Getting the story out

A few days ago, I sent the following to WCIA, WICD and Meg Dickinson at the NG:

Good day,

In light of the issues with Unit 4 and working cash bonds and the perceived mistrust between some members of the community and the School District officials, I would love to see a segment that highlighted the claims of Unit 4. For instance, they are asking $1.8 million to replace the Transportation Building. How bad is it? Most of the public has probably never seen it. Unit 4 wants $3.5 million each for Jefferson and Franklin because it gets so hot in September. How bad is it? Again, how many people in the community have first hand knowledge of those conditions?

As a community member, I would love to see more exposure into the truth of what our children see every day. My goal is to help the community see things from the District’s point of view, and then also provide an opportunity for the District to see things from the community’s point of view.

Thank you for your time and attention. I look forward to hearing what you think of this idea.


Amanda Porterfield with WCIA recently got back to me saying “We Hear You” and wants to do an interview. I told her that my concern is that I want to focus on truth and facts – I would want the community to see exactly how dilapidated the Transportation building is. Moreover, how our facilities compare to other districts that have higher taxes and properly take care of their facilities. I think it is also important for the District to hear that community members do not necessarily recognize the same sense of urgency, thus there is not the same level of priority on finding additional sources of funding for the District. It is my observation that the District thinks it has saved up “trust” currency in the bank (because they have been very fiscally responsible for the past 6 years or so), but the public is keeping a different ledger. These two accountings must be reconciled. And once they are reconciled, we can proceed together.


I am looking for others who are willing to be interviewed and help tell their story. Anyone?


PS – I also have a related post I am working on that details a meeting with Dr. Wiegand, Mr. Logas, Sue Grey, Tom Lockman and Don Kermath on the topic of working cash bonds. I hope to post that later today.

Champaign PTA Council President's Dinner

Last night, the PTA Council hosted a PTA President’s Dinner honoring PTA Presidents for all the hard work. I was quite impressed by the representation of school principals and members of the BOE. I had an opportunity to finally meet Angela Smith (Franklin Principal who has been in the news lately).


What was really awesome about this time was the Panel discussion held right after dinner with members of the Board; in attendance were (right to left) Greg Novak, Sue Grey, Tom Lockman, Kristine Chalifoux and Jamar Brown. Dr. Bob Malito was also sitting on the panel and spoke a few times.


A question was asked about the two newly soon-to-be-empty positions (Beth Shepperd and Dorland Norris), and both Read the rest of this entry »

Where does negative perception come from?

After speaking with School Exec Connect representatives Dr. Ed Olds and Dr. Kent Johansen, I come away with mixed feelings. Again. In some ways, I hope that this blog entry raises questions and invites folks to disagree. I always invite others to disagree with me – for me, that is a healthy and even necessary way to grow.


So here it is: I think this community is its own worst enemy.


Today, I and several others met with School Exec Connect on two different occasions. Once during a PTA Council session at the Mellon center which Gaby help set up, and another Junior League sponsored event at Centennial, for which about 30 (max) community members showed up. They presented a few bits of information, like what to expect next, how things are going to roll, and some stats on the surveys that some 850+ of us have filled out. A large majority of the survey respondents (515 I believe) were parents. I was also surprised by the top ranked characteristics people wanted in a Superintendent:

  1. “Student-first” philosophy
  2. Serve as a model for high standards (integrity, personal performance)
  3. Has administrative experience in a similar district
  4. Necessary leadership skills to respond to a ethnically diverse community
  5. Experience to select/implement priorities aligned to interests/needs of students & communities
  6. Develops a good admin team that progresses the district’s vision


Nothing about transparency, nothing explicit about communication, nothing overt about strengthening ties with school building staff.


Tonight’s session was, in a way, a turning point for me. Maybe only in small way. But it dawned on me how cynical we can be. For instance, try to come up with a list of stregths of our school district. Right now, make up your own list. See how long it takes. See if you can think of more than two.


My own list took a while (over 20 minutes) – allow me to point out some of the strengths I see in our school district, qualities that most people will probably agree with but spend a disproportionate amount of time pondering:

  • We have some really awesome teachers
  • Gene Logas; he might speak a different language, but he has set this district on solid financial ground
  • Lynn Peisker; possibly one of the best decisions that the BOE and Administration has made in a long time
  • Several community-engagement programs that do not often make the spotlight (Champaign Urbana School Foundation, Junior League of Champgin-Urbana, various backpack-stuffing groups/efforts, mentors, volunteers, after-school programs, college students who help out in various ways and several college courses that interact directly with students)
  • Lots of exciting things happening in practically all the schools (thanks to Peikser’s newsletters)
  • Some passionate school principals who have a huge heart for the kids
  • Lots of good people with good intentions in Unit 4
  • A majority of children are having a positive experience (if we take the Climate Survey at face value)


We can quickly point out the things we do not like about the school district, but it tends to be more difficult to find the positives. At tonight’s session, I heard a story that I have heard numerous times in the past; a couple is considering Unit 4, but they are finding it really tough to not sent their precious child to private school. To rub salt in the wound, they are a product of Unit 4. We heard from another well-spoken gentleman who is concerned about the lack of African-Americans in teaching positions. Read the negativity expressed by some commentors who graced chambanamoms recently (warning, some are flagrant trolls). I myself have contributed to the Pool of Distraught Outlooks as well, and have been decrying the state of IT in Unit 4.


There are problems with the school district. Most definitely, no doubt about it. But I think we whip ourselves up in too much of a frenzy about it. I am not convinced that we have to wait on Unit 4 to change, nor need we wait for a new superintendent, for a change in perception.


I really like how Dr. Johansen emphasized near the end of tonight’s session that the Superintendent is accountable to, and in fact is hired and evaluated by, the local Board of Education. The BOE is powerful! Or at least, should be. The BOE is elected by, and thus accountable to, the people. When the Superintendent does not work under the jurisdiction of the BOE and the BOE is not listening to the people, you have a very dysfunctional system. I think we had that system recently. I think we are slowly shedding the vestiges of the old system like an ill-fitting chrysalis. I think it is paramount that we see the fruits of this metamorphosis and work together to unfurl our wings and make something really good come of this.


What am I trying to say? It would behoove us to spend a lot more time focusing on the positive and less time pointing out the negative. I am not saying that we should stop saying negative things. By no means! Rather, that we should put a “constructive criticism” spin on them.


I know I am not pioneering a new path. Others have been down this road. Some burned out, some gave up, some turned back. Some just plain disappeared. But why?