Keep your eyes open

Just a few things to mention.


Monday, November 17th is a “special” board meeting, which typically means there are more opportunities for public comment. However the agenda is exceptionally small this time around, with the one and only thing really being discussed is a “public hearing” (*cough cough*) on “Physical Education Waiver Request”.


Last Thursday, Tim Ditman wrote an article covering how board member Kerris Lee is “exploring other Central High School sites“. Perhaps what I found most odd is that there are zero (nilch, nada, none) comments to the article. Granted, while Dodds Park and Bristol Park do offer some really interesting possibilities, they seem like extremely remote possibilities, but hey, Kerris is good at getting people to talk, so I dare not say impossible.


Next Thursday (November 20th), the national Learning Spaces Collaboratory will be holding a webinar on “Connecting the Dots between Planning and Assessing 21st Century Learning Spaces: Lessons Learned from the Field“. There is a $125 registration fee, so not for the faint of heart. I am hoping to hear from some local folks that attend this webinar and are willing to report out.


And lastly, save the dates for a few Saturdays in January; we are starting to make plans to offer design charrettes around the topic of the Unit 4 High Schools. Tentatively you can pencil in January 10th, January 17th and January 24th. I have spoken with the fine folks at the Douglass Center as well as the principal at Stratton and there is a distinct possibility we will be able to use their gyms. Pattsi, how can I help get your “charrettes 101” material online and available to all?

Collaboration and compromise

Recently, Kathy Richards presented her petition to the Board (Nov 10 BOE meeting). I have been waiting for it to pop up on Vimeo, but I might just try to record it off CGTV 5 at some point. Maggie Hockenberry of WCIA caught up with Kathy and interviewed her yesterday:


I think one thing Ms. Hockenberry perhaps missed is that a vast majority of us support the school district regardless of the referendum, there are just details about the referendum that we disagree about. For some it is location, others it is Dr. Howard, and a whole bunch of other reasons are thrown in the cart.


A recent twitter thread evolved into a sort of a challenge, calling folks to get together and hammer this thing out; Park district, city council, MTD, CCRPC, the YES Committee, those who voted “no”, UIUC students urban planning, LA, ARCH, NRES…. I am sure we could pile on more. Obviously, we should have done this two years ago. But here we are.


I don’t know how else to say this, but perhaps we should in a sense just shut up about it and start “doing”. For those that support the referendum but are willing to look at other options, can we open up the box and think about sites that are smaller than 47 acres? For those that opposed the referendum, find a site that works and meets all the needs of the district (sans 47 acres). Pattsi has one idea that we need to flesh out a bit more. Others have re-suggested Spalding/Judah. It is not enough to say that Interstate Drive is bad for this and that reason; we need to go beyond that and come up with a real, practical solution. And we will have to compromise – it has been said a bajillion times “there is no perfect site.” So we need to prioritize and figure out what we really need. What are the non-negotiables? We have to be willing to give up some things, on both sides of the fence, to focus on what is really important.


From my point of view, the biggest driver is sheer capacity. If we reduce the number of children that are jammed-packed into the current buildings, we solve a lot of problems just with that alone. I agree, there are still other ramifications that need to be addressed. So let us stop talking and start addressing. Pattsi, when is our first charrette scheduled for? 🙂

More about being heard: finances and budgets

Pattsi Petrie has shared on her blog an extremely curious experiment carried out with the Champaign County Board on a “participatory budget”. I encourage you to read more directly from her – the opening line is an excellent invitation:

On 4 Sept., the Democratic caucus of the Champaign County Board has arranged to hold an opportunity to engage the county citizens in an open dialogue as to the best means to spend your tax dollar.

Isn’t that what we all want, a way to give some kind of input as to where all those thousands of tax dollars are going? And yet, when our wishes slam into reality, it isn’t necessarily a pretty picture. In fact, it is downright messy! Pattsi’s blog post is a long read, but it spells out the challenges along the way and, to me at least, points out that there is still a significant amount of work to be done, and we all have a social obligation to chip in. But the process of paving the path is exciting!

When it comes down to it, you and I just complain way too much. We are quite blessed, especially living here in America. Yet look at our habits; we saturate social media with our view of what is wrong and trade 140 character tropes; yet what really changes? What are we doing to make the world a better place?

I am not exactly sure what a better “democratic republic” would look like. I am not sure if a well-oiled and well-attended participatory budget session would induce more accountability into a largely misunderstood and heavily manipulated way of transacting business. But I do know to do nothing is unacceptable. Maybe all us whiners should roll up our sleeves and get to work. 🙂 Makes you wonder, what if (as the quote constituent points out) other bodies like the City of Champaign or the school districts did something brave like this? Hmmmm…


Kudos to Pattsi for pushing this idea.

“Everything You’ve Heard about Failing Schools is Wrong.”

The subject of today’s post is from a recursive series of quotes; Dr. Wiegand’s latest newsletter highlights an Atlanta Journal-Constitution (ajc) educational blog which is highlighting an essay by University of Georgia professor Peter Smagorinsky about the bane of how media often portrays the dire plight of the public education system and he manages to ring the bell of anti-Bill Gatian assessments. Dr. Smagorinsky refers back to “The Manufactured Crisis”, which sounds like myth-debunking work aiming to de-teeth the many klaxons of war-mongering politicians.

I have asked Dr. Wiegand what she thought of the piece, since, to be honest, most of it is very general for me. I do acknowledge that Dr. Smagorinksy paints a very salient point; “to show one example of the perils of making judgments about people based on media images and accounts.” Which makes me wonder, what does the media hope to gain by pointing a crooked, shaking finger at tax-payer funded public schools in the first place? Does it really help to round up all the riff-raff and get people complaining? We will see what Dr. Wiegand says.

Obviously, there is a time and a place to disclose, or even uncover, the chinks in the armor, the weakest link, as long as the intent is to patch it up and make it stronger. On the flip side, there is also a time and a place to acknowledge all the many awesome accomplishments and positive direction, as long as it is not used to whitewash a rotting interior. Having said that, let us take a look at a few things.

On the “Pro” side, Stephanie Stuart (Unit 4 Community Relations), and Lynn Peisker before her, has done an excellent job of highlighting many positives; if you watch the Unit 4 website, the Unit 4 Facebook page or the twitter feed, you will find a frequent stream of recognitions, awards, certificates and accomplishments. Just today Dr. Taylor was recognized for receiving the McKinley Foundation Social Justice Award. Stephanie always collects success stories that are going on each school, as evident at each board meeting during “Recognitions”. Stephanie also co-hosted a “twitter chat” last week; the transcript is a little challenging to follow, but you can see how she (and Dr. Wiegand) interacted with various “chatters”.

On the “Con” side, Read the rest of this entry »

Yes you can

I had a really good talk with a very involved Unit 4 parent today and we spent a bit of time dancing around the topic of advocacy. One of the things we discovered during our conversation is that the only reason why we have this need for advocacy in the first place is because the system and society that we live in right now has power structures that are oppressive (and history tells us that this has been going on for a long long time); by “oppressive” I mean that the voice of dissent is consistently and systematically squashed. What confuses me is why the masses continue to abide by this twisted reality, why we accommodate it and thus permit it. I know, you are thinking that the nature of oppression in the first place is to basically make sure the status quo is maintained, enslaving the will of those oppressed and thereby to force accommodation. To rape one’s sense of being and worth.


But we don’t have to accommodate at all. We can speak out against it. And in fact, I think we have a moral obligation to do so.


You think I am being melodramatic – I can tell by the way you are itching to move on to the next thing. Bear with me a moment more. I heard a story of a child who was uncomfortable with the “inappropriate” play of another child. The first child told the attending teacher and nothing happened. The child then went to the next level (someone higher) and things started happening (good for the first child, not so good for the second). The child has learned an important lesson of advocating for self; a pretty rare trait in one so young, but a very crucial one to learn none-the-less. I heard another story of a young girl who witnessed a friend being bullied. Filled with indignation, she told the bullies to stop and walked her friend away from the situation. This was a powerful story of advocating for someone else; she saw something was wrong and could not abide by it, but was compelled to make the situation right.


Frequently I hear of parents who struggle to successfully and satisfactorily engage the system of our public schools. Please note, I do hear many success stories as well – the change in Unit 4 since the beginning of 2012 has been significant, even if subtle. Yet there are still those cases where parents, or even other stakeholders, attempt to assail the walls of bureaucracy only to be rebuffed and thrown back. In such cases I want to implore you not to give up. I want to shout “Yes you can!”. You say you are but one person. Yes, I know, so am I.

“We know only too well that what we are doing is nothing more than a drop in the ocean. But if the drop were not there, the ocean would be missing something.”

— attributed to Mother Teresa


If something is not right, if something is objectionable or just plain wrong, say something about it. And don’t stop until Read the rest of this entry »

Population Density vs Median Family Income

In Sunday’s “School Assignment” post, Pattsi suggested I talk to Andrew Levy at RPC. I am glad I did – Andrew was exceptionally helpful and informative and was able to deliver a rough map (NOTE: not meant to be 100% accurate) and an explanation of what he did. He even went a step further and gave me permission to post the map and quote him. He is such a swell guy! 🙂

From the mouth of Andrew Levy:

Unfortunately, there is not a simple way to obtain data and create maps when combining Census datasets such as population density and income.  American Fact Finder ( does provide a mapping application, but I don’t think it will get you the detail you want.


Attached is a map that shows income ranges in different colors and density in lighter to darker shades.  Population density is available at the Census Block level while median family income is only available at the Block group level.  Please see the CCRPC website for more information about these geographies (  Income data is from the American Community Survey which is derived from sample data.  This means that the data has inherent reliability which has been shown as hatching on the map.  Please note that the classification of population density is comparable across the four median family income levels. This is based on a “natural breaks” methodology

As you can see, lower incomes certainly have higher density patterns, though each income level has areas where population density is higher. Also note that the reliability of the data is quite varied across the community.

While this may not provide you with answers, hopefully it gives you a general idea of the conditions in the City of Champaign / Champaign School District.  Unfortunately, digging into the numbers more will introduce more error and degrade the reliability.



So even though this map is not entirely picture perfect (and not interactive and in some cases really hard to read) it at least gives us something to chew on. It is obvious that wealth is not well distributed – in some areas it seems like Green (“high wealth”) is next to Red (“low wealth”), but looking closer at the map, I think those census tracts are skewed by commercial businesses since I am fairly certain the houses in those areas are not high-end; for instance, south of University and east of Neil, or west of Prospect and between Church and I-74. As Pattsi has mentioned, if the main goal is to diversify the inhabitants of the schools, I can accept that it makes a lot of sense to first diversify the neighborhoods in which the schools reside. The problem is twofold; 1) we don’t have that right now, and 2) in order to get that, we have to get a truckload of people on the same page and build momentum to slowly get there. We are not typically patient people. The easy thing to do is have “Controlled Choice” and bus people all over God’s green earth. But that is also expensive, and as Shadow Wood is teaching us, fraught with its own difficulties.


NOTE: “Population density is available at the Census Block level while median family income is only available at the Block group level.” Be careful when looking at the map, because a large Block Group level can cover a lot of ground and may mislead you to thinking that all those homes have the same MFI – it is a gross approximation of the average income (yeah yeah, be picky about “median” vs “average”).

Talks with Dr. Wiegand and Sue Grey

Wednesday I had the privilege of chatting with Superintendent Dr. Wiegand and Board President Sue Grey, in two different venues. On both occasions my goal was simply to learn; now my challenge is clearly communicating what I learned.

I met with Dr. Wiegand at the Mellon Center. Aside from the construction and relatively unmarked temporary entrance, the mood inside the building was obviously somber. I had set up an appointment with Dr. Wiegand prior to the events on Tuesday, and told her that if she was not in a mood to talk about her thesis, I totally understood. But we decided to move forward with our plans.

In regards to her research and findings, she confirmed that, in a oversimplified nutshell kind of way, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease”. I asked her about what provided the impetus for the topic in the first place, and Dr. Wiegand relayed a bit of what was on her mind at the time, that she was concerned about the academic performance of certain groups and how she had observed that academic teams seemed to have a positive effect. On top of that, she also noticed how hard it is to push change through at times. So she wanted to study the process of “reform” and try to find specific obstacles.

Much of our conversation Read the rest of this entry »