Thursday, March 29, 2018

Events and Numbers

At our Board of Education meeting on 3/26/18, we highlighted a slew of upcoming events that may be of interest to various community members. Here's a short summary; mark your calendars!

Parent CommUniversity Kickoff
  • March 29, 2018 (tonight!) -- Garden Hills, 6:00-8:00pm
  • Garden Hills, Stratton, and Booker T. Washington students/families invited
Community Meetings about Referendum Facilities:
  • April 3, 2018 -- South Side 5:30-7:30pm (preview of initial designs)
  • April 10, 2018 -- Dr. Howard 5:30-7:30pm
  • April 17, 2018 -- Central and Centennial (hosted at Central) 5:30-7:30pm
Board Meetings (5:30pm, Mellon Board Room):
  • April 9, 2018 -- Public Hearing for NCA Charter School will occur at end of Regular Board Meeting
  • April 23, 2018 -- Ruling on charter proposal will be on the Board's meeting agenda
***

One highlight from our meeting on 3/26/18 was our discussion of the annual AA/EEO audit and report.

The AA/EEO (Affirmative Action/Equal Employment Opportunity) Audit and Report contains a wealth of information about who works where in what capacity in our school community. Anyone with concerns about diversity in Unit 4's workforce needs to spend some quality time with this report, available here (all 189 pages).

When we say "the District remains committed to maintaining a diverse workforce that reflects the community we serve" (p. 2), this report examines what that commitment looks like. On the surface, some of the numbers don't look good. In 2017, for example, the student body of Unit 4 was 34.8% African-American, but the percentage of African-American teachers in Unit 4 was 8.3%. As some African-American teachers in our district will confirm, that number can feel awfully low -- and often lonely.

However, this report reminds us that the percentage of teachers in all of Illinois who identify as African-American was only 5.8% of the total teaching force in 2017, and that percentage has been dropping. Simply put, non-white teachers in Illinois are few. Here in Unit 4, not only is our teaching force more diverse than the state average, but that diversity has been slowly increasing over the last several years.

Compare Figures 1 and 2 (taken from the AA/EEO Report and from illinoisreportcard.com), showing the genders and ethnicities of Unit 4's teachers in 2017 compared to Illinois's teachers overall:

Figure 1: Ethnicity and Gender of Unit 4 teachers, 2017

Figure 2: Ethnicity and Gender of Illinois teachers, 2017

When we consider Unit 4's total workforce -- and remember, Unit 4 is the third largest employer in Champaign County -- we see more progress toward diversity. In 2017, 30.6% of our staff identified as non-white, and that percentage has been slowly increasing since 2010 (as seen in Figure 3 below).

Figure 3: Ethnicity of Unit 4 Staff, 2010-2017

The AA/EEO report goes far beyond counting people in Unit 4. Representation Parity Index Analysis is used to compare Unit 4's employees to the nationwide labor force, to show in greater depth where a particular demographic group is overrepresented or underrepresented in Unit 4 compared to the people available to fill those jobs. Anyone interested can delve deeper in the AA/EEO report to view employment trends from the past several years. Also available are further breakdowns of information by employment class or by building, as well as detailed narratives about hiring, recruiting, and retention.

During our discussion of the report, the Board heard from several administrators who underlined the importance of personal relationships and contacts for successful recruiting. Not only do our HR staff work on recruiting, but an estimated 30-40 additional people from Unit 4 -- from the executive administrative team to members of our support staff -- assist in recruiting. I hope that level of commitment to Unit 4 impresses others as much as it impressed me.

In short, anyone can quote numbers. Some of our employment numbers are impressive; others are not so good. The AA/EEO report gives context for those numbers, as well as restating Unit 4's yearly commitment to increasing our workforce diversity.

***

Remember that applications to join the Referendum Oversight Committee (ROC) have been reopened, and are being accepted until March 30th -- tomorrow! Please consider sharing your expertise with Unit 4 in this important capacity. A schedule of upcoming ROC meetings can be found here.

***

Next meeting of the School Board: Monday, April 9, 2018

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.)

The schedule of Board meetings is available here; meeting minutes are posted here (once they are approved at a later meeting); and meeting videos can be viewed here.

For the latest news and announcements from Unit 4, visit the district website:

For the latest information on referendum facilities projects, check out

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

AVID Recognition and Facilities Update

You may not currently have a student attending middle school in Unit 4, but perhaps you have driven by Jefferson, Franklin, or Edison and seen a sign for AVID outside. What's AVID, you ask?

At our Board of Education meeting on Monday (3/12/18), we were proud to recognize our middle school staff and administrators and our Assistant Superintendent for Achievement & Equity, Angela Ward, for their work around AVID. They have achieved a milestone worthy of celebration!

All three Unit 4 middle schools are now AVID National Demonstration Schools, with Edison earning the certification for the first time and Franklin receiving revalidation. Jefferson received certification three years ago and is up for revalidation next year. Unit 4 holds a unique status with three middle schools receiving this recognition.

AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) is a global nonprofit organization dedicated to closing the achievement gap by preparing all students for college and other postsecondary opportunities. Established more than 35 years ago with one teacher in one classroom, AVID today impacts nearly 1.5 million students in 46 states and 16 other countries/territories.

With three National Demonstration Schools, that means all Unit 4 middle school students receive college prep skills and supports, including a focus on writing, inquiry-based learning, organization and reading. Research shows students enrolled in National AVID Demonstration Schools have higher college enrollment and completion rates. AVID also prepares students for 21st century careers each day by providing the academic and behavioral skills necessary to succeed in the workplace. Organization, time management, critical thinking, collaboration, and problem-solving are important components in our classrooms and in our students' future workplaces.

Our Unit 4 staff has worked incredibly hard to earn this recognition. To earn National Demonstration status, each school has undergone a rigorous validation process by external evaluators. As a result, teachers and leaders from across the U.S. will visit our middle schools to learn from their work.

***

Also at Monday's meeting, Dr. Susan Zola presented a Building Projects Update to the Board. You can find her presentation here. Since we often get questions about what stage each of the referendum projects is in, I've pulled 3 slides from her presentation that hit the highlights of the District's facilities work for the remainder of 2018.

Referendum and relocation work, this month

Referendum and relocation work, projected March-August 2018

Referendum and relocation work, projected Sept-Dec 2018

In the near future, our communications staff plan to reorganize the Building 4 the Future section of the Unit 4 website to make it easier for community members to stay informed, including adding a list of Frequently Asked Questions. As a specific project moves closer to breaking ground, they plan to have a dedicated page for the project that neighbors, in particular, can check regularly for updates.

***

Remember that applications to join the Referendum Oversight Committee (ROC) have been reopened, and are being accepted until March 30th. Please consider sharing your expertise with Unit 4 in this important capacity. A schedule of upcoming ROC meetings can be found here.

***

Next meeting of the School Board: Monday, March 26, 2018

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.)

The schedule of Board meetings is available here; meeting minutes are posted here (once they are approved at a later meeting); and meeting videos can be viewed here.

For the latest news and announcements from Unit 4, visit the district website:

For the latest information on referendum facilities projects, check out

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

A Matter of Public Record

People are passionate about their children and their money -- serving on a school board has given me the humbling opportunity to affect both. As for the seemingly endless onslaught of insults, innuendo, and misinformation that inevitably accompanies any elected office, wiser folks than I have advised me to ignore it. There are simply not enough hours in the day to debunk all the conspiracy theories or correct all the misinformation that is publicly available.

However, when the editorial staff of our local newspaper of record distorts that record with misleading attacks on the leadership of Champaign Unit 4 Schools, as happened on March 4, 2018, I will not stay silent.

Unit 4 was accused of secrecy and non-transparency -- and perhaps most egregiously, of having the district spokesperson (instead of the superintendent) speak on behalf of the district -- based on the fact that on February 12, 2018, we approved a significant real estate purchase "without discussion."

The Board's approval of what amounts to a rent-to-own contract on 502 W. Windsor Drive was indeed part of the February 12 consent agenda. As anyone who has served on a board knows, a "consent agenda" is a parliamentary tool commonly used to save time at public meetings. On a consent agenda, individual items requiring a vote are grouped together (usually near the end of a meeting) and are voted on as one block. However, if a significant item appears on our consent agenda as a matter of voting convenience, it has usually been discussed at a previous public meeting. This purchase was no exception.

I invite any interested party to follow the links on Unit 4's webpage to the list of all past Board meeting agendas, including one on November 13, 2017. The first item of New Business on the Board's agenda that evening was a presentation by Dr. Zola: "Building For the Future Update." Because of our commitment to transparency, the website provides access to Dr. Zola's Powerpoint presentation, which included the following slide:

from "Building for the Future Update," 11/13/17

Here Dr. Zola explained the District's plans to relocate the approximately 75 Unit 4 staff members who would be displaced from Columbia as a result of Dr. Howard construction, and she listed the following destinations: "703 S. New Street, 402 N. Randolph, 502 W. Windsor Road." As summarized on the slide and discussed that evening, these operational relocation decisions were based on the "opportunity to reunite departments" while "looking thoughtfully at department need and community access."

Here is how I interpret transparency as a member of the Board:
we engage in the public's business at public meetings, with agendas posted beforehand and meeting minutes and videos posted afterward. Our discussion about using 502 W. Windsor for administrative space, as well as our vote to approve the purchase, were both transparent. (Only our discussions of specific contract details -- including our decision to rent-to-own rather than to lease -- took place during closed session, as permitted by the real estate exemption to the Illinois Open Meetings Act.)

However, we do not control who attends our meetings, nor can we control what others choose to write about our meetings. As it happens, the News-Gazette did send a reporter to cover that November 13 Board meeting. An article appeared in the newspaper on November 14, 2017, focusing only on the public comment period that occurred near the beginning of the meeting.

Members of the press are free to write about whatever topics they feel will most engage their reading public; it is not up to Unit 4 to dictate journalists' choices. Fortunately, again due to our District's commitment to transparency, the video of that entire meeting can be viewed on the Unit 4 website if someone wanted to check what they might have missed.

In short, the News-Gazette never reported on Dr. Zola's public presentation in November that explained our consent agenda vote in February. Nevertheless they chose to browbeat Unit 4 for our lack of transparency.

I am no "shill," and I submit that the role of "watchdog" should properly be played by journalists. In this instance, however, the Editorial Board of the News-Gazette chose to sling accusations rather than report publicly available facts. Their readers deserve better.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Open House Q & A

Thanks to those who came to the January 10 Open Houses hosted at Central and Centennial. If you missed the chance to view and discuss the most recent designs for Unit 4's high school projects, they are available here. Another chance for members of the public to see and provide feedback on the latest designs -- this time, for Dr. Howard Elementary -- is coming soon:



Meanwhile, here are a few conversations that took place at the high school open houses that we thought might interest a broader audience.

Q: I'm trying to understand why the proposed footprint of the new Central looks the way it does. Has Unit 4 tried to buy other properties surrounding the site? Which ones?
View of Proposed Central along Church and New (1/2018)

A: Since the entire expanded footprint of Central High School comes from real estate transactions involving willing sellers, it is by definition somewhat irregular. The reasons why some negotiations resulted in purchases by Unit 4 and other negotiations fell through (or never began) are varied and often quite personal. The Board has no interest in souring relationships with property owners adjacent to Central by revealing specific details about any given negotiation -- that is why we publicly discuss only the completed transactions. In fact, Illinois law recognizes that the delicacy of real estate negotiation outweighs the right of the public to know all the details; school boards are specifically exempt from the requirements of the Open Meetings Act when discussing real estate transactions. 

As a result of the Tier Two process in 2016, the Board was tasked with land banking where possible. We will continue to monitor what funds are available for property acquisition "for existing schools with outdoor space needs and for future new middle school and high school sites" (Tier Two Final Report, 2016, p. 5).

Creating an expanded site for Central through use of eminent domain would surely have resulted in a neater or more logical footprint. However, this Board was not interested in valuing a perfect footprint over quality community relations, and has held that position throughout the planning process.

***
Q: How will these projects affect my family?

A: Unit 4 and our project management team have to monitor the big picture, but we know most parents and students want more specific information about their child, their sport, or their school. Are you wondering how to answer any of the following questions?

How many years will Dr. Howard be housed at Columbia?
(Answer: Two)
Will any seasons of football be played away from Tommy Stewart Field?
(Answer: hopefully none)
How many years of my Centennial student's high school career will be affected by construction?
(Answer: for the class of 2021, probably 2-1/2 years...)

Some of these more specific questions are too far in the future for us to answer, even tentatively, but many can be answered -- to the best of our knowledge -- by consulting the most current master construction timeline
The darkest blue color ("Construction") indicates times of maximal physical disruption. So you can make projections based on that color, and we will keep that timeline link as current as possible. For example:

Central baseball should be set to go at Spalding for the spring 2019 season.
The new Dr. Howard building should be ready to welcome students in the fall of 2020.
Central's Class of 2020 should expect some construction during their junior year as well as all the way through their senior year.

***

Q: How will placing fields adjacent to Central [for some of its physical education/extra-curricular sports/marching band activities] affect Champaign's Sesquicentennial neighborhood?

A: Only minimal travel is needed to address this question. Take a field trip over to Urbana and walk around the campus of Urbana High School, where their students play football and soccer adjacent to some of Urbana's most desirable historic "state street" homes. Or explore the neighborhood around Unit 4's South Side, where Central has been playing baseball at McKinley Field and where some neighbors have expressed regret that high school baseball will be leaving.

School facilities of all kinds can co-exist harmoniously with almost any surroundings. The best fits are no accident, but grow out of good communication between neighbors, designers, builders, and users. We look forward to continuing these conversations.

Hope to see you at Dr. Howard!

***

Next meeting of the School Board: Monday, January 22, 2018

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.)

The schedule of Board meetings is available here; meeting minutes are posted here (once they are approved at a later meeting); and meeting videos can be viewed here.

For the latest news and announcements from Unit 4, visit the district website:

For the latest information on referendum facilities projects, check out