Monday, December 14, 2015

Tonight's Board Meeting 12/14/15

Looking ahead to tonight's regular meeting of the Board:

We meet in the Mellon Building, 703 S. New St. (next to South Side Elementary School) at 5:30pm, with the Open Session beginning closer to 6:00pm. Members of the public are welcome to observe, and to address the Board (for up to 3 minutes) during the designated public comment period.

You can find tonight's agenda here. (Be sure to click on each agenda item to bring up additional information or description, including any attached documents.) Come hear about the Tap In Leadership Academy; learn the proposed dates for spring break 2017; examine the figures of our district's proposed 2015 tax levy; congratulate some award-winning students, staff, and schools.


Tonight's meeting is our only December meeting, and the last one of 2015. Together with my colleagues on the Board, I'd like to join with everyone in Unit 4 to wish our students and families a happy and healthy holiday season. As students grapple with exams and projects, as families attend winter performances and games, as teachers hear final presentations and generate grades, as social workers and interventionists and aides make sure everyone is equipped for the break, as administrators finish year-end reports, as maintenance staff plan tasks for when the buildings are empty, and as everyone plans for next semester... let's all resolve to thank someone in Unit 4 for their hard work.

See you in 2016!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Summary of Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week

At the conclusion of Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week (11/14-11/22), I want to call attention to several excellent reports and news releases about how Unit 4 is working with its homeless students and families. The majority of students in our district (57.9% in 2014-15) are considered low-income, so no one should be surprised that some of these students will be affected by homelessness. However, because of the stigma associated with even the word "homeless," it has been all too easy for these students to shoulder this burden on their own.

From the sources listed below, I found two consistent themes. The first theme is that homelessness must be viewed as an educational issue. Just as public schools offer special education services to students who meet specific disability criteria, our district makes help available to students whose living situations meet specific criteria. These services all exist to help remove unfair educational obstacles.

The second theme is that everyone involved -- from our district's Homeless Liaison to its Homeless Action Committee, from our building social workers to our community partner agencies -- recognizes that students and families struggling with uncertain living situations deserve respect and sensitivity. Asking for help is hard, accepting help is hard; both steps require courage. All of these service efforts are based on the fundamental assumption that relationship building must come first.
  • 11/16/15 Stephanie Stuart, Unit 4 News and Announcements, "Unit 4 Shines a Light on Needs during National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week"
  • 11/16/15 and 11/17/15 Anna Carrera, WCIA 3, "Helping families transition to more stable situations"
  • 11/18/15 Angélica Sanchez, FOXIllinois 55/27, "Homeless Champaign mother: 'Don't judge; have compassion'"
  • 11/20/15 Nicole Lafond, News-Gazette, "Mother in danger of homelessness: 'My son deserves more than this'"
As we enter Thanksgiving week, I know I am especially thankful for all the dedicated men and women in our community who are helpers. May we all be inspired to help others, however we are able.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Preview of Board Meeting 11/16/15

A note from Board President Chris Kloeppel about our upcoming Special Meeting* on 11/16/15:

Monday evening we will study and discuss the pros and cons of different high school configurations -- i.e. 1, 2, or 3 high schools -- for the Unit 4 School District. Deputy Superintendent Dr. Laura Taylor, Centennial High School Principal Greg Johnson, and Central High School Principal Joe Williams will give a short presentation, and the board will join an open dialogue on the topic.
 We will also discuss our interest in putting together a task force (technically, a Special Board Committee) to assist the BOE in this process of future facilities planning. The committee's mission and membership will be discussed but not necessarily determined.
We will have the usual opportunity for public comment at the beginning of the meeting, as well as another opportunity after our facilities discussion.
Please join us! 

*We meet in the Mellon Building, 703 S. New St. (next to South Side Elementary School) at 5:30pm, with the bulk of the Open Session beginning closer to 6:00pm. You can find the complete meeting agenda here. Other items on the relatively short agenda include funding for a technology strategic plan, multiple tax-related resolutions, and staff appointments.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

On Teachers and Diversity in Unit 4

Earlier this week, the News-Gazette published a lengthy article by Nicole Lafond about the lack of diversity among teachers in East Central Illinois, based on 2014-15 data from the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE). She points out what should come as no surprise to anyone involved in local public education: school districts in Champaign, Ford, Douglas, Piatt, and Vermilion counties employ a whole lot of white teachers.

Judy Wiegand reminded us in her annual State of the District presentation last March that Goal #3 of our 6 District Goals reads as follows: "The Superintendent will retain, hire, and support highly qualified faculty and staff that will best serve the District’s diverse student population." So do the ISBE numbers cited by Ms. Lafond reveal success or failure at meeting this goal?

In this post, I won't debate the value of having a diverse teaching staff. I stand with the rest of the Board and Administration of Unit 4 in wholehearted support of this goal. What I want to address here is the success *and* the failure represented in our numbers, providing some context and sharing how people in our district are working to improve them.

In fact, ISBE's statistics reveal that Champaign Unit 4 has one of the most diverse teaching cohorts in East Central Illinois, with 84 percent white teachers (second only to Urbana 116, with 81.5 percent white teachers). Compare these figures to Mahomet-Seymour (97.7 percent white teachers); to the six school districts in Vermilion County which employed entirely white teaching staffs in 2014-15 (Catlin, Hoopeston, Jamaica, Oakwood, Potomac and Westville); or to every district in Piatt County, which between all of them employed a single non-white teacher (in Monticello) last year.

Clearly East Central Illinois sets the bar for teacher diversity at a rather low level. Then consider that "the pool of K-12 educators across the country is largely white and largely female" (according to an ISU dean interviewed by Ms. Lafond), and also consider that "Illinois has one of the least diverse teacher pools" in that already homogeneous nationwide pool (according to Ken Kleber, Unit 4's Executive Director of Human Resources). Finally, take into account that Illinois's most qualified teacher candidates -- of all races -- gravitate toward employment in the suburbs of Chicago. When viewed in this light, a figure of 16% non-white teachers in Unit 4 starts to look more impactful... but we are committed to doing better.

Increasing the diversity of our teaching staff requires greater effort than simply hiring more candidates from underrepresented minority groups. We need to find more such candidates; and after hiring them, we need to retain them in our district. I will use the rest of this post to share some of the promising efforts underway in these two areas.

Officials from Unit 4 (including Dr. Wiegand and Mr. Kleber), along with State Representative Carol Ammons and State Senator Scott Bennett, were involved in Vision 20/20's successful lobbying in Springfield to change overly restrictive teacher licensure requirements. Until this summer, these requirements effectively prevented Unit 4 from hiring teachers (of any race) from other states. Thanks to HB2657, passed in July 2015, Mr. Kleber has already started to plan out-of-state recruiting. Will this be a game-changer for Unit 4's diversity numbers, to help us make up for the homogeneity and decreasing numbers of ed school graduates within Illinois? Stay tuned to see.

Closer to home, our district has a Grow Your Own financial assistance program (GYO). According to Mr. Kleber, GYO "offers interested staff members an opportunity to enroll in a course of study toward completion of Elementary Teacher Licensure through the Millikin University School of Education’s PACE Program (at Parkland College). Applicants who successfully complete the program are guaranteed an elementary teaching position with Champaign Unit 4 Schools."

Finally, I checked in with some members of the district's Minority Teacher Recruiting & Retention Committee (MTRRC). As their name reflects, this committee's mission encompasses both finding and retaining. They aim to make current minority staff feel valued and to provide multiple venues throughout the year for interactions with colleagues and administrators.

For Tony Maltbia, Principal at Novak Academy, "The most useful thing that the MTRRC does is actively go out and recruit for minority teachers at fairs." Mr. Maltbia also mentioned MTRRC's role in providing point people in each building to support minority teachers, as well as assisting qualified minority candidates in our own community throughout the hiring process.

Renayee Westfield, Assistant Principal at Bottenfield, described MTRRC as "the soundboard for our minority staff members" -- administrators as well as teachers. She hopes to expand the committee's recruiting efforts closer to home by "going into high schools and surrounding community colleges to find future teachers that are knowledgeable about our community culture."

I'd like to thank everyone who took the time to educate this white lady about the stories behind the numbers -- especially Mr. Maltbia, Ms. Westfield, and Mr. Kleber -- and to stress that this post only scratches the surface of the ongoing challenge of staffing our classrooms with the best teachers. Thanks to Ms. Lafond for assembling ISBE's most recent statistics for our area. And special thanks go to anyone who has read to the end of this post. As always, your comments/reactions/ideas are welcome.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Preview of Board Meeting 11/9/15

Looking ahead to tonight's regular meeting of the Board:

We meet in the Mellon Building, 703 S. New St. (next to South Side Elementary School) at 5:30pm, with the Open Session beginning closer to 6:00pm. Members of the public are welcome to observe, and to address the Board (for up to 3 minutes) during the designated public comment period. You can find tonight's agenda here.

Some highlights:
Come learn how Kenwood staff are helping to shape the future of computer science education in our district and nationwide, creating intentional connections between the Everyday Mathematics 4 curriculum and a computational thinking framework.
We will also hear from Director of Achievement and Student Services Mr. Orlando Thomas, Homeless Liaison Mr. Lekevie Johnson, and Social Justice Homeless Action Group Facilitator and South Side Principal Mr. Bill Taylor, who will present information about current programming designed to meet the needs of Unit 4 homeless students and families.

Please join us!


During this week I will be adding links to the Facilities page of Board Corner, for those of you interested in reviewing some of the most relevant materials for our ongoing dialogue about high school facilities. Remember that next week, on November 16, a Special Meeting of the Board will focus entirely on brainstorming ideas for high school facilities. We encourage your active participation -- either in person, remotely through electronic means (commenting on the blog, sending emails to the board), or in whatever way you would like to join the conversation.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Question for Readers

Upcoming dates of interest:

Nov. 7, 2015: CUSF Spelling Bee Fundraiser (City View Banquet Center, Illinois Terminal)
Enjoy dinner while watching some spelling shenanigans, all to benefit the Champaign Urbana Schools Foundation. Spectator tickets still available here.

Nov. 9, 2015: Regular Board Meeting (Mellon Bldg)
Agenda will be available here.

Nov. 16, 2015: Special Board Meeting (Mellon Bldg)
Brainstorming about Unit 4 high school facilities
All problem-solvers in our community are welcome. Browse information available here, invite your friends, and stay tuned for more information.


Now it's your turn to help shape this Board Corner blog. What kinds of posts do you want to see here? We would like to hear from you in the comments.

If you are a new reader, feel free to browse through the past two months of posts (especially Announcing the Board Corner and About This Site) to familiarize yourself with the blog's beginnings. The audience for the blog is growing, but comments so far have been few. Don't be scared off because comments are moderated -- that is simply a precaution to weed out spam and anonymous attacks. I am strongly committed to keeping this space professional and constructive.

Please share your thoughts about the kinds of posts you would like to see on Board Corner. I've listed a few questions below to get you started:

  • Previewing upcoming board meetings: are those posts helpful? I've been using them to flesh out one or two agenda items that strike me as timely or underappreciated or needing more context. Do these posts add anything to simply viewing the agenda itself (which is posted on the Unit 4 website, in the Board section, usually by the Friday before a Monday meeting)?
  • Posts about board work that take place outside of the public meetings: more of these? For example, during the past few weeks I have participated in the work of the Curriculum Advisory committee, the Education Equity Excellence committee, the Social Justice seminar, the District Registration committee, the Choice committee... Some of these meetings are open to the public; some of these committees include members of the public; some are purely internal. Some deal with controversial topics and some, frankly, are only loved by policy nerds like me. Which ones, if any, should be discussed here?
  • Guest posts? From administrators? (Coming soon, for example, is a post from Matt Foster, Executive Director of Operations, explaining how the district allocates funds for facility maintenance.) From teachers or staff? 
  • What about posts that respond to specific questions... like a Tom's Mailbag of Board Corner?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts so that together we can make Board Corner a place for active and responsive community dialogue.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Preview of Board Meeting 10/26/15

Looking ahead to next Monday's meeting (find the agenda here):

It's another field trip for the board, the administration, and any members of the public who would like to join us. This meeting will take place at Garden Hills Elementary School (2001 Garden Hills) at 5:30pm, with the open session scheduled to begin as usual at 6:00pm. These off-site meetings are made possible by the extra efforts of our Mellon staff as well as the staff at the alternative site -- we thank them for helping us conduct the district's business all over the district.

The agenda item likely to spark the most discussion is a presentation from Dr. Judy Wiegand (along with other district and building administrators, as well as faculty/staff from all levels) on "Programming and Capacity," and how these two primary areas of concern relate to the development of a facilities plan for Unit 4.

The presentation team will examine and update our enrollment projections, which continue to show overcrowding at the middle and high school levels. They will highlight some aspects of delivering education that are challenging due to the current state of our facilities; just one example is meeting the needs of our special education students. In addition they will examine the lack of accessibility at South Side and Dr. Howard.

Then to see what other districts in our region are doing to meet their 21st-century facility needs, the team will present a variety of solutions. These will include new schools on greenfield sites, renovated/expanded existing facilities, historic modernization of facilities, and brand-new urban campuses.

This presentation has the potential to set the tone for all of our conversations about facilities moving forward; it will be the first major post-referendum statement from our district's professional educators about how best to proceed. We on the board will then do our best to extend this discussion to the public -- won't you join us?


Don't want to miss a single Board Corner post? Please feel free to subscribe to new posts by clicking the "Subscribe" link (either on the upper right of your desktop display, or at the bottom of your mobile display).

You can engage with several individual board members on Facebook -- search for Kathy Richards Unit 4 School Board, Kathy Shannon Unit 4 School Board, Amy Armstrong 4 Unit 4 Board of Education, Laurie BonnettUnit 4 School Board, and Chris Kloeppel Unit 4 Board of Education.

I gather other board members might be tweeting, or Instagramming, or whatever it is the cool kids are doing -- I hope my board colleagues will chime in here on the comments to add any other social media contacts that I have inadvertently overlooked.


Only 15 days left until the Epic Spell-down of 2015. CUSF Adult Spelling Bee, November 7, 6:00pm.
Bee there...

Monday, October 19, 2015

Fly on the Wall

"So... what's happening on the school board?"

That's a common greeting I get when I run into a local friend. Sometimes the answer to that question is as easy as pointing to the agenda of our most recent meeting (previewed here). But a meeting recap answers a slightly different question, that of what the Board (with a capital B) has been doing, in public, in its official capacity. My friends are more likely to be wondering what on earth a school board member might actually *do* during a typical week.

A fly on the wall at Cafe Kopi last Thursday would have some insights to offer. Fellow board member Kathy Shannon and I met for lunch, as we try to do most weeks, to catch up with each other's school-board-related activities.

We know that at some point during the week leading up to a regular meeting, we will receive the agenda along with any supporting materials to study, in preparation for questions or discussions at the meeting.

Here's a quick sketch of what else we two did -- individually or in some cases together -- during that previous week:

  • Attended a forum at Urbana's Wesley Foundation, "Black and White in America: A Look at Racial Relations and Violence," which included talks by Champaign's Police Chief Anthony Cobb and Mayor Deb Feinen
  • Met with a planning professional to learn more about the economics of infill development
  • Sat in on a class offered by Professor Ken Salo (Lecturer in Urban and Regional Planning at the U of I) as professional development for Unit 4 teachers, "Teaching Ferguson"
  • Participated in the monthly CFT Areas of Consultation committee meeting with district administrators and union officials
  • Met with a Unit 4 administrator to discuss various aspects of discipline in Unit 4... and received homework: Positive Behavior Facilitation: Understanding and Intervening in the Behavior of Youth, by Edna Olive (2nd edition, 2015)
  • Attended meeting of PTA Council; received input from PTA officers about changes to the district's elementary enrichment program and building rental policies for clubs
  • Met with two different Unit 4 administrators about how best to update our building rental policies to reflect the kind of extra-curricular partnerships we wish to encourage
  • Attended the dedication of the renovated Kenwood building
  • Met with a community activist concerned about discipline disparities between black and white students in Unit 4
  • Spoke with a facilitator of our district's 2008 Great Schools, Together plan about ideas for community engagement
  • Passed along various concerns to the appropriate district staff (about soccer lights, game admission, lunch periods, and more)
That's the long version of an answer you might get from our friendly fly on the wall. The short answer?

"There's always something more to learn."

Friday, October 9, 2015

Preview of Board Meeting 10/12/15

Looking ahead to next Monday's regular meeting of the Board:

We meet in the Mellon Building, 703 S. New St. (next to South Side Elementary School) at 5:30pm, with the bulk of the Open Session beginning closer to 6:00pm. Members of the public are welcome to observe, and to address the Board (for up to 3 minutes) during the designated public comment period. You can find the complete meeting agenda here.

I'm especially looking forward to two presentations -- from Orlando Thomas and Elizabeth deGruy -- about ACTIONS and AWARE. Those of you who attend the meeting (or watch it later) will come away with a greater understanding of not just what these nifty acronyms stand for, but how these initiatives are working to address the needs of suspended students (ACTIONS) and students encountering mental health difficulties (AWARE). Both initiatives are recent, launched during the 2014-15 school year. Their common goal: to direct targeted interventions to troubled students, to help them get back in the classroom and ready to learn.

All this plus a new appointment at IPA, new appointments to the EEE committee, an update from Matt Foster on Operations/Maintenance and Transportation, and more! See you Monday.


A brief summary of the two initiatives mentioned above:

ACTIONS (Alternative Center for Targeted Instruction and On-Going Support)

During the spring of 2014, the Discipline Equity Advisory Committee brought to the Board a proposal that would offer students who have been suspended additional support in an effort to change, rather than manage, behavior upon return to their home schools following suspension. The Board approved the proposal as a three-year pilot, and receives regular updates (this update will cover the period through second semester of the 2014-15 school year).

The ACTIONS program includes the following components: counseling, social work services, social skills instruction, access to community services, and academic support. Prior to returning to their home campus, in conjunction with administrators, parents, and representatives from the home campus, students create an action plan which includes learned replacement behaviors, strategies to address problematic behaviors, and an identified staff member to serve as a mentor responsible for monitoring the student’s progress.

Project AWARE (Advancing Wellness And Resilience in Education)

AWARE is a grant which partners Champaign Unit #4 with Urbana #116 Schools along with Community Elements and the ACCESS Initiative. It provides nearly $100K over two years (2014-15 and 2015-16) to provide First Aid Training in Youth Mental Health to adults who regularly interact with youth.

Youth Mental Health First Aid is designed to teach parents, family members, caregivers, teachers, school staff, peers, neighbors, health and human services workers, and other caring citizens (who regularly interact with young people) how to help an adolescent (age 12-18) who is experiencing a mental health or addiction challenge or crisis. The course introduces common mental health challenges for youth, reviews typical adolescent development, and teaches a 5-step action plan for how to help young people in both crisis and non-crisis situations. Topics covered include anxiety, depression, substance use, disorders in which psychosis may occur, disruptive behavior disorders (including ADHD), and eating disorders. During the first year of AWARE, 89 Unit 4 staff members received training, and 274 youth (from Champaign and Urbana schools) participated in a treatment program at Community Elements.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Unit 4 Needs You: Future Ready Council 10/8/15

We need YOU to shape the future of Unit 4 as we know it!

Join the Future Ready Council -- a new committee that will guide decision making around technology in Unit 4. Your involvement will help shape the way our students and faculty engage with technology on a daily basis, building 21st-century skills and furthering our goal for high academic achievement for all students.

The goals of the Champaign Unit 4 Future Ready Council are:
  • Use collective insight and expertise to serve as a technology steering committee for the district.
  • Serve as a communication vehicle for U4 digital learning.
  • Provide final input decisions about district technology policy and implementation.

Our kickoff meeting is October 8th, 4:00-6:00pm, at the Centennial High School Library. Subsequent meetings will be held on the second Thursday of every month. Light refreshments will be provided.

Please fill out this RSVP form to let us know you are coming.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Preview of Board Meeting 9/28/15: Field Trip!

Tonight's meeting of the Unit 4 School Board will take place at Central High School, 610 W. University Ave., in Seely Hall.

Two highlights:

The centerpiece of the meeting will be a presentation by Sally Scott, attorney at Franczek Radelet, who served as lead counsel for Unit 4 at the time of the 2009 Settlement Agreement. This agreement ended a decade of court monitoring -- for the purpose of improving academic outcomes for our district's African-American students -- by promising continued commitment to this goal.

For many who live and work in our district, equity issues still loom large. However, six years' worth of students have begun kindergarten since the Settlement Agreement, so our elementary schools are now full of children who have only ever attended a post-Consent-Decree Unit 4 school.

As the Board and the community continue our dialogue on facilities, having this presentation -- at a site "central" to these discussions -- will bring our commitment to school location as an equity issue back into focus.

(Remember that documents relating to this presentation can be found on Unit 4's website by clicking on the 9/28/15 Board Meeting and then viewing the agenda.)

The proposed Budget for FY 2015-16 has been available for public inspection since August 25, as required by Illinois School Code. After hearing a presentation of the budget highlights, the public will be invited to ask questions about the budget before the Board will hear a recommendation for its adoption. Learn how we put over 100 million dollars to work for our community's future.

All this plus Molly Delaney of the Champaign-Urbana Schools Foundation, and more. See you tonight!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Trouble with Transparency

To say that the idea of "transparency" is frequently raised in the public sphere would be an understatement. [Full disclosure: I have been known to use that word myself.]

References to transparency are hardly unique to Unit 4. In Tuesday's Election 2016 Summary in the New York Times, for example, the quote selected to highlight Carly Fiorina's campaign thus far was "Mrs. Clinton has not been transparent about a whole set of things that matter."

Everyone loves transparency. It's up there politically with apple pie and the American flag.

Let's see if we can recognize transparency in action, shall we?
  • 9/17/15 "Unit 4: 'We're looking into' McKinley" (News-Gazette)
  • 9/21/15 "Updated: McKinley YMCA owner: Unit 4 not interested in facility" (News-Gazette)
  • 9/22/15 "Unit 4 board president talks facilities" (News-Gazette/WDWS audio file)
This series of interviews in local media confirms without a doubt that 1) Leon Jeske is selling the former McKinley YMCA property and 2) Unit 4 may or may not buy the property at an undetermined time for an undetermined price for undetermined uses.

This is transparency.

Transparency on a superficial level is a metaphor for clarity, for being able to see and understand as much as possible, for finding a window and a front-row seat at that window. Transparency allows light to shine in areas that are murky and unclear, to allow those who don't trust a process to monitor it with their own eyes.

Political transparency, however, is actually a metaphor for trust. It is a promise that the messy and complicated nature of big public decisions will not be hidden from the public eye. It is an acknowledgment that few processes are direct or clear. Along the way, different players will have different agendas: Property owners with property for sale wish to sell it. Journalists want to disseminate information with accuracy and speed, as a story is unfolding and likely before it is resolved. And everyone wishes their opinions to be heard.

So when a School Board President says that a meeting is "informational only," and that the Board as a whole will not discuss the details "until we are all together" at a public meeting, only those who trust the messenger will consider such statements transparent.

Transparency from a public body is not particularly efficient, nor is it always realistically possible. But as an ideal, just like flags and apple pie, I think it is a promise worth seeking.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Hot Topics: State School Funding... and Breakfast

When Nicole Lafond of the News-Gazette talks to Unit 4 Business Manager and Attorney Tom Lockman about money, we should pay attention.
The report that Mr. Lockman made last night to the board can be found here:

Of course, this wasn't the only report presented at last night's meeting. Remember, if you aren't able to attend our meetings in person, you have other options for viewing them.
  • You may stream the meetings live on CGTV here. (CGTV is also available on Comcast cable channel 5 and AT&T U-verse channel 99.)
  • You can watch them later on CGTV or from the Unit 4 web page on Vimeo.

Remember that you can follow along with the agenda and attached documents from the Unit 4 web page. Just click on the appropriate meeting in the left column; click "View the Agenda," and then click on each agenda item to see any further explanation or attached documents.


Breakfast at Merry Ann's 9/17/15

Board President Chris Kloeppel will be fueling up at Merry Ann's Diner (on S. Neil Street) this Thursday, September 17th, at 6:00am. Please join him for some coffee or some conversation!

Friday, September 11, 2015

Preview of Board Meeting 9/14/15

Looking ahead to next Monday's regular meeting of the Board:

We meet in the Mellon Building, 703 S. New St. (next to South Side Elementary School) at 5:30pm. Members of the public are welcome to observe, and to address the Board (for up to 3 minutes) during the designated public comment period.

Experienced meeting spectators will probably tell you to show up closer to 6:00pm. Here's why:

From 5:30pm-6:00pm or thereabouts, the Board will often adjourn into Executive Session to deal with business that by law cannot be conducted in public, such as student discipline. The reasons for going into Executive Session are announced, and any votes that result from discussion in Executive Session are taken once the Board returns to open session. 

Some highlights from the agenda (view the full agenda here):
  • We look forward to welcoming two new Student Ambassadors to the Board of Education, one from Central and one from Centennial, who will be sworn in to serve for the 2015-16 school year. They provide valuable insight into student opinions, issues, and concerns based on their experiences in the district's schools.
  • Visiting presenters will include Cynthia Hoyle, co-chair of the C-U Safe Routes to School Project; and Charles Tucker III, Vice-Provost for Undergraduate Education and Innovation at the University of Illinois. Ms. Hoyle will discuss her organization's programming in pursuit of the well-documented benefits that active transportation brings to the entire community. Mr. Tucker will speak about the University's partnerships with local school districts, as well as the University's commitment to the recruitment and retention of minority students to the University.
  • At the request of a member of the Board, Unit 4 Business Manager and Attorney Tom Lockman will present a review of Senate Bill 100 (signed by the Governor last month). He will discuss how its procedures for limiting "the exclusion of students from the learning environment" (that is, suspensions and expulsions) will have an impact on Unit 4's existing rules and procedures.
All this plus staffing, technology, money, and more... see you Monday!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Announcing the Board Corner

For the school board member, distilling a coherent and timely course of action from an overwhelming multitude of information, opinions, and data is like learning to take a drink from a firehose.
Matt Foster, 8/24/15 Special Board Meeting

Greetings! I'm Kathy Richards, one of the five new members elected to the Unit 4 Board of Education in April 2015. Welcome to Board Corner.

When my husband and I moved to Champaign 13 years ago, we were first-time homeowners with hardly any furniture. Undaunted, we promptly invited all of his new work colleagues to our house for a party, the theme of which was "Bring Your Own Chair."

Launching a blog about Unit 4 from a board perspective reminds me of that party. The desire to make new connections, the uncertainty of how to proceed, and an overall sense of optimism were present then and now. Rather than asking you to bring furniture, now I am asking you to bring your ideas.

During our campaign, several board candidates spoke of our desires to improve community engagement with our schools and with the issues we face. Even though the community delegates decision-making powers to the board by electing us, the board needs community support to carry out those decisions, whether that support comes at the polls for a facilities referendum or from the time and energy of community volunteers. Board Corner represents one small effort to improve community engagement. But what form will this blog take?

We might use it to provide information (writing about board activities that don't appear in our meeting minutes). We might use it to gather information (seeking input from our readers). It will be limited by legal constraints -- specifically, that more than two board members may not discuss board business with each other outside official meetings. It will therefore provide access only to the opinions of individual board members.

Above all, community engagement as expressed here aims to treat members of the public not as customers of the district, but as owners. Customer concerns (such as dissatisfaction with a particular teacher or textbook, for example) are important, but often require confidentiality and are best addressed by the professional educators of Unit 4. Owner concerns are long-term, big-picture issues about values, vision, and goals. They deserve transparency because they belong to all of us. This blog shows the Board's commitment to an ongoing conversation with our community's owner-members, because we believe that many participants working together can create knowledge and solutions.

One possible way for this blog to evolve is to highlight key topics of current community interest. On the "Facilities" tab you will find pointers to ongoing discussions about the condition, function, and future of Unit 4's facilities. Perhaps other categories will demand their own tabs in the future.

In keeping with the party metaphor, this blog has a few ground rules. Don't monopolize the conversation. Listen to and respect the viewpoints of your fellow community members. Bring something good to share. Rude and obnoxious guests will be asked to leave.

Readers, guests, Unit 4 community members -- this blog belongs to you. What would you like to see?

(For further reading about community engagement, including some nice bits I borrowed for this post: