Sunday, November 3, 2013

Recap of the 10/28/13 Board Meeting -- Board "Majority" Unwilling to Adequately Address Questions and Information Requests

Over the last few  days, we've been busy keeping you updated on the release of the Illinois School Report cards and the declining rankings of almost all of our schools.  If you haven't yet read those posts, we encourage you to do so.  Now the agenda for Monday's meeting (11/4/13) is available on Board Docs. Tonight we will publish a post discussing the "dog and pony show" that awaits the community at this meeting.

In the meantime, we want to return to last week's meeting (10/28) and briefly recap some of the concerning issues that arose and questions that one or more Board members wanted to discuss, but were not allowed to.  As we listened once again to the Podcast of the meeting, a common theme stood out.  The Administration and Board are doing everything they can to avoid asking or answering relevant questions. In our opinion, whether the forum is a survey, board meeting, board member questions, parent and community member questions, Dr. Schuster's personal blog or FOIA requests, every effort is thwarted or publicly criticized by the "majority" of the Board, especially each time Dr. Schuster asks for the "majority" to weigh in.  When a person actually puts their name on their question -- again in whatever forum -- he/she is lambasted and publicly criticized by the Board.  It's no wonder parents don't want to be identified.

Denial of request to add "Satisfaction" questions to the Parent Survey
Last Tuesday, the latest survey seeking input from the community, parents and staff went live.  The administration has chosen to focus on the "visioning" ideas that came forward from their focus group that met earlier this fall.  Board Members Garg, Heneghan and Vorobiev requested that questions concerning the Learning for All Plan and Math Acceleration model be added in order to gauge how parents feel these programs have worked so far.

Their requests to add what Member Clarin called "satisfaction" questions were denied. Member Nelson said next Spring's survey would address these issues.

We cannot believe that although 3 of 4 board members asked for the questions to be included, the Superintendent refused.  While not a "majority," these elected officials wanted to learn what parents are thinking regarding the curriculum changes that have been rolled out.  These elected officials recognized how important getting feedback now is.

Why then did Dr. Schuster and the rest of the board disagree?  In our opinion, the board "majority" and Dr. Schuster  do not want to hear anything negative that people might say. They do not want to provide an opportunity for parents to speak out "safely" about what they think about the Learning for All Plan or Accelerated Math model. (And, we should note, even when parents actually do put their name on a complaint, as they have recently at board meetings, step out publicly to question what is going on, even then the Board chooses to ignore and not answer their questions.)

TASH Conference -- Request for Presentation Information

As reported in Dr. Schuster's Superintendent's Report, this December, Kurt Schneider and Kevin Russell will be presenters at the TASH Conference.  The topic that they will be discussing is called Leading Proactive High Achieving Schools for ALL Students.    During last Monday's meeting, Ms. Garg questioned the propriety of sending the entire department of learning to this conference.  Dr. Schuster quickly pointed out that the plans had changed and that only two administrators will be presenting.  As of this morning, one full week after Dr. Schuster said that only 2 administrators will be presenters,  we note with interest that the conference website still lists all four administrators from the Department of Learning as presenters -- Schneider (photograph also appears), Russell, Christine Igoe and Dawn Benaitis (photograph also appears).

But most concerning of all is the presentation's description that states "participants will learn how to move a district systemically forward and share the improved student achievement results that occur as a result."  We ask:  WHAT IMPROVED STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT RESULTS are the presenters talking about?   Certainly not those in D181!  Parents and board members have repeatedly asked for data that shows that the Learning for All Plan would work and asked to see data from the districts D181 relied on in developing this plan.  To our knowledge, none has been provided.  So how then can they represent that by December, they will be able to present "improved achievement data?"

During the meeting, Member Heneghan expressed concern that presentations are being given by D181 administrators at conferences without Board Members knowing what representations they are going to make about D181.  He asked to see the conference materials before the conference.  (As he stated publicly later in the meeting, as posted on Board Docs, Member Heneghan had to file a Freedom of Information Act request before he was allowed to see presentation materials received by the 7 administrators who attended the Social Justice Institute that Dr. Schneider presented at in July 2013.)

Dr. Schuster indicated that the TASH conference information will be forthcoming.  Let's hope so.

Below, we have copied the description of the presentation our administrators are going to give at the TASH Conference and provided the link:  Curious......

Description of D181's upcoming presentation at the TASH Conference:
Research and implementation efforts necessary to create systemically united high performing schools for ALL students of all abilities at all organizational levels in a school district. Grounded in the non-negotiable principles of inclusive schooling from Capper & Frattura (2009), participants will learn how to move a school district systematically forward and share the improved student achievement results that occur as a result.

Math Curriculum Renewal Process

During the discussion of the Math Curriculum Renewal Process that the Department of Learning is about to undertake, Member Garg asked that the process be transparent.  She further asked that 2 board members be allowed to join the committee, saying she believed "there will be fewer surprises if the board is involved." Ms. Garg elaborated that the board should discuss the math program and common core, pointing out that there have been concerns raised by parents regarding the math acceleration and that some states are pulling out of common core.

After Ms. Garg stressed the importance of the Board discussing these issues,  Dr. Schuster deflected this request, by inviting the board to the upcoming educational series that will be presented in the coming months to parents and by representing that the Department of Learning will make more frequent presentations as it goes through the math curriculum renewal process. What is absurd is that once again, despite a board member's request to discuss now the problems and concerns that parents have already identified, the "majority" of the board refused.  Instead, the can was once again kicked down the road.

Mr. Turek called for the administration to begin "over communicat[ing]" to the community about common core and math compacting, but who is he kidding?  It hasn't happened before now, and there is nothing that would make us believe that the administration will change its approach. Rather than deal with the questions that have been raised already, he has chosen to ignore the importance of addressing now the concerns parents have raised about the math compacting and acceleration model.  It is not just about the administration over communicating.  It is about the Administration and Board listening and addressing parent concerns when they arise, not when they see fit.

Further, despite Member Clarin's statement that "target dates" are needed, none were given and no date was set for when target dates will be announced.  When Member Heneghan asked for a "project plan" to be presented to the board that shows all the activities, sub tasks, deadlines and suggested a Kick Off Committee of the Whole Meeting where all questions can be asked ahead of the work that the math committee will be undertaking, no answer was given to his request for such a meeting, although Mr. Russell assured him that dates would be forthcoming.  We will wait to see if Mr. Russell comes through.

Policy 8:030 Complaint
The majority of the board was on a denial roll as the meeting continued.  They denied a community member's request for access to information and a public hearing relating to a Policy 8:030 Complaint they had filed. (Click to open Policy 8:030.) Policy 8:030 deals with conduct that is prohibited by persons while on school property.  The board was quick to deny the request for a fact finding report, recusal by board members who had witnessed the event in question and the request for a public hearing on the appeal of the complaint.  All of the requests were denied by the majority, with Members Garg and Heneghan voting no on the denials. What was fascinating to hear about this discussion is that more time was spent by the Board discussing these denials than the board has spent discussing any parent concerns that have come forward relating to the Learning for All Plan and accelerated math program.  More denials of information.  We ask: What are they trying so hard to hide?

Illinois School Report Card

In anticipation of the release of the Illinois School Report Card on 10/31, Mr. Russell gave a presentation on what the report card looks like.  When Ms. Garg asked about a presentation to the board on the "final ISAT" data, Dr. Schuster said, "We've already presented the ISAT data.....Done the ISAT report on September 9." Ms. Garg then pointed out that "that was a preliminary report" and "you said that you were waiting for the full report by the state to be released."

As Concerned Parents who listened to the September 9 meeting, we agree with Ms. Garg that Dr. Schuster said discussion on the final ISAT data would take place after the state released the final data. Therefore, we thank Ms. Garg for pushing for this additional Board discussion.  It appears that Dr. Schuster has changed her mind on coming back to the board for a discussion on the ISAT data, as evidenced by the letter she sent to parents last Friday "celebrating" the ISAT data and indicating that it will be discussed at the November 17 Board Meeting.  We will wait to see if the administration spins the data at that meeting into the "celebration" that Dr. Schuster has already announced we should all be having.

Turek and Nelson's Inappropriate Reaction to FOIA Requests

The icing on the cake of "absurdities" that took place during last week's meeting, was the pontification by President Turek on his plans to meet with Illinois Representative Patricia Bellock to ask for reform of the Freedom of Information Act.  This absurdity was topped only by Member Nelson's calling community members who file requests for PUBLIC DOCUMENTS "bullies."

If you haven't listened to the Podcast of the meeting, we encourage you all to listen to the FOIA discussion that took place.  It begins at 2:15:20 (or with 8:05 left) on the time counter.  It is important to hear how disconnected  these two board members are about the realities of the Freedom of Information Act and the reforms that the Illinois legislators implemented in 2010 to EXPAND, not LIMIT, the public's right to access public records.  Illinois legislators realized that there was a need for more "sunshine"laws (as FOIA laws are commonly called), not darkness!

After complaining about the time spent in responding to 8 FOIA requests filed by community members,  Mr. Turek said:

"I, as a board member, and possibly as a individual am going to be contacting Representative Patti Bellock who has historically spearheaded FOIA reform to get us out of this business of FOIA reports that take up our staff 60+ hours and over $4,000."

Good luck with that Mr. Turek.  You are exactly the kind of public official that FOIA reform was intended to protect the public from.

Mr. Nelson also weighed in on the FOIA requests and said: "It's really egregious and really sad because I think the FOIA process is being used as a tactic for bullying versus really any kind of true information and insight..Marty if you need help going to Patti I'm happy to sit there with you."

Gook luck to you too Mr. Nelson, since you are also the kind of public official that FOIA reform was intended to protect the public from.

Fortunately for the D181 public, at least 2 board members seem to understand the importance of FOIA.

Thank you to Ms. Garg who disagreed with Mrs. Turek and Nelson and then went on to point out how even when the district responds to FOIA's, the documents produced are not necessarily responsive.  She used as an example the FOIA request two parents were recently forced to file after the administration refused to answer their questions for data, and stated that the documents they had received in response were even NOT responsive. She then revealed that there were additional documents regarding a conference that had been disclosed to her and Mr. Heneghan and should be produced to a past FOIA requester. So it seems that even when responding to FOIA requests, the Administration is not turning everything over.

Mr. Turek, of course, tried to cut her off and pointed out that the FOIA laws are "very loose about what we have to produce and at what time."  He then again stated that "I will be in support of Patti Bellock pushing reform in Springfield." Clearly, he hasn't spent any time actually reading the Freedom of Information Act because it can hardly be construed as "loose."  Time to educate yourself, Mr. Turek!*

Thank you to Member Heneghan who reminded the Board that perhaps the public would not need to file FOIA requests if the Administration didn't make everyone jump through hoops to obtain information. He explained that even HE was forced to file a FOIA request after his request as a BOARD member for "a single presentation was wrongfully denied to me."  Mr. Heneghan stated that he was "disheartened as a board member and dejected that I couldn't get this information from the Department of Learning...that's what leads to that."

There is something very wrong with a public entity -- D181 -- going to such great lengths to keep public records from being made public.

In fact, there is much that appears wrong with a public entity, its administrators and the majority of the Board, who don't want to address requests in whatever form they come in, whether by letter, during public comment, from Board members or through a FOIA request.  Like we said in our last post, would someone please stop this merry-go-round?

* Post Script:  Board Members Turek and Nelson would be well-served to school themselves on the history and intent of the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.  As one Political Reform website points out:

"Let's remember that the Freedom of Information Act is not the reason why the public deserves access to government records; it is only the means by which that access is guaranteed. The reason why is because it is our government, and we the public have a right to know what government is doing for us, to us, and in our name. FOIA and the Open Meetings Act are like umbrellas -- you want one when it rains, but you don't look forward to using one every day. Having a stronger FOIA will help people better understand what government is doing, but units of government could make that task even easier by being more open with all of their actions." The Illinois Campaign for Political Reform

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