On Monday, December 17th, Unit 4 held a Steering Team meeting facilitated by Scott Leopold of DeJong-Richter. And then again today at Houlihans, we had an informal and lively discussion with Scott Leopold about DeJong and their ongoing work. I am going to try to encapsulate my own thoughts, which I confess are somewhat influenced by those in my circles, and I will depend on those of you who attended to give voice to the things you thought were important.
The Steering Team meeting was a little odd, me being an outsider for the most part, even earning my own seat in the peanut gallery (we met in the Dr. Howard gym, and the “observers” four seats were against one wall). Scott gave a short presentation to get people thinking about the Results Report (a presentation he knows he has to get online soon *grin*). The first thing that occurred to me is that over half the room was Unit 4 people. “Why is this a bad thing?” you might ask. It is not necessarily bad in and of itself, but consider that the purpose of the Steering Team is to take all of the research from Fallon and DeJong and present two grandiose ideas to Dr. Wiegand and the Board. I should clarify, two grandiose ideas for a tax referendum in 2014 that does something with Central. My fear is that the opportunity to think outside the box is going to be severely limited. Not that the people in the room are stupid (trust me, I often feel like the low man on the totem pole), but that the concept of change is very difficult, and I can only imagine how much more difficult it is when it directly impacts your job. So maybe I too worried, maybe there will be some awesome untraditional thinking. Maybe. But one of the common themes I heard at the Steering Team meeting, and even an observation made today at Houlihans, is that folks are reading the report and saying “Hmm…. the majority of folks want what we already have” in terms of grade configuration and class sizes.
Perhaps one major issue with the way the questions were asked is that I think they were answered very “Either Or”. Do you want to have all K-5, or all K-8? There was no way to blend the answer (kudos to those who answered “Other” *grin*). Because some of the early talks, and statements by Dr. Wiegand, mention the possibility of doing a mixture. How does that come back into the conversation? “What is the ideal size of a classroom?” Well, it depends, doesn’t it? What kind of teacher are you going to have? How many teachers? What is the classroom like? What kind of students? Sorry, but not all classrooms are created equal.
I give credit to Scott for, on several occasions last night, attempting to draw attention to the fact that so many students filled out the online survey. If you filter out those that self-identify as being under 18 or a student, some of the responses become less flat and show a little more variety. This is not to say that student input should be discarded, but rather acknowledge that they have their own unique view of the world. But back to my point – it did not seem to me that anyone at the Steering Team meeting last night really had much to say about the overly large student representation on the survey results.
I still think the free-form responses are going to be the most telling in terms of what people want, where their hearts are at. Scott did encourage the Steering Team to read all the comments (there are a ton!), but I could just hear it falling on deaf ears. Again, not that these people are dumb in any way – they are busy. I get that. I tried to ask Scott today who is going to be responsible for reading all those comments and aggregating them in some fashion. I was really hoping he was going to say either DeJong or Fallon. But even if he did (he didn’t, but if he did), we still need folks from the Steering Team to take a long hard look at those comments. How do we get that to happen?
My other bit worry/concern is about Bruce Knight being the co-chair of this Committee. I had never met him nor witnessed him in action before, but it was clear he was confident in himself and used to being the driver. I am sure those are great and necessary qualities in his job. My fear is that his strong personality and take-charge style are going to have a domineering influence. Again, maybe I am all worked up for nothing. Maybe that is not how it is going to go down. I can only hope I am wrong. But take this in consideration; who really wants to expand north of I-74? Who benefits the most from that? I confess that I am a little grasshopper in these greater games, but it seems to me that if we pay $116k to a firm to engage the public, is it not at least a little bit of a conflict of interest to have someone with a strong agenda driving the bus?
And now I have to turn up the heat a bit. At Houlihans today, Pattsi and others around the table asked the bottomline question along the lines of “What are we paying DeJong to do?” Lynn Stuckey has asked this same question in a couple more colorful ways. I am glad Scott started off his response by acknowledging that they have this debate internally. No doubt, DeJong and Fallon are indeed collecting and gathering a lot of interesting data (only some of it has been published so far). It is argued that we may have been able to do this using local resources. Scott’s rejoinder is a particularly good one, one I think we should be asking ourselves and the lawyers that drafted the RFP – “Who all submitted a proposal?” It’s a good question to chew on because it exposes several things about the “way we do things.” Which I very much would love to see changed, and have in fact attempted to effect change with little to no success. The RFPs are looking for a one-stop shop to take care of every little detail. Using local resources means that Unit 4 has to become, essentially, like a contractor and work with multiple subcontractors. The one-stop shop is easy. You push a button (or sign a check), and BOOM, you let someone else take care of those nitty gritty details. It may even be a good CYA measure. Using local talent is hard to coordinate and organize, especially the first time.
So here is my compromise. Scott acknowledged during today’s Houlihan meeting that we need to do something on a recurring basis after DeJong has cashed their check and left town. We need to be collecting demographic data, polling/engaging the people, etc. What if DeJong gave us the tools to do exactly that? If that happened, I think I would feel comfortable in saying it was money well-spent.
I am done typing for now. There was a ton more said, and lots of great ideas. If they choose to surface in my memories, I’ll post a comment. But now it is your turn; fill in the blanks, ask questions, make observations. Oh, and keep your eyes open for more reports and such. I have recently requested the 150-page transcript from the Fallon focus groups, which we should see before the weekend (hopefully). Also, Scott will be putting more stuff on the website.