CHAMPAIGN — Charles Schultz and Chuck Jackson have long been working on getting more people talking about and involved in the Champaign school district.
Schultz writes a blog about the school district and recently applied for the open seat on the Champaign school board. They together host get-togethers almost every week at Houlihan's in Champaign, asking community members to stop by and discuss what's happening in the school district.
But now they're planning a full-blown forum at the Champaign Public Library.
It's scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday in Room 222 at the library, which is located at 200 W. Green St., C.
"The root of (the desire to host a forum) came out of many years of observing how the school district interacts with the public," Schultz said. "After witnessing how public interaction was severely limited at board meetings and committee meetings, I felt that there needed to be a more open environment in which a more dialectical approach could be taken."
Jackson said he enjoys discussions and hearing other people challenge his ideas and is hoping to involve those who haven't come to other forums about local schools.
"It is an ongoing question how to involve those who have a stake in education but have never been taken seriously as contributors," Jackson said, adding that he sees the same people participating in things like the Great Schools Together planning process, PTA functions and the like. "I want to hear from new voices, especially voices of people who have obstacles between them and greater involvement whether it is economic, cultural, linguistic or some other sort of barrier."
While some people can opt out of public education, Jackson said, "schools still have to work for those of us who are left. Unfortunately, all too often it is those voices who are left out of the conversation."
Schultz said he'd like to see a cross-section of residents attend the forum, from varying cultures, ethnicities, professions and socioeconomic statuses. He'd also like people affiliated with the University of Illinois, Parkland College and even the Urbana school district come by.
Jackson said he hopes the forum is the beginning of a greater discussion.
"I hope the people who come are ready to listen, as well as speak, because it is only through community collaboration that this becomes meaningful," he said. "A small subset of the community already has great influence on how we do education, we don't need just another small subset of people. People should certainly come ready to talk solutions and not just complain."
Schultz and Jackson said they're hoping a variety of topics come up. Schultz said he hopes discussions include communications among the school district and community members, and how they lead to trust between the two groups.
"I hope to address how both the community and the administration can support our frontline workers who teach our precious children day in and day out," Schultz said. "Some of those discussions will involve academic excellence and discipline and bullying."
Jackson said he knows not every topic can be addressed Tuesday, but the duo are mapping out future meetings to address various issues.
Schultz said a 7 p.m. meeting has already been scheduled for May 15 at the Urbana Free Library, and they're working on setting up another for September. Schultz said he'd also like to see future forums that invite certain groups, like teachers.
"We very much want our conversations to be 'sticky' in the sense that they do not die once people leave the building," Schultz said. "The first forum may be involve more than just voices — for instance, we are talking of using Post-it notes to write questions, comments and observations."
Those will then be put into a display and then those who come might even take home some homework for followup actions, he said.
Jackson said the goal is to communicate about how elementary and secondary education should be in Champaign and Urbana.
"With the state university in town, I'd like to see community expectations be that we are leaders in Illinois when it comes to what we provide for our children," Jackson said. "As it stands, we aren't there yet. According to the district website, the graduation rate for low SES students is 61.5 percent. That's just simply not acceptable (and I don't know anyone who thinks it is)."
Jackson said now that the Champaign school district is being led by Superintendent Judy Wiegand, change is happening already.
"We want to take advantage of that opening to engage the district and truly take full advantage of the system which gives local school districts control of the local schools," Jackson said. "The relationship between the community and the board of education has been fractured for some time, so that is certainly a topic to explore as well."