Saturday, September 7, 2013

Week in Review -- Misdirected Attack, Unnecessary Testing? and ISAT Data "Excuses"

As we await the posting on Board Docs of the 9/9/13 Board Meeting Agenda, we wanted to take a moment to comment on some issues that arose this week.

1.  OUTRAGEOUS COMMENTARY ATTACKS BOARD MEMBER HENEGHAN: We wouldn't ordinarily comment on opinions published by news agencies, but we couldn't ignore Editor Pam Lannom's outrageous Commentary in this week's Hinsdalean.  The Commentary attacked Board Member Heneghan's conduct during the last board meeting (8/26/13) calling it "disrespectful and distasteful."  Ms. Lannom goes on to state that she did not attend the meeting.  Well perhaps she should have -- or at least listened to the podcast of the entire meeting.  If she had, she should have realized that Mr. Heneghan was simply doing his job as an elected official, taking it seriously and calling out the administration and fellow board members as was required by the course the discussions took.  She might also have realized that the disrespect and distasteful behavior was not Mr. Heneghan's but that of  Superintendent Schuster and Board Members Turek and Yaeger.

      -- Yes, Mr. Heneghan criticized the administration for allowing 7 administrators to go on a one week, all expense paid trip to an "institute" for training that could have been given internally,  saving the district and D181 taxpayer's thousands of dollars.  We say THANK YOU Mr. Heneghan for doing so because we agree with the concerns you raised.
      -- Yes, Mr. Heneghan questioned Board President Turek's statement that he had known ahead of time about the 7 administrators attending the institute, and he rightfully criticized Dr. Schuster for not giving all of the board members the same information she gave Turek.  Dr. Schuster violated an agreement that all board members are to receive the same information. We say THANK YOU Mr. Heneghan for voicing your concerns because by violating the board agreements, Dr. Schuster showed a lack of respect for a process that should be followed. Similarly, by not correcting this violation and giving all members the information that he alone had received, Mr. Turek showed a lack of respect towards his fellow board members.
       -- Yes, Mr. Heneghan pushed back when Dr. Schuster refused to let him see the materials the 7 administrators had received at the institute.  But the only disrespect shown was by Dr. Schuster and Mr. Yaeger when she accused Mr. Heneghan of asking her to break the law and by Mr. Yaeger when he snidely asked him if he was asking the board indemnify the district from any potential copyright violations.  Neither Dr. Schuster or Mr. Yaeger showed Mr. Heneghan the respect he deserved as an educated lawyer who was trying to explain (correctly, we might add) that there were no copyright restrictions that would prevent the board from reviewing the requested documents.  WE say THANK YOU Mr. Heneghan for sticking to your guns and insisting on seeing documents that Dr. Schuster refused to give you,  for correcting her misunderstandings on copyright law and for putting Mr. Yaeger in his place.
       -- Yes, Mr. Heneghan voiced his concerns about the written Goals Report prepared by Dr. Schuster that did not match the written goals summary submitted by Goals Subcommittee Parent Member Matt Bousquette.  Anyone who has listened to the meeting podcast knows that Dr. Schuster and all board members, other than Mr. Heneghan and Ms. Garg, disrespected the only parent committee member by preventing him from participating in the board's discussion of the goals.   We say THANK YOU Mr. Heneghan for pointing out that Dr. Schuster's written goals did not match what the subcommittee had agreed upon.  This was not a matter of semantics, as the Hinsdalean opines. When he was finally allowed to speak during closing comment (after the vote), Mr. Bousquette made it quite clear that the subcommittee was a "sham" and that his only job was to rubber "stamp" the administration's "predetermined" goals.
     e.  The real question to be posed to the Hinsdalean is why it has put blinders on to what is really going on?

2.  OVER-TESTING CONFIRMED?:   This week middle school parents received an email from Dawn Benaitis, the new Director of Assessment.  She wrote to inform them that the GATES MACGINITIE assessment, used to measure reading comprehension and help teachers guide instruction, was being discontinued due to security breaches that compromised the integrity of test results, since it had been discovered that the test questions and answers were available online.  The letter went on to point out that "through other testing measures, teachers and administrators will have sufficient data to help guide instruction for students."  Our problem with this letter is not that the test has been discontinued, since that clearly was a correct decision.  Our problem is that the letter is vague as to what "other testing measures" Ms. Benaitis is referring to?  Will new tests be added, beyond the ISAT, MAP, Inview that are currently used?  If so, what are the new tests? Why didn't Ms. Benaitis provide this information to parents, who already feel D181 students are over tested? It appears this concern may be accurate if it turns out that no new tests will be added.  If it turns out that the ISAT, MAP and Inview provide "sufficient data," then why was GATES MACGINITIE ever used?  We hope the administration provides middle school parents with additional information, so that these important questions can be answered.

3.  ISAT TEST RESULTS SENT HOME WITH "EXCUSES": Earlier this week individual ISAT reports were sent home for each student.  Accompanying the results was a letter signed by Administrators Kevin Russell, Kurt Schneider, Christine Igoe and Dawn Benaitis.  The letter explained that due to "new performance levels" or "cut scores" that "align ISAT with the more rigorous Common Core State Standards"  fewer students achieved the "meet" or "exceeds" standards.  The letter said that "these new expectations do not mean that our students know less than they did before or are less capable than they were in previous years.  Instead, it means that the state and all schools will expect a higher level of knowledge and skills to be demonstrated by students to meet and exceed grade-level standards."  It then stated that the District's Learning for All Plan (the ALP until its recent "renaming") will take the "entire District to a higher academic benchmark."  The letter pointed out that district level ISAT results will be presented at the 9/9 Board meeting.  What the letter failed to point out was that whereas last year 96% and 98% of the District's students "met or exceeded" the state standards in reading and math respectively, this year only 89% did in each subject.  Eleven percent of the students who took the test, or nearly 600 in math and/or reading,  scored "below" state standards.  This "preliminary" information was available back on August 12 and posted in Dr. Schuster's board report on Board Docs (Click to open ISAT data provided in 8/12/13 Superintendent's Report.), yet was not included in the letter sent home to parents.  The question to be asked is Why Not?  Why can't the administration be transparent in correspondence sent home to parents and provide data that was already reported to the Board of Education?  Why can't the administration tell the parents that there was a drastic decline in the number of students "meeting" the new state standards?  The fact is that the new state standards are higher.  Saying our students don't know less this year than last is no consolation to a parent whose child did not meet state standards.  That parent has a right to know WHY their child didn't learn the material expected for them to meet their grade level standard.  That parent has a right to know how the district plans to bring their child back up to the minimum grade level standard.  That parent should request an RtI meeting in order to meet with the teachers and formulate a plan to bring their child back up to the minimum grade level standard.  And that parent should ask how, if their child is not meeting the grade level standards expected by the State of Illinois, how can their child be accelerated one year beyond the Common Core standards as is planned with the acceleration model in the Learning for All/ALP Plan?  Perhaps some of those questions will be answered at the 9/9 meeting when the final ISAT report is presented to the Board.  We will have to wait and see what is posted on Board Docs and whether or not the report is truly transparent or filled with "spin."


Anonymous said...

Mr. Heneghan: I too want to thank you for your dedication as a board member and commitment to doing what is right, even if it appears you are in the board minority right now. I can only hope that the tide will turn and soon other board members-- and maybe the press -- will wake up to see the mess that Dr. Schuster is making of our district. You have every right to call her out and question her actions. Your fellow board members should applaud you, not attack you. Don't stop!

Anonymous said...

I also thank you Mr. Heneghan and Mridu Garg for taking their positions seriously and asking the tough questions that we deserve to hear the answers to.

Regarding ISAT "excuses"- I thought they changed the benchmarks LAST year-so are they warning us again of our districts declining scores?

Parent of elementary and middleschool children

Anonymous said...

I fully support the previous post, especially the acknowledgment of Mr Heneghan's commitment as a dedicated board member, who obviously spends a great deal of his time reading and preparing for meetings. Our community should be outraged that we have a dysfunctional administration and several school board members who are unable to see a sinking ship, that being the entire district. Instead of focusing on how a previous superintendent might feel about the current state of affairs, Ms Lannom and other reporters should focus on the fact that the ISAT scores had been trending downward even BEFORE the Common Core standards were factored into the test. She should also take a look a the fact that there are at least 500 students in the district who have not met state standards. In a district such as ours this is absolutely inexcusable, and no amount of district spin will take away the true meaning of the dismal test results.

Anonymous said...

As a elementary teacher, I can say that the actions of Board Members Heneghan and Mayer aren't just disrespectful but they are poisonous to the community and are affecting the classroom. Teachers are scared to participate in committees for fear they may have to face the BOE, and lunch time conversations are often consumed with fear of what the BOE will do next.

What the Board seems to fail to grasp is that the teachers, principals, administrators and the superintendent all want what's best for kids. We may have disagreements from time to time over philosophy and implementation but that's ok, disagreement is healthy but the toxic attitudes of those two (current and former) board members have done far more damage than good.

Anonymous said...

The comment from the teacher criticizing responsible dissent exemplifies the type of bullying, and I used that word deliberately, in this District. The so callled "damage" and "toxic" behavior this commentator criticizes is precisely the healthy and important process that is lacking. If you dare to disagree with the administration, you become "toxic" and "disruptive" but if you are in the favored group, you get whatever goodies (such as high salary) that is handed out. Most teachers are afraid to speak out because apologists for the administration, such as the commentator, will label them toxic. Its time these bullies allowed other people to have dissenting views. Asking for data to support drastic and unproven changes is toxic and damaging? Wanting to know why totally unqualified administrators are foisting their pet academic projects on our children--hush up and move along.
No thanks. Sadly, fear of Schuster and bullying teachers like this one means I must be....Anon.

Jill Quinones said...


First, I totally agree with Ms. Demakis’ letter to Mrs. Lannom, and I do hope she sent it to her.

Second, I find the anonymous post dated Sept 8 - seemingly from a D181 teacher - to be rather curious. I have been sitting in BOE meetings for over 10 years and while Boards going all the way back to the one presided over by Mike Woerner would raise questions in connection with committee reports presented to them, these questions were almost always targeted at the administrator in charge. Sometimes the administrator would pass a question to a teacher, but I have NEVER seen/heard a Board member act in a discourteous way toward a teacher in a public meeting in connection with a committee presentation.

While a curriculum idea may have been sent back to committee or killed because the Board disagreed with Committee conclusions, this has been rare and certainly not a reason to avoid working on a committee. And if anything, the current Board (and the one immediately before it) pretty much acts as a rubber stamp for anything and everything the administration asks, without any level of inquiry. Not sure why this should prevent one from working on a committee. The writer needs to remember that if Administrators were to have unfettered discretion, there would be no need for a BOE.

To Be Continued……

Jill Quinones said...


Third, I find it odd that that same post states that the teachers are in fear of what the BOE may do next. The fact is, Boards are elected and generally change in composition every two years. One would hope that this did not mean a huge shift that would impact a teacher’s job every two years. As a community member/parent/former D181 teacher, I have not seen any such huge shift coming from the BOE level. More often, the huge shifts come from a State level (Common Core, Teacher Evaluation) or the District’s Administrators (ALP). Even in a District such as where I currently work, where BOE composition has been relatively stable, there have been some pretty significant changes coming from the top down that impact my job – none of which were Board driven. Moreover, a strong, qualified, experienced Administration will take the heat, if any, from a BOE before it even gets to a teacher level. If that is not happening in D181 it is not the fault of people like Mr. Heneghan and Ms. Garg for asking questions – even the ones teachers and administrators may find distasteful. The fault lies on the shoulders of Dr. Schuster and her Administrators if the teachers have been left feeling fearful of the BOE.

I did not live in D181 during the tenure of Dr. Simcox (of whom Ms. Lannom so glowingly writes), but I do not recall that she wrote a similar editorial when a minority of board members rallied parents and publicly ran Dr. Mary Curley and her administrative team out of the District. Those were some of the most acrimonious, passive-aggressive, disrespectful meetings that I have ever attended. Board members were so relentless that Administrators (including Dr. Curley) were reduced to tears in the middle of meetings. And BOE members were not asking questions about proposals or whether Board policy was followed like Mr. Heneghan and Ms. Garg; rather, their attacks were public and personal. They wanted an Administrative Team top to bottom who would run the District the way they wanted it run and did whatever they needed to to make that happen.

If ever there was a person who worked to make D181 a "lighthouse" District through a model of demanding hard work while not only modeling the same, but also doing so in a respectful and caring way, it was Dr. Curley. It was the 2005 Board that developed the model of dysfunctional, disrespectful Board members, not the current one.

Ms. Lannom may think Mr. Heneghan is treating our current Administrators as naughty children sneaking cookies, but at least his goal has always been one of accountability, not one of wanting to clean house. Perhaps if he and some of the other BOE members are coming across as “toxic” it is because of frustration that on an elected Board of seven members, the majority of them feel their only role is to show up (save Board Member Nelson) and vote Yes. Or maybe he has access to information that the public (and Ms. Lannom) do not to give him reason to want to tighten the reins on the current Administration. For example, just recently Dr. Schuster thought nothing of tacking late start Wednesdays onto a calendar proposal on the eve of a vote, hoping it would slide by without notice and she would get what she wanted. When called on the maneuver she spent weeks back-peddling and spinning to make it look like that was not at all the intent. If there is a heightened degree of mistrust, it is very possible it was earned. Respectful and professional is a two-way street.

With a strong administrative leadership team in place where the facts can speak for themselves there would be less dysfunction and more trust. Dr. Schuster tends to offer more spin and less fact. And frankly, I think there would be little to no dysfunction at all if ALL Board members asked some meaningful questions now and then and put the effort in to understand what their role is and obligations are - and rubber stamping isn't one of them.

Mom of 2 in Hinsdale said...

How can a "teacher", who supposedly "wants better" for my child than I do, resent questions from parents, or anyone, for that matter? If this "teacher" really wanted the best for my child, she would understand that parents and teachers are always more effective when they work TOGETHER. The author of that post seems like a bully, who is trying to intimidate parents by using her authority over our children. She seems like she is trying to discourage everyone from asking questions, so that she can continue to "slide by" in a system that seems to have very little administrator supervision and accountability.

A qualified teacher would not become offended or "scared" when a parent or BOE member asked them their thoughts. Everyone who has a job must communicate. Why does someone who works in a PUBLIC school think she and the administrators can get by without communicating to the public? Perhaps, if the "teacher" were unqualified or if her motives really weren't that noble to begin with, that might explain the resentment and fear.

If the BOE disagrees with an administrator's or teacher's ideas, the situation doesn't have to suddenly turn "toxic". If someone can't justify her beliefs or actions, there probably is a better alternative available. Compromise and cooperation are a part of life, and I would hope that teachers in our district are modeling this valuable skill to our children.

If teachers and administrators are doing their jobs correctly, they have nothing to fear.

Anonymous said...

Mrs. Lannom should stick to writing the laughable stories about her daughter. Leave the real journalism to those more qualified.