Friday, October 21, 2016

Preview of Board Meeting 10/24/16

10/24/16 Board Meeting, 6:00pm

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 the meeting agenda here on BoardDocs by navigating to the "Meetings" tab, clicking on the meeting date, and then clicking "View the Agenda." (Be sure to click on each agenda item to bring up additional information or description, including any attached documents.)

Much of this meeting will be devoted to Unit 4's search for a new superintendent. Jim Helton, from the Illinois Association of School Boards (IASB), and Board President Chris Kloeppel will give an update regarding the search.

Other highlights of Monday's agenda: We will have the pleasure of recognizing our October 2016 Staff Spotlight winner -- Claire Vail, Special Education Teacher at Centennial High School. In addition, those in attendance can get a preview of school board issues that are addressed at the state level, when our Unit 4 Board members review the proposed revisions to the 2016 IASB Resolutions Committee Report prior to the Delegate Assembly meeting on November 19th in Chicago, IL.


Remember to check the FAQ page on the portion of Unit 4's website, ( that has been dedicated to educating the public about the upcoming referendum. Please let us know if there are other questions you think should be answered there.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Unit 4 Recognized at 2016 NAACP Champaign County Freedom Fund Banquet

At the annual NAACP Champaign County Freedom Fund Banquet this past weekend, two Unit 4 administrators were honored for their service to the community and commitment to equity in education.

Mr. Tony Maltbia, Executive Director of Student, Family, and Community Supports, was selected as the recipient of the 2016 NAACP Freedom Fund 'Yes, We Can' Education Award. This award has been given for his work in the community to advance and improve the quality of equity, diversity, and the access of education.

Dr. Judy Wiegand
also received a special recognition that evening for her dedication to equity and excellence in education throughout her career in Unit 4 and service as Superintendent.

Usually I provide links in my blog posts to local media coverage of events I discuss, but I have yet to see any coverage of this year's event or its honorees. That's unfortunate; I think such community recognition of Unit 4's work around equity and excellence in education should be shouted from the rooftops.

(UPDATE 10/20/16: 2 photos added, provided by Patricia Avery)
(L-R) Minnie Pearson, Judy Wiegand, Patricia Avery

(L-R) Minnie Pearson, Tony Maltbia, Patricia Avery

Congratulations, Mr. Maltbia and Dr. Wiegand! Enjoy more photos from this event here and here.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Curriculum and Capacity at Central and Centennial

Numbers are a decision-maker's best friend. Except when they're not.

Some community members have been asking why so much work is needed on Unit 4's buildings when our enrollment numbers (in the opinion of the questioners) don't seem to justify that need.

Anyone can go to to find current and past student enrollment figures for any district in the state. These numbers are but one part of the ongoing story of that particular district, which is inextricably bound up with the story of its community – not only its demographic ebbs and flows, but also its changing goals and values.

In last week's News-Gazette, the online edition of "Tom's Mailbag" included correspondence from Unit 4 high school principals Joe Williams (Central) and Greg Johnson (Centennial), intended to answer several reader questions about building capacity and enrollment numbers. After I share a few thoughts about capacity, I'm going to reprint here what they wrote (along with an excerpt from Director of Communications & Community Relations Stephanie Stuart's introduction). In different ways, Williams and Johnson give specific and concrete examples of how changes in curriculum over the years have impacted our high school spaces.

Curriculum and capacity – the two driving forces behind the current Unit 4 facilities referendum – do not exist separately from each other. Furthermore, the capacity of a given school building depends on more than just its enrollment (the number of students in the building). If you rely on enrollment numbers to draw conclusions about capacity, you are seeing only part of the big picture.


Statistics about school operating capacity are derived from state and national best-practice standards for K-12 education. The standard recommended square footage per student is considered the minimum size required to carry out a school's educational mission. In this way, the capacity of any given building can change over time, independent of enrollment.

Why might necessary square footage per student change over time? Because the requirements of the curriculum change – and as a result, different or additional spaces may be required.

Here's a simple example of such a change for one school space: the gymnasium. When the 6 buildings named in the current referendum were built, only boys played school sports, and daily PE was not required by the state. Today's schools use that same gym space to accommodate athletes of both genders and provide far more instruction in PE, and our state legislators might soon make that space even tighter if it decides to end PE exemptions for high school athletes.  The same gyms that once served their schools well are no longer meeting current needs.

Try to put each piece of information below that Stuart, Williams, and Johnson communicate about facilities inadequacy into one of these three categories:

  • Current space is not functional (for example, Central's classrooms need more than 1 or 2 working electrical outlets)
  • Curriculum requires different and/or additional spaces (for example, current policy of open access to rigorous classes requires additional classroom space for academic support sessions)
  • Enrollment is straining capacity (for example, students are being turned away from career tech classes)

Much of what you will read below from the Mailbag fits into more than one of these three categories. I think this exercise will show that the work needed at our high schools does not fit neatly into a single category, and cannot be accounted for using a single metric.


(from Stuart's Mailbag introduction)

This report from 10/26/15 summarizes the past 5 years of student enrollment in Unit 4. (Benchmark numbers for this school year will not be official until reported to the Board later this fall, but preliminary numbers show total enrollment exceeding 10,000 students.) Our high schools are currently at 103% capacity and, based on current enrollment at the lower grades, we anticipate enrollment to be at 120% capacity by 2022. Throughout our District's history we have seen enrollment increases and decreases, including some times in the 60s/70s and early 2000s when high school student enrollment was higher than our current numbers. In the early 2000s, for example, the District utilized two portable classrooms at Centennial to accommodate this growth. The difference between then and now, however, is that the District has expanded programming as needs have arisen in our student population and as our educational standards have demanded it.


(from Williams on Central)

Here are some thoughts regarding space which fall into some of overcrowding and others of types of space -- both of which can only be addressed through extensive remodeling of the current Central High School.

Schools are providing for more specialized needs.

English Language Learners. The population of students coming to our schools from places where their primary language is not English has increased dramatically in the last ten years. Most recently, we also have immigrants who know no/very little English and are from areas of the world that do not use a literate language and have not consistently had access to formal education. In order to provide the best learning experiences for ELL students, we must attend to their English language learning and their content learning simultaneously. This requires a mix of courses specific to content and courses specific to language acquisition. Last year, Central became the host school for a new District ELL program specifically for immigrant students with interrupted formal education.

Special Education. Mainstreaming into as many general education courses as possible for students with disabilities has been a hallmark of Unit 4 for a very long time. We strive to continue to increase possibilities for all students with disabilities. Depending on the disability, though, it is possible the needs of the individual students can only be met by including self-contained special education environments during some or all of their school day. In addition, students with the most profound disabilities at the secondary level have been added to Central in a self-contained District Essential Skills classroom.

Curriculum and pedagogy also impact space needs.

Educational research over the course of the last two decades consistently points to collaborative investigatory learning as essential pedagogy. Rooms that were created to hold 32 or more desks in rows cannot accommodate as many desks when they are grouped. The research-based instructional framework for Unit 4, Gradual Release of Responsibility, and the research-based Charlotte Danielson Framework for Teaching both rely heavily on instructional practices that can move between whole-class, group, and individual modes of instruction and learning.

Traditional vocational education spaces were designed for specific instruction in basic components of trades-related courses. Student requests for industrial technology courses are denied each year simply due to capacity issues. Research over the last decade or so indicates an increased need for vocational education to more truly relate to experiences outside of the traditional high school setting. This impacts industrial technology, family consumer science, and business education areas; career and technology education (CTE) standards for curriculum and instructional pedagogy is on the cusp of transformation in answer to industry and business needs expressed through collaboration at the federal, state, and local levels. Space design and utilization, along with specialization of equipment, are necessary to begin answering to the demands set forth by new guidelines.

The new Next Generation Science Standards require extensive changes to science curriculum and pedagogy. In order to support those requirements and ensure our students are receiving the best we possibly can provide in STEM areas, funding must be added for infrastructure and equipment needs. In addition, due to an increase in science elective course offerings a few years ago, we have more students in science courses beyond the typical first two years of high school. We are out of science classroom space at this point.

Physical Education standards and goals have changed over the course of the last several years to support the need for graduates to have an understanding of physical fitness and how that can be achieved without necessarily engaging in organized athletics. As such, modern PE programs include spaces for dance, yoga, and equipment training typically found in current "gyms" in the community.

Student services are key to supporting social/emotional needs and learning.

With increased demands on administration for instructional leadership involving frequent and direct work with teachers, the typical assistant principal role has changed. In order to provide the necessary time for assistant principals to engage fully in instructional leadership, routine student attendance and discipline matters have been shifted to a dean of students.  That required an additional office space.

For many years, the District was lacking in necessary support of school nurses for our students. A few years ago, the District answered this need by hiring nurses to cover multiple buildings. Nurses must have a private space where they can work directly with students. That required an additional office space.

As the social/emotional needs of students increase, our availability to meet those needs is stretched further and further. In the very near future, additional social workers will be needed and that, too, will require additional office space.

Academic supports for students.

Prior to ten years ago, all students had open campus lunch. Through work with research-based models of Professional Learning Communities, and through our work with the Consent Decree and No Child Left Behind, it became very clear general supports for academics needed to be added during the school day. Closing lunch for freshmen and sophomore students and simultaneously adding academic support for them led to cafeteria space needs and classroom space needs for the supports. - As we continue to provide for open access to our most rigorous upper level courses such as Advanced Placement courses, we also continue to determine the best supports for students in those classes. Academic support for science, math, and literacy were made available several years ago for junior and senior students during their open lunch period. Many juniors and seniors eat lunch and attend those supports.

More obvious space needs at Central that have been repeatedly referenced:

Central is proud of the accomplishments of students in the arts:  music, visual, and dramatic. We have two art rooms for three full-time art teachers, one of whom teaches graphic arts so that room includes a large number of computers. We also have a tiny ceramic studio with no windows built around our boiler room. Our award-winning instrumental music program has 401 students enrolled in Concert Band, Guitar, Orchestra, Marching Band, Symphonic Band, and Wind Symphony. The largest is, of course, Marching Band in the fall and that enrollment is nearly 200 students. The band room is not designed to comfortably fit 200 students, of course, but it is even inadequate for the courses enrolling nearly 60 students. In addition, acoustics are not ideal and, over time, are harmful to hearing. Finally, there have been many instances of orchestral instrument damage due to large fluctuations in heat/humidity/cold. Equipment storage is entirely inadequate and includes two closets, trailers, and a basement under the stage in our main gym that floods during heavy rains. Central's drama program produces seven shows per year on average, way beyond that of a typical high school. There is no backstage, the scene shop is very small, and storage for costumes and set pieces is very limited. Despite many attempts, the ceiling and walls continue to fail, leaving peeling plaster and dropping tiles.

High school students at both high schools lose educational opportunities when the weather is too hot. Early dismissals due to lack of air conditioning at Central obviously affect Central's students in Central's classes. However, those days also affect students from both high schools because shared classes for which students are typically shuttled between the two campuses are affected as shuttles can't run due to the difference in period times.

Locker room space is limited for PE students and reached capacity last spring.

Most classrooms only have two working electrical outlets.

Restrooms are in need of refurbishing.

The library is the only large space for student collaborative learning. There is no student commons available.

There is only one elevator that accesses all four floors and it is located at the far west end of the building.

The security camera system is outdated and cannot be expanded. Replacements for parts are difficult to find.

There is no parking for students and there aren't enough spaces for staff.

Students travel all over town to practice/play athletics.


(from Johnson on Centennial)

In addition to the instructional and curricular shifts that Joe detailed, here's an account of how use of space has evolved at Centennial over the past 10 years or so. These changes make a strict comparison between enrollment numbers from 2000 to 2016 an incomplete method of detailing how classroom space is needed and utilized at Centennial. All told, we have lost a total of 46 periods of classroom space over the past 10 school years. This figure includes an accounting of the addition of the two portables we have added over the past 3 years.

Over the past few years, we've had a number of stressors on our room usage that have decreased available space.

New Programs

1. Autism program (added 2007-2008)
Space Used: 8 periods of classroom space

2. Closed lunch for all freshmen (added 2009-2010) and all sophomores (added 2010-2011)
Space Used: 20 periods of classroom space (10 for both periods 4 and 5).

3. English Language Learners (ELL) program (added 2012-2013)
Space Used: 10 periods of classroom space

4. Emotional Disabilities (ED) program (added 2010-2011)
Space Used: 8 periods of classroom space

Space Renovation and Repurposing

1. College Career Center changes
Net Loss: 8 periods of classroom space

2. Attendance Office created
Net Loss: 8 periods of classroom space

3. Dean of Students office added
Net Loss: 8 periods of classroom space

4. Sustained Study Room moved (for safety and storage needs)
Net Loss: 8 periods of classroom space

Classroom Space Additions

1. Portable 1 (added 2014-2015)
Space Added: 16 periods of classroom space
2. Portable 2 (added 2016-2017)
Space Added: 16 periods of classroom space

-78: Periods of classroom spaces either changed or removed
+32: Periods of classroom spaces added
Total net change of classroom spaces during past 10 years:

-46 Periods of classroom space FEWER