By Charles Schultz
On Tuesday, May 15, at 7 p.m. in the Lewis Auditorium at the Urbana Free Library, Chuck Jackson and I will host our second open forum on public school education in Champaign-Urbana. The editors at Chambanamoms.com have been kind enough to give us a space to explain what we are doing and why we are doing it.
Both Chuck, a former Champaign Unit 4 school board candidate, and I see a need for open, public conversations in safe environments where community members (parents, teachers, administrators, students, homeowners, business owners, etc.) can explore alternatives to “the way we have always done it.” We do not claim to have all the answers, but we certainly have ideas of our own (and differing ideas at that) and recognize that many of you also have ideas. We want to mine the richness of our diversity and brainstorm various options.
Our main goal is to throw open the doors of communication. Many others are doing this in their own ways. Perhaps what might be different about what we are doing is that we actively seek out different opinions over the course of many scheduled forums, summarize those thoughts in the public sphere (i.e., website), and aim to take action by engaging the school district on the top priorities we find. We will be planning forums for specific groups (i.e., one for just teachers, several for cultural groups, maybe even one for students) over and above the more public open forums (May 15 and Sept. 4 so far). We really want to convey the message that everyone has worth, has value and has a voice. We want to do this by going to where people feel most comfortable; we have scheduled forums at libraries and a church, with some ideas perhaps to go to more churches, the IMC and schools.
There is an existing and obvious communication issue within our community in regards to education. In Unit 4, one has but to read about the Working Cash Bonds or the Kindergarten School Assignment process, or even going further back with previous referenda and the Consent Decree. Dr. Mark Aber’s two Climate Studies both indicated issues of communication and trust not only between the district administration and the community, but also with the building-level staff as well.
We fully acknowledge the efforts of Superintendent Dr. Judy Wiegand and the Board to address those issues; it is not our intent to say that “nothing” is happening or that we can do it better. Dr. Wiegand is holding a book study with building staff and encouraging free discussion about District Leadership; Unit 4 is bringing in a Public Engagement firm; Board Member Jamar Brown has held an open forum; and the school district has partnered with the Champaign Community Coalition to seek out the needs of residents. And I am sure there are more efforts.
So to reiterate our goal, we truly want the doors of communication to be wide open. And that may involve some very nontraditional topics and out-of-the-box ideas. We do not want to settle for “adequate” or “average” schools. We want awesome, world-class schools in Champaign and Urbana.
Why? What motivates and moves us? I am compelled to quote Dr. Edna Olive who stated, “(T)he education and support of children is some of the world’s most important work.” We believe that at the core of a healthy society is a very relational commitment to each other as a community and to education. And that’s pretty much it. People innately have value and worth; we want to make sure that is communicated by investing in relationships.
So please come join us as we journey down this path of community-wide discovery.
Charles Schultz, a former Chambana Dad to Know, writes a citizen’s blog about Champaign Unit 4 schools. Schultz is a database administrator at the University of Illinois who also teaches classes at Parkland College. He and his wife, Heather, live in Savoy with their daughter.