Wednesday, June 26, 2013

D181 Has Become a Starter District -- A "Congratulations" and A "Caution"

At the June 24, 2013 Board Meeting, the Board unanimously approved the promotion of Justin Horne, a 5th grade teacher at the Lane, to serve as the new principal of Monroe School, effective July 1.  We begin by congratulating Mr. Horne on his promotion.  Mr. Horne is an outstanding and well liked teacher who will bring youthful enthusiasm and energy to his new role.  We wish him well and hope he is successful.

We continue, however,  with a caution directed at the Administration and the Board.

1.  D181 is not a "starter district."  While we know that Mr. Horne will throw himself into his new job, we are disappointed that the Board approved the hiring of a principal who has no previous experience as a building administrator -- either as a principal or an assistant principal.

2.  With 428 students, Monroe School is tied with Madison School as the largest of the 7 elementary schools in D181.  Consequently, its principal supervises the largest number of teachers and staff in the elementary schools.  Monroe School has not been lucky
in retaining its past principals.  Mr. Horne will be the 4th principal Monroe has had in the past 5 years.  Monroe's current principal, Dawn Benaitis, has been promoted to Director of Assessment after only 2 years in the district.  After so much turnover, it might be better to bring in a proven, experienced principal who will know how to bring stability to the school.

3.  Only 40% of the 3rd grade students at Monroe achieved their 2012-2013 Math MAP growth targets, making it the third worst performing elementary school in math for this grade. For all grade levels combined at Monroe, Student MAP growth percentiles in Math were only between 40 and 54.3% and in Reading only between 40 and 59%.  Monroe's building improvement goals for next year should include that the percentile of students in each grade that achieve their growth targets be higher than 50% and closer to the 70% that NWEA has previously stated can be expected of high achieving districts.  This will require the new principal to implement and monitor effective instructional programs that will improve the student performance, at the same time that he is learning how to be a principal, oversee staff, manage his building budget, evaluate teachers and learn all the additional responsibilities that go along with that title.  We are concerned that his inexperience, along with the necessary and large learning curve may negatively impact student performance --  a learning curve that could have been considerably smaller had a seasoned, proven principal been hired. 

It is our opinion that the success of Monroe's students, teachers and principal  -- just as is the success of all of her administrators and departments --  is the responsibility of Superintendent Schuster.   It is her job to recommend the hiring of the best suited and best experienced administrators to run her schools and departments.  D181 used to be a district that hired qualified, experienced administrators.  Under Dr. Schuster, it has become a starter district for inexperienced administrators.

Looking at her hires over the last three years, she has hired or promoted the following administrators into positions they had no prior experience in:

1.  Christine Igoe -- Hired originally in August 2010 as building level Pupil Personnel Services Administrator, she was fast-tracked over the last 3 years, first promoted to be the Interim Director of Special Education,  and was promoted this spring to the role of Director of the PPS Department.  In addition, she heads the Math Committee that is selecting and overseeing the changes to the math curriculum.  The Illinois Educator Certification system available to the public, reflects that she has endorsements in special education areas and that the only subject areas she is qualified to teach in are reading, language arts and self-contained classrooms, but not in math.

2.  Kevin Russell -- In the last year, he was was fast-tracked and promoted from being an elementary principal to Director of Assessment.  Before even completing one year in that position (a position for which he had no prior work experience as an assessment administrator),  he was promoted to Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction, effective July 1.

3.  Doug Eccarius -- In the last year, he was fast-tracked and promoted from being an elementary principal to Director of Human Resources.  Mr. Eccarius had no prior work experience in the area of Human Resources.

4. Dawn Benaitis -- Ms. Benaitis was hired as the Monroe Principal in June 2011.  She was recently promoted to take over for Mr. Russell as the Director of Assessment, effective July 1.  Ms. Benaitis has no prior work experience in Assessment.

If student performance does not improve next year, the new Monroe principal should not be the person held accountable, rather, Dr. Schuster should be.  If lack of experience by those she hires results in flat or declining student performance, or parent or teacher dissatisfaction, then the Board must take steps to correct this poor leadership.

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