Saturday, September 21, 2013

Current D181 BOE Majority Incapable of Upholding Utopian Principles; A Response to The Critics

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. 



Anonymous said...

Well said! Sadly, it is like this in many school districts. A rubber stamp board does more harm than good. Time to start recruiting for the next election.

Elementary School Parents said...

The response by the couple in the Hinsdalean last week is based on their children's experience in the schools almost 20 years ago, so it is no longer valid. I also wonder how many meetings they have attended in the last 20 years? We all know that D181 used to be a good district. That is why we moved here. But look at Oak Brook's District 53 to see how much more child centered they are, how qualified their administrators are, and their superior test scores. Our district is not even the same as it was just 10 years ago. Their letter was a nice nod to the past, but completely irrelevant to what our administrators have been like in the last 5 years.

Anonymous said...

Not to pick on the poor deluded souls who wrote the Hinsdalean (kudos to someone for reading that hard hitting journalistic triumph!!!), but a letter emphasizing the quality of our district years ago is hardly proof that it is strong today. To the contrary, the fuzzy memories of science fairs and teachers hauling out the Phanton Tollbooth have been replaced by relentless testing, re-testing, reconfiguring, and a river of doublespeak. Yes, we used to have a helluva district. Maybe Arizona can give it back.

Anonymous said...

The three R's are important--reorganizing, retirement, and raising the floor to raise the ceiling.



J. Richard Spatafora and Catherine A. Kinney said...

We are gratified one of our purposes in writing our September 19 Hinsdalean piece has been realized: this blog’s September 21 reply to our letter is a reasoned rebuttal about which reasoned people may debate (And even agree to parts. We have no truck, for example, with board members who fail to attend or fail to prepare). Such choice of approach buttresses an intelligent and forward-looking community, and serves better example to those who choose nasty sarcasm as their venue (see, as one instance, the unabridged version in this blog of the letter published September 12 in the Hinsdalean). With our youngest in District 181 schools as recently as 3 years ago, we think we remain qualified to an informed parental view, notwithstanding a misunderstanding by a commentator above. In any event, if the core of Editor Lannom’s point, which advocated respectful and professional dialogue between District 181 board members and administrators, could be sustained in that forum and in this blog, we better serve our children and ourselves.
J.Richard Spatafora and Catherine A. Kinney

Anonymous said...

It is gratifying that the folks who wrote the Hinsdalean attacking the blog acknowledge that the district is not above criticism. However, as they concede, their youngest graduated three years ago and so they have no first hand knowledge of what is actually happening in the district and the extent to which the district today is not the district of even four years ago. Just as importantly, despite now taking the time to write a letter to the HInsdalean, a response on this blog (acknowledging that a "reasoned debate" is possible, and a claim that they are "informed", they have not identified a single thing that they actually support in the recent reforms. The blog, and no I am not one of the bloggers, is almost entirely factual. Not only is it factual, it cites directly to the actual sources that you can read yourself by clicking on a link. So, if a reasoned debate is appropriate, and it is, what facts or policies do these "informed" folks support. To pick one example, the letter writers provided positive descriptions of the administrators. They can now read the resumes and digest the experience levels. Do they disagree that these administrators are not qualified? If so, what in the backgrounds can they point to? Do they like the new "raise the floor raise the ceiling plan" where children of all levels are placed in one classroom, with upwards of thirty students, and the teacher is expected to "differentiate" on the fly? Do they believe that Butler is making a mistake by using a different system? Were their children well served by the old system? If so, why are they defending the new system?

Its great that we can be fans of civility. I see nothing uncivil about holding officials accountable on the facts and people who call that uncivil are, for whatever reason, calling for censorship, just as the administratin of d 181 does. I am on the side of the children and if the blog makes certain administrators earning hundreds of thousands of dollars of our hard earned money uncomfortable, my first reaction wouldn't be to write the Hinsdalean to soothe their feelings, but to identify the facts that indicate they are doing a good job. I have seen none.

As the d 181 administration is vengeful, I will remain


N. Elementary Parent said...

No one can argue with Catherine A. Kinney's and J. Richard Spatafora''s assertions that they consider themselves well informed, but does anyone else? They certainly have the right to make make broad, verbose statements expressing their "parental views". However, the ability to write an opinion, and have it published in a local paper does not mean it contibutes any value to our community. I could write a letter to the editor about the merits of natural child birth at home, and insist that Hinsdale Hospital offer only Doulas, instead of certified physicians, but it does not mean that I am qualified to make that assertion. My husband could point out his grandmother's successful birthing experiences on the farm, and point out how healthy all of her children turned out. Certainly, the paper could print it, but I would be simply spreading misinformation and doing the children of our community a huge injustice. If a mother gives informed consent to experimental childbirth, and realizes the risks she is potentially exposing her child, too, fine. Go for the Doula. I for one, would opt for a qualified, certified Ob/Gyn who attends the latest conferences and is well versed on the safest birthing methods. Could a birth trauma occur in a hospital? Unfortunately, yes. But I would rather stack the odds in my favor by giving birth in a hospital whose administrators and doctors are held accountable to the highest standard of care. Especially since I already pay hefty health insurance premiums.

Just because people are not aware of any problems in our school district does not mean that the problems do not exist. The quicker parents and the administration can identify, and correct problems in our schools, the better off all of us will be.

Anonymous said...

I just looked at the recently approved budget report on the district website under financials. It is shows that the largest expense in our district is salary, but there is no chart showing how our teacher and administrator salaries compare with the salaries of other IL districts. Why? If less money were spent on staff salaries and advanced degrees, more money would be available per student.

Also, I noticed that the Learning Commons was not board approved. Why not? What exactly does the Leaning Commons entail and where is the documentation that is supposed to explain it? $800,000 is a lot of money for the district to a spend without any attached description. Why was the public not given an opportunity to review it. How did BOE President Turek let this slip by?

In the report, there is no employee breakdown to show how many administrators we have in relation to our student population, and how other districts compare. Do other comparably sized districts have as many administrators as we do? Do they pay PR or Communications staff members, or does their superintendent simply fulfill the task of informing the community about what is occurring in the district. A PR person in an elementary & middle school district seems to be an unnecessary, redundant position. I could see having one in a large high school district, but here? Why can't the superintendent send out quick newsletters like our teachers are expected to? Also, if Dr. Schuster were truly that busy, I am sure a qualified community volunteer wouldn't mind fulfilling this role for free.

The other districts have after school homework clubs and catered lunch programs. Here, parents aren't even given the option, to buy hot lunches for their children, even though my child's preschool even has organic lunches catered. Parents want it, it benefits our children, and we would pay for it, too. We have so many working parents who would appreciate on site after care program, or who simply can not run over and deliver hot lunches to their kids. Even if schools didn't have room to support such activities. why can other districts and preschools figure it out? Which of our multitude of administrators can't figure out how to contact a catering company for our kids, but they expect parents to volunteer and work for free to support the never ending fundraisers for technology? Other districts also have longer school days, and more days in the year for instruction. How can the district so easily hand over $800 000 for an undocumented plan for unnamed furniture and technology with no public input? You could build entire rooms onto schools to accommodate food and activities for less than that,

Finally, the report mentions the terrible economic situation the country is in, but doesn't acknowledge that every teacher has always gotten an automatic pay raises every year, and that Christine Igoe got a 20% raise last year. Why do the cuts only get applied to children, but not to staff and administrators? It seems to me like the district is trying to prepare us for another increase in taxes, even though they keep cutting services for our children. Parents can not be expected to hire tutors to supplement learning after school. Most of us did not get pay raises in the last few years so we can't afford tutors. Plus, even though our home values went down, our taxes went up to pay for D181 salary increases! We already have jobs. We simply want the administration and some on the Board of Education to do theirs.