School board events today and tomorrow

Tonight (Monday, May 18th) the school board meets with Illinois Assocation of School Boards (IASB) representative Dr. Patrick Rice, the Field Service Director for our area (“Illini region”). Even though the entire meeting is essentially dedicated to an OMA-blessed executive session, you can read the one-page brochure from IASB:

http://www.boarddocs.com/il/champil/Board.nsf/files/9WH8CK73C454/$file/StartingRightbrochure.pdf

 

For anyone who has been reading for a little while, you know will I fully support the IASB’s efforts and I consider this a “good thing.” Based on that brochure, I can see that the “2.5 – 3 hour” meeting will summarize the  main areas of the IASB’s “Foundational Principles of Effective Governance.” I am altogether excited because five of the seven board members are new and they have stated a desire to change the way the school board operates, and given that the topic of tonight’s meeting is “Starting Right”, I am quite confident that this “board retreat” will further transform the board into a successful agent of the people.

My hope and request for the board tonight is that they ask a lot of questions as they wrap their heads around these concepts. “Question everything.” 🙂

 

Tomorrow (Tuesday, May 19th) the school board will be available for a “meet & greet” at the Mellon Building (703 South New Street, Champaign) from 7:00 – 8:30 pm. The event is sponsored by the PTA Council – the following is from an email blurb sent out last week:

Please join Champaign PTA Council for an informal “Meet & Greet” to introduce yourself to the new members of the Champaign Unit 4 Board of Education, K-12 principals in Unit 4, and the PTA presidents at each school. The public is invited and encouraged to attend. Refreshments will be provided.

Please RSVP on the Facebook event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/1607091012869879/

e-mail me at csmcarthur@gmail.com or call/text 217-637-0968 by 6pm on Monday, May 18th.

 

This is a great opportunity for community members and organizations to network with key players in the educational system in one place!

 

We look forward to seeing you!

Cathy S. McArthur, President

Champaign PTA Council

 

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Let the forums begin

Chambanamoms posted an article about the school board candidate forum marathon that starts this Wednesday, 7:00 – 9:00 pm at the Mellon Center:

http://www.chambanamoms.com/events/unit-4-school-board-candidate-forum/

This first one is put on by the PTA Council and moderated by Brian Minsker. Better yet, it will be televised on CGTV 5 for those who still have cable – not sure if it will go up on Vimeo for the rest of us, but I will ask.

 

Champaign School Board Forum Flyer 3-9-2015The marathon continues Thursday morning (March 12) at the Hilton Garden Inn ($10 if you want breakfast) from 7:30 – 9:00 am, put on by the Chamber of Commerce. That evening, the LWV, NG and NAACP will host a forum at the City Building from 7:30 – 9:00 pm. There is a bit of a breather until the last one I know of, March 19th from 7:30 – 9:30 at Mount Olive Baptist Church (meet & greet starts at 7:00 pm).

 

If you know of others, I am happy to post them. However I am thinking the candidates are already hard pressed just with these four events. In fact, some candidates have already mentioned they will be missing at certain forums (pre-existing conflicts).

 

What I have found from my own interactions with candidates is that we have a very strong pool of good people. I am hard pressed just to choose four of the eight 4-year candidates. Take your civic responsibilities seriously and take the time to at least read about each candidate; you can start on the candidate page I have been putting together:

https://thecitizen4blog.wordpress.com/misc/2015-board-candidates/

 

UPDATE: The time for the forum at the Mount Olive Baptist Church was changed (from 6:30 to 7:30), and I also received a flyer which I attached to this post.

State of the District

Last night at the PTA Council meeting, Dr. Wiegand gave a “State of the District” presentation to those assembled – here is the PDF slidedeck of the presentation:

http://www.champaignschools.org/sites/default/files/news/files/StateoftheDistrict2015.pdf

 

I am told there were some additional things shared by folks like Marc Changnon on the awesome progress with trades, and others on the topic of computational thinking.

 

At 50 slides, it doesn’t take too long to flip through them all. I would direct your attention to the slides on the “Great Campus” idea (what Imani Bazzell has re-christened as the “At Promise … of Success” initiative); obviously there is more behind the scenes then what you can read on those slides. Pattsi is going to ask “what more is behind the scenes?”, so I will reference an earlier blog post:

https://thecitizen4blog.wordpress.com/2014/09/05/sept-8th-board-meeting-has-a-number-of-interesting-topics/

 

I believe Dr. Wiegand and Imani (and others) have been meeting on this topic a bit.

 

There are also a fair amount of slides on the U4Innovate initiative.

For me, I was disappointed about the lack of meat in the slides regarding Goal 2 (“community-involved planning process”). Also, the last goal (Goal 6) is about capital planning, and I would like to take some to chew on the HLS numbers a bit. I still very much want to see participatory budgeting come to Unit 4, especially in light of how the saga of the referendum is unfolding. My goal is to build consensus and ownership among the stakeholders so we are not constantly splitting votes down the middle and having these 11th hour pseudo-public debates about how to spend tax dollars.

Current thoughts on the PARCC

After my last post, I have had a number of conversations that have made it harder for me to decide where I fall on PARCC testing; so I thought, why not just dump all that into a blog post.

Summary

PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) has a lot of both good and bad things tied up with it. What makes it challenging for me is that there is also a lot of emotion getting thrown into the mix. When I look at where Illinois is headed in terms of assessments, some of my concerns are alleviated but I still have issues with the current implementation. In the end, I have to ask myself “What really is the root concern here?” For me, I would like teachers to know that I support them in their hard work. How can I help?


Just to get my subjectivity (emotion) out in the open and out of the way, let me state that I personally hate the way we do standardized tests; my own experience has taught me that the way we have been doing standardized tests for the past few decades add zero value to the student or the teacher, and creates a strictly synthetic environment that does not reflect real life in the least. But these types of “assessments”, having been around for so long and as ubiquitous across different industries as they are, are not going away any time soon.

During my inquiry of PARCC, I came across some jargon that would be helpful to spell out a little. These are not perfect by any means, so corrections are welcome.

Apparently in the world of Education, there are many different forms of assessment. However the two most common seem to be “formative assessments” and “summative assessments”.

Formative Assessments: this is like checking your compass every once in a while to make sure you are still heading in the right direction; these are typically “low-stakes” (low point value) evaluations to see if the student is progressing along at an expected rate, and if any intervention or augmentation is needed to help realign the student.

Summative Assessments: The “final exam”. Did the student reach the final goal, did the student meet the objectives? Did you do what you said you were going to do? These are typically the “high-stakes” testing (high point values).

Student Learning Objectives (SLO): no clear cut definition, but in general this seems to be a way to measure what a student has learned. According to edGlossary, there are several synonyms: “benchmark, grade-level indicatorlearning target, performance indicator, and learning standard“.

My duality towards PARCC is formed by several different factors. I will start with the negative and end with the positive.

Cons

It is easy to get sucked into the emotional vortex of other people’s opinions; not to disregard any of these parents and adults, for they have very passionate and strong beliefs for their point of view. If you want to, there are plenty of recorded board meetings where parents and teachers address administrative bodies around the country. Finding that here in Champaign is a bit trickier. *grin*

For my own “ground-level” perspective, I had the opportunity to sit in a real class for a “practice” test. To paint a little historical picture, keep in mind that this school year is the first year any school will be administering the PARCC, which replaces the ISAT tests a bulk majority of us are familiar with. I am told that teachers in Champaign did not receive training on PARCC until after December 15th, 2014. That was just two months ago. In addition to a totally new test, PARCC is now online and the software takes a bit getting used to. In a sense, the teachers are forced to teach students how to use the software. From my own observation, there was a wide range of ability to grasp and navigate the interface; yet even the “fastest” students were not halfway through after 40 minutes, and few of them were utilizing the “extra features” included in the software.

I also took the sample ELA test. You can read that blog post if you like, but in general I was quite agitated – the software itself makes the test more challenging despite the content.

This leads me to conclude that if all schools started with the paper-and-pencil test this year, the transition might have been a lot smoother. But we didn’t.

There is also the threat that high-stakes testing (like PARCC) will be used in the future as a primary tool to evaluate teachers. I will cover this in the “Pros” section below as well- Brian Minsker gives a good example of how this could be abused. Or rather, how such testing offers an incomplete evaluation of what a teacher has accomplished.

In passing I will say that I have heard others say that PARCC is harder or better than the ISATs. I can’t really say for sure; I have not found a sample ISAT from 2014 to make a good comparison.

Pros

A few weeks ago, I had an excellent conversation with some fine folks over at ISBE (you can read about it, if you have the time). I asked Ms. Chamness for a follow-up conversation, and invited Dr. George Reese to join us. He also happened to bring along Dr. Kathleen Smith, so it was a rather impressive group. 🙂 Additionally, I had a very enlightening exchange on the PTA Council email list in which Brian Minsker provided a bit of background information and broader perspective (you can find a copy of our discussion on the PTA Council listserve public archive).

I am going to glob much of what I learned under this “Pro” section because they do a good job at diffusing much of the drama sprouting up around PARCC.

For better or worse, we live under the law of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). According to the government’s website, Champaign Unit 4 receives a little over $1.2 million in Title 1 funds (where “Title 1” is directly from the ESEA). According to that same law, all schools that receive Title 1 funding must meet a 95% participation rate in standardized testing, with the threat of possible sanctions should that participation rate not be met. Ms. Chamness explained that the rate applies at all levels; state, district and even the school. She also explained that there are many codes used to demark non-participation (ie, sick, snow day, death, etc).

Another point that Ms. Chamness made is seeded in the quirky “Race to the Top” waivers many states have been applying for. According to Ms. Chamness, one of the reasons why Illinois has not yet been granted a waiver is that Illinois is unique in specifying that high-stakes testing NOT be used as a significant basis for teacher evaluations; instead, ISBE is pushing for the involvement of local bargaining units (ie, teacher unions) to come up with measurements of student growth. I will quote Brian Minsker’s synopsis. “What that means is that students who come into 4th grade reading at a 2nd grade level, for example, but leave 4th grade reading at a mid-3rd grade level would be recognized for their improvement (1.5 years of reading skills in a single year) rather than their failure to meet the 4th grade reading standard. Labeling students showing such tremendous growth and hard work as ‘failing’ is a disservice both the them and the teachers who achieve those results.”

Dr. Kathleen Smith asked Ms. Chamness if ISBE and Pearson will release data such that schools and teachers can perform formative assessments. Ms. Chamness replied that this is in fact part of their agreement with Pearson, but not much has been done about it, yet.

Conclusion

Everyone I have talked to so far agrees that assessments are necessary. There are a lot of good intentions at play, and also a significant amount of change; the latter sometimes makes the former harder to see. But I think it is important to realize that change in and of itself is not necessarily “good” or “bad”. And there is most likely going to be both involved. 🙂

I have expressed to Ms. Chamness that an easy-to-read overview of why we have PARCC would be very helpful. I hope to provide a link to that in the near future.

It makes sense to me when I hear people say that PARCC is being rolled out way too fast – this is apparent when I read about the technical issues and how Pearson is responding, not to mention the obvious shortcomings in the software itself. However, it also seems to me that people are afraid of the changes.

So here is a news flash – I am not a certified teacher. I have never taken any class in how to be a teacher. This means I don’t know all the theory about teaching, nor do I know what works best in a classroom. But I want to invest in and support the teachers in our school district. Our teachers are going to have to speak up and say what they think about the PARCC (and TestNav and Common Core, etc). In the end, I want to make sure that public education is fulfilling its moral obligation to crank out successful and engaged members of society. What would a formative assessment of “public education” look like?

PS – Ms. Kelly Youngblood is working on a chambanamoms.com story regarding PARCC and has asked me a few questions. When her story is published, I will provide a link to it.

UPDATE

Here is Ms. Youngblood’s Chambanamoms well written article – I encourage you to read it:

http://www.chambanamoms.com/2015/02/22/parcctestingchampaignurbana/

 

UPDATE 2

Mr. Nate Rodgers of WICD reported on parents opting out tonight (Feb 25th):

http://www.wicd15.com/news/top-stories/stories/parents-opting-out-parcc-test-11817.shtml

a glimpse at what is going on

No doubt, most of you have read about several things in the News-Gazette recently, or heard things on the radio. I am not going to go into much detail, but do want to mention them because there is a lot happening. And this will just be scratching the surface.


TODAY: Craft Tech Fair Saturday at Kenwood (from Todd Lash)

I wanted to invite you to come play this Saturday from 1-3 at the Kenwood Craft Tech Fair. The event will include:

  • Widgets and tools showcase (Fab Lab-Jeff talking to parents)
  • Electronic cutters (Fab Lab-stickers, paper snowflakes, etc…)
  • Graphic drawing tablets (Fab Lab-Photoshop or PaintTools)
  • Raspberry Pi Mini-Computer Demo (w/ Adriana from Wolfram/ Tech Time)
  • Scavenger Hunt of the Champaign Urbana Wiki  (InfoCity)
  • Photography Station (Erin Knowles, Parent Volunteer)
  • Makey-Makey Music (Mr. Lash)
  • Computer Hardware (Tech Time Volunteers)
  • Scratch/Code.org Demo Station (Student Volunteers and Travis Faust (Tech Time Coordinator)
  • Minecraft Lounge – Creative Mode
  • Adult Computer Station w/ Printing
  • Foam bracelets
  • Holiday bookmarks
  • Kaleidoscopes
  • Scratch board ornaments
  • Holiday photo frames
  • Snowman puppets
  • Bags for decorating to take your items home ??

Equity and Civic Action at the high schools

First, some really good news: http://www.news-gazette.com/news/local/2014-12-04/central-centennial-land-honor-roll-doubling-access-ap-classes.html

I thanked both Nicole Lafond and the school district administration/BOE for all their work towards this goal. This demonstrated an excellent collaboration to address real and perceived issues of access. These are not easy issues to deal with, and I am glad that Unit 4 is not shying away from them.

On that note, you have probably already seen/heard the news about the planned peaceful protest at Centennial, but just in case you have not:

Centennial Principal Greg Johnson sent a note to staff and parents that reflected these thoughts as well. There are obviously two sides to this coin; I am proud that so many students elected to voice their chagrin at the injustice in New York and Ferguson in such a manner as to convey a strong message while not resorting to needless violence and spreading more hate. However, on the other side of the coin there are those that take things too far for one reason or another. It is easy to repay hurt with hurt, but it is both better and significantly more challenging to respond with some form of love and/or forgiveness.

Imani Bazzell has been running a series called “Why Black Folk Tend to Shout” on WBCP 1580 AM. While I have not had the privilege of listening to this fascinating series, I appreciate that folks like Imani are getting these things out in the open and provoking discussion. Our prejudices damn us, and we need to learn how to live with each other.

UPDATE: Several related stories in WILL’s Illinois Public Media page, including a video of the car being driven among protesting students:

Additionally, Imani has responded to the City’s investigation into the student who damaged the vehicle’s window, and has posted this elsewhere (still looking for a link):

https://thecitizen4blog.wordpress.com/misc/imani-bazzells-response-to-the-city-wrt-centennial-protest/


“Other people’s children”

At Thursday’s PTA Council meeting, three groups were featured that are proving assistance and aid to the needy in our school district. It was a heartwarming display of how people have a heart to reach out and provide essentials for those are lacking. The three groups were:

  • Helping Hands
  • Feeding our kids
  • His Kid’s Closet

I strongly encourage you to learn more about these efforts, or any number of similar work going on in our community. For those that are already involved, I sincerely say “thank you” for all your time behind the scenes and doing what you can to improve the lives of the entire community.


April board member elections

As mentioned previously, I was aware of at least two efforts to form a slate of board candidates for the April 2015 elections. I am still seeking permission to post a number of private emails (being sick has dogged my efforts) as there are many fascinating conversations revolving around why individuals wish to run for the board. One citizen has already made a very public announcement via the NG last week. What strikes me the most is that there is a wide array of specific issues that folks are passionate about, it is seems difficult at times to find the common ground we all know is there. Aside from the “unofficial” news, the PTA Council is making plans to host a board candidate forum in April. I hope all the candidates are able to attend.


Hour of Code

The official Hour of Code begins next week, even though technically speaking, anyone with a web browser can start coding right now, either as a guest or after logging in to track your progress:

http://code.org/

Kenwood has embraced Hour of Code as an entire school, and Mrs. Slifer’s 4th grade class at Carrie Busey will be participating as well. I am sure there are many other teachers/classes getting involved. The last time I visited Mrs. Slifer’s class (this past Thursday), we observed that the students are doing a great job of collaborating without even realizing it. For instance, a student will get an idea that will quickly spread like wildfire throughout the class, and pretty soon variations start popping up. It is really cool to witness. I must emphasize, the focus is not merely about using computers or “coding” per se, but exercising critical thinking and problem solving skills. The computers and the technology is merely a tool to help achieve this goal.

There is a lot more here, but I’ll have to save it for a dedicated post.

Forum with Dr. Wiegand to discuss the November referendum

The PTA Council is hosting a forum to go over the November 4th $150 million tax referendum. The forum is open to the public. Central is located at 610 West University Avenue (you may have to park on the street). The library is upstairs and one of the few rooms that has AC. 🙂

 

From Anna Simon:

Our first meeting will be Thursday, September 4 at Central HS in the library. We will have our business meeting from 7 pm until 7:30 pm followed by our speakers. We will be having a forum with Dr. Wiegand and others concerning the upcoming referendum.

A chance to speak about the Unit 4 Facilities (k-8, new high school, middle school configuration, etc)

From the PTA Council:

Our next meeting will be held on April 3rdnext Thursday, at Southside Elementary School.

We will be hearing from Laurie Bonnet, Kristine Chalifoux and Dr. Wiegand to discuss facilities and answer any questions you may have. Please let your school PTA’s know that everyone is welcome.

 

Typically these start at 6:pm 7:pm. For more information:

 

UPDATE: Correction! Meeting starts at 7:pm