Archive for September, 2013

Students are Masterpieces and Teachers are Their Conductors

I wanted to share this thought. I was watching a movie today with my daughter. The movie spanned the decades, touching on historical moments that our changed society. Americans developed from those moments. Wars, presidents, and culture. But at the heart of the movie was one of the spokes within that system of wheels that influenced how our communities grew: teachers.

At the end of the movie, after watching the main character find his way through his teaching career, there is an event to honor him. One of his former students gives this message:

Mr. Holland had a profound influence on my life and on a lot of lives I know. But I have a feeling that he considers a great part of his own life misspent. Rumor had it he was always working on this symphony of his. And this was going to make him famous, rich, probably both. But Mr. Holland isn’t rich and he isn’t famous, at least not outside of our little town. So it might be easy for him to think himself a failure. But he would be wrong, because I think that he’s achieved a success far beyond riches and fame. Look around you. There is not a life in this room that you have not touched, and each of us is a better person because of you. We are your symphony Mr. Holland. We are the melodies and the notes of your opus. We are the music of your life.

The same can be said of each of our teachers. Our children are molds. And each teacher leaves an imprint on them. Looking back at my own years K-12 there were teachers who always had a smile on their faces. Their tones were always sweet. Their instruction always nurturing. I may not remember exactly what information they taught me, but I know I wanted to learn in their classrooms. There were teachers who just through hallway interactions could brighten your day. And there were teachers who got you hooked on a subject, so much so, that your college application was written on the foundation they created with you.

I know the arguments are about money. And that’s truly unfortunate. That our students are affected by money. Sure they may not have a clear appreciation of how money is the focal point of the current negotiations… and we should be thankful for that. Because what would they say if they really understood? Some parents don’t even understand why the issue is being contested. I wish I could say “money aside,” but no one can say that. What I can say is that the same teachers we are leaving in limbo are the same ones who have never faltered in their mission to serve our students. They have come to work without a contract and taught our children. To those who think this is about money to them… it’s clearly not.

While we may not all agree on the outcome of this situation, I encourage parents to share their thoughts about this situation. All your thoughts, good or bad. You’re welcome to share in comments on this post or via email ( For those sharing via email I would like to post your message on my blog, omitting the name of the sender.

One voice may create a stir, but many voices will create a storm.


CFT Contract Negotiations

Attached is what CFT submitted to the labor board earlier this afternoon. This is what will be posted publicly on their website likely next Thursday. CFT released this information to the press today during a press conference.

Those who would like to show their support for teachers can contact the school board via email at You may also contact Unit 4 superintendent Judy Wiegand at


Here is a sample of a letter that expresses support of Unit 4 teachers:

I am a parent in the Unit 4 school district. I am writing to express my full support of the changes proposed by the Champaign Federation of Teachers. I understand that the district is concerned over the financial implications regarding acceptance of the CFT’s proposal. However, as a parent I feel this is money wisely invested in not only our district, but in the main focus of district efforts: the students.

The quality of learning that is experienced in every classroom in the district begins with teachers. They are the ones who set the tone for the school and classroom environment. Having a deep appreciation of the educational system these teachers work long hours, sacrifice personal time, and remain diligent to serving our students and families.

What they are asking for is, in the long run, a minimal investment when considering the greater picture is student well-being. Students deserve to have quality teachers who are in turn treated by their administration with the greatest level of respect.

I urge you to accept the proposed contract as submitted by the Champaign Federation of Teachers. They deserved to be valued each and every day they enter our school buildings and nurture our students. 


The CFT, Unit 4 administrators, and federal mediator will meet again in a couple of weeks. During this time parents who wish to show their support are encouraged to contact school administrators and board members.



Sheri Williamson

labor board submission

Safety Month – October

In early October there will be an event to address bullying. The event will include a screening of the documentary “Bully” as well as a panel discussion with individuals who have worked on the issue of bullying such as Dr. Dorothy Espelegage from the University of Illinois and Erika Harold.

Later in the month there will be a safety forum held at Southside Elementary School (date TBD). This event will cover the topics of student safety, school safety, and community safety. Presenters will discuss these topics as well as subtopics such as internet safety.

In preparation for these events we encourage parents to submit questions they have regarding these topics.

Topics can be submitted via:
Facebook (
Twitter (@nature79)
Blog (
Email (

Parents are also encouraged to attend these events and participate in the discussions.


Bullying documentary:


Board of Education Meeting – September 9

At last night’s board meeting there was a heartfelt message shared by the CFT president regarding the current Unit 4-teacher contract negotiations.

There was also a breakdown of the 2013-2014 Unit 4 budget. Two PowerPoint presentations are available that provide detail of the budget. If parents have any questions regarding financial planning by Unit 4, the budget, or any finance related questions for the school district please submit them before this Thursday.

As PTA Council Co-Vice President, I will be attending the Promises Made, Promises Kept Committee meeting. This committee is in place to review financial activity within the district. Information about the committee can be found on the Unit 4 website: Questions can be submitted via comments on this blog, via Facebook either in comments or inbox, or via Twitter (@champaignpta)… or to me directly Sheri Williamson

A question was posed by a Unit 4 Parent regarding a possible informational session provided by the CFT president. This informational session would inform parents of the process around contract negotiations. It is another area where parents can be better informed of activity that occurs in the district.

Budget FY12 Board Presentation September 9 2013Final vMATT

UPDATED — Budget FY12 Board Presentation

Kenwood Renovations

Unit 4 Letter

Unit 4 Letter to Kenwood Families


News-Gazette Article

Why parent involvement is important

Yesterday we saw an example of why parent involvement is so important in each school in the district. Parents should be involved in decisions made by school and district administrators because its their students who are impacted by decisions made. As a step in the right direction we saw PTA parents step up to the plate and assert their right to be involved with decisions made at their school. While there has been debate about how the conversation was facilitated that argument does not negate the need for parents to be at the table to discuss important changes to a school.

While perusing The Parent Institute website I came across a report called Parent Involvement: Nine Truths You Must Know Now. I wanted to share a quote from the report.

“Dr. Joyce Epstein at the John Hopkins University Center on School, Family and Community Partnerships makes the point very well when she says:

‘The way schools care about children is reflected in the way schools care about the children’s families.

If educators view children simply as students, they are likely to see the family as separate from the school. That is, the family is expected to do its job and leave the education of children to the schools.

If educators view students as children, they are likely to see both the family and the community as partners with the school in children’s education and development.'” (Wherry, 2010, p. 2)

The report goes on to discuss how parent involvement positive contributes to student academic achievement, how parents must be partners with schools, how parent trust in schools is important, and what responsibility schools have to achieve parent engagement.

The Truth I found relevant to the recent communications in the district is “Truth #3: Communication with parents must be carefully planned and two-way,” (Wherry, 2010, p. 4). The report specifically states that communication does not effectively occur unless parents are allowed to provide feedback. The report even breaks down how typical communication is processed by parents and what aspects of communication are effective.

I have attached the PDF of the report. I encourage parents to read it and consider what these truths mean to you. If you see these truths in your school(s) please share those successes. If you do not what would you like to specifically see happen in your school(s)? As parents ponder these truths and how they are affected by them the Council would like to engage parents to discuss questions, concerns, and suggestions they have regarding their schools, the district, and policies.

Everyone have a great weekend!



Wherry, J.H. (2010). This parent involvement: Nine truths you must know now, Special Report. Fairfax Station, VA: The Parent Institute.





Current Topics 9-5-13

Today there were a few topics that came through via email regarding Unit 4 schools and activities.

The first one involved Kenwood Elementary School. Information had been given to Kenwood parents stating that the school would be transitioning to the old Carrie Busey building on Kirby Ave. The information also indicated that Kenwood would be transitioning from a balanced calendar school to a regular calendar school. The biggest issue was that the information was conveyed very abruptly and that parents did not have an opportunity to provide feedback to the district administration regarding these changes.

When Unit 4 administration was asked for clarification about this situation the following email was submitted to the PTA Council from the superintendent:

1.        Construction funds have not been reallocated.  Funds are still dedicated to Kenwood for renovation.

2.       There are concerns with the renovation schedule and the balanced calendar.  It would certainly help the renovation schedule to have Kenwood on the regular calendar during that time period.  At this point there is a Demand to Bargain the impact of any schedule change from the Champaign Federation of Teachers (CFT) so all decisions are on hold until that is resolved. 

3.       Even if the schedule goes to regular calendar for the renovation time period, there has been no decision to keep it as regular once the building is completed. 

4.       There are no plans to ‘fill in’ the courtyard.  It was recommended to completely redo the courtyard with new grass, plants, etc – only to improve the quality of the green space.

5.       A meeting with the Kenwood union stewards, administration, capital improvements supervisor, PTA President and district administration is being scheduled to clarify all of the above issues.

While this email did not answer all questions or provide all reasoning behind the changes it was a good catalyst for discussion regarding how information is communicated to Unit 4 families. At the PTA Council meeting this evening Kenwood administrators and the Kenwood PTA were present, along with the school board president, to discuss this issue. Both sides explained their perspectives and opinions. The action plan moving forward was to include Kenwood parents, specifically the Kenwood PTA in future meetings and conversations regarding renovations to Kenwood. We will update this post as information is shared with the Council regarding this situation.

Next up on the agenda for the meeting was other information that has been passed around at schools. Parents had been told that the school district would no longer be covering the cost of certain field trips. The concern from the perspective of the district was that certain field trips put families in an awkward position if they were unable to afford the cost of a field trip. Additionally, concern was raised when a school PTA wanted to hold a dinner to raise funds for their school. The concern was again that some families would not be able to afford to attend the dinner. Those in attendance at the meeting this evening requested clarification regarding both items. Knowing exactly what field trips are affected by this new unspoken policy as well as what the limitations are with holding fundraisers are items to be discussed with Unit 4 administration.

These agenda items are a good examples of why parent involvement is key to the success of their schools. Parents have a right to ask their administrators, including district administration, to include them in decision-making. It is also imperative for parents to be involved with creating solutions to problems they perceive at their schools. Parents are an integral part of every school in the district. The PTA Council would like to take a more active role in advocating for parents to ensure that parents are being sufficiently served which in turns means our students are being served.

Each week the Council will post to Facebook, Twitter, and this blog a “Current Topics” section. We encourage parents to post comments letting us know what is going on in your schools. We want to hear questions and concerns, but also successes at your schools. The Council will be working on parent workshops, information panels, and brainstorming forums to encourage parent voice in the district. Coupled with these events will be student activity nights where students can participate in a variety of experiences. We will be partnering with local sports facilities, dance programs, and UI student groups to provide fun activities for Unit 4 students.

If parents have suggestions for student activities or parent workshops please let us know. We will post dates, times, topics, and activities as we solidify the events calendar. Please make sure to follow us here, on Facebook, and Twitter.


Twitter: @champaignpta

We hope everyone is enjoying their school year so far!