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.

Strategic Planning Via Brainstorming Workshop

What was supposed to be a Committee of the Whole Meeting -- the format of which usually has the board members discussing and taking public comment on specific agenda items -- was really not a board meeting at all. Rather it was a brainstorming session for a hand picked group of community members to participate in small group strategic planning discussions. Anyone who has listened to last night's meeting can attest to the fact that at no point during the meeting did the Board Members discuss anything pertaining to strategic planning with each other.  Rather, after a brief power point presentation on the district's strategic planning history presented by Dr. Schuster, the hand picked participants broke into their groups for over one hour to answer a series of questions regarding the past, present and future of the district.

The small groups then participated in a "share out" (a phrase used by Dr. Schuster) to the larger group  to list what they hoped the district would address in its next long range strategic plan.  Listening to the "share out" was quite enlightening, because it confirmed that there was really no focus to last night's "workshop."  Rather, the small groups identified a laundry lists of long range planning ideas in 3 categories:  students and learning, facilities and finance and the role of the community.

Each group identified an extensive and broad list of areas they identified as long range planning areas.  They included:  improving technology, improving facilities, improving differentiated instruction, balancing the budget, reducing taxes, financial stability, futuristic facilities, meeting student needs, a relationship with the community, desire to be a "top ranked district in the world,"  accountability of D181 programs, continuous professional development, do what's best for kids, being transparent with finances, maintaining safe schools, "interconnectivity" -- tie everything together to make sure finances match student learning, two way communication with all stakeholders, committee involvement, having more advanced sciences, make students globally aware, hiring the first African American or Asian teacher, fluid learning levels, multi-age classrooms, greater use of school by community, needing a "vision" for HMS, change for how schools are funded, alternate revenue sources, assist with real world problem solving, increasing outdoor learning -- making use of outdoor space, make shareholders vested in the schools, increased involvement by the community, have our students be #1 in the world, learning driven by students, integrating technology into curriculum, flipped classrooms, salaries and benefits that attract and retain staff, service learning, more collaboration with D86, a "pool," develop community trust, opportunities for vocational exploration, engage students in their own learning and at their own pace, technology driven differentiated instruction, longer school day or longer school year, foreign languages started earlier, no temporary modules at HMS, revisit concept of neighborhood schools, want to be able to attract talent, possibly shorter BOE terms, get more parents participating in schools.

Dr. Schuster then presented a list of long range planning topics she had asked parents -- who were not allowed to participate in the round table discussions -- to suggest.  We assume she meant the parents who'd been denied permission to join a round table discussion, and again, we would ask readers who might have been in attendance to confirm if this is the case.  Dr. Schuster stated hypocritically that "It's important that we hear everyone's voice."  If she really wanted that, everyone would have been invited to submit their name for selection to a round table. Topics she listed that the parents identified included: all day Kindergarten, smaller class sizes, science laboratories, increased challenges for students via competitions or speeches, less compacting, improving math instruction during the day and providing morning math support in the schools.

Following the "share out", Dr. Schuster advised everyone that the info will be used to "vet" a survey that will be sent out later this month, followed by Community Engagement Sessions in November and unspecified dates for "more board discussions about a long range plan and what next 5 years should look at."  She summed up the meeting by thanking the participants for "giving ideas in a brainstorm manner for us to take serious consideration."

As we listened to the wrap up by Dr. Schuster, we kept waiting for her to turn the mike back over to the board members so that they could actually discuss what had been "shared" by the round tables.  We kept waiting for the board to spend even a few minutes addressing the direction they wanted the Administration to take in the strategic planning process.  But all 7 board members remained silent and no one suggested having any board level discussion.  It was as if they were simply letting Dr. Schuster set the course, dictate the process and decide on the content of what should be surveyed and later discussed in future Community Engagement Sessions.  We were extremely disappointed to realize that the board didn't seem to be remotely interested in discussing anything with each other.

Perhaps it is because they didn't really want to be there?  After all, as President Turek stated at the end of the meeting, when he thanked the participants for coming, "I am confident that everybody had something better to do tonight than to come here but I do appreciate it."  We couldn't believe the board president would actually make such a ridiculous statement.  Is it too much to believe that all of the community members, PTO presidents, Finance Committee members, teachers, administrators and other hand picked invitees actually wanted to be at the meeting and viewed it as a priority?  While we object to the hand picked process of selectively inviting participants, we do believe that everyone who participated in the round table discussions took their job seriously and if they showed up (which of course can't be said of Board Member Nelson), they wanted to be there.  But perhaps, the board members didn't really want to be there, which is why they had nothing to discuss and simply adjourned the meeting after Mr. Turek cavalierly stated that everyone should "know that I'm going to hold Dr. Schuster to task to formulate all this and put it together and we're going to do something useful with it."

Time will tell.  Indeed.


Anonymous said...

I was a parent in attendance. The tables were not all filled and Ms. Mueller was not allowed to take Mr. Nelson's seat. Dr. Schuster met us in the hall on the way out and asked us for our "visions" since " we couldn't be included." It was insulting. Notice how only we the denied parents gave specific ideas or visions! And I was insulted that I wanted to be there, but was denied, yet the board members kept saying they wanted to be somewhere else. Board member Yaeger should be reprimanded for his rude behavior at the meeting.

Anonymous said...

Is it really true that there are zero African American or Asian teachers in D181? If that is true, that is very upsetting to those of us in the community who belong to one of those groups. What does this say about the efforts Dr. Schuster is making to diversify the teaching staff? Unbelievable, if true.

Anonymous said...

Does our district really have the luxury of addressing even a quarter of those visions? The ideas to consider should be the ones that impact the students the most.
The adminstration is very good at generalizations, but when specific, implementable plans are required-not so much. Smaller classes, all day kindergarten, improved resources (workbook, texts) more attention to writing (please!) and the math curriculum are at the top of my list. This means more money will need to be spent for the students, not on a growing administration, administrators' salary increases, and many pie in the sky ideas. I'll hold my breath.

The "visions" provide lots of material to divert the public's attention from issues that aren't being addressed. Blink a few times, and your child will be in highschool.

Anonymous said...

Parents across our district should be thanking the fourth grade mom who had the courage to speak up about her child's struggle with the ALP math.
Glen Yaeger should be ashamed with his attempt to silence this parent. Here's a reality check for him and other members of the board: the ALP is a joke and the workshop last night was a sham. When will you escort Schuster and Schneider to the door?

Anonymous said...

I was a parent in attendance on Monday and what I witnessed was sheer nonsense and infantile conduct from our school board, which is lead by Marty Turek, or some would say he is being lead by Dr Schuster. I want to know what she and her highly paid administrators are going to do to fix the mess the Learning Plan has created for our kids? If they are waiting for the next round of test scores to show the poor performance of this plan, then we should demand action, not just blank stares from board members. Maybe they were thinking about all the tutoring that has taken place in the last couple of years because of these changes.

Anonymous said...

What meeting did the Hinsdalean attend on Monday night? It certainly was not the same meeting that I attended. Looks like Dr. Schuster also has control of the press.

Anonymous said...

Howdy Neighbor! http://pleasantdaleschool.blogspot.com

The Parents said...

Thank you to the bloggers at http://pleasantdaleschool.blogspot.com for bringing your blog to D181's concerned parents' attention. We were certainly disturbed by the information you posted on your website about one of D181's recent hires. Makes us question what kind of due diligence the D181 Board expects the Superintendent or the Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources to conduct before they present a recommended hire to the board for approval. Looks like the District is rapidly filling up with starter administrators or someone else's rejects. What is happening to D181?

Anonymous said...

The Pleasantdale School Board rejected the superintendent's recommendation to appoint Mrs. Sherman as the middle school principal on 6/3. Just three short weeks later, on 6/24, she was hired in D181 as the CHMS assistant principal. Who knew the vetting/hiring process for an assistant principal at such a high performing district would be so brief?

It's called the lemon dance. One incompetent superintendent helping another equally incompetent superintendent out...all at the expense of our children.

The Parents said...

All we can say is "you've got to be kidding!" We have confirmed your comment and everyone else can too by going to: http://www.d107.org/media/Board/minutes-agendas/2012-2013/BoE-2013-06-03-Minutes.pdf

How could the D181 Board of Education not know this, and if they did, what were they thinking? If they didn't, why didn't Dr. Schuster tell them this information?

Anonymous said...

It appears as through Dr. Schuster is purposely surrounding herself with incompetent people in order to protect herself and her future. If, all of a sudden, she begins hiring capable people who are ethical and have critical thinking skills, they would easily begin to see through her vacuous claims. Smart, ethical "public servants" would have the best interest of our children in mind, and would expose her for being a fraud. Look how easily she manipulates the less educated board members. Although she is unqualified to teach or direct curriculum, Dr. Schuster is cunning enough with her "leadership skills" to know what it takes to survive. She divides and conquers. Just as she arrogantly ignores parents, at board meetings, she also ignores research and proven results. Like a parasite, she will continue to feed off of her hosts, the taxpayers.