Reaction to DeJong-Richter & BOE Meeting

This is a letter I sent to the BOE last night following the meeting:

 

Congratulations to all on the first successful BOE meeting of the new board!

Ileana and Jamar mentioned “their” schools With the new board, what are the assignments linking BOE members to specific schools or is this board planning to discontinue this practice?

I see the new wifi setup is complete in the Mellon building. If the expectation is to save paper and yet still have documents available to all, it would help to open the network (without any password requirements) during the duration of each public BOE meeting. 

Among the things I didn’t have time to say about the dejong richter report was the assumption that it speaks for the community. No one addressed how well the public engagement firm actually engaged the public. In my opinion, “every effort” (uttered by Scott Leopold) is an insufficient evaluative mechanism for whether unit 4 board and administration heard from the community it serves. According to Scott Leopold’s own numbers we heard from less than 3,000 people. Even assuming every data point in that report is a unique individual (hardly accurate from anecdotal data) that is fewer than five percent of the total population, it isn’t even five percent of the registered voters in Unit 4. 

To further elaborate on the administration of the public being engaged, we certainly all agree that how a question is asked influences the answer given. Leopold made much of the data obtained. Which elementary, middle and high school option had the most support, for example. Yet, in the comments of the reports were many that essentially said, I don’t like any of these options, the questions doesn’t capture my priorities, etc. Specifically the question on page 6 of the board docs report he reported on, asked us to rank the criteria in order in order of importance when choosing a high school site. Then the response options were both obscure in their wording and inadequate in their coverage. This data answers some question but not what we need to feel comfortable that we heard from the community. 

Kristine, you emphasized the point that this work, the report, was written by the community. I have two issues with that. The first is that the steering committee itself was made up OVERWHELMINGLY of unit 4 people. By my count 24 of the 32 members had direct ties to the district (not including sending their children to school). The second issue is that this final report is very nearly the draft report the Scott brought to the final steering committee meeting. He wrote the report and I didn’t see anything added from his initial draft. It is true that some ideas were omitted from the final report that were in the draft. 

While I like Leopold,  he didn’t give us choices. He proposed one construction plan and two different ways to pay for it. The phasing is different but the construction is the same. Finally, there are several major issues that have not been resolved as a result of the report. We don’t have a site, we don’t have a clear cut system wide plan for what to do with the central building, a building that has “good bones” according to many people and can be used again according to everyone. If it can be remodeled for a middle school, the science labs and all the internal inadequacies you spoke of can be remodeled for a high school too. As such, it is fields and extracurriculars that are driving the move. I remain available to be convinced otherwise. 

I would encourage you to appreciate the effort but to reject this report. It is wholly inadequate to fulfill the requirements of the contract this firm signed. 

I’m hoping this in another invitation for dialogue and not something where you get mad at me. Different opinions are good and I’m always open to revising mine. I share Laurie’s feeling that I don’t like being told no and I remain willing to work to get the best possible educational system for the students and families of unit 4. 

Thanks for reading,
Chuck Jackson

Thoughts this week about the school board

Walking in reverse direction down the path of my thoughts of the school board this past week:

Who are we?

I subscribe to a feed of the Wake County School District blog, and just this morning is a post about the new school board chairman of the Wake County school district (which, by the way, is frickin’ HUGE!). What is fascinating about his “acceptance speech” is that he casts an identity for the school board that unites it with the community; he readily acknowledges the rocky road they have been through (you think Champaign has an issue with Schools of Choice? Ha!) and the challenges going forward.

“We the Wake County Board of Education will provide the kind of exemplary leadership that is expected of us by this community, and I intend to lead us in that direction. I ask my colleagues around this table to join me in this commitment and this effort for we are Wake County.”

2013 Board Candidate John Williams, III

I am going to be reaching out to candidates as I find out who they are. Last night I had a great facebook dialog (be sure to click the tiny “See More”) with Mr. Williams. I am impressed by his convictions and desire to tackle some big issues. Better yet, not just desires but ideas on how to make them come to fruition. I asked him further about two points (getting the community to show up at meetings and pedagogy); he responded to the first by admitting there is a lack of community participation that is not solved by free food, the need to build relationships and the need for more open communication; to the second he agreed there is no “one size fits all” and very much wants to move away from lecture-laden approaches to engaging the students more thoroughly. What’s cool is that I see a number of excellent teachers already doing this. Hearkens me back to the Sir Ken Robinson video shown at the Futures Conference. Having said all this, don’t take my word for it – go read about John Williams yourself, or better yet, ask him some questions of your own.

As I find out who other board candidates are, I am going to make it a point to drop by and get to know them. Laurie, I have some questions for you next. *grin*

Transparency

I already shared how I attempted to address the board at Monday’s board meeting. Dr. Joe Davis was kind enough to follow-up with me (and CC: Dr. Judy Wiegand). He mentioned Gene Logas’ previous efforts to spell out “Where does all the money go?” I agree that this is a good first step in breaking down the complex tongue of finances, but it only goes so far (it is, after all, a first step). I responded with an example of Jess Bachman’s now famous “Death and Taxes” poster which gives an awesome overview of the Federal Budget. On top of this, I followed up with a member of the Promises Made Promises Kept (PMPK) committee; here is an excellent example where the district communicates a ton of information to a group of people that is open to the public, but the public has next to no clue what is going on because 1) very few community members attend the PMPK meetings, 2) the “transparent” reports take a REALLY long time to make it up on the website. In fact, the last one I can find is from December of 2011. So, first hurdle is to get this information in the public sphere, second hurdle is to get these reports so that we the common people can understand them. 🙂

Transparency is not about pointing fingers. It is about collaborating towards a common goal. As John Williams implied, accountability is a good thing, when done right. It helps all of us.

[PS – I hope that a letter-to-the-editor I submitted on this topic is printed soon]

More about 2013 Board Candidates

Meg Dickinson wrote an article on Tuesday in the aftermath of Tom Lockman stepping down from his position on the board. One particular quote of Mr. Lockman that I really like is:

I truly believe that public education is the most critical aspect of a community’s ability to succeed and develop…

Most. Critical. Those are big words, ones that should challenge our community. But back to Meg’s article about the candidates. She relates the Stig Lanneskog intends to run for the 2-year slot. She also says that seven people to date have checked out petitions from the Mellon Center. Note that the petitions actually come from the County Clerk’s office and that the Mellon Center merely provides the forms as a courtesy; since the forms are downloadable from the internet, there is no telling the maximum number of people that have expressed an interest. On top of that, just because someone picks up a packet does not mean they will get all the signatures and actually submit it by December 26th. What is most curious to me is, of the people that have picked up a packet, we only know about three (Ileana Saveley, Laurie Bonnett, John Williams and Stig Lanesskog). Personally, I really want to find out who the others are because I want to meet these people who are so interested in the school district that they want to serve on the board, which is not all fun and games. 🙂 Very worthy, no doubt, but a sacrifice none the less.

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 »

Transportation and Transparency at Wake County

I have been following the Wake School District news for a while; T. Keung Hui really puts out a good bit of information, and as a blogger, I am envious of his style and content. 🙂 The latest article was about transportation (an issue that has appeared several times the past couple weeks) and transparency. The latter obviously caught my attention.

I invite you to go read both the original article, then the referenced white paper on transparency. Very interesting.

 

On first glance, I like the transparency policy. I do wonder how much overhead it costs (in terms of raw money and also staff FTE). I do also wonder if this “pattern of transparency” translate well into face-to-face conversations. For instance, for those that do not take the time to take advantage of the online transparency, do they still have access to the same information when talking to an administrative official? When someone walks into the office, are they just expected to know everything?

 

Another thing I have noted while reading Hui’s articles is that the Wake County Board Members are not always in public agreement. Unlike our own Board Members. For me personally, I can see how this might be a good thing, because it allows more conversations to be had in the public sphere. However, it also shows a degree of dissension, which might hurt the public image of the Board. That is a tricky balance. How does one embrace diversity of opinion while striving for consensus and unity of purpose?