Thursday, October 31, 2013

UPDATED: Hot Off The Press: Illinois School Report Cards Have Been Released, Along with School Rankings

At midnight, the Illinois School Report Cards and the official rankings were finally released for everyone to see.

Click to Open Chicago SunTimes Ranking Charts

The Top 50 Schools were ranked for each category:  Elementary, Middle and High School.

High School:

First, we want to extend a huge congratulations to Hinsdale Central High School.  It was ranked 4th in the entire state, moving up one spot and bumping New Trier down to 6th place.  Looks like the high school has continued to show improvement and excellence in its instruction of our students!  We are very fortunate in our community to be able to send our children to such a prestigious high school.

Middle Schools:

The news was not so good for Hinsdale Middle School (HMS) or Clarendon Hills Middle School (CHMS).  They both dropped in the rankings this year.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

We Smell a Rat. Disappointing Discussion on Donoroo Debacle by Board of Education and Dr. Schuster

During Monday's Board of Education Meeting, multiple issues were discussed that we will be reporting on prior to the next meeting, scheduled for Monday, November 4. Tonight we will address the Donoroo Debacle.

How did the Board handle the Donoroo Debacle? There was hardly any discussion after Dr. Schuster read a prepared statement, that in our opinion seemed to try and deflect attention away from the concerning events that transpired over the last three years. To use a phrase uttered by Board President Turek earlier in the meeting when he accused Board Member Heneghan of bringing up a topic that he believed was off point to a topic being discussed, perhaps she was "going down a rat hole?" Rather than plunge right into a discussion about the "mistakes," Dr. Schuster dove deep into a prepared statement that focused on all the wonderful students we have at CHMS who have a strong desire and drive to participate in community service projects, such as the Donoroo Concert.  That was the wrong hole to dive into.

We want to state that we unequivocally agree that D181 students have shown tremendous interest and commitment to participating in public service projects. We commend them for this.  However, the Donoroo issue is not about the students' passion for community service, it is about the adults involved, how they have claimed ignorance on how the funds were to be used and then failed to distribute to all of the identified charities the funds collected from parents, students and community members.

We encourage everyone to listen to the Podcast of Monday's meeting, (discussion begins at 1:07:10 of the Podcast recording) to hear the syrupy statement read by Dr. Schuster, that while apologetic for the "mistakes" that had been uncovered concerning how Donoroo funds were spent for the benefit of CHMS -- by purchasing a soundboard -- utterly failed to address the specifics of what was the triggering event that led to the discovery of the "mistakes." Just as important is the fact that Dr. Schuster only briefly mentioned the fact that other charities that were to receive funds had not and massaged this fact by stating that they had not been paid "on time."

We find it quite troubling that Dr. Schuster kept insisting that no funds had been misappropriated.  According to the dictionary, the definition of misappropriation is the dishonest or unfair taking of something for one's own use.  Certainly, buying the soundboard, which did not benefit any student in need and was not purchased for a charitable organization, but for CHMS's own use, could be technically construed as misappropriation since it unfairly reduced the funds that were to be donated to other charities.  The fact that now district funds have "reimbursed" the Donoroo foundation does not negate that Donoroo funds were actually used to "purchase" a piece of equipment for the benefit of CHMS.  The CHMS principal was quoted in last week's Doings as stating "I was never fully aware that the account was only to support the charities," and "[t]hey were honest mistakes; nobody benefitted."

His "ignorance" is not believable.  How could any principal not have an understanding of how and for what purpose the various funds they oversee as the building leader can be used?  Dr. Schuster alluded to more "training" being required in the future for staff involved in the fundraisers, but that begs the question.  Why not ask the principal why he thought he could spend the money on the sound board?

UPDATED: District 181 Resistant to Complying with Settled Illinois Law Regarding Public Records -- One Parent's Perspective

As Concerned Parents, we appreciate the thoughtful comment left today by Parent Jeffrey Mayer on the online Hinsdale Doings in response to their article on the desire by Board President Turek and Board Member Michael Nelson for reform of the Freedom of Information Act in order to make it more restrictive due to their perception that it allows for the public to use it as a form of "bullying."

Mr. Mayer also left a more personal comment on our blog post dated October 29 on the Quick Recap of Monday's meeting.

We believe his comments are of sufficient importance to publish them below as a post.  Thank you Mr. Mayer for your insightful commentary.

Mr. Mayer's comment originally posted on the online Hinsdale Doings:

Jeffrey Mayer3 hours ago
I appreciate the article but the headline has it all wrong. The right headline is "District 181 resistant to complying with settled Illinois law regarding public records." The article does not challenge the questionable accounting of Mr. Turek and whether the cost reflects the time spent refusing to produce responsive records as opposed to the simple task of collecting public records and emailing them off. The balance of the article merely provides a forum for a political stunt designed to discourage questions about the board's activities.

To begin with, Mr. Turek's complaints regarding FOIA are well outside the political mainstream and represent, in my view, the type of secretive Illinois political culture that has so severely damaged our state. In response to ongoing corruption and waste in our great state, Illinois actually recently strengthened its FOIA laws and similar laws govern all fifty states and the federal government. It is thus the bi-partisan consensus of the entire nation, except for a few cranky out of the mainstream folks like Turek and Nelson, that FOIA laws are a social good and that whatever cost comes with those laws, is a small price to pay for preserving our way of life from secretive government officials. It is also a small price to pay for the huge savings that come from making sure that our tax money is well spent. Does anyone doubt that a government agency with limited oversight will be a poor caretaker of our tax money.

For Mr. Nelson to call requests for public information "bullying" is itself the type of over the top rhetoric that is inappropriate for a public servant to utter. In fact, creating a prop of paper that allegedly was difficult to collect, pounding the table, and demanding the repeal of established law all to discourage public inquiry is the actual bullying. Mr. Nelson's and Mr. Turek's bullying may well achieve the desired result. Even if you have the right to view public records, why do it if it results in grown men calling people names in a public proceeding and putting on a show for the secretive administration. It is a publicity stunt as there is exactly zero chance that a serious person would consider watering down the FOIA laws that the entire nation consider an important part of our democracy.

Mr. Nelson and Mr. Turek stand apart from the many dedicated officials in Illinois who now reject our history of secrecy. Hundreds, if not thousands, of municipalities and other government entities in Illinois respond regularly to FOIA's without the necessity of the top officials openly stating that do not want to comply and bullying the people who seek the information. It truly is not a big deal to respond to FOIA requests. The local papers, including the Doings, routinely use FOIA requests to obtain information. The only reason that it is an issue at all is that D 181 does everything it can to refuse to respond to information.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Quick Recap of Last Night's Board Meeting -- Donoroo and Other Important Issues Minimized and Discounted By the Board of Education

Thanks to Anonymous for sending in the following comment quickly summarizing what went down during last night's Board Meeting.  We are working on a more detailed post, complete with "quotes" of the outrageous statements made by Board President Turek, Board Member Nelson (Yes, he actually attended!) and Dr. Schuster during the meeting, and will try to have the post up by tonight or tomorrow.  But for now, here's a quick recap, courtesy of "anonymous," that we know is accurate because we too were listening to the joke of a meeting.

Anonymous said...

The board meeting last night was a joke.

1. Schuster assured the board that all charities had been paid and it was an honest mistake. A board member is going to review all the checks. There was no mention of why Schuster failed to inform the public of this situation and it had to become public via the school nurse. End of story.

2. The board president is upset that FOIA requests are costing the district money and wants Lisa Madigan to reform the process. Schuster is to blame for this - we need more disclosure not less.

3. Several board members tried to bring up the learning for all mess but were shot down. Others want more time for data to come in - i.e., more lost time for our kids. Schuster wants more parent education. We are know what Learning for All is - that isn't the problem - the problem is that it is learning for none.

4. The math renewal process was approved - which means spending more money and lost teacher time in the classroom on a failed program. It also looks like an underhanded way around the failed math pilot in the spring. I thought the parents spoke loud and clear on this subject. Also, Schuster thinks teachers cannot meet after school because they are not fresh. In the real world adults have meeting after 3 pm

Monday, October 28, 2013

UPDATE: Donoroo Debacle

Looks like Donoroo is on the Agenda for discussion at Monday's (10/28) Board of Education Meeting. We hope to report that the Board majority has decided that an independent investigation of the Donoroo funds is needed.  It's time to get to the bottom of what really happened.

The meeting will be held at Elm School starting at 7 p.m.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

"The Donoroo Debacle" -- Has The Public Been Told the Full Story? Will the Board Really "Get to the Bottom of It?"

Last week, we received an anonymous comment publishing a letter that had gone out to all CHMS staff on October 17.  The comment stated:

The following email went out to the staff at CHMS yesterday.  Ms Donohue brought the financial misconduct to the attention of Dr S in early summer.  Dr S has chosen to sweep this under the D181 rug.  Why? 

On behalf of my family, I would like to thank the CHMS community for their enthusiastic support of Donoroo over the past six years. The event has raised over $30,000.00 and has become part of the fabric of CHMS.

It is with a heavy heart that I tell you that Donoroo has come to an end. This summer, I became aware of the fact that some of the charities that were advertised as beneficiaries of Donoroo over the past three years had never been paid. I notified CHMS and district administration of the irregularities in the Donoroo account and that the event would not be held again.

I can tell you that after a long summer of fact-finding and heartache , all charities have finally received their donations from Donoroo.  

I cannot thank you all enough for your support of my family over the years.

Kathy Donohue, RN
School Nurse 
Clarendon Hills Middle School
630 887 4260 extension 1826

Subsequently in a letter we published as a free standing post, a Concerned Anonymous Teacher stated:

Please, bloggers, look into the CHMS Donoroo debacle. What started out as a wonderful charitable event (the first three years) ended up a slush fund for the CHMS music department and was condoned by the principal. This fund was mismanaged and misused. I hope parents will demand an explanation into what happened and learn the truth about what has happened over the past three years.

On Friday, the Doings' Online Edition published an article on the questions of possible financial impropriety that arose out of what community members are now calling the "Donoroo Debacle." The following is the link to the Doings' article:

According to the article, the Donoroo fundraisers "raised more than $30,000....over its six year run" and the "funds raised through ticket sales were designated for four charities: Lurie Children's Hospital; the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation; Engineers Without Borders; and the CHMS Gives Back Fund, which provides funds for students in need."

We read this article with dismay because it is the first time that any D181 administrator has publicly acknowledged issues -- which they are calling "honest mistakes" --  occurred in the distribution of the funds raised by the Donoroo fundraisers. As Concerned Parents, we agree with the retired CHMS teacher who was interviewed for the news story and as reported by the Doings "wasn't buying the explanation" given by the D181 staff interviewed about the situation. Neither do we. Why?  Because there are still many questions that should be answered for the public.

As reported in the Doings' article, "Board President Marty Turek said Oct. 24 that he had just been made aware of the Donoroo happenings.  He promised the board would look into it and "get to the bottom of it."  We hope he means it and if so, the following are the questions that we, as Concerned Parents, want answered.  And the questions should be asked during a full, independent investigation that is NOT conducted by Dr. Schuster, any D181 staff member or the Board of Education.  Rather an investigation should be conducted by an external party, such as the Regional Office of Education or perhaps by the State's Attorney's Office.

In our opinion, the Investigation should determine:

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Common Core ≠ Learning For All. Fact or Fiction?

Today we begin our second series focusing on Common Core and Acceleration under the Learning for All Plan in District 181.   Part 1 of this series will explain that the D181 Administration’s crusade for classroom heterogeneity and unnecessary acceleration-- currently called the Learning for All Plan -- has resulted in an inaccurate perception that this plan is part of Common Core. Instead, we will demonstrate that the two are not related and that there are serious concerns about the origins of D181’s Learning for All philosophy and the impact it will have on our students. (Don't worry -- we haven't forgotten about our series on D181 Administrators and will publish the next post in that series very soon.)

Common Core (click to open link to Common Core) is required by many states and is now highlighted in discussions during board meetings and communications with teachers and parents.  All Illinois districts are required by law to implement grade level Common Core learning standards in math and language arts. The belief is that the Common Core standards will increase the grade level rigor and performance expectations for all students.

D181 appears to be using this Common Core mandate for its own agenda – implementation of an accelerated inverted Learning for All instructional model.  What is troubling about the concurrent promotion of the Learning for All Plan and Common Core by the District Administration and the Board of Education is that the messaging has become so confused that many parents believe the Learning for All Plan = Common Core.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Brave, Anonymous Teacher Raises Concerns

Today we received the comment below from a brave "Anonymous Concerned Teacher." We consider the issues raised of such serious importance that we are publishing it as a free-standing post, because we want to make sure that all of our readers see it.  Following the Anonymous Teacher's Comment is the response we published. As we point out, the teacher is correct when he/she states that "only the parents can stop the madness." It is time more parents contact the Board of Education with their concerns. Concerned parents successfully convinced the Board of Education to vote NO to "Late Start Days." Concerned parents successfully convinced the Board of Education to vote NO on the "Math Pilots." 

Concerned parents should come forward once again and convince the Board of Education to address not only the Curriculum Concerns, but also the newly identified "Donoroo" fundraising debacle first brought to our attention in a comment posted on the 10/16/13 Post on "The Experimentation on our Children Must Stop."  

As we state in our response comment," "It is time the Board Members realize that they need to ask Dr. Schuster and her administrators some tough questions and get answers, not spin.


Dear 181 Blog,

I am a teacher in our school district. I have never been so disheartened and dismayed at the morale of teachers and the state of education in District 181. What happened? We went from a fully high functioning district with a handful of higher level administrators to a district with a huge increase in the amount of administrators, with little experience in the area of their supposed expertise. These leaders want to take all that is good and change it to their vision. The students are ultimately the ones who will lose.

The "Learning for All" (aka Advanced Learning) directive is one of those ideas that appears good on paper and fails in reality. One of the goals of this directive is to eventually get rid of the bubbles of support educators--reading specialists, special education teachers, academic strategy teachers, gifted specialists etc. Right now, administration wants these teachers to "push in." We now have our most fragile and needy students trying to receive support in a classroom where other things are going on. How do we expect them to focus? Is it fair to have them working in the corner of the room? Eventually, the district wants to put all of those students in our classrooms and let the regular education teacher meet their needs. I was told that I need to "increase my capacity." I think I do a pretty good job meeting the needs in my classroom, but I am NOT a special education, reading, or gifted teacher. I do not have the specialized education that they do. And, for years, I have witnessed students growing under and with these "special" teachers and classes. I am outraged that a few administrators think that teachers should be able to handle EVERYTHING that the district is throwing at them and that we should buy in or "find another job." By everything I mean the following: implementing the new Common Core standards (which should be first and foremost), differentiate (for gifted, standard, and struggling students) all subjects and activities every day, form flexible grouping work for all subjects and classes, meet the social/emotional needs of students, view data on each student to set individual goals for each student (even if you have 90-180 students at the middle school), prepare students for testing, choose multi-leveled texts for students for every area of the curriculum (even if you have 90-180 at the middle school level), incorporate technology into our lesson plans (even if it's not available in all buildings), and increase rigor and develop relationships that are so important with our students. I was taught that humans have developmental stages and that you can't force an individual through these stages unless he/she is ready. So, are our students who aren't ready developmentally somehow behind? I think that would be like expecting all of our students to be ready to complete in the Olympics. We understand that some students can achieve this and we foster that, but we don't expect everyone to achieve this. That would be an unrealistic goal and humiliating to some students.

Please, bloggers, look into the CHMS Donoroo debacle. What started out as a wonderful charitable event (the first three years) ended up a slush fund for the CHMS music department and was condoned by the principal. This fund was mismanaged and misused. I hope parents will demand an explanation into what happened and learn the truth about what has happened over the past three years.

I would personally like to thank all the informed, supportive parents who have realized that "the Emperor has no clothes!" Teachers know that it is only the parents that can stop the madness in District 181. The teachers fear retribution, poor performance evaluations, and a possible loss of employment for speaking up.

An anonymous concerned teacher

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Petition Seeking Smaller Class Size Guidelines and Fair and Equitable Allocation of Reading and Differentiation Specialists

Readers:  D181 community member Leslie Grey has submitted a comment requesting that we publish the following information regarding a Petition that is currently circulating.  We thank Ms. Grey for publicly advocating for change in D181 that will make the district a better place for all of our students.  If you agree with the proposals set forth in the Petition, please consider signing it.  Ms. Grey's comment states:

"The Petition urges the D181 Board of Education and Administration to take the following actions prior to the start of the 2014-2015 academic school year:

1. Change our current class size guidelines to adhere the recommendations of the 2009 Class Size task force (as outlined in the petition); and 

2. Allocate reading specialists and differentiation specialists to our D181 schools based on the student population of the school. The petition states that we, the D181 community, feel that it is unjust that each school currently is allocated one differentiation specialist and one reading specialist even though the student populations of our schools vary widely.

I have outlined in the petition the reasons why I think these additional supports are needed. If your readers support class size reductions, they can click on the below link and sign the petition. They can simply write their name in the correct field, and in the comment section indicate the school their children attend and what grades their children are in (or, if the reader is a teacher, indicate the school where he or she teaches). Also, your readers should feel free to add a comment of their own. The link to the petition is:

Please ask your readers to forward this link to other D181 parents and teachers and encourage them to sign the petition. My goal is to present this petition to the Board of Education at a November board meeting where projected enrollment for next year is slated as an agenda item.

Thank you for your support!


Leslie Gray"

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Experimentation on Our Children Must Stop -- The Board of Education Must Halt The "Living Plan" of D181's "Own Design"

Guinea Pig.  Look in a thesaurus for its synonyms.  Lab rat, experimental subject, experimental animal, test animal, test subject, testee, victim

The last word in the chain sums it all up – guinea pigs are "victims," because we all know that things don't usually bode well for the lab rat, test animal, or whatever name you want to give the "subject" of an experiment. Why are animals usually used as "test subjects?" Because until scientists know with certainty that their experiment will be beneficial and not cause more harm than good to people, they prefer to run their experiments on animals. The lab animals that are unlucky enough to be experimented on in the first round of testing suffer the most harm - sometimes irreversible.  The "scientists" then try and learn from their initial mistakes, will "modify" or "tweak" the experiment and then conduct more tests on a new group of unlucky subjects.  

And so it goes, experiment, victim harmed, "tweak," experiment, victim harmed,  "tweak," until perhaps one day, after many rounds of experimentation, the scientists might achieve positive results. But then again, they might not and the experimentation is cancelled. Regardless of the outcome, the scientists will justify the harm they caused to the test animals as unintentional consequences of trying to achieve a greater  "good" for all.  But others in the scientific community would call such experiments "torture" of innocent victims and ask if they were worth the permanent damage caused to the unknowing, innocent subjects of the experimentation in round 1, round 2, round 3...?

Good questions, and questions we, as parents of the D181 students who have been turned into guinea pigs, lab rats, test animals, and yes, victims, must ask ourselves and demand answers to.

Last week, we posted for your review the comments published on “Dr. Schuster’s Blog” found on the D181 website.  We hope you have read them and reflected upon Dr. Schuster's admission that the Learning For All Plan is a product of "D181's own design."  It is a "living plan" that she expects "will be modified based on the data we receive throughout each year of its implementation." (Click to open Dr. Schuster's Blog.)

Friday, October 11, 2013

Dr. Schuster's Blog

Superintendent Schuster has begun writing her own blog, titled "Dr. Schuster's Blog."  It is published on the D181 website. We learned today that it is probably worth reading because it appears to contain information that has never before been disclosed to the community. We invite all of you to read her blog posts and the comments posted by both community members and Dr. Schuster. Click to open Dr. Schuster's Blog.

It seems that the inquisitive comments submitted by a community member have led to an admission from Dr. Schuster about the true nature of the Learning for All Plan.  Our next post will address our opinions on what Dr. Schuster's admission really means, but we felt that the content of Dr. Schuster's Blog is of sufficient importance that it needed to be brought to  your attention immediately.  Below we have copied the comments that have appeared on Dr. Schuster's Blog. (Click the links below to read the posts that preceded each series of comments.) When reading them, we suggest you focus on the comment posted on October 7 (highlighted in red, with certain phrases bolded by us) and then contemplate what it all means for the future of D181.   Our opinions will be published soon in the next post.

Excerpts from "Dr. Schuster's Blog" (full posts available on the D181 Website):

Welcome to My Blog
Thursday, September 05, 2013
Jeffrey Mayer  
9/7/2013 10:32:11 AM
  Could you please elaborate on the "social justice" philosophy underlying the current curriculum reform. Are there key academic sources that you relied upon? And, what data do you rely upon to support the adoption in a high performing district. I would be very interested in learning more about this important topic. I think it should be posted, as it will help support community adoption of this recent change.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Disappointment in Strategic Planning by "Brainstorm" and Shocking Public Comment about the Harm the Learning For All Plan is Causing D181 Students -- A Recap of the 10/7/13 Board Meeting

The following is a recap of the October 7, 2013 Board Meeting -- at least the portions of the meeting that community members were allowed to hear.  Public comments preceded the "Visioning Workshop" with Dr. Schuster's hand-picked participants.  Before we discuss the workshop, we must address the explosive nature of public comments and the refusal by Board President Turek to allow parents who came to the meeting to join in the workshop discussions.

Public Comments

1.  Comments about the Visioning Workshop:

A few parents (none of whom were workshop participants) asked that full day kindergarten and smaller class size guidelines be addressed during the strategic planning process. One parent expressed disappointment in the format of the meeting, and criticized the hand picked nature of the participants and the fact that the round tables were not going to be "miked" to allow community members to listen to the visioning discussions. She then asked the board to allow community members who were in attendance to join a table and be allowed to participate in the visioning discussions.  Another community and former school board member, Ann Mueller, asked to be allowed to join a round table as a member of the newly formed Facilities Committee.  She indicated that there would be room at one of the tables, since Board Member Michael Nelson, who was also on the Facilities Committee, was absent "again."  (That's right folks -- Nelson's now been physically absent 12 out of 21 meetings in 2013, or 57% of the time.) At the conclusion of all comments, President Turek denied the requests, saying it would not be possible to add additional chairs to the round tables.  We were disappointed that no one else on the board was given an opportunity to address this request, but Mr. Turek once again acted like he was the sole decision maker on the board and didn't even ask for input from the other 6 board members. We find his rationale for denying the request hard to believe and question whether in fact all "invitees" actually attended. Were all the chairs filled, or could some or all parents have joined a discussion group? Was Ms. Mueller allowed to fill Nelson's empty seat? We invite anyone who was at last night's meeting to submit a comment if they know if all of the chairs were actually filled with the invited guests. 

2.  Explosive Comment about the harm that the Learning for All Plan's Math Acceleration Model is causing students: 

In addition to the comments regarding the workshop, there was an explosive comment by a D181 parent.  We encourage all of you to listen to the podcast of the meeting now available on the D181 website and hear the parent read a letter she and her husband had sent to the full board.  In the letter the parents criticized the math compacting that is going on this year in 4th grade and pointed out that the 'Math Acceleration for All" model that is part of the Learning for All Plan is not working for their child.  The letter vividly described the negative impact this program has had on their child. The parents asked that children be allowed to learn at their grade level.  The parents explained that they had researched Common Core standards and discovered that they do not call for one year math acceleration -- that this acceleration does not align with common core standards -- and they could not understand how the Board could have approved this as part of its Learning for All Plan without data that showed it would work. They pointed out that the math compacting plan is causing self-esteem issues in students currently struggling to keep up, is forcing parents to hire tutors and is setting students up for failure.   They stated that when they met with Assistant Superintendent Kevin Russell to discuss their concerns, he could not provide them with any data to support the math acceleration for all model. The parents concluded the letter/comment with a request that D181 immediately provide the data that supports a successful outcome of the math acceleration model, 3rd/4th grade math compacting model, and a model that placed an average student into a gifted/accelerated program.

We were floored to hear a parent stand up in public and read such a heart wrenching letter, but we were very proud of the bravery shown by this parent in "outing" the real problems that are manifesting themselves in the roll-out of the Learning for All Plan.  Of course, as expected, the board members were silent when she finished reading her letter but worst yet, Board Member Yaeger was quick to try and cut her off when 3 minutes had elapsed.  Fortunately, someone in the audience ceded an additional 3 minutes, thus allowing her to finish her statement.  The allegations made in this parent's comment warrant an immediate investigation and public discussion of the Math Acceleration Model by the Administration and the Board. And certainly, answers to the parents' data requests should be immediately forthcoming, not just to them, but to the entire D181 community.  The only question is WILL THE ADMINISTRATION PRODUCE THE SUPPORTING DATA?  We certainly hope so, but we doubt it will happen.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Is This Really Strategic Planning? The "Visioning" Workshop to be Held at the 10/7/13 Committee of the Whole Meeting is not a Fair or Focused Process.

The Board Docs for Monday's (10/7/13) Committee of the Whole Meeting have been posted.  The meeting will begin at 7 p.m. at Walker School.  The only topic for discussion is something called "Visioning and Long Range Planning." The tab for this agenda item explains:

"Ms. Barb Toney from the Illinois Association of School Boards will lead the Board of Educaiton, Administration, and representatives from the PTO, District 181 Foundation, Finance Committee, Technology Committee, SELAS Committee, Safety & Crisis Committee, HCHTA, and HESS in a visioning and long-range planning discussion. Members of the public are invited to observe and make comments before and after the workshop." (Note:  The spelling mistake found above is not ours, but that of the D181 administrators, who once again failed to spell check materials posted for the public.)

The 10/3/13 edition of The Hinsdalean described this agenda item as follows:

"Visioning workshop with round tables of staff, parents, residents and business leaders discussing with the board the past, present and future of the district.

While we acknowledge that school boards typically participate in strategic planning, we question how effective or fair the upcoming "visioning" meeting will be.  Here are our concerns:

1.  The materials leave the mis-impression that this strategic planning meeting is the latest in a series of strategic plans started by the Schuster Administration after an 8 year lull. Slide 3 of the Board Docs' Power Point presentation (Click to open Power Point) is titled Strategic Planning History and lays out a timeline of "bubbles" of events.  The first bubble is dated February 25, 2002.  The next bubble is dated October 20, 2010.  While we acknowledge that the Schuster Administration has made radical and sweeping curriculum changes that began in October 2010, to leave the impression that the three Superintendents who served from 2002 to 2010 -- Dr. Curley, Dr. Tenbusch and Dr. Sabatino -- did NO strategic planning is disingenuous at best.  The reality is that those of us who have had children in D181 for many years recall that under past administrations, the Board of Education hired nationally recognized strategic planning facilitators, such as Doug Eadie, to lead the board in strategic planning sessions.  We hope that the current board asks for historical information on what procedurally and substantively took place in the area of Strategic Planning during those 8 years.

2.  Strategic planning is supposed to be what the Board of Education does. There are commonly accepted definitions of the term "strategic planning" and commonly accepted processes to follow. Going into any kind of long range "planning" meeting, the BOE should first give direction on the process.  Has the D181 board done this and do any of the board members really know what this process is supposed to be and how it should be structured? Moreover, what is the focus of this meeting? There doesn't appear to be any. The Hinsdalean must have been given additional information not posted on Board Docs for them to report that what will be discussed is the "past, present and future of the district."  This seems overly broad and open ended, so just how much can round table discussion groups accomplish if that is what they are tasked with?  Even if you conclude from the materials posted on Board Docs that the discussion will be more chatter about the Learning for All (formerly ALP) plan, then this should concern everyone because it lends itself to the possibility that the Administration is simply trying to get more "buy in" for the Learning for All Plan from the workshop participants.  If that is the case, then there is really nothing "strategic" that requires public input.  So what exactly is the goal of these round table discussions?  Is it to set long term strategic goals for the district, and if so, in what specific areas?  Class Size, facilities maintenance, all day kindergarten, financial health of the district, foreign language expansion?  Or is the goal simply to rubber stamp the ALP/Learning for All Plans?  It seems the first thing the BOE and Administration need to do is have a discussion amongst themselves about what they are "strategically" planning for and then seek input from participants -- including all parents, teachers and taxpayers in the community. 

3.  How were the individuals -- PTO representatives, 181 Foundation members, other "committee members," teachers and support staff  -- selected to participate in this round table discussion? If the PTO representatives are the "parents" referred to in The Hinsdalean, did the PTO representatives meet with their PTO membership in advance of Monday's meeting to discuss what issues their memberships want them to bring to the table for discussion?  If not, then the PTO members attending the strategic planning meeting can only represent their own individual opinions and ideas, and not those of their broader school populations.  Similarly, whose interests are the other members representing?  Those of their "group" or their own individual views? Again, unless they met with their groups prior to Monday's meeting to determine the "group's" ideas/opinions, they can only express their individual opinions.  And if any of the "parents" participating in the round table discussion are only representing their own individual views, then why didn't the administration/BOE conduct a fair and random selection process open to everyone?