Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Machiavelli Would Be Proud: D181 BOE Majority and Administration Continue Deception of District Status to Community

Portrait of Niccolò Machiavelli by Santi di Tito

As we pause for reflection in the aftermath of Monday’s BOE meeting that ran in excess of 4 hours, we are reminded of the Prince, Machiavelli, who would be elated at the apparent wistful joy of the majority of Board Members, Dr. Schuster and her administrative team, who by all accounts, have managed to deceive the public on the true status of the district on a grand scale.  (Click to open link to Podcast.) Their ability to spin a web of half-truths and deception would make Machiavelli blush in that he is historically known for being a master of deception himself. Taken from Webster’s:

Machiavellian |ˌmakēəˈvelēən; ˌmäk-|
1 cunning, scheming, and unscrupulous, esp. in politics or in advancing one's career.
2 of or relating to Niccolò Machiavelli.

Yahoo Answers provides this description:

Someone described as "Machiavellian" uses manipulation and deceit to achieve his own gains. If a singer, for example, befriended another singer with the express intention of replacing him in his band, that would be Machiavellian behavior. Or: Politician A has a piece of legislation that needs support. He meets with Politician B and tells him, "If you vote for my bill, I give you my word I'll vote in favor of your next bill." So Politician B votes in favor of Politician A's bill, but then votes against Politician B's next bill. Basically, he's lying to further his own interests at the expense of others' interests.

It is through these definitions we bloggers see direct parallels to the practices of the administration and BOE majority who appear to be incapable or unwilling to hear the public outcries of concern and instead vote for their own self-interest. On top of this, you throw in Schuster’s skill as a spinmaster, which was on display Monday night even with the downward trending of ISAT and MAP scores glaring off the screen on full display for everyone to see. As parents spoke up at the meeting, their voices were squelched by the recurring mantra of: “You have to follow the learner” as it relates to the obvious overall decline in test scores across the district and how teachers will remedy this problem. As we have pointed out, numbers don’t lie and the test results are very telling as to the state of education currently in D181. Which leads us to several questions:

1.     Why is it that week after week we typically observe mainly two BOE members, Garg and Heneghan, consistently asking the most questions? How can the remaining board members sit back silently and not be engaged in the important discussions that take place, particularly when the education of our children is radically being affected? For example, with slide after slide of test results, there was a clear indication that students in the at-grade level quintiles were not demonstrating the need for accelerated programming, yet Schuster and her administrators indicated otherwise. Why do such comments go unchallenged? If it were not for the truth- seekers, Garg and Heneghan, there would be no challenge at all to the countless misstatements made during a board meeting.
2.     We have checked the teacher certification credentials needed to become a “Differentiation Specialist” and no specific credentials are required. None. This means a Teacher’s Aide or other paraprofessional could be classified as a Differentiation Specialist. Schuster is now on record of saying she will seek to add additional Differentiation Specialists at the December 9 meeting, believing the addition will help to balance teaching within the largest schools. If there is no formal education, certification, or license required to be a Differentiation Specialist, what is this adding to our children’s’ education?
3.     Where were the concrete strategies the district will use to improve student performance? We heard the double talk of generalities by Kevin Russell and Dawn Benaitis, but nothing concrete. Teacher collaboration is simply not enough to recover the losses in ISAT and MAP scores. Schuster and her administrators are fortunate in that many district parents have sought out the assistance of tutors to keep up with the now accelerated math curriculum, which, by the way, is not required for the Common Core Standards.
4.     It was discovered that The Lane School will now begin tutoring by paid teachers before and after school in order to remediate the skills 4th-grade students have not mastered. After testing was completed last week, it was determined students had not been taught the basic skills of the 4th-grade math curriculum, especially multiplication. First, why was this just communicated as recently as Monday, the same day as the BOE meeting to parents? And why is this type of testing and teacher tutoring seemingly only taking place at one school? Are there not other children who would benefit from such tutoring? The ISAT and MAP results sure indicate as such. We must ask ourselves, is it our goal as parents to accelerate our children to average because that is the new standard the administration has set for the accelerated math program?
5.     Board Member Gary Clarin gave his rendition on the events that took place surrounding the mishandled funds related to Donoroo donations. Given his explanation and his findings that clears everyone involved, it appears as though the issue is over and done with in the eyes of Schuster and the board. This, despite the fact, that employees of CHMS stepped forward and provided their description of the Donoroo funds in question to a local newspaper reporter, who then wrote up the complete story.  The board saw to it to squelch the story and sweep it under the rug, which is where it will remain as the Donoroo account was closed.

Yes, indeed.  We have elected board members who are clearly not engaged in facts, nor are they inquisitive enough to question the practices of our highly paid superintendent or her administrative foot soldiers. The days and weeks of the school year roll on; our children are subjects in a massive unfounded experiment, that being “Learning for All.” And now we are being asked to “Follow the Learner” all the while half-truths and distortions abound.

Were he alive today, Machiavelli would have met his match.


Anonymous said...

Let me see if I have this correct, Dr. Schuster wants to add 1.5 additional "differentiation" specialist to teach our children, even though the state does not recognize this as an area of certification. They have no special training or education in this area. What kind of leader provides this as a solution to any problem? Will she next want to add "learning" specialist to teach our special education students? Would these parents accept someone without any special credentials to teach their children? For an administrative team that seems to want to do away with labels, they appear to have no problem in creating their own (differentiation specialist, Learning for All). The district is spending hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on "differentiation" specialist with no special training or certification. I am not an educator, but this does not even make common sense. Wouldn't all of our children be better served by simply hiring more certified teachers to provide smaller class sizes to give our teachers a better chance of meeting the needs of our children within their regular classrooms? Who is really benefiting from these decisions? It doesn't appear to be our children.

Leslie Gray said...

Monroe has 429 students while Oak has 274 students - yet they each have one differentiation specialist and one reading specialist. This disparity may account for why our smaller schools performed better than our larger schools in the spring MAP and ISAT test scores. In the recent rankings Oak had a score of 15, Monroe had a score of 108. It was revealed at the last board meeting that one of the reasons last years' 3rd grade Oak class outperformed the other 3rd grade classes in math was because the differentiation specialist co-taught math the entire year. We cannot do that at Monroe because our differentiation specialist is spread too thin. I and other parents have fought VERY hard to have additional structural supports be allocated to our large schools. I am thrilled with Dr. Schuster's announcement and I take it as a small victory. However, I do agree that we need to make sure that the administration hires specialists with the same qualifications as our existing differentiation specialists. If you look at the ISAT scores at the large schools, we have fewer exceeds and more not meets than the smaller schools. We need more structural supports to serve these children.

Jill Quinones said...

And might I add that the responsibilities of these Differentiation Specialists be clearly defined. As I have mentioned previously, the only contact my 5th grade child has had with her school's Differentiation Specialist was when she came in to teach the class sign language - not that I don't find learning sign language of value, but it was totally random and unrelated to anything they were doing or would be doing in the curriculum. It is definitely NOT part of the Common Core State Standards!

Today was my child's 3rd contact with this teacher when she did some sort of analogies packet with the entire class - same packet - all students - not my definition of differentiation. Oh, and then the she pulled 2 children out of the reading class to work with them individually - one was a former ACE student, the other was not. Not sure what a child needs to do to warrant such individual pull-out attention, but it would be nice to know. Of course, since we no longer have any gifted programming or standards there doesn't need to be any such accountability.

I agree with Ms. Gray that more classroom teacher support is needed to adequately meet the variety of needs in a classroom now that all needs are to be met within the same classroom, but it cannot be random. It should be clearly planned out with needs identified and goals in place and the same should be articulated to parents - all of the parents. There is no way to measure benefit to the students if these support teachers do not have clearly articulated roles. Certainly these roles can be flexible, but what they deliver must be tied to student achievement and reviewed on a regular basis to make sure desired outcomes are vein realized.

Leslie Gray said...

I completely agree with everything Ms. Quinones said.

Anonymous said...

As teachers across the district hold their conferences with parents next week, Schuster will most likely be in AZ enjoying the sunshine. Back here, I can hardly wait to ask my child's teacher why she has made little to no gains and has not reached growth targets in more than a year. Teachers are on the front lines while her "foot soldiers" are content to facilitate the sham of Learning for All. I'm
angry and will be asking what plans the teacher has for my child, this after having gone through the RtI process, which amounted to two hours of wasted time and nothing to show for it.

Anonymous said...

I encourage everyone to look at the district summary of the November 18 board meeting. It does not include information on public comments, board member challenges to the assessment report or tax levy, information that was revealed on 4th grade math, and so much more. I spent 4 1/2 hours at that meeting, and I am insulted that is what they are conveying to the community about the meeting.

Anonymous said...

Did anyone read the Meeting Roundup in the Hinsdalean this week? Kurt Schneider, assistant superintendent of learning responds to criticism about accelerating kids TO GET THEM AT or above grade level performance, stating that holding back kids is worse. So the administration is going to change the meaning of the Learning For All Plan? Now they are accelerating students to get them TO grade level? Don’t try to change this up now!!! The Learning For All Plan called for accelerating every child a grade level ahead of the Common Core NOT to get them TO grade level. Students are not performing at grade level BECAUSE of the Learning For All Plan. Let’s be very clear about that!

I've read in other posts that parents want facts about the curriculum. Well, here you go. It is a fact that the 4th grade students at The Lane School are learning the 4th grade curriculum in reverse order. They were taught perimeter, area, fractions, percents, and decimals. Then it was determined that the majority of the kids could not multiply and divide on a 4th grade level. So now they're going to learn how to multiply and divide. It doesn't take somebody in education to figure out that there is something terribly wrong here. So let’s just visually look at the order of the concepts they have covered this year: 4.8, 4.7, 4.9, 4.5 and 4.6
In that order! It’s shameful in a district that had such a fantastic reputation that something like this is occurring in our schools.

And we DO NOT have a teacher problem in this district. We have an administration problem. The teachers are going to do whatever is asked of them to the best of their abilities. All of the issues that are coming up-class size, lack of resources, lack of differentiation specialists, tutoring, reading specialists, curriculum, plans for students to show growth, etc.-there is one common theme and it's called Learning For All. Going to the teachers and to the principal isn't going to fix this. Take your issues to the BOE and speak up for your children. Parents can't complain about these issues if they aren't willing to step forward and make them known. Making your concerns known to only the teachers is not going to fix what is happening. Teachers cannot fix this. But YOU can by being a voice at the BOE meetings!!!!

And for those reading who do not agree with the blog, well, you should think twice. Your property values are a direct result of the performance of these schools. And the school district that once was, will no longer be if this Learning For All Plan continues.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the last post. I keep reading that people criticize the blog for name calling or being catty. What I have yet to see, from anyone, is an explanation of the benefits of what the administration is doing. If you read the blog and disagree, the best service you can provide the community as well as the readers and the administration is to offer a factual explanation of what positive benefits have come from the Learning for All plan. We already outstanding schools, so the Learning for All plan can't take credit for great schools, they have to explain why those great schools are getting better or at least keeping up. All I ever read from the administration is why things that seem bad are not.

I invite the poster who said let the difference makers do their job to post an explanation for why the administration should not be criticized.

Anonymous said...

Mrs. Quinones is correct. Her comments regarding how Learning for All and differentiation for every child can occur without these steps clearly in place are important. Here is a quote from her previous post:

" It should be clearly planned out with needs identified and goals in place and the same should be articulated to parents - all of the parents. There is no way to measure benefit to the students if these support teachers do not have clearly articulated roles. Certainly these roles can be flexible, but what they deliver must be tied to student achievement and reviewed on a regular basis to make sure desired outcomes are vein realized."

When I went to the math common core presentation on Wednesday, our table's concern was that there were no explicit details or written plan about how the district was going to implement the CC or exactly how much professional development would be given to the teachers. When we asked Ms. Benaitis about it, she mentioned once a month meeting for the "math committee" would begin soon, but there was no explicit plan on how to prepare the teachers right away. The teachers said that they loved the idea of CC, "but that implementing it would be a slow process". When I asked how long, they had no idea. When I asked how the information would be shared and communicated to parents, they said there was no exact plan. Ms. Benaitis claimed that the Everday Math books were NOT correlated to common core. Our table expressed surprise, be said according to our children's teachers and principals, it is. According to the Everyday Math website, the supplements are updated. Our table, filled with a group of moms and a father, found that, compared to all of our children who had gone through math in D181 elementary schools, that this year has been exponentially worse. It ranged from children being forced to accelerate, without parental consent or data to prove that it would succeed, to fast learners being bored out of their minds in class, waiting for the rest of the class to catch up.

Unfortunately, there was no public opportunity for parents to ask questions and receive a response. The Common Core presentation was a generic event describing why it is beneficial for all, but there was no explanation of D181's current progress, what remains to be done, or what even what books are being considered for adoption. It was a terrible waste of time for all of the parents who attended with the hopes of finally getting answers.

Anonymous said...

Please do not blame the teachers for this horrible mess the administrators are calling, learning for all. They are victims too! In meetings where these administrators are presenting this craziness, they ask if there are any questions. If the teachers ask questions or heaven forbid express a concern for their students who are struggling with this ridiculous unproven plan, they are called on the carpet when they return to their buildings. They have been told explicitly and implicitly that they MUST follow along like sheep if they don't want to be reprimanded. No Questions! No Discussion! The Admin knows best!
I'm sorry parents, but we all are going to have to help. The teachers cannot fight this--their jobs are on the line.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with the post above. It sounds like it has been written by a teacher in our district. We know teachers are not to blame. They are caught in a terrible situation . But when push comes to shove, I feel that this administration will have NO QUALMS about throwing all of the teachers under the bus when this Learning for All program continues to fail. By then, however, teachers salary will probably be tied to performance, so administrators will be able to lower your salary due to THEIR poor plan that they forced on all of us. Dr. Schneider won't be held accountable, but the teachers will. Teachers need to start contacting the attorney general, their union reps, and the Regional Office of Education in Wheaton. We parents know that it is not your fault, but just like you, we can not do this alone. We will support you. You are the only ones who know our children.
We want to help you by giving you the professional development and support you deserve, but Dr. Schuster would rather spend it on furniture and computers. We want to invest it in YOU, not things. Because our kids love you, we love and respect you, too.

Bravo to the previous post that urges parents to stand up and speak out! One or 2 parents cannot do this alone. But together, we can! Unfortunately, if parents and teachers don't stand up to the problem, they become part of the problem. Teachers & aides - contact the attorneys for your union. Document it. Now is the time to stand up for what is right and to protect your futures.

Anonymous said...

I went to the Common Core Math meeting and it was a waste of time. Questions were discouraged. I can look up the standards online. I wanted to understand how these standards are being applied in our district, by all of our teachers. It seems like the teachers are just going to facilitate and our kids will teach each other. Why would anyone move to D181 if every district can deliver the same education and the teachers are just facilitators? What is the justification for the high taxes going forward? Will D181 loose it's edge if it hasn't already?