Thursday, December 19, 2013

Every Deck Has Aces and Jokers: A Year-End Message From the Bloggers

(Taken from Wikipedia deck of cards images)
As the end of 2013 nears, we thought we would make one last post before the school district holiday break begins. We are looking forward to spending time with our families and will take a break from writing on this blog until the school year begins again in January. In the meantime, we thought we would restate why this blog exists and our mission in continuing our commitment to providing insight and information to the District 181 community.

Back in May of this year, we, as D181 parents and taxpayers, believed that only one side of the story was being told from the administration and board of education regarding the current state of the district. Communication from the district was sanitized; pieces of information waffled out on occasion in board meetings, and the rest was controlled through stringent settings that facilitated one-way directives from administrators to attendees. Such is still the case, months later. We became increasingly frustrated having participated in these formats and believed the public deserved to know the truth about how the sweeping district changes were impacting our children. Furthermore, we began to see how changes in teacher delivery and district ideology were negatively affecting our own children day after day, with seemingly no discussion or dialogue occurring at board meetings or other public settings.

Now, after 80 posts and (as of this writing) 57,600 plus hits, we would like to believe this blog has at least provided some insight as to the lack of transparency our leadership currently promotes and the BOE condones. This blog has been active since May 28, and we appreciate the comments community members have taken the time to post themselves. We would like to thank the community for your support and continued hits as they keep us motivated to continue what we believe is our civic duty to inform the public about the misguided and detrimental direction our district is currently moving toward. The events of this week regarding the math acceleration and how it will impact our children’s success at the high school is just one such example, with many more we could mention.

And so our work to inform will continue into 2014, as we roll into the second half of the school year. There is much to keep track of concerning the massive changes that are taking place within the classrooms around the district. And, unfortunately, we have little confidence these changes will have a positive effect on our children by the end of the school year. In fact, we expect the opposite will be true given the MAP and ISAT test results that show the downward slide of student performance. Here is a partial list of concerns and questions we will consider beginning in January:

"Philosophical Difference" or Reckless Disregard of Legitimate Concerns by Hinsdale Central High School's Math Department?

As we near the end of the first half of the 2013-2014 school year, we wanted to spotlight what we believe is one of the most serious concerns we have identified this year -- the disconnect between what the D181 administration believes is the correct course to take with the Math Curriculum -- the plan to accelerate all students by one grade level so that all students will complete Algebra before they begin high school -- and the position taken at D86 by the Hinsdale Central High School math department -- that not all students should be accelerated in such a manner.  Dr.  Schuster, who by her own admission at the last board meeting, has not spoken to the math department chairman, claims that the two districts simply have a "philosophical difference."  We don't care what she calls it, the point is that D181 feeds into D86 and the two districts should be on the same page.   They clearly are not and as Concerned Parents we find this completely unacceptable.  Not only should both districts' curriculum departments be collaborating, but the expertise of the math department chair at Hinsdale Central should be deferred to, rather than the D181 administrators who do not have math backgrounds and are certainly not experts in math, let alone curriculum.

We plan to follow very closely what the D181 Board of Education does in 2014, now that it has learned about the difference of opinion between the 2 districts.  Because we have received many comments on the math issue, we have decided to post them below so that they are easy to find and update in the coming months.  One of them references an article that was provided to a parent by the Hinsdale Central Math Department Chair.  We encourage all of you to read it and circulate it to other D181 parents.

The link to the article is: (The text is also included below in one of the comments submitted by a community member.)

The article is called "Algebra:  Not 'If' but 'When'." It was written on December 3, 2013 by Linda M. Gojak who is the President of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

We will, as appropriate, update this post -- including adding any new comments that are submitted on the math issue -- and alert our readers to any new developments by the BOE or the D181 administration. Let's hope the D181 BOE does not sit idly by and allow the administration to continue pushing all our students, including those who struggled in the past and those who have now become struggling learners, down this reckless path of math acceleration for all.  Only those students who are truly mastering accelerated math concepts should be allowed to continue.  And the definition of what "mastery" really requires should be determined in collaboration with the high school math department chairman.  Last year, Dr. Schuster presented to the BOE data at the end of each quarter on how the 8th grade math students were doing in the Algebra course.  The data was not promising and it certainly called into question whether all students were mastering the material, despite their being allowed to continue in the class.  Interestingly, this year, she has not made any such presentations to the BOE.  One can only wonder why not.....


Friday, December 13, 2013

Channeling Vaudeville: Schuster’s Disturbing Statements Regarding “Philosophical Difference” With Hinsdale Central Math Department Chair, “Mid-Year Progress Report” and “2013 Contract Goal” Worthy of 3rd and Final Act

(Taken from Wikipedia) 
A promotional poster for the Sandow Trocadero Vaudevilles (1894), 
showing dancers, clowns, trapeze artists and costumed dogs.
From Webster’s Vaudevillian: a light often comic theatrical piece frequently
 combining dialogue, dancing, and song. A type of entertainment that was popular
 in the U.S. in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and that had many 
different performers doing songs, dances, and comic acts.

As we bloggers listened to the last open BOE meeting for 2013, we were struck by the similarities between our school board, superintendent, and her administration, which for all intents and purposes resemble the construct of an old, Vaudevillian traveling team of players. We have seen all of these cast of characters demonstrate their stand-up skills at various stages while at board meetings, lunch and learn get-togethers, a common core math meeting, RtI meetings, community engagement, etc. There is definitely an aura of theatrics, which hearkens Vaudeville, as all of these meetings foster one-way communication from the board or administration to the audience. Even when parents offer suggestions at engagement meetings, such suggestions are never acknowledged or rarely acted upon (unless a petition drive is initiated that results in hundreds of signatures advocating for change).

So, as we see it, the staging of these events is purely for entertainment purposes on the part of the players. We parents see it, however, as a crusade for the players’ agenda without realizing the impact their ideology and decisions are having on our children who sit in classrooms throughout the district every day. No doubt about it, the key players continue to tap dance, spin, pontificate, and twirl in and around important issues facing our children (as was evidenced at the last board meeting), all the while our test scores dip down under the weight of an unfounded, non-researched totally inclusive one-size-fits-all ideology.

One of those key players is, of course, Dr. Schuster.

After we bloggers reviewed Dr. Schuster’s Mid-Year Progress Report listed on Boardocs and heard her comments at Monday’s board meeting, we felt compelled to inform our readers of the colorful, embellished language used to describe the state of learning and overall status of D181. After all, it is time for Schuster’s job performance evaluation, as was noted on the last board agenda on Nov 18, which means all four goals listed in her performance contract (click to open Schuster's Contract) should be scrutinized by the entire Board of Education to see if she actually performed up to these goals that are expected this year. Right? Wrong. If you look closely at these four contract goals, you’ll notice there is only one among them that is required this year:

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Summary of 12/9/13 Board Meeting -- Tax Levy Increase Held to CPI Despite Flip Flop of Turek and Nelson

Thank you to the person who submitted a summary of last night's Board of Education Meeting as a comment to our post on the Fall Survey Comments.  We agree with everything he/she describes, so we have chosen to publish the comment as a free standing post.  After we listen again to the 4 hour 13 minute long meeting (by podcast) we might supplement this post with some choice quotes made by various participants, but for all of you who are eagerly waiting to find out what took place, please read the following:
"Ms. Vorobiev, Mr. Heneghan, Ms. Garg,and Mr. Yaeger voted last night to keep the tax levy at CPI even though the administration wanted it higher. Turek, Nelson and Clarin voted to have it higher than CPI. Keeping the tax levy at CPI won. Dr. Schuster and team did a bunch of scare tactics about what was going to be cut and how it would affect the children. Yaeger cryptically alluded to two months from now things would be different and we would not need drastic cuts.

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Administration Changes its Tune on the Recommended Tax Levy -- Ignores Board Directive to Live within Means and Only Increase Tax Levy by CPI

We have come to expect a bait and switch game from the current D181 Administration. For example the Gifted review morphed into the Advanced Learning Plan then morphed into the Learning for All Plan.  Or the minimum standard required to stay in an advanced or accelerated math level was lowered from 80% to 70% to now no percentage needed, just some number on a scale of 1 to 4. Now it appears that actions by Dr. Schuster and her "team" -- as Board Member Nelson likes to call them -- are about to have a direct negative impact on the wallets of every D181 tax payer.  As Concerned Parents we wanted to make sure that all of our readers were made aware of her most recent bait and switch as, in our opinion, it evidences that we can no longer trust that anything Dr. Schuster represents -- even to the Board of Education -- will not be flipped, switched or changed.

This time it is the annual tax levy extension that the Board of Education must approve at the December 9, 2013 Board Meeting. 

Back on September 23, 2013, during the Board Meeting at which the BOE approved the 2013-2014 Annual Budget, Dr. Schuster represented to the Board that the administration understood that the "directions" given to it by the board were that the upcoming tax levy would only be increased by "the cost of living increase," that the district must "live within our means" and that it must "balance the budget." (Click to open and then scroll to page 2 of Budget PowerPoint.) Page 7 of that PowerPoint assumed that the 2013 tax levy would at most be increased by 1.7% which was the CPI.  The rest of the PowerPoint explained how the proposed revenue would be spent in order to achieve a balanced budget.

Well guess what?  Seems that despite her representations to the board made less than 2 1/2 months ago, Dr. Schuster does not intend to comply with the Board's directive that the upcoming tax levy at most be increased by CPI or 1.7%.  Instead, on Monday night Dr. Schuster will ask the BOE to approve a 2.79% tax levy increase, a full 1.09% over what she was directed to do by the Board.  (Click to open the Administration's Tax Levy Presentation for the 12/9/13 meeting.)

In less than 2 1/2 months, the additional revenue that Dr. Schuster represented would be

Parent, Staff and Resident Fall Survey "Comments" Raise Concerns that must not be Ignored by the Board of Education

Now that you have read the parent, resident and staff survey comments that we published in our last post, it is time to reflect on what they mean.  We are grateful that 686 individuals took the time to complete the Fall Survey and provide substantive, meaningful comments -- both complimentary and critical of what is happening in D181.  (Click to open Feedback Report with participant data numbers.) Now that the feedback has been provided to the board, it is time that they do something with this information, not just ignore it and look at the statistical results the administration will present at the December 9 Board meeting.  

The BOE needs to place more importance on the information provided by the 686 individuals who took the survey than on the feedback provided at the other two feedback opportunities the administration discusses in the Feedback Report presented on Board Docs.  (Click to open Feedback Report PowerPoint.)  According to Communication Director Bridgett McGuiggan’s report, there were 52 “individuals” present at the October 7 Visioning Workshop.  She did not provide a breakdown of the number of parents, community members, teachers, staff and administrators that participated, so we do not know exactly how many parents had provided feedback during that forum.  But you may recall that we wrote a post on this “Workshop” and pointed out that the participants were handpicked. It was not open to all.  (Click to open post.) Ms. McGuiggan then states that only 20 “individuals, not including staff volunteers” participated in the TWO Community Engagement Sessions held on November 12 and 13.  Those “individuals” we assume are parents and community members, since “staff volunteers” would probably include the principals, teachers and administrators, that we have learned filled up most of the seats or, in the case of some of the administrators, simply stood around talking amongst themselves while the small group discussions took place.

It is quite telling that in a district of 3951 students (per the information provided on the Illinois School Report card – Click to open D181 Report Card), only 20 parents showed up to the most recent community engagement sessions.  We know from past years, that the attendance used to be significantly higher.  For example, in October 2010, 158 parents, staff and community members attended the two sessions (Click to open Board Docs report.).  We also know from speaking with many parents, that they will no longer waste their time attending these rigid, restricted and in the opinion of some orchestrated and manipulated feedback sessions where the outcomes seem predetermined even before the sessions are held.  Why would anyone waste an evening away from family when it seems that parent questions go unanswered – if parents are even allowed to ask questions -- and when opinions, input and concerns are ignored?

Ms. McGuiggan's Feedback report stated that “a total of 686 respondents completed the

Saturday, December 7, 2013

HOT OFF THE PRESS: Fall Survey “COMMENTS” Published on Board Docs

In the interest of transparency, we are publishing  the Comments submitted by Parents, Residents and Staff who took the D181 Online Fall Survey last month.  These comments have been copied from the information published on Board Docs for the December 9, 2013 BOE meeting.  For those of you who want to read the content directly from the D181 Board Docs, you can go to the following links:

Later this weekend we will publish a post that will focus on what the survey results and comments mean to us as Concerned Parents, and what we hope they will mean for the Board of Education.  

It is important to point out that the comments were buried at the end of the survey results presented on Board Docs. Rather than keep the Comment questions in numerical order as they appeared in the survey, they were moved to the end of each constituency group's survey results document.  By doing so, the actual subject areas that respondents addressed are not clearly explained.  Nevertheless, the subject areas of the comments are, in our opinion, pretty self-explanatory, and the content so important that we felt rather than simply summarize them, we would print them here for you to read in their entirety. 

The comments are presented in the following order:  Parent, Staff and Resident.  You will note that rather than be completely transparent, any time a PERSON’S NAME was cited by a respondent  -- in either a complimentary or critical manner -- the Administration blacked it out.  In some case, the name can be inferred from the remaining comment, but in other cases, you will simply have to make an “educated guess.”  We are pretty sure you will be able to figure out who is being referenced. Just for fun, we are also listing in the "Labels" of this post, the names we believe were redacted by the Administration.  You can use them to fill in the blanks. And because we are so appalled that the Administration actually felt it necessary to protect 2 board member names that were cited by a Resident who expressed disappointment in them for their recent comments on the Freedom of Information Act, we are "outing" these board members for you: Current and Former Board Presidents Turek and Nelson.  It is quite sad to realize the censorship that the Administration now resorts to when publishing the community member's comments and concerns! 

We would also invite all of you to review these comments to see if those you submitted were actually published.  We know from past surveys that some parents believe the Administration has not necessarily published all of the submitted comments.  If you believe your comments were not published, please let us know, but more importantly, please alert the Board of Education.

We know there are a lot of comments, but what this means is that enough respondents felt it necessary to spell out their compliments, concerns and questions rather than just apply the “rating scale” the Administration was using to gather data.


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Continuing Series, Part 5: A Critical Analysis of the "Doctors in Training" at the helm of D181 and their Questionable Qualifications – The Assistant Superintendent of Learning (Curriculum, Assessment and Instruction)

Kevin Russell is D181’s Assistant Superintendent of Learning (Curriculum, Assessment and Instruction).

When Kevin Russell was Principal of Walker School back in 2008-2010, District 181 was a much different place. Under the leadership of recently retired Superintendent, Mary Curley, the district had undergone standardization among all schools, upgrades to buildings, and new innovative programs to serve all children. The school board at that time believed the district needed to move forward and championed changes that were founded and researched carefully. Reading specialists were employed in each building, special education services were centralized for greater control at the central office so all schools would be in sync with specific programming, and gifted specialists were hired for each school to provide support for tiered instructional services. Moreover, the use of RtIs was limited only for remedial reading services; Mr. Russell and other building principals were not required to establish and then participate in numerous meetings with parents, teachers and staff to supposedly provide increased rigor, as is currently the protocol.

My, how things have changed, and not for the better.

In his three years as principal of one of the smallest schools in the district, Mr. Russell cultivated a solid rapport with parents and teachers. He was well liked, and personally still is, especially for his interpersonal skills. It is clear he was able to build a solid foundation for himself and the reputation of Walker school, but because of the school structure at that time, which included the tiered programming, special education centralization, and building reading and gifted specialists, Russell had rich resources to work with, and his teachers had smaller groups to manage. Consequently, the teachers and students performed optimally, which was demonstrated with solid MAP gains. Yes, herein is a noteworthy fact: when teachers have smaller, focused instructional groups established through homogeneous groupings, they are able to focus and target their instruction to meet the needs of each child. Period. Higher MAP and ISAT test results from years past, as were highlighted in a previous blog post, support this fact.

Unfortunately, one of Dr. Schuster’s first initiatives upon assuming her role as Superintendent was to end the concept of homogeneous groupings and focus on differentiation as the sole instructional strategy within a single heterogeneous classroom. As we have discussed in previous posts and the district has now demonstrated through test results, this concept has proven detrimental to the students throughout D181, which Dr Moon noted in her report. We must remember that as a principal, Mr. Russell had a solid structure within the walls of Walker School, giving him the supports for success that our current principals no longer have.

Today, he spins a web of similar Schuster-Schneider speech that includes (partial list):

Thursday, November 28, 2013

We Give Thanks

This Thanksgiving Day, we want to take a moment to give thanks.  We begin by thanking all of the children in D181.  From the youngest to the oldest, they bring a constant joy to our lives as we share in their spirit and enthusiasm for all things. Next we thank all of the parents in D181 and their commitment to ensuring that our children are provided the best education.  That education would not be possible without the teachers, aides, principals and support staff in D181.  Each one of them is on the front lines every day, guiding our children on their path to adulthood.  Over the course of 9 years while in D181, nearly 1/3 of our children's lives are spent under their watch.  Those years will fly by, but the learning they are provided by these important individuals -- both academically, socially and emotionally -- will impact their entire lives.  We thank you for the love and care you have given our children and for advocating for what is best for them.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

D181 Administration Trots Out "Interactive" Dog and Pony Show on Common Core Math

Source of Photo: BARCROFT Media,
"A 'dog and pony show' as a term used in the modern sense has lost its original meaning altogether. It is frequently used to mean a lamely contrived visual presentation, photo opportunity, political speech, or sales pitch, mostly for promotional purposes."

After we bloggers began to receive comments regarding the D181 Common Core Math "Event" that was held at Elm School on November 20, we thought we would verify the format and context of what approximately 55 parents attended. By the administration's own description listed on the D181 website, this event was designed to be "interactive” thus, parents were placed into groups wherein they were assigned a Common Core Standard and then had to review a typical related lesson:

Common Core Math - November 20 Event
Posted October 30, 2013
On Wednesday, November 20, we invite all community members to attend an event in the Learning for All Family Education Series - Common Core: Math. District leaders will present an interactive session that includes an overview of the new Common Core State Standards for mathematics and their impact on teaching and learning. The program begins at 6:30 p.m. and takes place at Elm School. No pre-registration is required. For more information about the series, visit > Academics > Learning for All.

A couple of You Tube videos were played showing children supposedly working on Common Core math lessons. But what is striking to us is that no time was allocated for parents to ask questions about this topic or related topics to the administrators who were present: Kurt Schneider, Kevin Russell, Dawn Benaitis and Christine Igoe. These administrators basically served as facilitators, much in the same way as they envision our teachers as facilitators in the near future. They walked about, listened in on parent communication in small groups, and offered no presentation or structured information for parents. How disappointing for those who attended, as this seems to be the new norm from the administration in our district.

We thought the format of this meeting was suspect, just as in the Community Engagement Meetings the administration sought to control the messaging. Two-way discussion does not exist, nor is it encouraged. Is this typical of school districts, especially with the new demands of the Common Core? Answer: NO

Here is a recent Common Core parent presentation that was conducted by the
Curriculum and Instruction Department at top rated Lincolnshire-PrairieView District 103. Notice the slides are in depth and there is actually a final slide that encourages "Questions."

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Machiavelli Would Be Proud: D181 BOE Majority and Administration Continue Deception of District Status to Community

Portrait of Niccolò Machiavelli by Santi di Tito

As we pause for reflection in the aftermath of Monday’s BOE meeting that ran in excess of 4 hours, we are reminded of the Prince, Machiavelli, who would be elated at the apparent wistful joy of the majority of Board Members, Dr. Schuster and her administrative team, who by all accounts, have managed to deceive the public on the true status of the district on a grand scale.  (Click to open link to Podcast.) Their ability to spin a web of half-truths and deception would make Machiavelli blush in that he is historically known for being a master of deception himself. Taken from Webster’s:

Machiavellian |ˌmakēəˈvelēən; ˌmäk-|
1 cunning, scheming, and unscrupulous, esp. in politics or in advancing one's career.
2 of or relating to Niccolò Machiavelli.

Yahoo Answers provides this description:

Someone described as "Machiavellian" uses manipulation and deceit to achieve his own gains. If a singer, for example, befriended another singer with the express intention of replacing him in his band, that would be Machiavellian behavior. Or: Politician A has a piece of legislation that needs support. He meets with Politician B and tells him, "If you vote for my bill, I give you my word I'll vote in favor of your next bill." So Politician B votes in favor of Politician A's bill, but then votes against Politician B's next bill. Basically, he's lying to further his own interests at the expense of others' interests.

It is through these definitions we bloggers see direct parallels to the practices of the administration and BOE majority who appear to be incapable or unwilling to hear the public outcries of concern and instead vote for their own self-interest. On top of this, you throw in Schuster’s skill as a spinmaster, which was on display Monday night even with the downward trending of ISAT and MAP scores glaring off the screen on full display for everyone to see. As parents spoke up at the meeting, their voices were squelched by the recurring mantra of: “You have to follow the learner” as it relates to the obvious overall decline in test scores across the district and how teachers will remedy this problem. As we have pointed out, numbers don’t lie and the test results are very telling as to the state of education currently in D181. Which leads us to several questions:

1.     Why is it that week after week we typically observe mainly two BOE members, Garg and Heneghan, consistently asking the most questions? How can the remaining board members sit back silently and not be engaged in the important discussions that take place, particularly when the education of our children is radically being affected? For example, with slide after slide of test results, there was a clear indication that students in the at-grade level quintiles were not demonstrating the need for accelerated programming, yet Schuster and her administrators indicated otherwise. Why do such comments go unchallenged? If it were not for the truth- seekers, Garg and Heneghan, there would be no challenge at all to the countless misstatements made during a board meeting.
2.     We have checked the teacher certification credentials needed to become a “Differentiation Specialist” and no specific credentials are required. None. This means a Teacher’s Aide or other paraprofessional could be classified as a Differentiation Specialist. Schuster is now on record of saying she will seek to add additional Differentiation Specialists at the December 9 meeting, believing the addition will help to balance teaching within the largest schools. If there is no formal education, certification, or license required to be a Differentiation Specialist, what is this adding to our children’s’ education?
3.     Where were the concrete strategies the district will use to improve student performance? We heard the double talk of generalities by Kevin Russell and Dawn Benaitis, but nothing concrete. Teacher collaboration is simply not enough to recover the losses in ISAT and MAP scores. Schuster and her administrators are fortunate in that many district parents have sought out the assistance of tutors to keep up with the now accelerated math curriculum, which, by the way, is not required for the Common Core Standards.
4.     It was discovered that The Lane School will now begin tutoring by paid teachers before and after school in order to remediate the skills 4th-grade students have not mastered. After testing was completed last week, it was determined students had not been taught the basic skills of the 4th-grade math curriculum, especially multiplication. First, why was this just communicated as recently as Monday, the same day as the BOE meeting to parents? And why is this type of testing and teacher tutoring seemingly only taking place at one school? Are there not other children who would benefit from such tutoring? The ISAT and MAP results sure indicate as such. We must ask ourselves, is it our goal as parents to accelerate our children to average because that is the new standard the administration has set for the accelerated math program?
5.     Board Member Gary Clarin gave his rendition on the events that took place surrounding the mishandled funds related to Donoroo donations. Given his explanation and his findings that clears everyone involved, it appears as though the issue is over and done with in the eyes of Schuster and the board. This, despite the fact, that employees of CHMS stepped forward and provided their description of the Donoroo funds in question to a local newspaper reporter, who then wrote up the complete story.  The board saw to it to squelch the story and sweep it under the rug, which is where it will remain as the Donoroo account was closed.

Yes, indeed.  We have elected board members who are clearly not engaged in facts, nor are they inquisitive enough to question the practices of our highly paid superintendent or her administrative foot soldiers. The days and weeks of the school year roll on; our children are subjects in a massive unfounded experiment, that being “Learning for All.” And now we are being asked to “Follow the Learner” all the while half-truths and distortions abound.

Were he alive today, Machiavelli would have met his match.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Kangaroo Court

This morning, former school board member Yvonne Mayer sent us a public comment and links to photos and a Request for Review she filed with the Board of Education.  She requested that we publish them as a free standing post.  As Concerned Parents, after listening to last night's board meeting and hearing the Kangaroo Court proceeding on the Policy 8:030 Complaint Ms. Mayer filed, we are very concerned about the message that the majority of the Board sent -- both by disregarding the protections Policy 8:030 is intended to provide persons while on school property, but also in their obvious condoning of the assault.  Are these really the sorts of individuals we want serving our community?  Ms. Mayer deserved more, and while the outcome won't change, we agree that she should be heard.  The following, therefore, is her public comment on the outcome of last night's meeting.

Ms. Mayer's Comment:

Last night the Board of Education voted 4 to 2 to uphold Dr.Schuster’s “Decision” on the Policy 8:030 complaint I filed against a former board member who assaulted me.  Members Heneghan and Garg voted no, stating that I should be allowed a hearing. 

Member Heneghan stated publicly that he had seen the water bottle hit me.  He also disclosed that between $8000 and $9000 was spent on the “investigation.”  

Board Members Nelson, Clarin, Turek and Vorobiev voted to uphold the “Decision.”  Ms. Vorobiev claimed that there were “inconsistencies” in the fact finding report and that Dr. Schuster was allowed to impose a written reprimand on the former board member.  She further stated that in the future, such claims should be filed in a timely manner.

I am disappointed, disgusted and deeply offended by the actions of the board majority last night.  They conducted the worst kind of Kangaroo Court.

A kangaroo court is "a mock court in which the principles of law and justice are disregarded or perverted". Merriam-Webster: Dictionary (online).

That is exactly what happened last night.

First, the majority of the Board denied me a hearing, where I could have publicly explained the reasons why Dr. Schuster’s “Decision” should be amended to impose the sanctions as specified in Policy 8:030.  Second, they ignored the evidence I submitted in the written Request for Review that I sent them almost one month ago.  (Click to open Request for Review.) Third, their actions proved that they condoned the assault.  Fourth, their decision undermined the intent and purpose of Policy 8:030.

Looking at the evidence, there are NO meaningful inconsistencies.  The fact finding report pointed out that  I and another board member said the bottle hit my arm.  The only “inconsistency” is that Mr. Heneghan recalled a different part of my arm, than the part I told the fact finder about.  The board has PHOTOS of my arm.  Now you can see them too.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Lather. Rinse. Repeat. The Recurring Strategy of Smoke and Mirrors Continues

We have reviewed the massive presentation on Assessment posted on Board Docs (click to open report) that will occur at the next BOE meeting on Monday, November 18 at Elm School, 7pm.  We encourage our readers to do the same as there are some telling inferences we parents can make regarding the state of the education in D181 and how our children are being affected. Brace yourselves: there are 125 slides, but within the pretty pictures rest only a few key slides that give us an idea of the administration’s stance on their beliefs and status of the district.

Briefly, we will mention the most telling:

·      Did D181 actually adopt a platform of 1:1 computer/IPad use? Beginning  on page 8,  there is mention of 1:1, which is alarming to us because the results clearly do NOT support this platform. The test scores are lower, if not the lowest among the grades when 1:1 was apparently implemented.Wasn’t this a pilot that the BOE did not approve of furthering on a grand scale as demonstrated by the vote that took place in April 2013?

·      As evidenced by the trend lines on page 26, the trend line for subjects is clearly on a downward slide. No question about it. This graph is very telling, especially with Science taking an extreme nosedive. Why isn’t there a slide that states what the Dept. of Learning is going to DO about these trends? If they believe Learning for All is the answer, the children in our district are in serious trouble.

·      Another troubling piece of evidence is highlighted in the slides   starting at number 100 wherein the number of children who are at grade level and did not move upward are not mentioned in this report. These children are considered to be at grade level. This is a significant number of children. How can the administration and BOE review these significant numbers and believe it is acceptable practice to accelerate so many at grade level students?  Moreover, what programs will they be given to allow them to move into the “exceeds” category further down the road? Why isn’t this explained?

Bottom line:  It will be up to parents and certain board members publicly speaking out at this meeting, as was done at the last,  to question why the BOE is allowing D181 to move in a downward direction. There is now evidence, yes evidence with the MAP and ISAT scores, that the direction Dr. Schuster and her administrators have chosen appears to be having a negative impact on our children.

Talk about "data as a light” as is scripted within the slides. Indeed.

Postscript:  More data that needs to be carefully considered is the 4th Grade Math update Dr. Schuster gives in her report.  According to her report, "[t]he data shows that 90-95% of current fourth grade students are ready to progress to the concepts in fifth grade math based on multiple measures, including the Fall NWEA MAP, Everyday Math summative assessments, and classroom performance. The following table shows the data from the Everyday Math eSuites report on the percent of students mastering the objectives from the fourth grade unit Number and Operations." (Click to open Report)

What Dr. Schuster does not report on is what the actual standard for "mastering the objectives" was? Did it include only obtaining a 70% on the post tests?  Remember, last year, mastery required 80%, but this standard was lowered this year, without a meaningful explanation of why this was warranted.  Further, 4th grade parents have spoken out about students being allowed to correct their post test mistakes in order to get a higher score.  Which post test scores were used by the Department of Learning to assess a student's "mastery" of the material?  Finally, what matrix or formula did the Department of Learning use to evaluate and analyze the "multiple measures" and conclude that 90-95% of students are ready to progress to fifth grade math?  Let's hope one or more board members ask for this "data" and not just accept the Department of Learning's conclusions as fact.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Invitation to Sound Off

Since last week's Board of Education meeting, the D181 Administration has been quite busy.  Below we list the activities they have been involved in, many of which community members, parents, staff and Board members were invited to participate in, along with some other news worthy items.

We invite anyone who attended or was involved in these activities -- Administrators,  teachers and staff members, parents and community members -- to "Sound Off" on what you learned, how many people attended, which board members and administrators were present, compliments or criticisms and ideas to improve similar future activities.  

As always, your names are welcomed but not required.  It is important to gather the "facts" on what actually took place, as well as hear your opinions, since Dr. Schuster might summarize her own observations and impressions in the next Superintendent's report she will present at the November 18, 2013 Board meeting.

Please "Sound Off" on the following activities or news items:

1.  Dr. Schuster attended the 47th Annual Conference of an organization called the Suburban Schools Superintendents.  According to the SSS website (Click to open link), the conference was held between November 6 and 9 at "the Omni Royal Orleans in the beautiful and historic French Quarter of New Orleans, steps away from Jackson Square, antique shops, and the art galleries of Royal Street.  This elegant retreat is an ideal backdrop for relaxed conversations and the sharing of ideas." (Click here to open conference agenda.)

Meanwhile, back in D181:

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Spin Cycle: A Postscript

We would like to make a few additional observations regarding the 11/4/13 Board Meeting:

Board Meeting Summary: The Administration’s summary of this meeting, briefly referenced by Ms. McGuiggan in last Friday’s “Newsletter,” bears no resemblance to the meeting we listened to.  It was more spin and more attempt to deflect away from the legitimate concerns raised by community members and minority board members alike.  (Also, notice how we used to receive Board Meeting Summaries on a weekly basis, rather than have a link to them buried within a much longer document.)

Administration States Learning for All will take 5-7 years to Implement:  During the discussion of the Learning for All Plan, the time frame for completion, 5-7 years was embedded within the presentation slides. Parents who made public comment referenced this in their remarks. How could this excessive span of time for implementation possibly be acceptable to the BOE?  Many children who are currently affected by this plan will be well into high school before the effectiveness of the changes can truly be measured. Is this acceptable? Is this fair to our children? Obviously, the answers are "no." Maybe Dr. Schuster and her administration are attempting to buy themselves some time with rolling out their plan and facing, what now seems to be, questionable results.

Dr. Schuster’s Blog: One complaint that we have raised is that the Administration doesn’t answer questions.  Now, apparently, neither will Dr. Schuster.  The Superintendent’s Report explained that Dr. Schuster’s Blog is being cancelled, “due to the time required to maintain this type of communication.”  What?  Only ONE, let us repeat ONE, community member EVER commented on her blog and she only posted two, that’s right, two posts (one being her “Welcome” post) in the couple of months her blog was up and running.  Doesn’t seem like much time was expended!  And of course, during the meeting when she usually reviews everything in her Report, she omitted any mention of this, as did Ms. McGuiggan in her “summary.”

Lunch and Learn:  Until Monday’s meeting, there had been no report on the success of Dr. Schuster’s first Lunch and Learn Session held in September.  Now we know why.  After Dr. Schuster told the Board about the upcoming second Lunch and Learn, one board member asked her how the first one had gone.  Her answer?  Cancelled due to a “stomach flu” that had gone around preventing people from attending.  Really?  Anyone out there who cancelled due to the stomach flu, please send us a comment.

There is always an excuse:  Board members and community members alike complained about the last minute additions to Board Docs that prevented them from reviewing materials prior to the board meeting.  Isn’t there a Thursday deadline (prior to the Monday meetings) for the administration posting Board Docs for the board members’ review?  Haven't parents and community members been told that in the interest of transparency, Board Docs are made available for everyone to see 48 hours before a board meeting? The Administration's excuse was that the Learning Department was gathering information right up until Monday on some issues – ISAT rankings, for example.  Well, our suggestion is that when they can't meet their deadline, they should table the discussion until the next meeting.  The Administration should give our elected officials time to read, process and thoughtfully consider all of the materials.  How hard would that be?

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Spin Cycle: Scrubbing the Stains From D181 Double Speak

Now that we have recovered from the antics of last Monday’s BOE meeting, we are providing our readers with several areas of concern. It was difficult to select only a few. We encourage you to listen to the podcast on the D181 website so you can hear the meeting in its entirety. (Click to open podcasts link.) As you listen, keep in mind that Dr. Schuster and her administration felt it was necessary to give 90 minutes of meeting time to three outside presenters before hearing the voices of the 11 parents who stepped up and made public comments regarding the state of their children’s education.
Here are some concerns: 

·               As we predicted, Dr. Schuster and her administration did promote the ROE presenters as a diversionary tactic. However, the presenters appeared to be duped: their focus was on social justice and special education, not the D181 Learning for All Plan (LFA) specifically. Frankly, we were embarrassed for the ROE speakers, who obviously did not realize the quagmire they stepped into. Kurt Schneider (Assistant Superintendent for Whatever), attempted to lead these speakers in agreement with the strategy he has promoted through the LFA plan (listen to his questions and the comments made by Madeline Will starting at time 26:29 of the Podcast).  
While Schneider tried to steer Ms Will’s answers, at one point she stated she was not comfortable answering the questions he was raising, which we should be hearing from Schneider, who in our opinion also has no qualifications outside of special education to be making educational decisions about our children.

·                Parents were also able to hear that D181 is a “pioneer” in its quest for social justice, automatic math grade level acceleration on top of the Common Core requirements, and full inclusion for all within the backdrop of falling ISAT and MAP scores; meaning, no district, at no time, and no place, has undertaken these sweeping changes and practiced them with success. And yes, despite the fever pitch of Schuster’s “celebrations,” the fact is that even with three schools trending slightly upward, their rankings are still down from years past, while the remaining district schools are headed on a downward slide. The numbers don’t lie.  Is this what Schneider means when he says, “We will raise the floor to raise the ceiling?” 

                Even more concerning was the comment Schneider made regarding the district’s minority population, which he stated was 21%. According to the Illinois State Report Card for 2013, the minority population is actually 19%; this figure comprises different ethnic groups, people of color, etc.  

The performance by ethnic group is highlighted within the State Report Card. (Click to open interactive Report Card link.)


It’s obvious the highest achieving group is Asian, which is why Schneider’s public comment at last Monday’s meeting is so confusing (at time 1:12:50 on podcast) :  

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Where in the World Was Dr. Moon?

We will be posting a recap of last night's Board Meeting as soon as we can recover from what we heard last night.  The meeting ran long, thanks to the fact that Mr. Turek was absent and Vice President Jill Vorobiev took the reigns of the meeting and allowed board members and community members alike, to ask questions, make comments and discuss (to some extent) the issues that were raised regarding the Learning for All Plan, School Rankings, School Improvement Plans and proposed major fundraiser to raise money for a new gym floor at CHMS.

Thank you Ms. Vorobiev for not shutting anyone down, not making "rat hole" statements and for listening.  Perhaps you can permanently switch roles with Mr. Turek and become the meeting facilitator for all future meetings.

And most importantly, thank you to all of the parents who attended the meeting and stood up and made a public comment about the Learning for All Plan and/or School Rankings (ISAT scores).  Your questions and comments were on point, appropriate and hopefully have opened the eyes of some of the board members.

While we prepare opinions and observations of what transpired last night, we suggest you all take the time to listen to the Podcast of last night's meeting, which is available on the District website.  Until then, we leave you with one burning question and invite anyone who attended or listened to last night's meeting to submit a comment on what you thought of the discussion.

Question for consideration:

Why didn't Dr. Moon or any of her University of Virginia colleagues participate in the "Conversation" about the Learning for All Plan that took up most of last night's meeting, and that instead included "guests" from the Regional Office of Education and a former Secretary of the Department of Education?  

We will come back to that question in our upcoming recap.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

More Smoke and Mirrors Set for D181 BOE Monday, 11/4 Meeting

If there were ever an opportunity to witness Dr. Schuster’s spin on a grand scale, residents of D181 will have the chance on Monday, 11/4 starting at 7pm at Madison School when Schuster’s outside special education “expert” presenters, including one with political affiliation, will provide the BOE and community with their thoughts on the philosophy of Learning for All. These three presenters, who are currently affiliated with the Regional Office of Education (ROE), will give their insight as to the benefits of inclusion while highlighting the mantra of Learning for All. We find the timing of this presentation curious as the ISAT results have just been released, and the majority of D181 schools have fallen, some drastically, in state rankings. In typical Board and administration fashion, they have structured this Committee of the Whole meeting to include these so-called special education experts in order to control the discussion and limit comments from concerned parents.  We hope parents recognize this continuing strategy and are able to see through the smoke as the spin begins.

Recap of the 10/28/13 Board Meeting -- Board "Majority" Unwilling to Adequately Address Questions and Information Requests

Over the last few  days, we've been busy keeping you updated on the release of the Illinois School Report cards and the declining rankings of almost all of our schools.  If you haven't yet read those posts, we encourage you to do so.  Now the agenda for Monday's meeting (11/4/13) is available on Board Docs. Tonight we will publish a post discussing the "dog and pony show" that awaits the community at this meeting.

In the meantime, we want to return to last week's meeting (10/28) and briefly recap some of the concerning issues that arose and questions that one or more Board members wanted to discuss, but were not allowed to.  As we listened once again to the Podcast of the meeting, a common theme stood out.  The Administration and Board are doing everything they can to avoid asking or answering relevant questions. In our opinion, whether the forum is a survey, board meeting, board member questions, parent and community member questions, Dr. Schuster's personal blog or FOIA requests, every effort is thwarted or publicly criticized by the "majority" of the Board, especially each time Dr. Schuster asks for the "majority" to weigh in.  When a person actually puts their name on their question -- again in whatever forum -- he/she is lambasted and publicly criticized by the Board.  It's no wonder parents don't want to be identified.

Denial of request to add "Satisfaction" questions to the Parent Survey

Saturday, November 2, 2013

How Far We Have Fallen: D181 On Downward Slide as Reality of ISAT Results and Learning for All Shock Community

Our last post published the Illinois State Report Card rankings of all 9 D181 schools as reported by the Chicago SunTimes.  These rankings are based upon the overall performance of schools on the Illinois State Achievement Test (ISAT) that our students took last Spring.  We expressed our disappointment in the rankings, especially since the majority of our schools dropped in the rankings and we are still well behind the ranking of Butler, our neighboring district in Oak Brook and one of the districts that feeds into Hinsdale Central High School.

While we expressed concern, on Friday, Dr. Schuster chose to celebrate the results in the letter she sent to D181 Families and Staff.  Her letter lacked transparency, failed to report any actual data, and spun the harsh reality of the rankings into a celebration dance that we find downright shocking and offensive to our sensibilities. 

Rather than address or even acknowledge the drop in rankings of most of our schools, she spun the bad news as follows:

"D181 Schools Shine in 2013 ISAT Data Rankings
The 2013 Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) results are in, and We are currently ranked #7 for all elementary school districts in the state based on the 2013 ISAT results. When compared to elementary school districts of 2,000 students or more, our ISAT results are the highest in the state! As you may have seen in our Chicago media, we did very well in the various methods of rankings that compare schools’ ISAT data. In the Chicago Sun-Times, six of our seven elementary schools were listed in the top 50 out of more than 3,000 ranked schools, and both CHMS and HMS were listed in the top 50 for middle schools. In the Chicago Tribune listing, three of our schools were listed in the top 50 (elementary and middle school combined). Additionally, the Chicago Tribunereported that Walker School was among the top ten schools in the state with the highest percentage of students who earned the highest scores in reading, math or science on the ISAT

ISAT Data Shows Areas to Celebrate, Improve
As our team of educators continues to review data from the 2013 ISAT, we will find many strengths and many reasons to celebrate. Additionally, we know there will be areas needing improvement. With the new cut scores and increased rigor due to the inclusion of 20% Common Core-based questions, all schools in Illinois anticipated a more challenging assessment. We welcomed that challenge, and we look forward to the opportunity to better identify those areas for improvement.
(11/1/13 Letter to Parents and Staff from Dr. Renee Schuster.)

We highlighted in red the 7 times in two short paragraphs that Dr. Schuster tried to paint a picture of how well our students did when compared to other districts.  We also highlighted in blue the 2 times that Dr. Schuster briefly notes that there may be areas for improvement that her administration will find as they analyze the data.  

After reading this letter, one parent sent an email to Dr. Schuster calling her out for the representations she made in her letter.  The parent's letter was then submitted as a comment to this blog. The parent said:

"I am horrified that you are celebrating these results. This administration has a habit of sugar coating hard truths and putting a spin on them. Since you refuse to tell the truth, I will."

We couldn't have said it better ourselves.  We whole-heartedly agree with this parent's reaction and hope you do too, after we expose the hard truth that Dr. Schuster has refused to acknowledge or address.

The reality is that last Spring's ISAT data and our school's rankings show that D181 is on a downward slide.  There is no reason to celebrate at this time, and what needs to happen is an open, transparent, candid and harsh discussion led by our elected representatives -- the Board of Education -- to immediately identify and address exactly what needs to happen STARTING NOW to improve the performance of all of our students in D181.

Here are the facts that show just how far D181 schools have fallen:  

D181 has fallen from a district that used to have all SEVEN elementary schools ranked in the TOP 25 schools in the state, to a district that has only three in the top 25.

As parents who have had children in D181 in a span of over 15 years, we recalled that our schools USED to truly be BEACONS of EXCELLENCE.  That beacon shown brightest less than 10 years ago -- in 2004.  The title of an article in the December 15, 2004 SunTimes read as follows: