Kevin Russell is D181’s Assistant Superintendent of Learning (Curriculum, Assessment and Instruction).
When Kevin Russell was Principal of Walker School back in 2008-2010, District 181 was a much different place. Under the leadership of recently retired Superintendent, Mary Curley, the district had undergone standardization among all schools, upgrades to buildings, and new innovative programs to serve all children. The school board at that time believed the district needed to move forward and championed changes that were founded and researched carefully. Reading specialists were employed in each building, special education services were centralized for greater control at the central office so all schools would be in sync with specific programming, and gifted specialists were hired for each school to provide support for tiered instructional services. Moreover, the use of RtIs was limited only for remedial reading services; Mr. Russell and other building principals were not required to establish and then participate in numerous meetings with parents, teachers and staff to supposedly provide increased rigor, as is currently the protocol.
My, how things have changed, and not for the better.
In his three years as principal of one of the smallest schools in the district, Mr. Russell cultivated a solid rapport with parents and teachers. He was well liked, and personally still is, especially for his interpersonal skills. It is clear he was able to build a solid foundation for himself and the reputation of Walker school, but because of the school structure at that time, which included the tiered programming, special education centralization, and building reading and gifted specialists, Russell had rich resources to work with, and his teachers had smaller groups to manage. Consequently, the teachers and students performed optimally, which was demonstrated with solid MAP gains. Yes, herein is a noteworthy fact: when teachers have smaller, focused instructional groups established through homogeneous groupings, they are able to focus and target their instruction to meet the needs of each child. Period. Higher MAP and ISAT test results from years past, as were highlighted in a previous blog post, support this fact.
Unfortunately, one of Dr. Schuster’s first initiatives upon assuming her role as Superintendent was to end the concept of homogeneous groupings and focus on differentiation as the sole instructional strategy within a single heterogeneous classroom. As we have discussed in previous posts and the district has now demonstrated through test results, this concept has proven detrimental to the students throughout D181, which Dr Moon noted in her report. We must remember that as a principal, Mr. Russell had a solid structure within the walls of Walker School, giving him the supports for success that our current principals no longer have.
Today, he spins a web of similar Schuster-Schneider speech that includes (partial list):
- Every student’s needs will be met in the regular classroom; no groupings of students by need.
- Gifted specialists can magically wave their wands and turn into differentiation specialists (for which there is no certification or credentials required unlike those with special education or gifted endorsements).
- Principals are now responsible, along with several teachers and staff, to hold time-intensive RtI meetings that have little to no impact on student growth and performance.
- No identification of students for advanced services via testing.
- No centralized monitoring of special education students.
- Promotion of MAP scores from Fall to Fall, instead of Fall to Spring as most districts emphasize. Russell has stated publicly, “Fall to Fall MAP scores show growth,” which is misleading because you are including the rich environment students participate in during the summer outside of the district. Remember, in the fall to fall MAP scores, the last month of school and the first month of school are included. Does Russell really believe Fall to Fall scores show the true growth of students because of the activities students are engaged in over the summer?
- No well-researched, articulated solutions to the language arts and math curriculum problems now evident through lower-trending district MAP and ISAT test scores.
- Allowing differentiation specialists to focus primarily on third and fourth grade math this year, given the poor results of the failed math compacting experiment that occurred last year; what happened to the “push in” model for the differentiation specialist to work with all grades in a school?
- Promoting one-year grade level acceleration of math in addition to the demands of the Common Core.
- Elimination of student labels and philosophical belief all students can have their needs met within a single classroom with little to no instructional supports.
We bloggers also want our readers to know this is the first time in the history of D181 wherein two administrators have essentially the same job responsibilities with similar titles. (Click to open Russell's job description; Click to open Schneider's job description.) And the one administrator, Kurt Schneider, who has even less experience in curriculum and instruction than Kevin Russell, appears to be leading the charge in his perceived role as the ringmaster of curriculum changes (e.g., failed math compacting), magician of instructional strategies (teachers will be able to differentiate to the needs of 25+ students all day, every day) and an abject farmer of district ideology, complete with bubbles, silos, and a mantra for social justice. It’s obvious Schneider is leading these charges along with closing a supposed achievement gap between the 3% of students of color within D181 with the rest of the population, eliminating labels for student services, and promoting his brainchild, the Advanced Learning Plan, now referred to as Learning for All (as if this public school district had been focused on Learning for Some).
It appears to the public that Dr. Schuster does not have enough confidence in Kevin Russell’s abilities to lead on his own. Remember, Schuster hired Schneider (who now earns a handsome compensation package totaling $164,000.63* in salary and benefits) to oversee Special Education services. (Click to open 2013-2014 Adminsitrators' Salary and Benefits Report.) Shortly after Kevin Russell was promoted (he now earns a compensation package totaling $171,992.26 in salary and benefits**) however, Schneider’s job title was changed. (Click to open 2013-2014 Adminsitrators' Salary and Benefits Report.) Why was this allowed to happen? And this, unfortunately, has not given Russell the opportunity to demonstrate if he can handle the responsibilities of his new job. Schuster has allowed two highly paid administrators, with limited credentials at best, who hold essentially the same title to perform as dual Assistant Superintendents, and our test scores are headed downward. Shouldn’t she be held accountable?
So, there you have it. Kevin Russell is just one among most of the central office administrators who are learning on the job. His background and experience as principal is far different from the culture that awaits him in the front office each morning. And though he is well liked on a personal level, we parents recognize he has had to uphold Schuster’s agenda, which appears to be Schneider’s agenda, in order to be promoted and to receive compensation that is well outside of the norm for most school districts. We are very concerned, however, because this idea of twin Assistant Superintendents who have minimal education and experience in order to do their jobs well has already had disastrous affects on our children. In just one example, we only need to look at the poor decision-making and roll out of the 4th grade math curriculum this year. Whose wisdom was it to begin the school year with lesson 4.8 without determining if students had sufficiently mastered the content in previous chapter lessons? How about the fact students then completed 4.7 and 4.9 in that order? Then it was decided recently that students, at least at the Lane School, will have to go back and complete lessons earlier in the chapter they had insufficient skills in since they were finally assessed with a test. Shouldn’t the concept of assessing the incoming 4th grade students been part of a “retreat” discussion during their four-day summer work week? What does this do to our children who are now being remediated after having been accelerated? Which begs the final question: where is the true leadership within the curriculum department?
* Dr. Schneider's base salary for 2013-2014 is larger than Mr. Russell's, however, because Mr. Russell's health insurance benefit is nearly three times larger, Dr. Schneider's overall compensation package is smaller than Russell's.
** Mr. Russell's double promotion in less than a one year span resulted in a raise (combining salary and benefits) of over $35,000 (excluding the tuition reimbursement payments D181 also paid him for his EdD studies). (Click to open 2011-2012 Administrators' Salary and Benefits Report; Click to open 2012-2013 Administrators' Salary and Benefits Report.)