Last week’s Hinsdalean published a letter written by two community members who agreed with Pam Lannom’s commentary (in the 9/5 edition) attacking Board Member Heneghan. While we certainly welcome and respect the right of everyone to voice their political opinions, we take issue with the critics' characterization of “past” boards as the model that should be followed. Their letter states:
“[t]he boards [Lannom] describes did not organize themselves in a perpetually aggressive stance of surveillance. Mature, reflective board members understood their purpose: to hire a stable staff of capable administrators whom they respect, trust and join – not supplant – to create a place that both attracts educators at the top of their game (such educators actually are not fungible) and instills in the children who walk into that place sophisticated knowledge, values reflective of our nation’s heritage and an enduring capacity to use their minds fully. This remains the big picture.”
Unfortunately, the “vision” they have of this utopian board does not fit within the reality of what is actually going on right now in D181, or even what happened in the past.
1. In our opinion, with the exception of a few board members, the majority of the current board members are not reflective. They appear to serve only as rubber stamps for whatever the administration presents. This may be explained by their possible lack of preparation and “reflection” given to the board materials prior to the meetings. First case in point: During the last board meeting (9/9/13), Board President Marty Turek, referring to his review of the annual ISAT data presentation included in the Board docs for that meeting, stated “I hope my boss isn’t listening because I read it today at work.” His “admission” was greeted with laughter by some of his fellow board members and administrators. We assume board members receive their meeting materials via Board Docs the weekend before a Monday meeting so they have time to review and prepare (since the community can access them on Saturday mornings). We know from past board discussions that members are urged to submit questions they have to the superintendent by Monday morning. How reflective can a board member be– in particular the board president –when he waits until the day of the meeting to review the materials, and then does it while he is supposed to be working? Second case in point: Board members who don’t attend meetings. We won’t rehash our commentaries on Michael Nelson’s dismal attendance record, except to state that if you don’t attend, you can’t really represent the constituents who elected you.
2. The minority of the board -- who refuse to serve as rubber stamps -- prepare for meetings, sometimes even doing additional research, as is evidenced by questions they submit both before and during board meetings. Their questions “reflect” the time they have spent trying to understand the issues they are being asked to vote on. Sadly, their reflection and commitment to fulfilling their publicly elected roles has been disrespected by those who do not want to put in the time or effort to meaningfully participate in the public meetings. And because they are the only two who consistently ask questions, they are disparaged and criticized by fellow board members and administrators. Sadly, the level of actual discussion on various topics has diminished considerably with the current board. In fact, anyone who has listened to the board meetings podcasts, or attended meetings, could easily conclude that it appears that certain board members try to limit discussion and attempt to shut down other board members. Is this an example of the characteristics the critics believe are good for the community?
3. D181 has become a starter district, not one that hires educators “at the top of their game.“ Our ongoing series on the credentials and experience of our highest administrators casts doubts on whether or not those currently running D181 can be characterized as “at the top” of their respective administrative content areas.
4. As for the past “direct knowledge” that the critics suggest Ms. Lannom witnessed, let’s not forget that past boards – that preceded the current and most recent past board – forced former Superintendent Mary Curley to retire early, systematically drove out over a dozen administrators she had hired, then replaced her with a leader who didn’t even last a full year as the superintendent. Let’s not forget that that board drove administrators to actual tears during board meetings. Where was Ms. Lannom when those events were taking place?
5. The current board has forced no one out, and certainly Board Member Heneghan has not called for the firing of any administrator. What he has called for, and what the other board members should be clamoring for is accountability by the administration, and most of all accountability by the superintendent. As Concerned Parents of CURRENT D181 students, we expect the administrators to be held accountable. We have “witnessed” the changes that have been and continue to be rolled out by the current administration, the sweeping out and dismantlement of the very programs the critics’ children must have participated in (which must have led them to “respect, trust and join” in the administration’s work), with no data or research having been presented to the community that shows that the administration’s grand plans have been successful in districts similar to D181. Such behavior does not instill a sense of trust. We SHOULD be thanking board members who seek accountability in the area of curriculum, as mandated by their board responsibilities of “[a]pproving the curriculum, textbooks, and educational services; [e]valuating the educational program and approving School Improvement and District Improvement Plans when they are required to be developed or revised.” Board Policy 2:020(7,8)).
6. The critics ask to be counted out of the group of parents who are “thankful for board members who … abrogate to themselves a role formed in the conviction that, but for them, the professional staff would run amok with our money.” That statement is ironic in light of the fact that Mr. Heneghan single handedly identified over half a million dollars in budget reductions that could be achieved by the administration. We SHOULD be thanking Mr. Heneghan, not attacking him for doing his job. In this still recovering economy, district taxpayers should demand that all board members prepare for and be able to fulfill their board responsibility of “[a]pproving the annual budget, tax levies, major expenditures, payment of obligations, annual audit, and other aspects of the District’s financial operation.” (Board Policy 2:020(4))
Finally, because the critics also reference this blog in their letter to the Hinsdalean and criticize our "anonymity," we want to once again explain our decision as bloggers to remain anonymous. We are aware of administrative deals made for students whose parents have chosen to remain silent about problems their children have experienced in the district. Having multiple children in the district who have not been so lucky to get the same deals, we are concerned that they might be left out in the future if our identities become known. To put it simply, we fear retaliation.