Monday, December 9, 2013

Parent, Staff and Resident Fall Survey "Comments" Raise Concerns that must not be Ignored by the Board of Education

Now that you have read the parent, resident and staff survey comments that we published in our last post, it is time to reflect on what they mean.  We are grateful that 686 individuals took the time to complete the Fall Survey and provide substantive, meaningful comments -- both complimentary and critical of what is happening in D181.  (Click to open Feedback Report with participant data numbers.) Now that the feedback has been provided to the board, it is time that they do something with this information, not just ignore it and look at the statistical results the administration will present at the December 9 Board meeting.  

The BOE needs to place more importance on the information provided by the 686 individuals who took the survey than on the feedback provided at the other two feedback opportunities the administration discusses in the Feedback Report presented on Board Docs.  (Click to open Feedback Report PowerPoint.)  According to Communication Director Bridgett McGuiggan’s report, there were 52 “individuals” present at the October 7 Visioning Workshop.  She did not provide a breakdown of the number of parents, community members, teachers, staff and administrators that participated, so we do not know exactly how many parents had provided feedback during that forum.  But you may recall that we wrote a post on this “Workshop” and pointed out that the participants were handpicked. It was not open to all.  (Click to open post.) Ms. McGuiggan then states that only 20 “individuals, not including staff volunteers” participated in the TWO Community Engagement Sessions held on November 12 and 13.  Those “individuals” we assume are parents and community members, since “staff volunteers” would probably include the principals, teachers and administrators, that we have learned filled up most of the seats or, in the case of some of the administrators, simply stood around talking amongst themselves while the small group discussions took place.

It is quite telling that in a district of 3951 students (per the information provided on the Illinois School Report card – Click to open D181 Report Card), only 20 parents showed up to the most recent community engagement sessions.  We know from past years, that the attendance used to be significantly higher.  For example, in October 2010, 158 parents, staff and community members attended the two sessions (Click to open Board Docs report.).  We also know from speaking with many parents, that they will no longer waste their time attending these rigid, restricted and in the opinion of some orchestrated and manipulated feedback sessions where the outcomes seem predetermined even before the sessions are held.  Why would anyone waste an evening away from family when it seems that parent questions go unanswered – if parents are even allowed to ask questions -- and when opinions, input and concerns are ignored?

Ms. McGuiggan's Feedback report stated that “a total of 686 respondents completed the
survey (371 parents, 85 residents, 230 staff).”  She represented that “Survey questions addressed demographics and the areas of communication, learning, social emotional learning and the District vision for the year 2020. The significantly larger number of respondents who came forward to complete the survey and took time to write comments -- in some cases pointing out the ranking scales provided for the survey questions were inadequate -- is evidence that the D181 constituency groups have a lot to say and took the time to provide feedback on the substance of the Learning for All Plan, even though such feedback was NOT solicited from them.  It is ironic that Ms. McGuiggan would suggest that the survey questions  addressed "learning," since those of us who took the survey know that the only questions that were asked about “learning” were questions related to our understanding of what the Learning for All Plan is and the methods of communication that were used to explain it.  There were NO satisfaction questions.  Fortunately, parents created their own opportunities to address the Learning for All Plan by utilizing the written comments opportunities provided in other areas.

The Feedback Power Point that will be presented Monday night is the most recent example of the lack of transparency that in our opinion is now the norm in D181.  There is almost no reference to the survey comments, and the few references there are fail to address the curriculum concerns voiced by parents, staff and community members or the negative impact the roll out of the Learning for All Plan is having on students and staff. Nor is any mention made in the power point of the dissatisfaction expressed in the comments towards the  administrators leading the district down this path.

We will not rehash the survey comments.  Instead, we pose 3 action steps that we believe the D181 BOE must take as a result of the concerns raised by parents, staff and residents:

1.  All 7 BOE members should either identify and meaningfully discuss the issues and concerns raised in the survey comments during the December 9 board meeting, or they should schedule a special public meeting  for this purpose.

2.  The Board should not only discuss the concerns but it should engage Dr. Schuster in a public conversation about how she will address the concerns raised in the survey comments.

3.  The Board should insist that Dr. Moon not only return to D181 to evaluate all of the changes that have taken place (and are scheduled to take place) since she and her team prepared their Gifted Evaluation Report nearly 2 years ago, but also that she attend a public board meeting during which the board can discuss the the Learning for All Plan and parent/staff/resident concerns regarding this plan with her.

As Concerned Parents, who now more than ever fear that our children will be permanently harmed by the continued implementation of the Learning for All Plan, we urge the BOE to recognize that a leadership change is necessary to put this district back on track to provide appropriate curriculum and educational opportunities for all of the students on the ability spectrum -- from the highest to the lowest.  We are not willing to wait 5 to 7 years to see how the grand scheme concocted by Dr. Schuster and Dr. Schneider plays out, and simply sit back and watch many of our children suffer from an unproven, experimental program that had no data to support its implementation in our district.  We urge the board to listen to the concerns voiced by hundreds of parents, teachers and residents.  We urge the board to fire Dr. Schuster, Dr. Schneider and Ms. Benaitis.  And if the board is unwilling to terminate them in the middle of their contracts, it should not renew their contracts.  Dr. Schneider and Ms. Benaitis' contracts expire on June 30, 2013.  They should not be renewed for the 2014-2015 school year.  Dr. Schuster's contract expires on June 30, 2015.  For the sake of all the children and teachers in D181, her contract should not be renewed. The board needs to begin planning now to look for a proven, experienced Superintendent to put our district back on track to provide excellence in education for all of our students.  It is our opinion that this no longer exists in D181.


Anonymous said...

We have been told time and time again that the opinions expressed by parents are not important because we are not education experts. Well the education experts have now spoken - our teachers! They do not agree with Learning for All, they think it is harming outlier children, they are overworked, they feel undervalued, and they are not happy. Oh and teacher collaboration - the magic cure all - appears to be an expensive joke. Wake up board!

Joanna Brinckerhoff said...

I hope that the teacher and parent comments from the Fall survey will be discussed openly and acted upon quickly. Our children and our teachers deserve it. It's been a rough couple of years for them all and it can't continue like this.

Please find below a letter I sent to the Board of Education earlier this morning. I encourage others to send similar letters this afternoon and to attend this evening's Board meeting.

Dear Board of Education Members,

Unfortunately, I will not be able to attend this evening’s Board meeting as my husband is having surgery today and I will be helping him out this evening. However, I did want to take a moment and respectfully urge you all, if you haven’t already had an opportunity to do so, to please read through all of the parent and teacher comments from the Fall District 181 survey.

Having reviewed the survey feedback presentation that the administration will be presenting this evening, I don’t believe the presentation accurately represents the feedback provided by approximately 600 parents and teachers combined. Parents and teachers alike voiced curriculum concerns as well as the negative impact of the Learning for All program on our children and our teachers. There was also significant dissatisfaction relayed regarding the leadership and motivations of Dr. Schuster and her administrative staff, particularly Dr. Schneider and Ms. Benaitis. Unfortunately the administration’s presentation has glossed right over the salient points in the survey results.

With regard to the tax levy, I hope that the Board will not approve the administration’s proposal and will continue to push the administration to be more fiscally responsible. I believe there is a lot of waste in our district, primarily at the district office with a very top-heavy staff with seemingly redundant responsibilities. I think we should look at ways to use our resources more wisely and focus those resources directly on the schools (smaller class sizes, reading and math specialists, appropriate curriculum materials available in a timely manner, etc.).

I hope that there will be a meaningful, in-depth discussion about the negative state of affairs in the district and what needs to be done to course-correct now before our children’s education is compromised any further. I know my 4th grader is receiving a lower quality education than his sister did two years ago.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Joanna Brinckerhoff
Monroe and CHMS Parent

Anonymous said...

Ms. Vorobiev, Mr. Heneghan, Ms. Garg,and Mr. Yaeger voted last night to keep the tax levy at CPI even though the administration wanted it higher. Turek, Nelson and Clarin voted to have it higher than CPI. Keeping the tax levy at CPI won. Dr. Schuster and team did a bunch of scare tactics about what was going to be cut and how it would affect the children. Yaeger cryptically alluded to two months from now things would be different and we would not need drastic cuts.

Two teachers from the union - the heads - spoke during public comments in favor of raising the tax levy above CPI. Two citizens spoke about living within our means.

Two outsiders from the finance committee made presentations on a bond refunding issue and a IMRF payment (relating to underfunding of pensions for non teacher positions). The board voted in favor of both. After the presentations, Mr. Heneghan pointed out how helpful it was to have a finance committee with outside experts, and we needed one for curriculum since the kids come first. Ms. Garg and Ms. Vorobiev also were in favor. I am not sure if Mr. Clarin was - I do not remember. Then Turek made a going down a rat hole comment and the discussion stopped. But not before Ms. Garg pinned Schuster to a corner and she admitted that the math heads at central - the "experts" - do not agree with D181's new math program.

1.5 additional FTE were hired. .5 for English learners at Elm, and .5 Differentiation Specialists each for the Lane and Monroe. All board members voted yes.

The survey results were read but discussion was held off until the January meeting due to the late hour. They did make a few questionable remarks. 1. It is good we didn't have satisfaction questions because most people said they didn't know what learning for all is, and 2. Why did we spend so much time on school rankings if the public doesn't care about rankings? Turek was confused why people do not find the administration transparent - he doesn't get it. There was little to no mention of the comments.

The web site is getting a revamp during winter break.

Mr. Russell is now Dr. Russell.