the bigger issues.

 

Jan 5 Special Board meeting

Even though it is two hours long, I encourage you to at least check out the beginning of the video of last night’s BOE meeting:

http://vimeo.com/116062752

UPDATE: Public comment starts at 23:10

 

Nicole Lafond also did an article:

http://www.news-gazette.com/news/local/2015-01-05/school-proposal-april-ballot-coming-monday.html

 

In talking with Kerris, it sounds like the plan that several board members had been working on was, for one reason or another, not highlighted. Chalifoux asked a question about it, but that is about all we hear. Kerris has told me he is going to do a little digging to see what the story is.

Agenda for the Jan 5 Special Board meeting has been posted

We have known about it for a couple weeks, but the district finally posted the BOE meeting agenda for the Jan 5 Special Board meeting on boarddocs. If  you read today’s “Tom’s Mailbag“, you will have gotten an idea that REWIND will be making itself known at Monday’s meeting; I imagine a number of others will be making public statements as well.

 

Typically Special Board meetings are not televised on CGTV 5, so I hope the meeting is posted on the district’s Vimeo site in the days following the meeting for those who are not able to attend in person.

 

The agenda shows a few items; undoubtedly, the biggest of which will be a discussion surrounding the 20 year facility plan (5. Reports – New Business). There are three documents attached in that line item that you might want to go look at, although be warned that they are not new:

 

The other two agenda items are a short report on HR changes and a reclassification for Brian Easter (for which is he very excited!).

 

A couple things to keep your eyes open for; Nicole Lafond has a couple articles she is working on, one probably for Sunday and another possible for Monday or Tuesday. The Sunday article will probably be about the referendum issue, the latter article about board member candidates. Along that line, REWIND will most likely be putting out some more public information on board candidates in the form of candidate responses to a questionnaire. I believe this will be discussed at their Tuesday evening meeting.