Thursday, September 26, 2013

Continuing Series, Part 4: A Critical Analysis of the "Doctors in Training" at the helm of D181 and their Questionable Qualifications – The Director of Learning (Curriculum, Assessment and Instruction)

Dawn Benaitis is D181's Director of Learning (Curriculum, Assessment and Instruction). 

Just before Dawn Benaitis was hired as Principal of Monroe School in 2011, she served as a K-2  elementary school principal in Antioch, IL, which is a small town very much unlike that of communities that feed into District 181. (Click to open Benaitis Resume.) After serving just two years as principal at Monroe, Ms Benaitis was promoted in June 2013 to oversee district-wide assessment, despite the fact she had little to no experience (academically or job based) dealing with the complexities of testing, measurement, and interpretation of results. Of equal importance is the fact that Monroe School's MAP test results showed grade upon grade of under performing students. (Click to open MAP assessment report and scroll to Pages 38 and 39 for Monroe results.) The results are among the lowest in the district (Click to open 6/10/2013 Blog Post on MAP data.), and this was evident under Benaitis' watch. 

What is most concerning about the fact Ms Benaitis was promoted despite Monroe School's poor MAP results, is that she is now officially responsible for analyzing test results for the entire district. Monroe is the largest school in the district, and barely 50% of the students are achieving the growth targets on the MAP test. In fact, just 40% of third graders met the growth targets in reading for the 2012-2013 MAP test. This is in addition to the last year's poor MAP math test results for last year's third graders. We wonder: will Ms Benaitis have the knowledge base to monitor and assess the current fourth grade performance district wide, not to mention all the other grades? 

With the implementation of the Common Core curriculum this year, along with one additional year of math acceleration in all grades, it will be challenging for Ms Benaitis to consistently monitor, evaluate, analyze, and interpret test results, and determine

the effectiveness of the sweeping changes that have been implemented across the district. Even a seasoned, experienced, highly trained Assessment Director would be greatly challenged, let alone a former principal who has never been responsible for district-wide data interpretation. In fact, most Assessment Directors have backgrounds and formal academic training and education in test measurement and statistics, which are the foundation for this position within a school district. D181 had a qualified administrator in charge of assessment, Dr. Bonnie Strykowski, who held the position for 3 years until budget cuts were made and the position was eliminated. So we now have this question: how will a former principal, who had only 40% of third grade students meeting growth targets in her building, be able to analyze student performance district wide? How was this allowed to happen in her school? Wasn't Benaitis overseeing and reviewing the performance of the students throughout the school year?

For the sake of our children, we hope Ms Benaitis has miraculously developed the necessary skills to fulfill the requirements of her position so she can effectively review and evaluate the student performance of the district, which currently is average at best, based on overall MAP test results. As noted on her resume, Ms Benaitis is currently enrolled in an EdD program -- Doctorate of Education -- in the area of Leadership, which is being paid for with D181 taxpayer dollars. (Click to open Personnel Consent Agenda at which her tuition reimbursement contract was approved by the Board of Education.)  Why are D181 taxpayers continuing to pay for the education of administrators in training rather than hiring experts or proven administrators in the specific content area of the job vacancy? Yet another example of D181 being a starter district for administrators, instead of seeking to find the most highly credentialed and qualified.


Anonymous said...

1) WHY did Dr. Schuster hire Ms. Benaitis (with an administrators salary) to "help" with curriculum and assessment, when she has NO formal training in curriculum and assessment? Ridiculous!

2) At the very least, the Administration should have REQUIRED her to get her EdD CURRICULUM & ASSESMENT!

3) WHO is responsible for these ridiculous hiring decisions?!?

Anonymous said...

Once again we see if an administrator does enough boot licking, she/he gets a nice promotion with a fat taxpayer funded salary. Only in 181 do we have employees who are not qualified holding the positions into which they have been promoted. In the business world, you would be laughed at if you even thought of applying for a job you had no qualifications for. Oh, I forgot; anyone could just "opt into" those jobs, right?

Anonymous said...

When you read through the various resumes, it becomes quite clear that these administrators add no value to the district. I realize that angry letter writers want the "poor" administrators left alone, but the lack of rigor has consequences. One could ask rhetorially, although Mr. Turek and company have not, why would these administrators adopt a slogan heavy, untested program, when they must at some level want our children to succeed? Are they evil people? Is anyone suggesting that they are evil? Why would community members be so mean to a crew that just wants our children captivated by learning plan distinguished by some of the most generic names imaginable.

The answer is absent the tools to actually analyze possible programs, the 181 crew are drawn, like moths to a flame, to a slgoan heavy, untested program, promising education for all. I mean, for gods sake, who could be against a Learning for All (or a one for all all for one plan)(or a raise the basement raise the attic plan)? Gee, I dunno. If it was so simple, why isn't everybody doing it. Why isn't everybody doing it? Why isn't Butler doing it? Why in the world does Avery Cooney even exist, if those parents could "raise the attic" by admitting lower performing children and dumping them into one advanced super class?

No, these administrators don't wish ill upon our children. They just lack the tools to dig in, do the hard work and run a district. So, instead, perhaps in the highest good faith, perhaps not, they implement programs that are no more than closing your eyes, wishing really really hard that the slogans actually are valuable, and then, rather than opening them, hoping everybody keeps their eyes closed until they retire to Arizona or get a better job after runing this district.

And of course honest debate is discouraged because a) it means opening your eyes and b) oh yeah...we have no idea what will happen

By the way, our district is still great or near great. It is still high performing because we have incredible teachers and, oh yeah, parents who care. WIth the teachers we have and the dedicated parents you would have to be awfully bad to drive our test scores down. But, it would be "mean" to point that out. So I won't


Concerned Parent

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with the previous statements. But the BOE already has all of the tools necessary to look up what research and other more successful schools do. In the paper yesterday, I saw that only ONE board member questioned an $825,000 expense for a new "Learning Commons." What are the specific expenses? I venture to guess that is is simply an underhanded way for the administration to FUND the failed @D181 initiative. Although this "technology" plan was rejected by the public AND by the Board months ago, it would be interesting to see how many of the same expenses for "@D181" and The NEW Learning Commons" are exactly the SAME!

Anonymous said...

Wow-the previous statement brings up a very interesting point about The New Learning Commons and the "technology" plan that was voted down. Our PTO has already allocated thousands for our "learning commons area".

Also-I hear so much about testing etc. but I'm so disturbed that little seems to be done about the actual curriculum. They've used that same Harcourt book/materials and I have to believe there are tons of better resources out there. Many parents are increasingly aware of very poor reading scores and dismal writing samples. WHY won't they look at Butler, New Tier, Barrrington school districts? We are already paying tons of money for this "new" unproved plan ( need for differentiation specialists etc). There is no common sense, and it must not serve their agendas. The parents, and the BOE must ask these important questions.

Concerned Parent of Elementary children and part time homeschooler (not by choice!)

Anonymous said...

Besides taking on the D181 position of overseeing district wide assessment, despite the fact that she has little or no experience in this type of position, I wish to emphasize that Dawn Benaitis is ALSO enrolled in an EdD program, that D181 is paying for. It would be expected that Dawn will be devoting much of her time to the requirements of the EdD courses she is taking. Unless she is an incredible super woman, I would be amazed if Dawn can do both her new assessment job and EdD work well. A district such as D181 should have a knowledgable, experienced assessment person. D181 is NOT a district where individuals have their FIRST experience in a particular position! It makes me wonder why Dr. Schuster recommended Dawn Benaitis for the assessment position and WHY would the D181 BOE approve such a recommendation. All this and more needs to be remembered during the next BOE elections .

Anonymous said...

So D181 taxpayers are paying for the advanced degrees of Igoe, Schneider, Eccarious, Benaitis-who else? Certainly seems as if everyone in administration is attending class and conferences, studying and not doing their actual job!

Anonymous said...

Schneider had his doctorate when he arrived in D181, so taxpayers aren't paying for his advanced degree. But I believe we, the taxpayers, are paying the full four year tuitions for the EdD's (not PhD's) of Benaitis, Igoe, Russell and Eccarius, not to mention one, maybe two, principals.

Anonymous said...

Other school districts stopped paying for perks like this a long time ago. They realize that it is in the best interest of students to have teachers learn how to use the textbooks and assessments they already have, and to learn how to communicate with parents ather than help them earn EdD's in "Leadership" . Who wants a "leader" who doesn't know what she is talking about?

Anonymous said...

Paying for administrator education is something Starter Districts do. Administrators rarely stay after they complete their degrees. They do use the districts as their educational LABS during the process however.
How many of these degree programs are we paying for?
How many of their experiments are our children paying for in subpar education?