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?

4.  The agenda indicates that Public Comments both before and after the visioning discussion will be allowed. Great, but how is anyone going to know what was discussed? If the meeting format is round table discussions -- sounds very much like the community engagement sessions held last year -- then how is the "audience," relegated to sitting in rows of chairs, going to know what is being said? Is the audience going to be allowed to circulate and stand around the tables while the discussions are taking place or told to stay in their seats? And if they are allowed to circulate amongst the tables, won't this be distracting to the participants, especially if many community members show up? Will the public be allowed to actually "join" a table and participate in the discussion? And if this will be allowed, shouldn't the Administration and BOE have publicly announced this opportunity to everyone in advance of the meeting?

5. How will community members listening from home be able to understand a live stream of the meeting when all that will likely be heard is a mix of voices coming from all of the round tables?

6.  What will the Administration and BOE do with the ideas generated during the round table discussions?  Who will be taking notes at each table?  Who will collate and summarize these ideas?  When and how will they be presented to the public? Will they be turned into a memo of "goals" written by Dr. Schuster that she brings to the full board at a later date for their "approval" as the long term strategic plan for the district?  Is this really the process we want to follow to determine a long term strategic plan?

7.  We also find it troubling that the entire format of Monday's Committee of the Whole Meeting has been changed into a "invitee only" workshop when parents have been told repeatedly by Dr. Schuster and board presidents at past meetings that they cannot deviate from the typical board meeting formats to allow for an open and reciprocal exchange of concerns and comments with the Board members, initiated by concerned community members.  Why then is this glorified community engagement type session -- set up as round table "visioning" discussions -- taking the place of a Committee of the Whole Meeting, but only with the hand picked invitees selected by Dr. Schuster?

So we ask, is this meeting nothing more than a publicity attempt by the Administration and BOE to spin more "fancy new clothes" and shut out discourse with those of us in the community who truly have concerns about the long term future of D181? 

(Post Script 10/6/13 at 11:20 a.m.:  The administration has corrected the misspelled word on the Board Docs materials from "Educaiton" to "Education.")


Elementary and Middle School Parents said...

You've hit the nail on the head. The administration and board don't really care what any of the concerned parents have to say. If they did, they would hold a Town Hall Meeting, where they would finally, in a live forum, answer any parent's questions. What are they afraid will happen if they participate in an uncontrolled exercise allowing for public discourse, rather than another community engagement type meeting where the agenda (and probably the questions -- as they always have been) are preset?

Middle School Parent Blog Follower said...

Funny. I read your post early this morning, and chuckled when I looked at Board Docs and found the spelling error you found. I just went back to read through all the Board Docs materials and surprise, surprise, the spelling error has been corrected. "Educaiton" has now been changed to "Education." Looks like someone in the administration is following your blog closely. Maybe instead of just reading your blog, they might actually start fixing some of the transparency and accountability issues you have brought to all of our attention. Keep doing what you are doing bloggers!

Anonymous said...

Just to join in the grammar/spelling fun...the word "nor" in the blog heading doesn't sound right. Maybe it would be more grammatically correct to say "not a fair or focused process" or even "neither a fair nor focused process." Seriously, though, your content is insightful and provocative. I am enjoying following this blog.

The Parents said...

Thank you for your grammar suggestion. We will research it and make a change if you are correct. :)

The Parents said...

Thanks to Anonymous for correctly identifying a grammer mistake we made in our title. We have now corrected the title. For those of you who'd like a brief lesson, here's what we found on the internet:

"“Neither” and “nor” are bosom buddies. They require balance. In all our examples so far, we’ve used “nor” to indicate a negative state that continues after something else negative happens. However, when the second negative item is a noun, adjective, or adverb phrase (4), you should use “or” to continue the negative thought because according to Bryan Garner “the initial negative carries through to all the enumerated elements” (5). For example, when you use the word “not,” the structure “not A or B” is correct. You’d have to say, “He is not interested in math or science”; “He is not interested in math nor science” won’t work. Likewise, “She didn’t speak slowly or clearly” has a better ring to it than “She didn’t speak slowly nor clearly.” "- See more at:

Anonymous said...

It is painfully obvious Schuster is using this next board meeting as a public relations platform to keep a lid on her boiling pot of failure. Just as she has used our children as guinea pigs, she is now using PTO representatives, local business people, teachers, and parents alike.
Her web of deceit runs deep.

Anonymous said...

FYI, the PTO from The Lane School did not notify its general membership that they were seeking any input from our group so that they could present them to the board of education or the administration.

Did any other school's PTOs ask for specific input from their members?

Anonymous said...

I second what Anonymous said about The Lane PTO not gathering information from the members. How can what is happening in this district continue to go on? What can we do to stop this? And thank you bloggers for what you are doing!!

Anonymous said...

I don't understand how the administration and board can have a visioning workshop when there are so many existing problems. I'm still trying to understand why all kids have been advanced in Math without agreement from all parents? Was it assumed that we would pay for tutoring if needed to help this program succeed? Is there a reality check built into this experiment?? How can we trust the outcome of this workshop to be in the best interest of our children? I don't feel this district is following the vision of having all children experience success. I didn't understand the quote "The fundamental purpose of school is to see to it that all students learn at high levels, rather than merely be taught at high levels." Thank you for providing the link to the presentation.

Anonymous said...

I just read through tonight's presentations and the meeting agenda. Is this a joke? Did this school board actually approve of round table discussions with pre-selected attendees during a regularly scheduled board meeting? Why is the sugar coated Learning for None plan being touted again? I thought meetings were all about communicating what's going on our district - the good and the bad, not just a dog and pony show. What is this district coming to?