Smile Politely

This referendum is change for future generations

In 1987, my husband Bill and I, along with our one year old daughter, Brittany, moved to Champaign, Illinois. My husband, a photographer by trade, was offered a job opportunity at the University of Illinois and in August 1987, made the decision to relocate with our one year old daughter. As a special education teacher, I was not overly concerned with finding a teaching position late in the summer, but still, moving to a new community with a young child with no friends or relatives close by was a lot for a 20-something to take in. Bill and I both thought we would stay here for a few years, and then eventually move back to Wisconsin where both our families lived. Well, 30 years later, we proudly call Champaign home and we cannot even begin to list all the colleagues and friends that we are so fortunate to have in our lives.

Fast forward: After serving as a teacher, department chair, assistant principal, principal, assistant superintendent, I found myself accepting the Superintendent position. What an incredible honor and privilege to serve a school community that in my opinion is one of the best. I was very excited to continue the tradition of excellence that I had been part of for over 25 years. Over the years there has been considerable progress accomplished by the dedication of an outstanding faculty/staff, in partnership with businesses, local trade unions and higher education including Parkland and U of I. Whether it is in the area of programming (e.g. early literacy, computer science, dual language, Early College and Career Academy, STEM) climate and culture (e.g. restorative practices, ACTIONS, social justice forums), it all has been accomplished with maintaining a solid financial standing.

In my last year serving as Superintendent before moving on to the next phase in my life, I can leave knowing that the Champaign Unit #4 Schools are committed to continuing the tradition of excellence for all children of our community. The one area I cannot say is resolved is its facilities.

I am not proud of the portable classrooms that our children, faculty, and staff have to use for the delivery of education. A community like ours should not be proud of having 10 portable classroom units. How can we, in good conscience, say this is acceptable? How can we say in 2016 that it is OK to have public schools that are not accessible to all children and family members?

A previous Board put forth plans that were voted down — one vote fairly close and the second one a significant defeat. Voters made the decision to elect five new Board members that would bring forward a facilities plan that would be more reflective of the community’s values and support infill development. After weekly meetings held over the course of several months that included representatives of our community, a plan emerged and the current Board voted to place a resolution on the November ballot.

Throughout the planning process and heading toward November 8th, I have seen firsthand the Board of Education members’ heartfelt commitment to educating the community about why this is the plan they are bringing forward. In previous efforts you may have noticed that I was a more visible presence with presenting the referendum plan. This time around, I am still very much a part of this planning process and efforts to get out information. However, our Board has made a commitment to embed themselves in this community because we have learned that in Champaign Unit 4, the way to make lasting change is by becoming part of the community and building solutions together. As your elected representatives, they are taking on this responsibility head on.

The schools belong to the community and it is the responsibility of the community to pay attention to the needs of the children. I frequently reference the quote “do not tell me what you value, tell me what you do (actions) and I will tell you what you value.” One of the many benefits of living in a democratic society is the right to vote. I cannot tell you how to vote, but I can say that there is a real need to address the capacity and programming needs of our schools. Inaccessible buildings, portable classrooms, and science labs from the 1950’s are not acceptable.

I am very grateful that generations before me made the commitment to public education so that I could pursue my hopes and dreams. I ask that our community seriously consider how they plan on paying it forward and provide the same opportunities for this and future generations.

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