Monday, August 12, 2013

Series Part 1: A Critical Analysis of the "Doctors" at the helm of D181 and their Questionable Qualifications and Motives– The Superintendent

Renee Schuster, EdD: Superintendent; Field of Study: Speech Pathology/Therapy; Teaching Experience: None  (Posted on the right side of this blog is a Page titled Schuster's Resume. You can open up the Resume on that Page or by clicking here.)

If we wonder why District 181 is in a perpetual state of chaos, we should look at who is running the show. After all, accountability begins at the top of any organization, and herein lies the reason(s) of why our district has run off the rails during the past three years. Let's begin with Superintendent "Dr." Schuster.  This post will analyze her "qualifications" to lead our district, as well as her questionable motives.

"Questionable Qualifications" to Lead District 181

In reviewing Dr. Schuster's resume (open the resume by clicking here), you will notice her 1:1 time with kids is extremely dated and she has no building leadership experience under current educational models. This is a critical point because she is now asking the D181 teachers to do what she has never done.

With the passing of "No Child Left Behind" (NCLB) in 2001, public school educators experienced a significant paradigm shift in job expectations with the emphasis on assessing student growth through testing.   In addition, in 2010 the State of Illinois passed PERA (Performance Evaluation Reform Act) that added further expectations to a teacher’s role.  Add to this the recent development of the rigorous Common Core State Standards and the job of a teacher today looks very different than that of the teacher 15 years ago.  Ask any veteran teacher and they will confirm this. 

Unfortunately, according to her resume, Dr. Schuster has not been on the front lines teaching children since 1993.  She has been out of the classroom (actually she was not a classroom teacher, she was a speech therapist) for the last 20 years.  Although it would not be impossible for someone so removed
from the day to day demands on teachers today to properly lead them, it is far more difficult.  By 2001 and the passage of NCLB Dr. Schuster wasn’t even a building level administrator anymore – she was central office – writing grants, overseeing grant based and other programs (not tied in to day to day instructional demands), and finally the superintendent  in a Missouri district very unlike D181.  She has never worked in a building under the post-NCLB paradigm and has little to no experience with the day to day demands the current educational model places on classroom and support teachers.  She cannot lead based on experience. Nor was she mentored by anyone with such experience.  Even her brief 3 years experience as a superintendent in the Missouri K-12 district could not provide her the insight needed to be an effective leader today, or prepare her to make the sweeping and dramatic changes she has imposed in our district, because that district was so dissimilar from D181 in demographics, socio-economic dynamic and student performance.  

As we outlined in the Series Introduction, Dr. Schuster's lack of understanding the demands on our teachers who are with our children every day can be seen by the dissolution of the district's past tiered teaching model and its replacement with the unrealistic and unproven expectation that each classroom teacher  must provide differentiated instruction to all levels of learners in one classroom, with extremely limited additional staff support.  A large number of teachers were quite vocal in opposing and expressing concern in last year's survey, where they were asked to comment on the proposed new Learning For All in one classroom model that Dr. Schuster has mandated.  Yet despite these concerns, Dr. Schuster has continued to roll out this new plan.

As community members, parents, teachers, and taxpayers, we must ask ourselves if Dr. Schuster can provide leadership, support, mentoring and guidance to district administration, along with employees on the front lines (aka principals, teachers and staff).  Does her limited "teaching" background qualify Dr. Schuster to be making such extreme changes in our district? If Dr. Schuster has never practiced as a classroom teacher, can she realistically mandate that our teachers “teach to the needs of all students every day?”  Of course, if she had a top notch staff of qualified, experienced Central Office administrators supporting her, then general leadership skills might be enough.  Unfortunately, as we will show in coming weeks, she has not surrounded herself with that level of experienced talent. 

Questionable Motives for Leaving Missouri to Become an Illinois Superintendent:  Working the System?

In reviewing Dr. Schuster's resume, we began to ask why her tenure as a Superintendent of the Missouri school district was so brief.  So we did some research.  Dr. Schuster has stated in interviews that she chose to “retire” from Missouri since she was eligible to receive a Missouri pension and wanted to “secure [her] family’s retirement future.”  Source:  This means that by retiring in Missouri after only serving as a superintendent for 3 years, and moving to another state -- Illinois --  she is now receiving the equivalent of 2 annual salaries – one in the form of the Missouri pension and the second from D181.

We are concerned that Dr. Schuster has taken the idea of “securing her family’s retirement future” too far, at the expense of D181 taxpayers and students.  It is common knowledge that not only is she collecting two incomes – one from Missouri and one from Illinois – but she has purchased a “retirement home” in Gilbert, Arizona, where she spends considerable time during the 172 days “off” she has under her D181 contract (see 6/16/13 post on Dr. Schuster’s Employment Contract).  A public search of information available on the internet produced the following photos and link that show the luxury residence she has purchased in Arizona: click to open Schuster's retirement home. 

Not only has she “secured” her family’s retirement future, but apparently she has money left over to splurge.  This summer, she has been spotted driving through Hinsdale in her Sky Blue BMW Roadster Convertible, sporting Missouri Licence plate – “RS RS.”  We ask, why doesn’t this car have Illinois plates, as required by law, since for over three years, she has supposedly been a full time resident and full time public employee of the state of Illinois?

A day doesn’t pass that we don’t read another headline about our Illinois government employees using or abusing the system for their own personal gain.  Sadly, Dr. Schuster, a government employee as a public school superintendent, seems to be fitting right in with the Illinois status quo.   Dr. Schuster has every right to take full advantage of the "loopholes" that exist allowing superintendents to benefit form retirement in one state and employment in another, or to choose to retire in yet a third state and prepare her retirement "digs" ahead of time.  But, do we really want someone who is "working the system" and who clearly has one foot out the door already leading our district? Don’t we want a better role model for our kids and our community?

Questionable Judgment and Possible Ethics Issue

As we researched Dr. Schuster's background, we discovered that while superintendent in Missouri, she caused considerable controversy by secluding special education students in padded rooms – which she artfully called “time-out rooms” -- when they would act out.  The following links include one child’s story of his time in the padded room, articles on legislation that was proposed to deal with such abuse and a video interview Dr. Schuster gave supporting the use of padded rooms:  One child's story; Articles regarding the use of the padded rooms and proposed legislation:  and Click to open Dr. Schuster's video interview

Dr. Schuster's lack of appropriate leadership skills is reflected in her support of the padded seclusion room.  Her conclusion of appropriateness shows impulsive thinking at best and lack of dedication to do better for all children or simply not caring at worst. Is a person who condones such mistreatment of students someone we want running our district?  We cannot believe that the D181 Board of Education in place at the time of her hire would have approved her, if they were aware of this.

Beyond that, looking at her resume, we have found another “red flag” that may raise questions about her ethics and may require further “investigation.” Dr. Schuster belongs to a “national organization” called the Educational Research Development Institute (ERDI).  We have researched what this Institute does and we were shocked to learn that this Institute’s membership is made up of superintendents who are invited to attend two 3 day conferences per year hosted at luxury resorts at which “vendors” market their educational products. The superintendents serve on “panels” that review products.  “The superintendents get paid $2,000 per trip plus expenses at resort hotels in return for participating in focus groups with company vice presidents of marketing and research. ERDI also pays $400 toward a spouse's expenses. The private companies pay ERDI to meet with the superintendents and ERDI in turn pays the superintendents.”  (Source:  The following links open articles written about ERDI and the ethical issues raised by superintendents who attend these conferences:  ;  ;,32498?print=1 .

Dr. Schuster’s membership in this organization requires her to answer the following questions:
1.    Has she attended ERDI conferences since she became the D181 Superintendent?
2.    Has she accepted compensation -- $2000 per conference plus expenses and a separate travel stipend for her husband – from ERDI?
3.    If she accepted compensation, did she attend these conferences while using “vacation days” or did she attend any of these “paid to attend” conferences by using the “10 Paid work days to attend professional meetings and continuing education at the local, state and national level” allowed for in her contract?  If the latter, then she “double dipped” and this is ethically wrong.  She should not have been paid both by D181 and ERDI on those days. 
4.    Has she encouraged D181 to purchase any of the “products” she was paid to consult on?  This would create a financial conflict of interest. 

In light of all of Dr. Schuster’s “activities” – both in and out of state, it is no coincidence that she has given the “Advanced Learning Plan” and related district proposals to Dr. Kurt Schneider and other central office administrators.  The question then remains – are THEY qualified?  We will address this question as the Series continues.


Anonymous said...

I have to say I am very disturbed by this post. I feel the authors of this post have gone too far. Your posting of pictures of someone's home and statements of, "she's been seen driving around town in her sky blue BMW convertible"... Are coming across as borderline stalking and quite an invasion of privacy. Sometimes it is very easy to take things too far when you feel passionately about something, and I feel this is the case with this post. Maybe you should take a step back and think about how you would be affected if someone, or a group of people, were taking pictures of your home, following you around the city you live in, digging into your private and personal life, tracking your background and posting it all on a public blog?

Anonymous said...

I disagree with the first comment. I don't view this post as going to far or a form of stalking. It seems like all of the information in this post is public and available. Dr. Schuster is a public servant - since she is the superintendent of a public school district funded almost 100% with taxpayer money. As a parent, I am deeply concerned about the changes that she has brought to D181. As a taxpayer -- especially in this bad economy -- I am taken aback by the way public officials/employees can milk the retirement system in one state while collecting a full salary doing the same job in another state. It just doesn't seem right. I took the time to read Dr. Schuster's contract, and can't believe how much time off she gets. I also ran a quick internet search myself - no I am not stalking her. I ran her name through white and guess what? The address listed as her primary address is in Arizona. Guess that speaks volumes. Thank you to the Concerned Parents for this post. It was very enlightening.

Anonymous said...

As the parent of a special-needs child in the district, I am shocked and appalled that our half-time Superintendent condones padded rooms as acceptable for children. She can call them time out rooms or whatever she wishes, they are still padded rooms. This is disgraceful. How did she get hired?

Anonymous said...

I don't really care if Schuster has a big fancy house in Arizona or drives a sports car. Plenty of people in our community own such luxuries, so it is just par for the course. What bothers me is that our tax $ is being paid to a double dipper who is only working "part time" in a district where the BOE was dumb enough to load up her contract with excessive vacation and other benefits. What were they thinking?

I also agree with the SPED parent's last comment. Padded rooms are completely abhorrent and should never be used to control children in any district. Again, what was the BOE thinking when they hired an administrator who thinks it's o.k.?

The Pleasantdale Blog Team said...

If you want to see some dismal qualifications, have a look at who is running the show over in neighboring district D107.;postID=3702816090705176651;onPublishedMenu=allposts;onClosedMenu=allposts;postNum=0;src=postname

The Pleasantdale Blog Team said...

We posted the wrong link...the correct link is: