It takes a village, part 2

takes_a_village

In Kijita (Wajita) there is a proverb which says ‘Omwana ni wa bhone,’ meaning regardless of a child’s biological parent(s) its upbringing belongs to the community.

 
 
Previously, I mentioned I talked with Angela Smith and Orlando Thomas on the topic of discipline, a conversation which ranged into the topic of community partnerships and collaborations. Specifically, Ms. Smith and Mr. Thomas both suggested I talk to Ms. Karen Simms. It was great advice. 🙂
Ms. Simms presented at the Feb 13th BOE meeting – I encourage you to look through the documents posted on BoardDocs:
I recently had the privilege to speak with Karen Simms. I first gave a little background about why I had visited Ms. Smith and Mr. Thomas, namely Mr. Terry Townsend’s letter of complaint to the OCR. Ms. Simms indicated she was quite familiar with the Consent Decree and the Plaintiff class. She went on to say that one of goals of the Promise Zone initiative is to “build on the work of the consent decree”, specifically by changing policies and practices. This is important as district leadership and boards change over time.
When I mentioned that the information she presented on the Promise Zone looks like Imani Bazzell’s work with “Great Campus” and “At Promise of Success”, she said that Promise Zone “gives teeth to Imani’s ideas.”
I have a lot of respect for what Imani has done in regards to “Great Campus” and “At Promise of Success”. Here are two earlier blog posts on that topic:
I love it that certain entities have been working hard to create tailored environments for some of our most “at risk” children. I want to be careful about using a label like “at risk”; perhaps another way to say it is that Promise Zone creates a village for students that do not otherwise have a village. In Ms. Simms’ Feb 13th BOE presentation, on slide 5 she references the work of the Community Schools initiative (also shared at the Feb 13th BOE meeting) and that of Cradle to Career. At the bottom of the slide, she has a quote that is most apropos:

Community building must become the heart of any school improvement effort.
— Thomas Sergiovanni

A few years ago I suggested that perhaps we are asking the wrong question when we ask about money – we should be asking about how we can provide optimal learning environments. It seems to me that Promise Zone tackles this question for minority students that are currently not served well by the status quo.
In time, I truly hope this idea catches on and is able to scale up. I firmly believe we need more overlap and intersection between what we call “community” and “school”.
PS – for those that wish to watch the Feb 13th BOE meeting, it is up on Vimeo:
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What are public schools supposed to do?

I have often asked myself variations on the question “what is the purpose of school?” When asked, my then 9-year-old daughter offered her perspective, “to learn how to learn.” I asked her a year later about the purpose of the teacher, and she said “to make learning fun.” (for more reading, “The purpose of Education” part 1, 2, 3)

 

I find myself aligning with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, and many others both before and after MLK, who paints a picture that the purpose of education is to generate successful citizens. Citizens that can navigate and participate in society, that know how to collaborate and compromise, engage in healthy debate to voice different ideas, and overall “be family.”

 

 

A related question is “what is the purpose of the board?” (part 1, 2) Basically, the school board sits at the 10,000 foot level (right below the clouds) and determines where the bus is going to go in the long run.

 

Having laid all that out as a preamble, I now turn your attention to the November 16th school board meeting, the agenda of which can be found on boarddocs (I still do not have a way to deep-link the agenda – you will have to navigate there manually). In particular, the interesting presentation on High School Configuration. First, I think it is great that this board is trying to 1) be very open in their discussion, and 2) are trying to invite the community to the table on “big issues”.

 

The High School Configuration document is interesting because it starts off with a summary of Lisa de la Rue’s literature review. For those that want to rewind back to the June 11th, 2012, meeting, I have a couple notes you can look over; June 9th, before the meeting, and June 12th, after the meeting. Basically, there is a weak correlation between school configuration and student achievement (too many other variables). This current document goes on to list several pros and cons between a 1-HS model, a 2-HS model (current) and a 3-HS model. I noticed a trend in the carefully phrased “possibilities” – the single high school model might increase the number of opportunities/services while at the same time might decrease climate, while at the other end (not really an extreme) the three high school model looses the number of offerings (due to lack of consolidation) but increases the innate intimacy. Funny how the two high school model has one and only one “concern” listed. Oh, by the way, the current HS principals will be spearheading this presentation. 🙂

 

I am not shy about my own preference, but the point I want to make with this post is that I believe the board as a whole needs to focus first on what kind of students they want to produce. Regardless of configuration or location, when you hand a diploma to a kid, what qualities and traits will they have acquired because of Unit 4? What exactly is a successful citizen? What about those students for whom the current system is not working at all? What are we doing wrong if students (young citizens) are “failing” the public school system?

 

The district administration has recently taken a stronger stance in support of Positive Behavior Facilitation (PBF, a concept originated by Dr. Edna Olive who has a book by the same title). Mr. Orlando Thomas and Ms. Katie Ahsell are pushing PBF, with good effect, with ACTIONS staff used throughout the district. During a recent email exchange with Dr. Wiegand, it sounds like the district is looking at including PBF and cultural relevancy more thoroughly within Professional Development in the near future. Having read Dr. Olive’s book, I find myself agreeing with her belief that “relationships are everything.” In fact, Dr. Olive goes so far as to call PBF a paradigm not a program; it is more of mindset, a method of taking a step back and thinking about all the factors going on in a given situation, starting first with yourself.

 

My own high-level goals for any student going through Unit 4, regardless of the physical building they happen to be in, are:

  • her sense of curiosity, creativity and wonder are encouraged and enhanced; she is a critical thinker who, because she is a life-long learner, questions everything
  • although she is a single citizen, she is a valuable citizen who appreciates the value of others around her; ergo she seeks to resolve conflict, collaborate, and compromise as needed
  • alongside her repertoire of reading, writing and math skills, she also gains the confidence that she can acquire new skills as desired
  • she is both street-wise and world-wise

 

What goals do you have? What goals do our students have? And how will we realize those goals?

 

I hope lots of people show up for the chat tomorrow, and I hope many more continue to provide input on their own priorities. I urge the board to focus more on the purpose of Unit 4 schools, and provide course corrections to the administration as necessary. Personally, I don’t think the board as a whole should decide the location or the configuration; certainly as individuals and voters they have an opinion that should be expressed, but as a board, I see their job as setting the big picture first.

 

Let’s make learning fun. 🙂 And let us learn how to learn. Always.

#EdCampCU, PBF, and the Achievement Framework

I have been wanting to post about several things, so instead of shoving them into the background again and again, I thought to wrap them up in a 3-for-1 deal.

edcampcu-9-26-15EdCampCU 9.26.15

On the last Saturday in September (back when it still felt like summer), a number of Unit 4 staff, area teachers, parents and community members gathered at Kenwood for the second EdCampCU. For those not familiar with an “edCamp”, it is labeled as an “unconference”, where participants bring the topics that are near and dear to their hearts, in the form of a question. It is specifically meant to be a group dialog, not a lecture/monologue at all; and the interaction is where cool things happen. It is an excellent way of exploring topics in a non-threatening manner. A certain board member attended as well, and wondered about the possibility of the entire school board being involved in a future EdCamp; the next EdCampCU will be in early February, so keep your eyes and ears open.

I love the conversations and the exchanges we shared. For next time, I personally would find it extremely helpful if we tried a few things:

  • Have a note-taker at each session that updates a public document (google doc, etherpad, etc) so everyone can read about other sessions during or afterwards
  • Have homework. What do we do when we leave the building? Or like Lekevie Johnson (recently in the News-Gazette) asks, “what can I do to help?”
  • Have a longer or more intense large-group discussion about the main topics covered in smaller sessions; common themes, action items, reflection, etc.

Positive Behavior Facilitation (PBF)

pbf_bookA couple weeks ago I had the privilege to sit down with Mr. Orlando Thomas and Ms. Katie Ahsell to discuss discipline in Unit 4. As we were discussing numbers, Mr. Thomas started to share with me about PBF. PBF is not new to the district at all – we have been holding PBIS and PBF sessions for quite some time. However, with ACTIONS coming online within the past couple years, the district has started to train staff who specialize in PBF and are resources not only at the location housed with the Family Information Center, but also who go out to all the schools to observe, consult and proactively intervene.

I am a big fan of PBF and have written about it before. During my visit to ACTIONS, I was very much impressed by the focus on restorative justice and the way staff gave both respect and guidance to students of all ages.

But I also understand it isn’t a silver bullet – it is not the Holy Grail that will solve all our problems. At the September 28th Board Meeting (held at Centennial), Mr. Terry Townsend spoke about the Letter of Complaint he filed with the Office of Civil Rights. I also had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Townsend in early October to gain a very different perspective. I was encouraged that Mr. Townsend wants to work on these issues together; moreover, I think we all agree that the only way we can address issues of race, class, equity and discipline is by doing so together.

 

Achievement Frameworkachievement_framework

Back in April I took advantage of an opportunity to chat with Angela Smith about Unit 4’s Achievement Framework. There is a lot going on to help our students succeed, and I was quite impressed.

If you click on the image to the right, it will take you to a Word document prepared by Ms. Smith that explains the 10,000 ft view of the Achievement Framework. In her own words, “[t]his picture shows the relationship between our non-negotiable goals that will help all students achieve.  It refers to what we teach, how we teach, how we monitor, and how we grade.”

I asked a number of follow-up questions and Ms. Smith provided some excellent responses. For instance, I asked about differentiation, and I learned that in the middle school level, there are a number of built-in opportunities to accommodate different learning paces; FLEX time (a 40 minute block with variable content), ENCORE remediation supports and summer school slots that are prioritized for those who need it the most.

Ms. Smith also told me about “power standards”, essentially over-arching curricular themes that build in intensity over the course of several semesters (as opposed to being wrapped up in a single class). Taken in the context of the Achievement Framework, teachers can better track progress towards mastery and assess growth along the way. Student growth is important because not everyone comes in with the same skill set or the same educational background, so it is not helpful to compare students to each other, but rather the Framework allows students to be compared against themselves.

Ms. Smith also made a point to explain how teachers can make their practice “authentic” (her word) by “explaining, modeling, demonstrating, group-work, independent work” and allowing students to respond in their own way.

One of my concerns is that this is just a framework. A really good one, to be sure, but still only a skeleton. I wonder, how does it work when applied? What do teachers think of it? What do student think?

The other concern I have is how exactly children are assessed. If done organically and within the flow of teaching and learning, that’s cool. If the intent is to depend upon standardized tests, that does not sit well with me. Especially when a test result takes 6 months to come back! That is just insane.

“draft” agenda for the Oct 12th BOE meeting is up

For those that like to read ahead:

http://www.champaignschools.org/sites/default/files/meetings/agendas/10.12.15%20DRAFT%20Agenda_10615.pdf

I bet we will see something soon on the U4 Board Corner as well. *grin*

Observations about this draft:

  • Why is the document typed up on a computer, then printed, then scanned in, then posted online?
  • Report from Angela Smith about EEE; the EEE website has not been updated in a while (since 2014).
  • Semester update from Orlando Thomas about ACTIONS; I had a fantastic chat with Mr. Thomas and Ms. Katie Ahsell a week ago on this topic – I hope they talk about the Edna Olive PBF book. Good stuff! I also chatted with both individuals about getting more information online.
  • 10-Year Capital Improvement Plan: Once this is actually online, I encourage folks to look through it (now online). The last time I saw it, it seemed to represent a very small percentage of the maintenance items the district has to work on. Like, A/C at Central was rated as a low-priority. 🙂 This will apparently be approved in the Consent Agenda.
  • Special Board meeting on October 26th at Garden Hills – I hope they have a huge turnout.

ACTIONS

ACTIONS: Acronym meaning “Alternative Center for Targeted Instruction and On- Going Support”

The news media has totally overlooked this one topic that easily took up half of the entire board meeting last night. For me personally, I was blown away by the reports. One student bravely stood up during public comment (that takes some chutzpah!) to talk about how he specifically has benefited from this awesome program. There were several other reports throughout the meeting. One student was quoted as saying “Thank you for suspending me” and went on to testify how his/her life has changed. Mr. Orlando Thomas will be forwarding me the presentation used at the board meeting (which for some reason is not on boarddocs), and I will post it here when I receive it.

There were several points that made an impact on me.

First was the desire and ability to target the needs of the child. I realize there is a segment of society that just wants to punish bad behavior and close the book; I believe that type of attitude is detrimental, not only to the individual child, but ultimately to society as well. Just take a look at our misnamed “correctional systems” – do you think everyone who goes to jail is “corrected”? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think these students are being pandered to in any way, their suspension is not a mere hand-slap. Instead, there is a serious attempt at reflection and building up a “next time” scenario.

Next, I rather like the emphasis on engaging the families. It is not clear to me how successful this actually is, but just the initial “enrollment” is somewhat of a choice. Somewhat. In the course of the suspension hearing, the child and the family is told that the child is assigned to ACTIONS, and the child and/or the family could (conceivably) choose to not take advantage of the opportunity, in which case the suspension would be like an out-of-school suspension (opposed to an alternative in-school suspension). It seems like a good thing that the staff realize the importance of involving the family. I am curious how the families on the receiving end view this whole thing.

In the end, it seems this program is empowering certain students who otherwise have difficulty functioning successfully among their peers. Empowering them in a very positive way. When is the last time a student got up at a board meeting to address the board, about his own struggle and how we overcame it, to boot? Board members also gave a shout out to other students who had emailed the board about various issues. The implication is that this was a very rare thing, but the board very much encourages this type of communication.

I am reminded of a Jim Dey editorial from 04/15/2013:

http://www.news-gazette.com/opinion/editorials/2013-04-15/new-approach-suspensions.html

“Rather than suspend the students, they wish to create a special environment where these young people can develop social skills and improve their academics.

Good luck with that. It would be great to be wrong, but it’s hard to imagine that something so basic as what’s being proposed actually will have the desired effect.”

It would appear that this program really is having the desired effect. During the ACTIONS presentation last night, several numbers were quoted, including graduation rates and academic progress. When I receive the presentation, I’ll update the numbers – I think they tell a significant story. Special thanks was given to all the volunteers and mentors that helped to make this program a success. Which got me to thinking…. it would be awesome if more volunteers and mentors stepped up to the plate.

Board Member Jamar Brown made the point that while most people were concerned about the high school location, he considered ACTIONS to be even bigger. In a lot of ways, I agree. True, the new high school is going to hit our pocketbooks rather hard (speaking from the viewpoint of those who are already struggling), but a new high school does not in and of itself have any impact on transforming society. I believe ACTIONS does.

 

UPDATE: Mr. Orlando Thomas has sent me the powerpoint used during Monday’s BOE meeting – it is a good read:

https://thecitizen4blog.files.wordpress.com/2014/01/actions-boe-1-27-14.pptx

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.

June 10th Regular BOE Meeting agenda available

I wish I could deep-link the agenda, but for the next week or two, it should be at the top of the list:

http://www.boarddocs.com/il/champil/Board.nsf/public

 

Aside from the pre-weekend flurry of news about Stig’s resignation, it looks like it will be a full meeting. I am sure Executive Session will continue to be interesting. *grin*

The public meeting kicks off with an Academic Spotlight of the Young Entrepreneur Program followed by a series of recognitions. I see that in the “Upcoming Events” the June Board Retreat is not listed, so perhaps the details have not yet been hashed out. I hope they still have one.

Under “New Business”, Dr. Wiegand kicks off with a presentation about CUSF (not online as of this writing). Next up Maria Alanis is posing an informational item that will become an action item at a future meeting; a new International Academy. It is not clear exactly how much this will cost as part of the funds are coming from a Title III grant. Apparently, the Board approved all the positions back in March. That seems really hard for me to follow – we approved the positions before the Academy was even approved? Maybe I am just confused. The next four items are all Policy changes being introduce by the school attorney Tom Lockman (movable soccer goal, education of homeless children, student abassador program, and using district networks/social media).

 

Nine items are listed under “Action Agenda” with quite a variety, most of which have attached documentation. One thing stuck out to me – we are hiring a consultant firm at a price of $60,000 to help with the Business Office. Since the word “transition” is used, this is to help the new Business Director Matt Foster dive in? That just seemed a bit odd to me. We are also leasing (to own?) two used busses for roughly $180,000 (to be paid over 5 years). And lastly, board appointments to various committees. I strongly advise the Board to consider transitioning this committees to Board Committees, as opposed to Superintendent Committees. Board Committees are a lot more formal and must report back to the board. Superintendent committees report to the Superintendent and there is a significant lack of public visibility on these committees as they exist today.

 

The “Consent Agenda” is packed with 18 items; a lot of change orders for the schools that are currently being renovated, a purchase order for more busses, HR changes, a “Rising Star Action Plan” (which I want to read more about), a Policy change and other sundry items.

 

Tons of stuff to read. Board members have their work cut out for weekend reading and preparing to meet on Monday. We the public have our own work cut out for us. This is our school district – it is our job to hold our school board members accountable. Ideally, this is a very good thing. *grin* But it takes the work of informing the public and taking the time to digest all this information.