December 10th Board Meeting

Yesterday there were quite a large number of recognition.  First up was the talented Likith Govindaiah; perfect SAT and ACT scores. Wow! That makes my head hurt. Lots and lots of other things going on, including the cute “skin care” line from BTW sponsored on WCIA. Justin Uppinhouse was present along with some Edison parents for the Edison Academic Spotlight. And then we jumped into commentaries.

I happened to go first. I intended to address the board about Transparency and Accountability, using two specific cases; one was a challenge to have a Unit 4 5th grader able to understand the finance reports, and the second was about how the committees are not well known, nor what they are doing. I fear I totally bumbled what I wanted to say – I had a number of anecdotal stories and illustrations, by I lost ’em while at the podium.

Next up was a gentleman speaking about the School Resource Officers and a challenge of his own. He cited a recent NYTimes article about SROs (which I have been unable to find), and shared his own thoughts about how SROs are not academic officers.

Lynn Stuckey was next and final; she shared her angst about how hiring Dejong is (was?) a foregone conclusion, that we are merely repeating Great Schools Together.

I apologized if I oversimplified what these citizens spoke about. I was able to record the show on my TiVo, but I cannot get it off to post online. I am told that Unit 4 will be did popping it up on Vimeo “any second now”. 🙂

And then I Read the rest of this entry »

Houlihans report

I am finally get caught up on what we have been talking about at Houlihans. Two weeks ago, Tommy Lockman dropped by to chat with Chuck and I, and then last week Kristine Chalifoux took a lunch with us. This week I was flying solo so had time to reflect a little and think about where things are at.

Obviously the negotiations with the CFT is a big topic, but there really isn’t much to say about it. Both board members had some interesting things to share from their own points of view and we all toss around our opinions. However when we get down to it, these are closed negotiations – we can speculate all we want. But what’s the point? There is still something that bugs me about that, but it is really difficult for me to put my finger on it.

I think it was Tom that first mentioned the then upcoming retreat (this past Monday, October 8th). If I recall correctly, there were still a few unknowns – while the doors were open to the public, there wasn’t much of an emphasis on bringing people in. Which become obvious on Monday evening. *grin* And last week, I believe Chuck asked Kristine rather point-blank what they are doing to increase engagement. We chatted a little about how board members are being asked to adopt schools and develop a stronger relationship and go to more events. Actually, I have to confess it is rather fascinating sitting at the same table with Chuck and Kristine – sometimes the gloves come off (in a good way), and I think we have some real conversations. I think it is good to practice being totally honest while at the same time exercising a respectful manner and not being overly abrasive.

Chuck and I had a moment to chat before Kristine showed up. One of the things we Read the rest of this entry »

we missed you at houlihans (Sept 12)

Board Members Kristine Chalifoux and Tom Lockman were kind enough to join Chuck Jackson and I today at Houlihans. Kristine says the weather is utterly irrestible; I would tend to agree. 🙂


So you other three that were there will have to help me with the details. We spent a bit of time (on and off) exploring the idea of a shared vision, or a common inspiration, in our schools and our community. In retrospect, it is possible we succumbed to scope-creep from time to time; Kristine mentioned many times that some of the short-comings we have with community engagement is the entire reason we are hiring a public engagement firm. We reflected on Great Schools, Together a few times, in light of the obvious similarities and glaring differences. One thing I think we all agree on is that we cannot simply hand DeJong-Richter a grocery list and tell them to come back with full bags; we all have to walk and work side-by-side with DeJong-Richter to maximize the “investment” of their contributions (or contrawise, the money from our wallets).


We seemed to have some difficulty in identifying what was not working previously, in order to improve and/or mix things up and try a different angle of attack. What will it take to get our community engaged in the school district? Tom mentioned that the district and the board is putting a ton of information “out there” (ie, via board meetings, boardDocs, press releases, etc); I responded that while that was true, people are not able to access the deliberative aspects – the present forms of communication are essentially one-directional or siloed in the sense that some really great conversations are happening and nobody knows about them. I am convinced that people will engage more when they feel (keyword, “feel”) they are a part of the invisible clique, where they can join in the ongoing conversation by which their own thoughts and opinions are constantly in flux and being added to the general soup.


Kristine reminded us that there is a flip side, a side which she seems to very much regret gets overlooked – there are a lot of positive and good things happening. I would agree it is important to take a step back and look at how things have changed over the past 10, or even 2, years. Under Dr. Wiegand’s leadership, many things are starting to slowly change for the better. Personally, I know of how David Hohman is making changes to not only the website, but the underlying technology. Dr. Wiegand has initiated “safe environments” and given more freedom and more space for teachers and staff to lay out their honest thoughts. Others like Sheri Williamson are organizing some very beneficial events for students, parents and service providers. Tom is making stronger points that the board needs to get out in the community, while Ileana is paving the path on doing exactly that. Schools are doing awesome things, teachers are winning awards (or at least “running up”), some students are absolutely thriving in the current system. Yes, there are good and awesome things going on. No doubt.


We did not come up with any action steps like I had hoped. Unfortunately. But it was a good discussion. There were several points of irony that I will highlight because they are relevant. And even somewhat humorus. 🙂

1. Chuck Jackson and I have been meeting at Houlihans for close to two years, inviting any one who wants to join us. We who are trying to push engagement and involvement so much, have held several open forums, we only get a small handful of folks to join us at Houlihans. And even with that, we haven’t seen a new face in a long time.

2. The topic of Holly Nelson’s efforts to start a conversation came up. It came out that Chuck didn’t participate in her blog. Kristine had a hoot digging into that! 🙂 But I wish to say it here because it probably reflects a large part of our community; he felt that whatever he might want to say would probably already have been said. How many other folks feel exactly the same way, on any issue?

houlihans is a go for tomorrow

There is a ton we can talk about, but I am really interested in identifying action steps, specifically for things we can do this month. Bill and I have continued the budget conversation and he has been trying to arm wrestle ArcGIS into submission. There is a Parent Advisory Group (aka, Advocacy) that will hold their first meeting on Sept 24th (same night as the Budget Public Hearing, different building). Dr. Taylor’s Social Committee kicks off on the 17th 27th (link to U4 schedule).

I am thinking it would be really helpful to come up with one or two things we want to consistently say at board meetings and in letters to the NG editor. I am having a hard time boiling it down to one or two, though. It already seems like Unit 4 is putting a lot of eggs in the DeJong-Richter basket, so my balloon of conversational meetings and public engagement is a bit deflated. I very much like that Tom Lockman is repeating the message that “they” (again, I assume the board) need to go out and get the feedback from the people (he used the word “incumbent”).

In talking to Cathy Mannen and Deb Foertsch about the CFT “informational picket”, I am now reflecting that it was a successful and well-done publicity stunt; it got their concerns in the public’s eye and got people talking. Although, reading the somewhat anonymous mud-slingers who post in the online NG is a bit disappointing, it is obvious that there is still a lot of confusion about where our taxpayer dollars go, who gets them and most importantly, who makes all those decisions. In fact, two commenters in particular are making it rather personal, as if teachers have any choice about how the district spends their money. Which brings me back to the picket in the first place; the public has no place at the negotiating table currently, so it is rather useless to get the public riled up. I think. Now is it good and proper that the public is not at the negotiating table? I have no idea whatsoever. The publicity stunt just puts more pressure on the board. Maybe it is good pressure. Again, I don’t know for sure. An interesting turn of events though is that maybe the PTA Council will be able to host both the CFT and the School District at an upcoming event. I am rather hoping so.

Recap of Aug 22 Houlihan's meeting

We had a good chat at Houlihans today; Chuck Jackson and I started making plans for the September 4th open forum and we hope to have a flyer/brochure ready by this Friday.

Board Member Tom Lockman showed up a little later and we talked about the open forum a little, the Public Engagement firm (and its purpose), how to address negative perceptions and what to do about them. Tom mentioned that Dr. Wiegand is out in the media a lot (newspaper, radio and TV) – while that is awesome, I had no idea she was visiting with the NG Editorial Board (along with U4 Board President Sue Grey) once a month. Guess those editors don’t like to share much, eh? Chuck mentioned it would be nice to see links to those outreaches on the U4 website, where possible.

We also turned our attention to finances in regards to the Boards announcement of a Public Hearing (Sept 24th) on the district budget. As the conversation ensued, Mr. Lockman mentioned he had some questions of his own he would like to get answered, and one thing leading to another, we finally asked Tom if he would be up for a small gathering between the public, himself and district officials. He agreed and is looking for a timeslot before Sept 24th. I think this would be an awesome way to help those of us who are curious about the budget to get up to speed and on the same page (maybe).

Lockman cautioned us that some parts of the budget are more or less non-negotiable; if I recall correctly, he stated examples like teacher salaries, operations and utility bills. The good news is that if we chop that out of our context, it gives us less to grapple with and a better chance we can fit it in our heads. 🙂

Feb 27th Special Board Meeting

After hearing about Meg Dickinson’s article highlighting the working cash bonds and taking a peek at the Agenda, I decided to drop by and see what was going on. In truth, I was very interested to hear about the Great Schools, Together (GST) report and the research on the high school options, both of which have received very little coverage. Both topics consumed roughly 2.5 hours, a long, drawn-out “conversation”. I kept thinking to myself “there has got to be a better way to do this”.

I am going through the notes I took, and I have to apologize that they are not fully organized. But I’ll relate to the best of my ability.

Before the meeting kicked off, Read the rest of this entry »

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 »