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: