Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Board Road Trip


In Chicago on November 18-20, Unit 4 School Board members joined Dr. Wiegand, her administrative team, and almost 10,000 other public school leaders at the 2016 Joint Annual Conference of the Illinois Association of School Boards (IASB), Illinois Association of School Administrators (IASA), and Illinois Association of School Business Officials (IASBO).

Those of you who have attended any sort of professional conference might have some idea how this sort of gathering works: sessions on various school-related topics, networking opportunities, and vendor presentations. Other less typical conference elements include the Exhibition of Educational Environments and the Delegate Assembly.

Skyline on Cloud Gate, complete with tiny skaters

First, the sessions. Here are just some of the sessions and panels that your Board members chose to attend:
  • Policy & Procedures: The Board's Role
  • Creating Governance Policies, Practices, and Protocols
  • Board Presidents' Round Table
  • Community School: Meeting Needs of At-Risk Students
  • Building Collaborative Relationships with Your Union
  • Can We Expel? A Discipline Boot Camp for Board Members
  • Top School Construction Problems and Solutions
  • School Safety: Role of Law Enforcement
  • School Safety: Lessons Learned and Prevention Techniques
  • Board Member/Parent: What Hat to Wear When
  • A Courageous Conversation About Race and its Impact
  • Perspectives of Parents of Black Children
  • The Board and its Superintendent: Developing and Maintaining an Effective Relationship.
  • Superintendent Employment Contracts
  • Superintendent Evaluation: Getting it Right

This conference allows us to learn from other districts about issues we face in common -- for instance, this year several of us sought out sessions about hiring, working with, and evaluating a new superintendent. We noticed that almost every session that involved race was heavily attended. And we were reminded once again of the vast range of issues faced by our fellow elected officials, and how much those issues are tied to the size and demographics of each individual district.

Fall in Chicago

Second, the networking. As cheesy as it might sound, it's invigorating to be around so many people who are excited about public education in Illinois. In today's busy world, it's a luxury to step away from the unending tasks of *doing* public education in order to *think* and *talk* about it. I had a great conversation one evening in the bar of the conference hotel with a Board member from the Chicago suburbs who wanted to follow up on a question I had asked at a session earlier that day. Based purely on my own observations, people attending the conference were both younger and more racially diverse than I expected. These are the educators of color that every Illinois district interested in diversity wants to recruit, and the board members of color who lead and inspire -- but they largely live and work in Chicagoland. What can Champaign offer, as a school district and as a city, in order to compete?

Overlooking the Michigan Ave. Bridge... um, Abe?

Third, the vendors. I was frankly unprepared for the extent to which this conference attracts people wanting to sell their products to school districts, ranging from liability insurance to security equipment to nutrition software to bleacher construction to drug testing to teacher evaluation apps to school greenhouse maintenance. Sales presentations should be aimed at the school administrators, not board members (who should be primarily concerned with policy), but salespeople are not interested in maintaining boundaries between governance and operations. Some of the selling even bleeds over into the sessions themselves. I would advise new Board members to be properly wary of presenters' commercial ties.

Navy Pier viewed from conference hotel

Finally, two elements of the conference stood out for me. The 2016 Invitational Exhibition of Educational Environments was a juried school design competition on display throughout the conference, providing a snapshot of what's current in school facility construction. In these projects I recognized the work of at least two architectural firms who had applied to work with Unit 4 in our Tier Two planning process, but I was even more pleased to note that two of our eventual Tier Two partners -- Mark Jolicoeur (Perkins + Will) and Scot Wachter (IGW) -- served on the panel of judges.

At the Delegate Assembly, the Unit 4 School Board was capably represented by Dr. Gianina Baker. "Composed of one voting delegate from each member board of education, the Delegate Assembly is the policy-making body of the Association. Through its actions upon resolutions presented by member boards and other matters placed before it, it communicates Association direction to the officers and staff. It is the source from which all Association activity emanates." In other words, through this somewhat clunky vehicle, the IASB can lobby legislators in Springfield: democracy in action! For more details on some of this year's discussions, see here.

Until next year, Chicago!

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