World Languages Curriculum

I mentioned earlier that I noticed an RFP for 180 iPads (2nd Generation). I was more curious than anything; the RFP gives no indication whatsoever of the justification or the purpose for these devices. So I asked. As noted in the post, Stephanie Stuart replied right away that they will be used to support the World Languages instruction. Recently I further learned from Dr. Wiegand that the board approved this new curriculum back on April 9th, 2012.


Looking back, April 9th was an interesting day (post 1, post 2). At the time, I did not make any mention about the World Languages curriculum due to all the intensity dealing with Working Cash Bonds. World Languages happened to be the first item on the business agenda, and looking back I am surprised at all the supporting documentation available via boarddocs. In the end, the administration asked for $684,926. Of the six supporting documents, only one mentions iPads, and only 60 at that. I am not exactly sure why the district is requesting 180 now, nor why 2 years later. Presumably, the iPads were supposed to come out of the Summer 2012 budget – now that we are sitting at Spring 2014, I am thinking the figures have shifted a little bit.


So here is my quandary. Is this a big deal at all? World Languages sounds like a really good idea given all the ethnic and cultural diversity we have, thanks largely to a Big Ten research institution. Obviously, a number of teachers, administrators, not to mention consultants, put some serious time and effort into the pilot (at least, according to the documentation available to us). Is it worthwhile to start digging into this niche circumstance, to learn how effective the World Languages curriculum has been, what “bang” our $685k got? Should I care what the iPads are used for? Or what about the involvement of Pearson and all the other curriculum materials we purchased?

On the other hand, I might just ask questions about the curriculum because I truly am curious and want to learn more. In my experience, if I start off talking to administrators and teachers with “Hey, this is cool, can you tell me more?”, they usually jump at the opportunity to tell me all about it. And my first response to Stephanie Stuart was along the lines of admiration for geeky gadgetry being used to tear down language barriers. I kinda want to see it at work. 🙂


On a more general issue, it concerns me that the RFP has absolutely no mention of “World Languages” at all. There is no indication that the board approved x number of iPads at a previous board meeting. But how much of a concern is this really? Does anyone in the community really care about RFPs? I don’t hear anyone else making any noise.


Which ties back to the same post about the iPad RFP in which I mention “normalized deviance.” Have we become so numb to the way things happen in our school district, our cities, our state and our nation that we are willing to let these minor things slide?


I do not want to nit pick really small things. $685k (spread over 4 years) is a reasonable chunk of change, but we currently have bigger fish to fry. Heck, if I wanted to make a big deal about small things, my panties would get all bunched up over the silly $900 plaque we hang in school buildings for LEED certification. But I am contemplating how to use this as a small example of holding our district accountable. Truly, I think we have lost the art of respecting the social obligation and civic responsibility of looking out for one another. It is not with judgement and criticism that we should look carefully at each other, but rather with a genuine desire to see improvement hoping that others would do the same for us.


Now to go learn more about World Languages…..

WebQuery, iPad RFP and normalized deviance

In a previous post, I talked a little about the WebQuery tool. The Unit 4 Educational Technology team has replaced that tool and now has a new one:

the Proximity App


It simplifies the entire tool significantly; no grade level to worry about, no other non-Unit 4 schools….  However, I kinda still wish that ALL other schools were still listed. What if I really really want to go to BTW, but want to compare the distance to other schools? In any event, I think this new interface is significantly less confusing, and thus more useful.

iPad RFP

My RSS reader recently noticed that several RFP have been filed, including two for ChromeOS laptops, another for Desktops and laptops, and another for iPads. I have questions about all of them, and rifled through the online documentation trying to learn more. Unfortunately, none of the posted documentation really says what these things are needed for or why the district is seeking them. So I looked a little more carefully at the iPad RFP and noticed that they want 180 of 2nd Generation iPads. 180. I had to pause for a little. And then I asked Executive Director of Business Matt Foster about the RFP and he informed me they were for “student instruction.” So I then asked the Board and Stephanie Stuart for more details. Stephanie replied that they would be used for the “ESL Department for world language instruction across the district.” A quick look on Amazon shows these selling for about $330; so the upper limit on this bid should be in the neighborhood of $54,000 (give or take, depending on bulk discounts, taxes, etc), right?

The whole purpose for posting RFPs online is so that public can see, to affect some level of transparency. Therefore, I have told Matt Foster and the Board I am quite thankful. Of course, this allows the public to form questions as well, which I think is a natural part of the stakeholder’s job. So what questions do you have?

and finally….

Normalized Deviance

What the heck is this, you think to yourself. It is a little bit of a tangled tale how I ended up at a wikibook site about Diane Vaughan’s theory on the “normalization of deviance.” To break it down in simple language, basically this describes what happens if you do something wrong enough times, you lose that “it’s wrong” feeling and start to think it really isn’t that big of a deal. Until something REALLY BAD happens like a space shuttle blowing up.

What strikes me is the “Solutions” section, which gives a very good justification for true transparency and a type of accountability that has long-term mutual benefits. The same kind of stuff that can make a marriage really strong (or break it if these things are not found). It is having a team mentality, as opposed to a individualistic mindset. Unfortunately, the popular American machine rewards and idolizes the individual, which probably goes a long way towards explaining a number of problems we have today (massive inequities, the “1%”, a heavy-handed government, etc). Dr. Vaughan points out that many people withhold from bringing problems (aka, deviances) into the light for many reasons; pride, fear of retribution, assuming the experts know best to name a few. Yet, if we focus on a true education of facts with an open eye towards the larger group, we can avoid the ritual of glossing over or ignoring the problems we see around us.

Which leads me to conclude with a thought I have for another post.


Questions and Answers

Over the past few weeks, I have sent several questions to the board and have received answers. Some of these questions came from looking at the board agenda for Feb 24th (those at the bottom dealing with Educational Technology), others came from me stumbling upon one thing or another. My thanks to the various district administration personnel that fielded the questions.


I am curious, what does Unit 4 do with Illinois Youth Survey (IYS) responses? This is more of a personal curiosity for me; I don’t think the IYS responses should be public, but I am curious how the response are used by the district and how they inform future decisions.


We are doing the Illinois Youth Survey this spring at both high schools. This will be the first time it has been administered in at least the past 3 years according the Joe and Greg. I believe Angela has asked the middle schools to do it as well but not sure. Once we get them the data will be used as part of the school improvement process and most likely will be an update to the board and leadership.

qIn the timeline provided by Codagami in their RFP response, they collected “user stories” by November 27th. Is Unit 4 at liberty to share those stories? Or can you provide some sense of what “users” have said? Will this information trickle down to the Choice Committee at some point?


The user stories are simply portions of the dialogue surrounding Codagami’s internal software development process.  There is no formal set of user stories, only informal notes taken by representatives of Codagami which are not in the District’s possession.  These stories are merely an internal tool for Codagami which allows them to arrive at the mockups and end functionality of the application.

qI have been looking through the RPC presentations (in the context of the Central site), and it is not clear to me that a Traffic Impact Analysis (TIA) has been performed for the sites north of I-74. Curious, do you know if such analysis has been done for the new site? Can the results be shared? Read the rest of this entry »

The Choice RFP has been re-issued

I was recently notified that the district has re-issued the Choice RFP. I find this extremely interesting, and I wonder what it means.


The Ad:

The RFP:


There will be yet another mandatory information meeting, on Halloween no less. 🙂 Isn’t that scary. The new RFP is extremely similar to the previous RFP back in April/May – it goes on to paint a very broad generic picture of what they want the vendor to do, but they give almost no details as to what the program should accomplish. Last year I recommended to the Board that they resubmit the RFP of 2012 when Alves was the only one that responded. I wonder if perhaps this time they are following-up on that. So many questions, so few answers…..

Regular board meeting tonight

Agenda for tonight:

  1. Call to Order
    1. Roll Call
  2. Agenda
    1. Approval of Agenda (Items may not be considered in the same order as the agenda)
  3. Executive Session – 5:30 p.m.
  4. Recognitions
    1. Recognitions
  5. Public Comments
    1. Public Comment on Agenda & Non-Agenda Items
  6. Communications
    1. Communications from CFT
    2. Communications from CESP
    3. Communications from PTA Council
    4. Communications from Board Members
  7. Informational Items
    1. Upcoming Events
  8. Reports: New Business
    1. Middle School After School Programming/40North Grant: Angela Smith This item has files attached
    2. Engaging Solutions Presentation: Matt Foster This item has files attached
    3. Preliminary FY14 Budget Presentation: Matt Foster This item has files attached
  9. Action Agenda: New Business
    1. Administrative Appointment: Ken Kleber
    2. Bills and Treasurer’s Report – August: Matt Foster This item has files attached
    3. Promises Made, Promises Kept Committee: Dr. Judy Wiegand
    4. Approval of Robeson Change Order No. 3: Matt Foster This item has files attached
    5. Approval of Robeson Change Order No. 4: Matt Foster This item has files attached
    6. Approval of Carrie Busey Change Order No. 20: Matt Foster This item has files attached
    7. Approval of the Contract for Sale of Real Estate – 801 Pioneer St./806 Dennison St.: Tom Lockman
  10. Consent Agenda – New/Unfinished Business
    1. Motion to approve the Consent Agenda – New Business
    2. Human Resource Changes: Ken Kleber This item has files attached
    3. Minutes of August 5, 2013 and August 12, 2013
    4. Policy 415.07/R Minority and Female Business Enterprise Goals: Tom Lockman This item has files attached
    5. Policy 720.11R Exemption From Physical Activity: Tom Lockman This item has files attached
    6. Policy 415.06 – Vendor Relations: Tom Lockman This item has files attached
    7. FY14 Consolidated Grant Application to Serve Limited English Proficient (LEP) Students: Maria Alanis This item has files attached
  11. Executive Session
    1. Motion to move to Executive Session
  12. Open Session
    1. Reconvene in open session for possible action on items discussed in closed session.
  13. Adjournment
    1. Motion to adjourn the meeting.
  14. Future Meetings
    1. Special Meeting: September 23, 2013, Regular Meeting: October 14, 2013, Special Meeting: October 28, 2013, Regular Meeting: December 9, 2013


Based on what transpired last week in terms of Kenwood, the discouragement of parents paying for PTA activities and the PTA Council, I expect there to be some comments during Public Comment and the timeslot for the PTA Council.


There are a number of line items dealing with a focus on minorities and women in the workplace (ie, 8.2, 10.4).


Sheri Williamson (PTA Council) and R. Scott Davis (CFT) being added to the PMPK committee (9.3).


9.7, the District is seeking approval to buy two properties for the Bus Garage. The Satellite view of google maps gives a good idea of what the area looks like, including the busses parked across the street. This was previously discussed in Executive (Closed) session.


In 10.7, we get to see a preliminary FY 2014 budget. I encourage you to read it and try to wrap your head around it; it is important that we start to ask questions. Now. I say that as a way to entice stakeholders to understand what all the numbers mean – I know I don’t.


There are a number of other things. I don’t fully understand or follow all the various change orders. There is a part of me scratching my head on why we need so many change orders. Also, I just happened to browse the online check register and noticed that we sent another %5750 to Dr. Alves last month even though his contract expired in May or June. The discussion of the Choice RFP is not on the agenda at all.


What catches your attention?


Controlled Choice Committee tomorrow (Friday, August 9th)

Tomorrow I plan to attend the Choice Committee; I have not yet seen an agenda. I have expressed a desire to discuss Policy 705.09 (blog posts 1 and 2) as well as the Choice RFP *(blog post). Anything else from you readers?


* note that there is a special informational meeting for interested vendors of the Choice program:

The School District will host a mandatory meeting for all interested vendors on August 12, 2013 at 1:30 p.m. in the Board Room of the Mellon Administrative Center to describe the Choice Plan in further detail and answer further questions.

Bids and RFPs

The Unit 4 webmaster has kindly added an RSS feed for Bids and RFPs (woot!):

Two current bids are up:


I skimmed through the Student Assignment Plan RFP and was not satisfied; I am indeed glad that they removed much of the language about “educational law”, but still the RFP does nothing to outline the project (what does the software actually do??). I am not even sure if I should hope that Unit 4 has reached out to local companies.


I heard from several folks that Board President Laurie Bonnett mentioned Controlled Choice at the July 15th board candidate interviews, and that Unit 4 may try to do something in-house. The audio of the July 15th meeting is not yet available, so I cannot confirm this (yet), but I will follow-up with Stephanie Stuart and Ms. Bonnett.

Special board meeting tonight, update on Schools of Choice RFP

Tonight is a special Special Board Meeting. Occasionally the Board is called in to deal with one of these issues:

  • 120/2(c)(1) Employee appointments, employment, compensation, dismissals, complaints
  • 120/2(c)(2) Negotiations
  • 120/2(c)(5) Property Acquisition/Lease/Purchase
  • 120/2(c)(8) Emergency Security Procedures
  • 120/2(c)(9) Student Discipline
  • 120/2(c)(11) Actual/Potential Litigation
  • 120/2(c)(16) Self-Evaluation, practices and procedures or professional ethics when meeting with a representative of a statewide association of which the public body is a member
  • 120/2(c)(21) Closed Meeting Minutes Discussion/Review


What I am torn about is that I think they are technically abiding by OMA, but they are not disclosing as much information as they possibly can. For instance, I have since learned that the meeting was specifically called for 120/2(c)(9) Student Discpipline. Why is that not mentioned on board docs? The only reason I have right now is that it is not required (not by OMA nor by Policy). I get it that it is the “easy” thing to do to announce all the possibilities for Executive Session “just in case”, but I sincerely wonder, is that the best way?


Here is the flip side. What if I just shut up about this? I have to question myself, is my pestering of the Board in this manner productive in any way? I really don’t know. I hear both sides; some of you like what I am doing, some of you think I am a hindrance and an obstruction. As always, I am glad there are differences of opinion – I highly value that! But what good is my question-asking really doing? That is what I am searching for right now.


On that note, I recently asked about the progress with the Schools of Choice (SoC) RFP. From the school attorney, Mr. Tom Lockman:

I have been working with District staff on the Choice RFP and am comfortable with where it stands at this point.  The District is planning to follow the same schedule as last year in terms of issuing the RFP.  This will allow us to have gone all the way through the selection, determination and notification processes to determine if there is anything the District feels needs to be added or changed to the existing language based on how things go.  If you do have additional thoughts beyond what was shared at our first meeting which you wish to share, please feel free to email me.  Thanks.


I told Mr. Lockman at “our first meeting” that I had at least two bottom lines (sometimes you just can’t have one *grin*):

  • make a system that is intuitive and garners a positive experience from all who interact with it
  • we don’t waste taxpayers dollars (which I fully believe we have been doing for many years)


So again, I wonder about my effectiveness. Is it worthwhile for me to raise my voice and become a “squeaky wheel”? Or what would happen if I just turned my attention elsewhere? I really really want to hunt this down. But at what cost?


For my part, I want to see the RFP; I want to make sure we stop sending money to Massachusetts; I would love to have the software solution be handled locally. But I personally do not need these things. My question then becomes, what is best for all of us? That I do not know.


Tom is no stranger to the Schools of Choice saga; just a couple years ago, he was instrumental in writing some enhancements like going from 3 to 5 choices (5 was a compromise, we wanted more), and I think helped to spur the video and other little things that have slightly improved this beast. One of my options is to just trust Tom and see where this goes.

Looking at RFPs

As I wait for the DeJong RFP to pop up on the website (which I manually have to check every day), I am looking through the small list of other “archived” RFPs out there. It looks to be a small smattering of tech-only bids. Even though I know we have a EdTech grant that pays for a significant portion of these bills, some of the dollar amounts still surprise me very much:

Sentinel $72,004.00
Bradfields $734,572.00
Ricoh $60,958.00
Bradfields $110,430.00
Ricoh $173,883.00
Bradfields $177,736.00
System Liquidation $22,372.00
System Liquidation $22,372.00
MogerMedia $24,997.00
Dell $222,396.00
CDI $8,008.00
Bradfields $1,022,738.00
Ricoh $234,841.00


Bradfields was mostly for smartboards. Wow!


It also makes me wonder what other RFPs are not yet up on the website. How much does the EdTech grant actually cover? (There is an official name for the grant, I just forget what it is)