Future Facilities: do your homework and talk to the board

As shown by last Monday’s BOE meeting (March 10th), the school district’s Facility Committee has been plugging away at deciding what our future school configuration will look like. They have used feedback and data gathered from “Great Schools Together” (2008), the Dejong-Ricther “engagement” sessions (2012 – early 2013), as well as input from various consultants (ie, BLDD, RPC, Gorski-Reifsteck, etc).

My bet is that most people in the community had no clue this was even going on, much less what they have discussed. At the March 10th BOE meeting, they presented the results of their work to date, three middle-school configurations (or scenarios) chosen from an initial list of 11. At the March 17th BOE meeting, the Committee will again present information to the Board focusing on the “Live/Work” option of the current Central building once the school is relocated to north Neil Street.

What is “Live/Work”? What are the 11 options? What are the final three? Where did they come from? Who is making all these decisions? Your assignment is to try to answer these questions. Here are some hints as to where you might start looking:

There have been numerous articles, columns, editorials and letters to the editor in the News-Gazette. I draw your attention, again, to a Feb 6, 2011 letter by Laurie Reynolds, which describes a path the she sees would be optimal for the school district to follow in planning for a future Central. As you read through it, you can see that the district will readily point out they have followed some of the steps, but there are others that leave a bit of a hole. I believe her last sentence still rings loud and clear with preternatural accuracy:

“But if we continue the discussion along the lines we have followed so far, those options will never be explored, and the ultimate decision on Central will be made with incomplete information and without an understanding of all of the costs that new construction on a remote site will impose on the community.”

In yesterday’s NG, Heather Owen’s letter to the editor asks community members to chime in on the various K-8 options the Facility Committee is considering. Ms. Owen also emailed me directly, as well as emailing the Board with her concerns. I encourage all property tax payers to follow suit – read up on the available documentation and let the Board know what you think about it. Better late than never. I have a bit more to say on this particular topic, but I am closing off a couple other threads and want to present multiple perspectives; I have heard from one board member that takes issue with the letter, and I have another in-progress conversation with administration.

Personally, I was hoping for more community-focused engagement, along the lines of Springfield’s Education Summit and (not or) charrettes used by planners. I have asked the board and the district administration on multiple occasions to think about both of these ideas. What gets me is that Superintendent’s Goals for the District #2 is all about “Community Involved Planning” (also the title of a recent Spotlight video which is not yet available online). It is exceptionally difficult for me to reconcile the progress of decision-making that Unit 4 has taken so far and this particular goal. But perhaps I am cynical and/or naive.

So until I can wrap up my other conversations, I conclude with a recommendation that readers, tax payers and Unit 4 residents get acquainted with the available information and start asking questions. Make plans to attend the March 17th BOE meeting; yes, your speaking time will be limited to 3 minutes and you will not be able to enjoy a back-and-forth dialogue, but this is one of the very few opportunities you currently have to make your voice heard in a public setting.

Do not let other people make up your mind – make up your own mind.

Anyone willing to share their impressions and "take aways" of tonight's Town Hall meeting?

I was able to catch small bits and pieces via CGTV, and was watching when at 8:00 pm it switch promptly to a commercial. I hope to watch my recording tomorrow and David Hohman says he hopes to have his recording up on Vimeo soon.

For anyone that attended (even if you were a panelist) or watched/listened to the entire thing, care to share your thoughts? From what little I observed, only about 4 panelists got any serious airtime – as I missed the opening statements (and half the closing statements), there were some panelists I did not hear at all. I did see that they were fielding questions via Amanda Porterfield (of WCIA) who was moderating.




For those unable to attend and unwilling to wait for Friday (CGTV rebroadcast), the town hall has been posted on Vimeo:

Two "Pack the House" events

Putting out the last-minute call to “pack the house” in two seemingly separate events:

  1. TONIGHT! The “town hall” meeting at the Mellon Center to discuss the future high school site. 6pm – 8pm
  2. NO MORE JAILS IN CHAMPAIGN COUNTY!!!” Tuesday, October 1st at 6 p.m. at the Brookens Admin Building, 1776 E. Washington, Urbana for a public meeting with Dr. Kalmanoff and the County Board. More info on the CUCPJ website

I say “seemingly separate” because most people probably think these two things have nothing in common. However, I would contend that they have a LOT in common, especially in our community. As we think about the future of public education in Champaign, we must also consider why we have so many fellow citizens in our jails. A measure of a successful public educational system should be how ready the graduates (all students, even those that drop out of the system) are to participate in and contribute to society. Overcrowded jails should be a shameful statistic for our entire community.

Some other events this week:

Anti-Bullying Moving Screening, Thursday, October 3rd at 5:30 pm, Centennial High School

A screening of the documentary Bully will kick off this evening. After the movie there will be a panel discussion to address questions, concerns and suggestions the audience has regarding the topic of bullying.

Included on the panel are:

  • Erika Harold, former Miss America
  • Dr. Dorothy Espelage, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • Michelle Petty, Eastern Illinois Safe Schools Alliance
  • Champaign Police Officer Ed Wachala, Centennial SRO
  • Principal Sara Sanders, Franklin Middle School
  • Dr. Susan Zola, Assistant Superintendent

This event is free and open to the Unit 4 community

Coming up:

PTA Safety Forum, October 23rd, 6:00 – 8:00 pm, Southside Elementary School

Panelists for the Sept 30th Town Hall meeting announced

From Stephanie Stuart:

Champaign Community Unit School District #4 Board of Education and Administration will host a Town Hall Meeting to discuss the possible sites for a new Central High School on Monday, September 30 from 6:00-8:00 p.m. at the Mellon Administrative Center.

The Town Hall Meeting will feature a panel of volunteer community members who will help to foster meaningful discussion around this topic. Superintendent Dr. Judy Wiegand will give a brief introduction and overview of the work done so far in the Future Facilities process, as well as an overview of the current conditions of Central High School. Board of Education members will be present, but will not run the meeting in order to encourage organic discussion amongst the panelists.

Attendees at the Town Hall will be able to submit written questions to moderator Amanda Porterfield of WCIA 3 News. Participants will also be able to submit questions to the panel via the District’s Facebook and Twitter accounts or submit questions via email to Community Relations Coordinator Stephanie Stuart at stuartst@champaignschools.org. Questions will be selected based on relevancy to the discussion and the panel will discuss as many community questions as possible during the allotted time.

Volunteer Community Member Panelists will include:

  • Alejandra Aguero – Assistant Director of Graduate Admissions, University of Illinois College of Business

  • Patricia Avery – President, NAACP Champaign County

  • Imani Bazzell – Director of At Promise…of Success

  • Byron Clark – Sales Manager, Human Kinetics

  • Bruce Knight – Planning & Development Director, City of Champaign

  • Dan McCall – President, Bricklayers Local #8 of Illinois

  • Angie Patton – Marketing Coordinator at the University of Illinois, Edison Middle School PTSA President, and Central High School Parent

  • Bob Porter – Architect

  • Phil Van Ness – Attorney, former Champaign Board of Education member

  • Joe Williams – Principal, Central High School

Much less of an open format than I initially expected. It seems like the panelists will be doing a majority of the talking, after Dr. Wiegand gives an introduction and background. A very interesting cast of characters to say the least. Nobody from Neighborhood Services, nobody representing Garden Hills or any of the neighborhoods north of Bradley….  Also interesting that Ms. Porterfield (WCIA) will be moderating.

I hope you all get involved.

Around the district

Lot’s of significant things happening, of all stripes. Where to begin, where to begin…..

To start things off, it is interesting and noteworthy to observe how the district is reacting to various parental (and staff) concerns. However you feel about social media, at the very least it does deliver a certain perspective of opinion and thus information. For instance, notice the interactions reported by various individuals in these recent situations:

A Dangerous Prospect“: families and concerned Clark Park citizens discuss the obstacles and challenges about Prospect near John Street and South Side school. The latest post has some responses from Dr. Wiegand, and so far it is relatively well-received. More important (I think), the “ginormous” signs that popped up recently are sending a message (at least to some parents) that the district is listening and acting in some fashion.

Kenwood PTA: Likewise, the Kenwood PTA has raised some concerns about the status of their “balanced calendar” schedule when they are up for renovation and temporarily move to the Carrie Busey building on Kirby. My impression is that the floor has been opened for parent feedback (using tools like online and paper surveys) regarding what kind of schedule they want in the context of all the renovation being planned. So far, it seems like the Kenwood parents appreciate this gesture.

CP4T: Champaign Parents For Teachers: A new facebook page/group that desires to show teachers they are supported by parents and that the board takes them seriously. Apparently there will be some discussion tomorrow, a call for a show of support at the next board meeting (next Monday, the Town Hall meeting, 6pm, Mellon Center), and a hint that there may be an opportunity to interact with representatives of the Champaign Federation of Teachers (aka, CFT, “Teacher’s Union”) at some point in the near future. No official word from the district, yet.

Next up, I mentioned the Town Hall meeting next Monday. Did you all know the sites being considered? A map is posted on the futurefacilities website; if you zoom in, you will notice that only the Country Fair and the Clearlake sites are somewhat near the current major population density (I had not even heard of the latter – that must be recent?). I am asking that Chuck Jackson bring the two large-format GIS maps to the Town Hall meeting; I believe these maps, aside from being very tangible, give a great sense of scale and scope. The PDF on the U4 website is not very interactive, and in my opinion, the lack of detail and the ability to zoom in even more makes it harder for me to conceptualize the pros and cons of these sites.


I am particularly curious why parents support outlying sites. Yes, I understand the draw for “more land” for the school, which may translate into a more robust athletic offering. For me personally, I weight that against the significant costs of transportation (which we already struggle with). I also understand the argument for “more land” for future growth. I mean, we should have been thinking about the future 50 years ago, but at least we are thinking about it now. 🙂 Personally, I would rather us find a practical and valid plan that works for the next 20-30 years, one that does not include a $500+ million referendum (or two), and collaboratively plan out “future growth” with the City that may include a future high school later on.

Finally, on a totally different note, Stephanie Stuart recently gave us a couple pieces of “cool things” going on in U4 schools. One is the progress of the Industrial Technology class at Central (as showcased by a 15 second time-lapse video) and the other is a new focus at Kenwood called “Technology and Literacy for the Community.” The latter features the integration of eToys into the curriculum and the collaboration with the University of Illinois. I had a change to sit in on an eToys class last week, and I talked to Dr. Martin Wolske and Kerris Lee today about this program. On the surface, some people are really going to love the focus on computer programming and some are really going to hate it. I would suggest caution at forming a first impression, because there is so much more beneath the surface. According to Dr. Wolske, one of the implied goals is to bring community together to address and solve various problems. What I found very encouraging after talking to both men is that they have a passion to address “big issues” like poverty and illiteracy on a relatively small scale (Champaign) as a stepping stone to attacking it at a larger level (Chicago, other big cities, overseas). How? By giving kids an open platform for creativity, instilling employable skills (both the hard skills of logic and programming, and the softer skills of interpersonal relations and conflict resolution) and teaching kids not only how to read, but to talk, listen and write as well. Of course, there are pitfalls and obvious issues. For instance, we all know there is no silver bullet, no panacea that will address all the issues. When I was working with the kids on eToys, it was obvious to me that some kids really got it (I saw some VERY impressive graphic artists), and some kids really struggle with basic instructions. Parents will be the same way. I am not sure what to do with that.

School "town hall" meeting, September 30th, 6pm, Mellon Center

The school board and the PTA Council are co-sponsoring what I believe is the very first Unit 4 Town Hall meeting. It will be September 30, 6:00 pm at the Mellon Center. During the September 9th regular board meeting, Dr. Wiegand described this as an opportunity for the community to weigh in on the issue of where to put a new high school and a future referendum (ala, Dejong-Richter). If I heard correctly, I think she specifically said that the board members will be in the audience, as opposed to sitting “up front”.


If you have further concerns about how the plans for Central and/or a new high school location are panning out or even about the expected referendum, this would be an excellent opportunity for you to voice your thoughts in a public setting and engage with others in dialog and deliberation (hopefully). Unit 4 has procured the services of a moderator, and the event will be “live streamed” (Channel 5?) as well as taking email questions (Stephanie Stuart?).


Be looking for ads around town (radio spots, maybe?). Meg Dickinson tweeted last night that she intends to write an article about this, so keep your eyes open for that as well.


I believe the PTA Council is hoping to sponsor future Unit 4 town hall meetings, perhaps in other locations/venues and focusing on different topics. Your feedback after the September 30th town hall meeting would be greatly appreciated.