Thursday, February 27, 2014

Recap of Remainder of 2/24/14 Board Meeting: Superintendent Search, Performance Data, Approval of a Project Manager and Skyrocketing HMS Mold Remediation Costs

Monday's Board Meeting lasted 4 hours 5 minutes, not including a bathroom break and adjournment into Executive Session in the middle of the meeting. Before we address the substance of the agenda items, we want to express our disappointment in the length of the agenda and the declining attention Board Members paid to important items as the evening wore on. Anyone who listened to the entire meeting, either live or via Podcast, will realize that the Board increased the speed at which it plowed through the second half of the agenda items and decreased the thoroughness of the questions asked or discussion held. Frankly, to hear the way the board handled the latter agenda items was embarrassing, because rather than take the responsible course and suggest that some of the agenda items be tabled, multiple items had absolutely no discussion as board members or Dr. Schuster stated that there was not even a need for some of the scheduled administrative presentations, or that the important MAP data and math performance data presentation by Dr. Russell could be shortened.  Such a lackadaisical approach to the agenda was, in our opinion, unacceptable because the community has a right to expect more care and consideration from its elected officials on matters that impact our students --  curriculum, budget and facilities.

So what else besides Dr. Moon's "presentation" was on the agenda?

Superintendent Search Firm Hired:

The evening kicked off with presentations by 3 superintendent search firms:  Ray & Associates Inc., BWP and Associates and Hazard Young Attea and Associates.  (Hazard was the firm that identified Dr. Schuster as a candidate in 2009.)  After hearing presentations from the three firms and adjourning later in the meeting to Executive Session to discuss them, the Board voted in open session to retain BWP and Associates.  During its presentation, BWP assured the Board that they could complete a superintendent search by July 1.  In fact, they were the only firm that said they could complete a search within 8 weeks and explained that the Board should shoot for a hiring date of May 31, 2014.  May 31 is apparently a date of some significance because the salary of an administrator on May 31, the day before the new Illinois Pension Benefit law takes effect, will be "capped" for some of the future pension benefits. As a result, the implication was that now is the time to search for a new superintendent because there may be a greater willingness by sitting superintendents to make a move, especially if their new salary will be higher than their current one.  In fact, BWP was the only firm who brought this information to the Board's attention.  In addition, BWP will "guarantee" the superintendent hire for a period of 2 years. If the superintendent does not work out, then BWP will conduct a "free" search for a replacement.  While the community has not seen the proposals that set out the search process, all three firms said the first step would be developing a superintendent profile and that at some point input from the community will be solicited.

In our opinion, the Board made the right choice.  BWP's presentation certainly seemed like the most thorough and they presented information that neither of the other firms did.  Their aggressive timeline may prove to be a positive, even if it means ultimately paying the new superintendent a higher salary than the one he/she is currently paid at another district, in order to entice them to come to D181.  We would suggest that the Board consider "freeing up some money" by eliminating one or more central administrators, because in our opinion, the central office has grown and grown under Dr. Schuster's watch and is now top heavy. At the March 10 board meeting, Dr. Schuster will be bringing forward her recommendations on administrator contract renewals and salary raises.  In our opinion, there are certain administrators who are not adding value or pulling their weight.  We won't name names or positions here, but we hope the board carefully assesses whether one or more of them should be eliminated. We firmly believe that by eliminating one or two positions, there will be between $150,000 to $320,000 in salary and benefits that can be used toward paying a highly competitive salary for a new superintendent with experience in a high achieving district and a proven, successful track record, especially in the area of curriculum.

We wish BWP good luck in this important undertaking and urge the Board to continue to proceed in a responsible and transparent manner, seeking the most qualified candidate to replace Dr. Schuster.

Next up was Dr. Moon's presentation, which we have already covered in our last post.

Superintendent's Report:

Dr. Schuster then presented her superintendent's report. ( Click to open report.)  The report covered a recent visit to FermiLab by many of our science teachers and an "explanation" on the double acceleration of some 5th grade students who commute each day to the middle schools for math.  Unfortunately, no details of the actual "process" or "standards" required to be identified or be eligible for this double acceleration were described in her report which simply stated that "[t]he decision to have a student attend math class at the middle school is a data-driven team decision and is often included as part of a student’s Individual Learning Plan."  

Why can't the Department of Curriculum publish the process and standards?  To do otherwise reeks of yet another subjective decision made without any real consistency and that most likely results in students being overlooked or perhaps even, over-identified. There may very well be students who NEED double math acceleration while in elementary school, but without transparency and a process that is spelled out for all families to see, the Department of Learning is sliding backwards to the unfair and questionable identification practices that were criticized by Dr. Moon in her January 2012 report used back then to place students into the gifted programs and advanced/accelerated math tiers.  Has Dr. Schuster and the Department of Learning Administrators learned nothing?

Performance Data Presentation:

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Dr. Moon Distances Herself from Learning For All Plan -- Ball Thrown Back Into Board's Court

Anyone who attended or listened to Monday's (2/24/14) board meeting hoping to hear Dr. Moon present a progress monitoring report on the implementation of HER 2012 Report recommendations was sorely disappointed.  We are not going to describe every single thing that was said, rather this post is mostly our commentary, and we hope that our readers will weigh in with their opinions.  It is important for each parent and teacher to listen to the whole discussion (including parent comments) and come to their own conclusions.   This portion of the meeting can be accessed at the D181 website, by going to the Board of Education "meetings' tab and then downloading the 2/24/14 podcast. The agenda item dealing with Moon begins at Time Counter 1:01:34.

The agenda item titled "Guest Presentation"was quite enlightening to us for many reasons.

First, opening public comments were not allowed. Apparently now whenever the BOE wants to exclude opening public comments that its own board policy requires be allowed immediately following the pledge of allegiance at each business meeting (click to open Policy 2:230), it simply needs to call something a "guest presentation" and schedule it ahead of any input from the community.  Of course the policy doesn't allow for this, but the board doesn't seem to care that it is violating yet another one of its policies.* Public comments were only allowed following Dr. Moon's "presentation," which was clearly frustrating to all parents who had hoped Dr. Moon would be able to acknowledge or address some of their questions and concerns.  She could not during her presentation, but worst yet, did not comment on any of the the parents' comments or questions raised  following her "presentation."

Second, Dr. Moon did not actually give a "presentation" at all despite the administration repeatedly stating over the last year that Dr. Moon would return -- as required by her contract --  to evaluate and report to the board on the implementation of her recommendations.  Dr. Moon's "presentation" actually began with a prepared speech read by Dr. Schneider.  He went through an 8 slide power point trying to remind everyone of why Dr. Moon had been hired, what her recommendations were and how they are being implemented.  He then turned the microphone over to Dr. Moon, and much to our dismay, she did not present a report at all.  Instead,  she merely explained that she was in the middle of a two day visit during which she would observe classrooms, review documents received from the administration to determine if what's in place is "aligned" to the practices called for in the Board's plan.  She said she had received documents to review from the administration regarding the Board's plan, but that she was still reviewing them.  She said that she was really only in attendance on Monday in order to answer questions the board members might have about the Board's plan. She stated that on Tuesday she would complete her tour of the schools and then prepare a report for the Board that would include "commendations" and "considerations"regarding the Board's plan.  She stated that this report would be different than last time when she had been asked to evaluate existing programs and provide HER recommendations on changes that were needed, but this time her only job was to determine if the Board's plan was being successfully implemented, not whether her recommendations were being implemented. Dr. Moon made some brief observations regarding seeing some differentiation in the classrooms, saying she had seen tremendous amount of growth during her classroom observations, but did really elaborate. She did not specify what any of her final conclusions --- positive or negative might be. She did not say when her written report would be ready and submitted to the BOE.

What was disclosed during the meeting was that after Monday night, the progress monitoring would transition from Dr. Moon to Dr. Reva Friedman, a colleague of Dr. Schneider hired in 2013 to serve as a gifted consultant to D181, but who apparently had never visited D181 until Monday.  Dr. Friedman is not a colleague of Dr. Moon's from the University of Virginia.  She works at the University of Kansas. She was not part of the team that submitted a Request for Proposal to the BOE in 2011 and who were selected after careful consideration of their credentials and proposal when compared to proposals submitted by other educators.  Dr Friedman did not accompany Dr. Moon in 2012 when Dr. Moon spent several days in the district observing classrooms and preparing a written report for the Board.  She was not present when Dr. Moon gave her report to the Board in January 2012.  Instead, Dr. Friedman was handpicked by Dr. Schneider to collaborate -- apparently "for free" - -during the time period when the administration was developing the Advanced Learning Plan/Learning for All Plan.  Dr Friedman was subsequently hired in 2013 to serve as a "gifted consultant" to D181 but despite her contract specifying past dates in 2013 and 2014 when she should have been on site, Monday's was her first visit to D181.  She accompanied Dr. Moon to the classroom observations on Monday, but was silent during the entire "presentation" to the BOE on Monday night.

So we find it very curious to learn during the meeting that following Dr. Moon's 2/24 "presentation" and written report, all work related to monitoring and advising on the implementation of the Learning for All Plan is going to be "transitioned" to Dr. Friedman.  It appears that D181 will never hear from Dr. Moon again.  In response to Board Member Heneghan's question as to why this was happening, Dr. Schuster quickly jumped in and represented that Dr. Moon would no longer be available.

We just don't get it. After paying Dr. Moon nearly $56,000, suddenly the well has run dry? Suddenly she is no longer available, but Dr. Schneider's handpicked choice is?  How can that be? Well the answer may lie in what we learned from the her responses to board member questions. These answers made it abundantly clear that she is washing her hands of D181. And the reason may be because the Board's plan, as she kept referring to it, did not implement her recommendations and is not a plan she can support.  We will have to wait and read what her "commendations" and "considerations" are when she finally submits the written report to the board, but one thing is for sure, no one will be able to ask her questions about what she puts in the report because SHE IS NOT COMING BACK.  Not one board member suggested that she be paid to return to present her findings and conclusions to the board and to be available to answer their questions in a public setting where the parents and teachers whose students are being impacted by the Board's plan can hear the discussion.  In our opinion, this just doesn't make sense, and it doesn't seem logical or right!

So let's look at exactly what we did learn from Dr. Moon on Monday night. She really did not make any substantive comments before addressing the board's questions, but even when those began, Dr. Moon said that there were some she could not answer because they were outside her area of expertise.  Some she said she could not answer because her observations were not yet concluded.  Some she answered in a very generic, non-D181 specific way.  However, several themes or pieces of information did emerge from the Q&A session with the Board.

1.  Her role in returning to the district was NOT to determine if the district was successfully implementing the recommendations she made in her 2012 report.  Her role was to observe classrooms, review data (which she admitted she had not yet reviewed) and determine if what is currently in place in D181 "aligns" with the practices that the Board's plan called for.
2.  The Advanced Learning Plan/Learning for All Plan is the "Board's Plan," NOT HERS.
3.  She did not state that the Board's plan was implementing her recommendations; in fact in our opinion, her answers made it clear that the Board's plan had cherry picked which of her recommendations to incorporate.
4.  It also became clear that she had NOT recommended that D181 implement a math acceleration  for ALL program, nor did she necessarily think it is appropriate for ALL students.
5.  The Board's plan has never been implemented in any other district.
6.  She did point out that in order for the radical changes the Board's plan -- including math acceleration for all -- is trying to implement to be successful, the teachers should have and must continue to receive appropriate professional development.
7.  The Board's plan may take 7 years to implement successfully.

We will say that we were quite pleased that all 7 board members asked thoughtful questions.  Several of them acknowledged parent concerns regarding possible harm to students as a result of the math acceleration for all model.  Board member Nelson -- WHO ACTUALLY WAS PHYSICALLY PRESENT -- pointed out that he wants to know if the plan currently in place is "ultimately hurting" any of our students and did it "go too far."

Those were GREAT questions Mr. Nelson, and we sincerely hope that Dr. Moon's final report will directly answer them and provide the basis for her answer.

Following the Board's questions, public comment was allowed.  As the comments posted since Monday night show, many parents spoke and all comments made regarding the plan were NEGATIVE.  No one stepped up and said the Learning for All Plan was working. Parents reminded the Board and explained to Dr. Moon how their children are being harmed. Again, you should all listen to the parents' comments, as they were very difficult to hear, realizing that the Board's Plan, which was not Dr. Moon's plan, has had direct negative effects on students, regardless of the administration's continued insistence that its data -- mostly NWEA MAP data -- shows otherwise.

Parent Matt Bousquette's public comment was in line with our reflections of what we learned from Dr. Moon.  In his words, she's tossed the ball back over to the Board and now it will be the Board's responsibility to figure out if the Learning for All Plan can continue in its current form without modification.  He pointed out that it is not Dr. Moon's responsibility to fix the problems, it is the Board's responsibility.  He emphasized that the current plan IS hurting students.

So several questions remain. WHAT IS THE BOARD going to do to address the concerns and problems that have resulted from implementation of the Board's plan? As another parent asked during public comment, WHEN is the board going to address these issues publicly and engage with each other to decide how to deal with them?  HOW, if at all, will the Learning for All Plan be modified?

Time is of the essence.  Children are hurting.  Everyone see it.  Board members finally acknowledged that this concern exists.  The issue cannot be ignored and must be dealt with immediately.  Each day that passes without board action is another day that the board is ignoring it's obligations and responsibilities to provide the best learning environment to ALL children and ensure that NO CHILD is left behind or hurt!

We hope to see a Board discussion and action plan addressed at the next board meeting.

* Remember, the board is currently in violation of Policy 5:222 titled Tutors, which prohibits teachers from receiving compensation for tutoring their own students in the subject in which they examine them.
The policy states: "No teacher shall tutor, for compensation, any District 181 pupil in any subject in which the pupil was, is, or may be, examined by said teacher for school credit.  A teacher shall not tutor individually or in a group, for compensation, any District 181 pupil enrolled in his/her class.  Exceptions may be made on a case-by-case basis by the Superintendent or designee such as in the case of a special education teacher who has knowledge of the unique needs of the student."
Yet this is exactly what the board is allowing by compensating 4th grade teachers who are now tutoring 107 of their own students in math after school, twice a week. The tutoring is intended to assist 4th grade students who have been identified as needing additional instruction in both 4th grade math concepts and the 5th grade accelerated math they are being forced to participate in.

Monday, February 24, 2014

REMINDER: Parents and Teachers Should Not Miss Tonight's BOE Meeting

Tonight's BOE Business Meeting -- 7 p.m. at Elm School -- is probably the most important meeting of the year and we encourage all parents and teachers to attend.  Two full years after Dr. Moon was hired to evaluate the gifted program, and presented her "report" that went beyond addressing identification issues and broadened her critique of the gifted curriculum/classroom instruction to address a perceived lack of differentiation across the district, she is back.  Two years after her report, the district curriculum and instructional model looks very different than when she presented her report to the BOE in January 2012.

Today, she is touring the schools and will give a "progress check" presentation to the BOE tonight. (Click on Dept. of Learning report describing her visit.) It is unclear exactly what she will be addressing or how "in depth" her "progress check" can actually be, since she will only have had 7 hours to visit 9 schools and the hundreds of classes district wide. Certainly she will not have time to write a report.  She will not have time to visit all classrooms in all buildings.  She will not have time to meet with teachers and engage in meaningful, in depth discussions addressing their questions and concerns.  She will not have time to meet with parents, nor have any parent meetings even been scheduled.  Despite an obviously compacted schedule, the D181 Department of Learning has already prepared an 8 slide power point presentation for tonight's meeting.  (Click to open power point.)  This power point is another example of how the Administration continues to represent that what has been implemented over the last two years are Dr. Moon's recommendations.  Slide 3, for example, represents that Dr. Moon recommended that the district "accelerate math for all."Anyone who has taken the time to read her report knows that Dr. Moon did not recommend this.  Rather, she recommended D181 MIGHT be a candidate for this step, but that first, a feasibility study needed to be conducted.  As we pointed out in an earlier post, on page 27 of her report, Dr. Moon stated:

"the diverse group of stakeholders tackling the district's philosophy and definition be charged with investigating the feasibility of accelerating the district wide-mathematics program by one grade level."
(Click to open Dr. Moon's Report.)

Will this recommendation be "clarified" by her during tonight's meeting?  Will Dr. Moon address parent concerns regarding the negative impact some students have suffered as a result of the forced math acceleration model?  Will she inquire why the district bypassed a feasibility study and simply concluded that math acceleration was appropriate to implement for ALL students?

If there is one meeting that needs to be well attended this year, this is it.  If parents do not attend, the board will no doubt conclude that there is no need to make any changes to the Learning for All/Advanced Learning programs.  It will discount the comments and concerns of the smaller group of parents who may attend tonight's meeting.  That's what this board has done in the past, and that's what we believe they will continue to do.  So, if you have questions, concerns or even compliments regarding Dr. Moon's past report, how the administration has used the report to influence the Advanced Learning/Learning for All plans, and the impact felt by your children, you should fill the seats at Elm School tonight.  Parents have come forward en mass in the past when they disapproved of the math curriculum materials the BOE wanted approved last Spring.  As a result, the board did not approve the Administration's recommendation.  Parents have come forward en mass when the mold infestation and health concerns at Hinsdale Middle School were finally revealed to the public last month.  As a result, the board was forced to push the administration to take the necessary actions to get the HMS students back into school and implement the split schedule.  

Tonight, parents and teachers must come forward again and be heard regarding the sweeping curriculum changes that have been rolled out (and are currently still scheduled to continue to roll out) over the last two years.  In our opinion, the program should be modified to address the curriculum needs of every student. If students need or want grade level instruction, it should be available. If students need gifted services, they should be offered. If students want the opportunity to try higher level instruction, but missed the arbitrary cutoffs that were used in the past, they should be allowed to enroll in higher level coursework and only be excluded if they cannot successfully perform at that level.  But nothing is going to change unless a large group of concerned parents and teachers come forward to voice their concerns and call for modification of a "plan" that is clearly flawed.  

The time is now.

We Are So Over the Moon (Report); What is the Status of D181 Two Years Later? (Part 2)

(taken from Wikipedia fat cow/moon images)

As we reflect on how D181 has traveled off course during the past several years, it’s important for us to recognize that we bloggers believe in equal access and opportunity for every educational possibility that exists within a school setting. We, through reviewing parent and community comments since the inception of this blog, realize that there are probably parents who are happy and relieved that the tiered services of the past are now a distant memory, despite the fact students while in the tiers across the district demonstrated solid gains on ISAT and MAP tests. For soon after Dr. Moon submitted her report to the D181 administration, Dr. Schuster took the first steps in eliminating tiered services and the ACE program for students who had been identified as gifted and talented, or what we now refer to as advanced learners. Subsequently, the Advanced Learning Plan was developed, which then morphed into Learning for All, despite the fact the initial goal was to better meet the needs of gifted and talented students. As many of our readers realize, D181 is in the throws of a massive, unfounded, non-researched ideology called Learning for All, which the administration claims was created as a result of Dr. Moon’s report.

Within the hallowed halls of the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education are the offices of two professors whose area of focus is the field of Gifted and Talented Education. Yes, at the University of Virginia, the term Gifted is not considered a dirty word, despite the fact Dr. Tonya Moon believes this term should not be used as a label within educational settings, particularly those within impoverished school districts. You can read about Ms. Moon’s education and interests by clicking: . Moon’s focus is largely centered on the use of multiple measures and assessments within educational settings to identify children for gifted and talented programs.  Here is a sampling of her publications:

Standards Reform in High-Poverty Schools: Managing Conflict and Building Capacity  Tonya R. Moon 2004

A Primer on Research Ethics in the Field of Gifted Education

Tonya R. Moon, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia, P.O. Box 400265, Charlottesville, VA 22904-4265, USA

Moon, T. R., Brighton, C. M., Jarvis, J. M., & Hall, C. J. (2007). State standardized testing programs: Their effects on teachers and students (RM07228). Storrs, CT: The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented, University of Connecticut.

Also at the University of Virginia is Dr. Holy Hertberg-Davis, who is a colleague of Moon’s. Ms Davis also consults for various school districts in the areas of gifted education and student performance. Her views on the field appear to differ from those of Moon in that her research promotes the notion that gifted students cannot be fully served within the regular classroom using differentiation as the main strategy. A recent article that appeared in Gifted Child Quarterly illustrates this fact:

Hertberg-Davis H. 2009. Myth 7: Differentiation in the Regular Classroom Is Equivalent to Gifted Programs and Is Sufficient: Classroom Teachers Have the Time, the Skill, and the Will to Differentiate Adequately. Gifted Child Quarterly 53: 251-253. (Click to open article.

We encourage our readers to read the Hertberg-Davis article which states in its conclusion: 

"For all these reasons—lack of sustained teacher training in the specific philosophy and methods of differentiation, underlying beliefs prevalent in our school culture that gifted students do fine without any adaptations to curriculum, lack of general education teacher training in the needs and nature of gifted students, and the difficulty of differentiating instruction without a great depth of content knowledge—it does not seem that we are yet at a place where differentiation within the regular classroom is a particularly effective method of challenging our most able learners."

Also of interest to our readers, the following text will offer a review of the most relevant aspects of the field of gifted:

Fundamentals of Gifted Education: Considering Multiple Perspectives (Click to open link to text.)

Within these readings, one will quickly discover that there are basically two major viewpoints concerning the appropriate educational approach that should be taken for gifted/advanced, high-ability students in today’s educational settings.

The first viewpoint, which our very own Kurt Schneider, Co-Assistant Superintendent for Learning, espouses to be a proponent of is the full inclusive strategy with the sole source of teaching through differentiation within a single classroom. He, along with certain college faculty (Moon, Tomlinson, Capper, Frattura, Friedman (newly minted D181 consultant effective June 2013 - click to open Friedman's contract)  believe all students can have their learning needs met by one teacher, maybe the use of a support aide (MRC director, a former gifted specialist (now differentiation specialist), and whoever else might be qualified to come into a classroom to lend support to 22 plus children.

Moreover, much of their descriptive research (compared to empirical research with data driven statistical results) centers on impoverished school districts and students of challenged socio-economic backgrounds. In addition, the use of labels for children is discouraged, and thus all children are collectively treated as a whole within a classroom. There are supposed to be no pullout services or special instruction provided within this framework. We believe this has been the goal of Schuster and Schneider since they began their employment with D181, and we now see the effects of their desire to become “pioneers” in the field of education by also foisting automatic grade-level acceleration into the brainchild of Learning for All.

The other viewpoint concerning gifted/advanced populations centers on the plain and simple fact that not all students should be accelerated. There is simply no research that indicates with certainty that acceleration for all is effective. Let’s take a look at a statement from the National Association for Gifted Children:

Friday, February 21, 2014

We Are So Over the Moon (Report); What is the Real Status of D181 Two Years Later? (Part 1)

(Taken from Wikipedia Moon images.)

In anticipation of Dr. Tonya Moon's return to D181 next Monday, February 24, 7pm at Elm School, today we begin a new series.  Part 1 will provide links to earlier posts from last year in which we discussed when and for what purpose Dr. Moon was initially hired and the district wide curriculum changes that morphed from her original report.  We encourage our readers to read these earlier posts, as well as the additional commentary below, prior to Monday's meeting.  Part 2 of this series will be published prior to Monday's meeting and will provide our readers with insight as to backgrounds, relevant research in the field of gifted and talented education, and the impact of hired consultants Drs. Moon and Friedman on D181. We suggest setting some time aside prior to Monday’s meeting as there is a great deal of information for you to review. You will want to become especially versed in the terminology and semantics that will be on display during Monday’s meeting. Let’s begin by referencing several of our previous posts:

Our 6/5/13 post titled "2012-2013 Year in Review: How did the curriculum change process evolve?" described the chronology of events leading up to and following the hiring of Dr. Moon, who was tasked with evaluating the gifted program during the 2011-2012 school year.  (Click to open 6/5/13 post.

In January 2012, Dr. Moon presented a report of her findings to the BOE. Her report went further than simply evaluating the gifted program.  (Click to open Dr. Moon's Report.)  As we previously summarized in our 6/5/13 post, Moon concluded that there was insufficient differentiation across the classrooms in D181, and that there was inadequate identification of students for admission into the gifted, advanced or accelerated math and language arts programs.  She advised that unless there was evidence to show that a student would not be successful in such programs, the opportunity for students to enroll in them should be created. Anything short of this was, in her words, “educational malpractice.” She also recommended that the district create a Philosophy of Learning for all students.  She did not advise that there should not be any gifted programming, but that the door needed to be opened for more students into the advanced programs D181 offered.  Of significance is a statement Dr. Moon made on page 27 of her report regarding math acceleration. Contrary to the administration's continued insistence that they have implemented Dr. Moon's recommendation of math acceleration for "all students," what she actually said was that "the diverse group of stakeholders tackling the district's philosophy and definition be charged with investigating the feasibility of accelerating the district wide-mathematics program by one grade level."  

Following Dr. Moon's report, the district developed a Philosophy of Learning, transition plans, and ultimately what was first called the "Advanced Learning Plan," but was later renamed to be the "Learning for All Plan."  What was intended to be an evaluation and improvement of the gifted programs in D181, morphed into a decision to dismantle the gifted program, implement an inclusive model whereby each homeroom teacher would differentiate instruction to each student's individual level, accelerate all students by one full year above grade level in math, transition to all students taking "ACE" social studies at the middle school level, and allow students to opt into higher level math and language arts classes than those they had placed into a the middle school level.  The following posts reviewed data and observations regarding the curriculum changes in 2012-2013, which the administration called the "transition year":

Each of these posts raised parent and teacher concerns and asked many questions about what would happen as the ALP/Learning for All Plan continued to roll forward, grade by grade.  Interestingly, this year -- Year 1 of the ALP/Learning for All Plan -- despite repeated requests from a couple of board members to Dr. Schuster, asking her to please present student performance data for the 2013-2014, no such presentation has been given, nor has the BOE publicly discussed parent concerns that have been raised regarding math acceleration.  The administration has now identified as many as 25% of this year's 4th grader's who need after school tutoring in order be able to tackle the 5th grade math instruction they must learn. When asked at the February 10 board meeting when data on elementary and middle school performance would be presented, Dr. Schuster referenced the upcoming meeting at which Dr. Moon will be presenting a follow up report.  More than half way through this school year, the parents and community continue to wait to see data that last year was released on a relatively regular basis.

It appears that Dr. Schuster and the entire Department of Learning are putting all of their eggs into Moon's basket.  What will she say?  Will she agree with what has been implemented in D181 since she called for better identification of students for tiered programs and more effective differentiation in the classroom?  Will SHE have been provided the performance data for the first half of the 2013-2014 school year and will she have analyzed it as part of her follow up report?   Dr. Moon will visit the district the same day she presents to the board.  How many classrooms will she visit?  How long will she spend in each classroom?  Will she speak to any teachers?  Will she speak to any students?  Will she speak to any parents before she presents to the BOE?

Our posts over the last 10 months have raised many questions and concerns about the curriculum and program changes/eliminations that began after Dr. Moon's report.  The D181 administration has not answered or addressed them. The majority of the BOE has not requested data and analysis from Dr. Schuster and the Department of Learning to determine the effectiveness of the massive changes that have taken place since Dr. Moon’s last visit.

Gravity, stars, and the Earth’s rotation are sure bets. Moon’s upcoming visit and what we predict will be a grand meteor shower of spin, should be cause for pause for all of us.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Dr. Kevin Russell to Host 2/20/14 Meeting on "Interpreting MAP Assessment Results"

Today parents received an email reminding them of tomorrow night's meeting at Elm School (6:30 p.m.) hosted by Dr. Kevin Russell, the Co-Assistant Superintendent of Learning (Curriculum, Assessment and Instruction).  The topic of the meeting is "Interpreting MAP Assessment Results." We have copied the email below.
According to the email, parents are encouraged to bring their children's recent Winter and Fall MAP test results, in order to be able to "actively participate."  We hope "actively participate" will mean more than parents looking at the score reports and comparing them to general informational slides presented by Dr. Russell via a power point presentation.  We hope parents will be allowed to ask questions and receive answers.  If so, we encourage any parent who attends to ask the following questions:
1.  We understand that at least one school experienced technical difficulties during the MAP testing.  As a result, some students were unable to "complete" their tests (meaning their test did not "end" when they could no longer answer questions, but they were told to stop because time was up).  We have been told that computers loaded the tests slowly or froze in the middle of tests and some students had to restart the test.  Many students ran out of time.  So the question to ask is:  Are the test results valid?  Do the scores accurately reflect a student's knowledge of the test subject? If not, have parents been told to disregard the scores and is the district disregarding them as well?
2.  What training have teachers received on test score interpretation and the use of the "Descartes?" Do teachers ever discuss the "Descartes" with parents, and if so, when?
3.  What analysis, if any, has the Assessment Department conducted on how Math MAP scores have been impacted over the last 3 years as a result of compacting 3rd and 4th grade math during 3rd grade?  The comparison would be this year's 3rd grade MAP scores to those 3rd grade MAP scores from 2 years ago. Have Math MAP scores gone up, gone down or stayed the same?  If an analysis has been done, when will it be presented to the BOE and the community?
4.  What analysis, if any, has the Assessment Department conducted on how Math MAP scores have been impacted over the last 2 years as a result of accelerating all 4th grade math students by one year (so they are learning 5th grade math)?  The comparison would be this year's 4th grade MAP scores compared to last year's 4th grade scores. Have Math MAP scores gone up, gone down or stayed the same?  If an analysis has been done, when will it be presented to the BOE and the community?
5.  What analysis, if any, has the Assessment Department conducted on how Math MAP scores of students who OPTED up in middle school math have been impacted?  If an analysis has been done, when will it be presented to the BOE and the community?
6.  What analysis, if any, has the Assessment Department conducted on how the Language Arts MAP scores have been impacted as a result of the changes to the literacy model currently being used in D181?  If an analysis has been done, when will it be presented to the BOE and the community?
7.  In the past, when MAP presentations were given, the Assessment Director gave the presentation. (The first assessment director D181 hired was Lori Gehrke, the second one was Bonnie Strykowski, the third one was Dr. Russell, the current one is Dawn Benaitis.) Today's reminder announces that Dr. Russell will be the presenter along with "the Department of Learning." Will Ms. Benaitis -- a highly paid administrator -- run this meeting? Will she explain how to interpret MAP data and do more than read from a script? Will she answer parent questions and address parent concerns? Since she was promoted to replace Dr. Russell as the Director of Assessment when he was promoted to Co-Assistant Superintendent of Learning, shouldn't she be handling "all things assessment?"As taxpayers, you have the right to ask and receive an answer to questions on the "value added" by yet another highly paid central administrator.  
We hope that parents who attend the meeting will submit comments reflecting on what transpires during the meeting and any useful information you may learn.
Email from District:
Thursday, February 20
“Interpreting MAP Assessment Results”

A Presentation in the Learning for All Family Education Series
Elm School, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m.

No pre-registration required.
Assistant Superintendent of Learning (CAI) Dr. Kevin Russell and the Department of Learning will present an overview of the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) assessment used in Grades 2-8. Attendees will learn how MAP is used to help guide instruction in District 181 schools. The session will close with an overview of how parents can interpret the data in their child’s results. Parents are encouraged to bring their child’s fall and/or winter MAP scores to actively participate. Visit our website to learn more about each event in the Learning for All Family Education Series and access select videotaped > Learning > Family Education Series.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Channel 7 News Reports on Schuster’s HMS Mold Spin While Showcasing Piles of FOIA Documents

Last night, Channel 7 News ran an I-Team segment (click to open segment) detailing the HMS problem that resulted in the school’s closure for two weeks. From our perspective, it’s a good thing that the FOIA law forced Dr. Schuster to submit what Channel 7 Reporter Chuck Goudie detailed as 1500 pages of documents related to the mold problems that have plagued HMS for years. (Click to open Part 1 of documents produced to Channel 7click to open Part 2 of documents produced to Channel 7.) The documents confirm what the HCHTA Co-President Heather Scott told the board in January; that there had been mold and health concerns voiced by teachers and staff for many years.

We encourage our readers to read the documents produced to Channel 7 because they establish that all the while teachers and staff complained about the obvious mold problem, it appears their concerns were not given the necessary attention. There were potential health issues brought to Dr. Schuster's attention, and while she did send one "Assorted Notes" to the board, and short email to HMS parents, in August 2012 explaining that some mold had been found, remediated and that there was no danger to students or staff, there does not appear to be any more information provided to the board.  There also doesn't seem to have been any board discussion regarding these concerns after this information was provided to them.  We have reviewed the agendas and Superintendent's reports found on Board Docs for the meetings over the next several months after the mold concerns were raised in the summer of 2012 and there is nothing regarding mold.  Even the Summer Facilities Work report provided to the board on August 27, 2012 that lists the summer work done at each school is silent regarding any of the mold work done. (Click to open 2012 summer facilities report.)  So it does not appear that the board was ever asked by Dr. Schuster to discuss "next steps" in order to ensure that the mold did not return to the building (assuming it was entirely eradicated that summer).  This is relevant because one of the emails from an HMS administrator that was forwarded to Dr. Schuster in February 2012 specifically identified the potential for a "huge" mold issue in the building.  The email states:

"This is a picture of visible mold in the ceiling in the hallway directly above Room 120 at HMS.  The teacher in the room has been told by her doctor that she has mold in her system.  This is what's visible; I cannot vouch for what may be up in the ceiling out of view.  I will call both Troy and Jim later this morning, but this issue, which is not unique to this specific room, has the potential to be a huge problem.  Multiple requests have been made, and concerns have been raised prior to today, and I am extremely concerned.  If we need to shut down this space in order to do repairs, we are willing to do so.  I will call later today to confirm receipt."

Shortly after this complaint, Hygieneering, the company that had been doing "spot" mold remediation work for the district was contracted to address this concern, but even their proposal stated that:

"Due to the process of mold growth and the fact that Hygieneering has no control over the moisture sources at the facility that can cause mold proliferation, Hygieneering, Inc. cannot guarantee that mold will not return within the facility."

This sentence should have put the district on notice that it needed to address the "moisture sources at the facility" or mold proliferation could return.  In our opinion, in light of several "spot jobs" that Hygieneering did over the last few years to remediate mold as it was discovered, this continuing issue and the health concerns should have been brought to the full board's attention in order that they could discuss whether a more thorough inspection should have been conducted to discover and fix the "moisture sources."

So, after viewing the ABC news segment, documents they obtained from D181 and looking back on board meeting agendas, we now have the following questions:

Sunday, February 16, 2014

HMS Mold Follow Up: ABC Channel 7 Eyewitness News I-Team Story to Air Monday Night at 10 P.M.

Moments ago we were alerted through a comment to the following ABC Channel 7 Eyewitness News Story that will air on Monday (2/17) night during the 10 pm news:

Stay tuned.....

Friday, February 14, 2014

Toward a Better Tomorrow; Future Considerations for D181 and the Immediate Questions Moving Forward

With the district events that have transpired during this past week, we thought we would reiterate our mission and purpose in being volunteer bloggers in the hopes we have provided the D181 community with knowledge and facts related to the status of our district. While the dynamics of the posts and comments on this blog have been spirited and at times heated in the last week especially, we want to convey to our loyal readers that our purpose all along has been to educate and create an awareness of the many changes, some radical, that have been occurring in the district for more then two years. And while we are passionate about district educational issues, as are many of our readers and those who have posted comments, our interests in creating and maintaining this blog have been for the greater good; the greater good for our parents, teachers and children, which in turn impacts the overall well being of the community at large.

So, as we look to the future we are hopeful that a new leader, who has a proven track record of success as a superintendent in a comparable district, will take over the reigns and guide the D181 community to a better place. Yes, any potential superintendent candidate will probably conduct an Internet search on D181 and discover this blog. The candidates who have the experience and knowledge to make necessary changes that are research based, theoretically grounded and proven to be effective within elementary school settings, will be confident enough to rise to the many challenges this district now represents.

Though there are many parent and teacher concerns, some of which have been expressed on this blog, we thought we would take the opportunity to highlight those we believe to be among the most important:
  1. We have yet to see the effectiveness of the Learning for All plan presented with data and analysis. Why hasn’t there been a formal presentation of the results so parents know how well Learning for All is working across the district? How are all of the needs of children across the district, regardless of ability level, being met?
  2. We now know approximately 25% of fourth graders have been identified for remediation or tutoring twice weekly due to the math acceleration the administration has pushed. How can ¼ of fourth graders require remediation if Learning for All is supposed to reach every child every day in the classroom? What adjustments are being made to accommodate these students within the regular classroom?
  3. The Department of Learning administrators stated that with the assistance of the University of Chicago (the origin of Everyday Math) that consistency would be defined and carried among all grades and schools. Why are we parents hearing and seeing students from our home school working on different chapters, lessons, etc than their counterparts in other schools?
  4.  Since the district withdrew from LADSE, what is the current status of Special Education within the district? How are the needs of special education students being met across the district? How are special education students performing on the ISAT?
  5. Enrichment materials for math and language arts were supposed to be implemented according to the Department of Learning. Our children have not been introduced to enrichment, despite the fact many students are complaining of boredom and lack of challenge within the regular classroom.
  6. How is the RtI (Response to Intervention) program meeting the needs of students across ability levels? We have heard from parents who have completed RtI meetings only to have little to no follow up of instructional programming by the administration.

These are just some of the concerns we believe to be most important. These concerns, along with others, need to be addressed by the administration and board of education prior to the hiring of a new superintendent and then acted upon afterward to improve the state of our district. The mid point of the school year has come and gone; the future of D181 looks much different today than it did at the start of the school year. We have questions and concerns. We need answers. And ultimately, we need a leader who knows how to pick up the shattered pieces and make the district whole again. Yes, we believe the district is now fragmented, veiled in secrecy, and under performing as a whole. Like it or not, these consequences are a direct result of what an administrator recently admitted as, “Trying something new in the district that has never been done before.” Well, well. We finally have an admission that the Learning for All Social Justice Plan is a massive, unfounded, non-researched based experiment that our children have been subjected to for more than two years.

Bottom line: In order to erase the trends of overall lower test scores (ISAT and MAP), math acceleration leading to remediation, stagnation of learning within heterogeneous classrooms, etc. the administration and BOE will have to work to be sure there are accountability measures in place; the district should be moving toward a better tomorrow. This is a great challenge, no doubt, given the concerns articulated on this blog and also through parent comments at BOE meetings, engagement sessions, etc.

This is our perspective. You may agree or disagree. In the end, we only want what’s best for our children. That’s been the goal all along. In addition to the topics listed above that we hope will be addressed very soon at future board meetings, in the coming weeks we plan to address the following topics:
  • The February 24 visit and report to the Board by Dr. Moon and Dr. Friedman.  Dr. Moon’s January 2012 report is now 2 years old.  She is returning to review and observe all of the changes that have been implemented since her recommendations.  We will address what those recommendations actually were, review the changes the administration has implemented instead and then raise questions and issues we hope Dr. Moon will answer and address during her visit and presentation.  And who is Dr. Friedman, yet another consultant hired by the administration? What is her purpose?
  • The D181 teachers. We fully support the teachers in D181.  Over the last couple of years they have been put in a very difficult position.  Sweeping changes in the areas of curriculum have been imposed on them, not just through Common Core requirements that all districts in Illinois and in many other states have had to implement; they have also had to handle the additional acceleration and all-inclusive model that the D181 administration has pursued.  Teachers have expressed concerns regarding many of these changes in surveys conducted by the administration.  They also expressed facilities and health concerns.  Yet, until there was an actual crisis at HMS, their facilities and health concerns went unaddressed by the Board who, we believe, had not been made aware of them by the administration.  What kind of crisis will it take for the Board to act now on the teachers’ curriculum concerns?  Teachers in this district are outstanding, but they too are human and can only accomplish so much when faced with all of the changes they have had to manage during the past two years.
  • Contract Negotiations.  The current three-year teachers’ contract expires at the end of this school year. The teachers made many concessions in their last contract, driven in great part by the downturn in the national economy.  With the economy in recovery mode, and in light of all of the increased challenges and demands that every teacher is now facing due to all of the changes brought forward by the administration, we expect the Board to acknowledge the value of all the D181 teachers during the contract negotiations.  We can ill afford to face a teachers’ strike that might shut down all of the D181 schools and negatively impact instructional time in 2014-2015.
  • Superintendent Search:  We will closely monitor the progress made by the Board in conducting what we hope will be a comprehensive search for a superintendent to replace Dr. Schuster.  None of the current Board members was in office during the last search. The Board will need to act quickly to hire a national search firm to guide them through this critical task.

We will continue blogging and keeping the parent and teacher community updated on D181 events and issues.  We welcome relevant comments and feedback from all constituents district wide.  In keeping with our goal of transparency by the administration and Board, we hope the future will bring some much needed “sunshine” on D181 and a better tomorrow.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

New Guidelines for Comments

In light of the tone and hostile content of recent comments (some which we have chosen to reject), we have changed the guidelines for posting comments.  The new guidelines state:

We welcome your comments.  While we will accept anonymous comments, we would appreciate if you would identify yourself as an elementary or middle school parent, teacher or community member. 

We reserve the right to not publish comments. The purpose of this blog is to support the education of D181 students and present facts, data and opinions related to D181 issues.  We ask commentators to avoid name calling or unfounded and sweeping allegations. No profanity will be allowed. We will reject comments that do not address specific D181 issues that have been addressed in posts or that you would like us to write about.  Under Common Core these days our children must support their arguments with what is written in the text.  Opposing opinions are ok - ad hominem attacks are not.  

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Will Dr. Schuster be Required to Pay $20,000 in Liquidated Damages for Unilaterally Terminating Her Employment Contract One Year Early?

Moments ago we received a comment that raises an interesting question regarding Dr. Schuster's employment contract.  We have decided to publish it as a free standing post because we too are now wondering whether Dr. Schuster will be required to pay the district $20,000 in "liquidated damages" as a result of unilaterally deciding to terminate her contract one year early.  (Click to open employment contract.)  We'd love to hear from our readers whether you think the board will or should enforce this provision.

"Curious Taxpayer said...
Everyone should review Dr. Schuster's employment contract that is available on the blog (see the "pages" column on the right side of the blog). Section 29 is called "Termination of Agreement" and defines under what circumstances the agreement can be terminated prior to the end date. The last paragraph allows for the superintendent to unilaterally end her contract early, by giving the board 90 days notice, but the provision is clear that if she does so, she must pay the district $20,000 (not as a penalty, but solely as liquidated damages) -- which is the projected cost of conducting a superintendent search to find a replacement. During Monday's meeting, the board did not publicly address how or when it would vote on Dr. Schuster's resignation. Don't they have to do that? And don't they have to collect the $20,000 from her for leaving early? As much as many in the community are not upset to see her leave one year early, unless the board isn't telling us something, she has chosen to leave for family reasons and therefore is breaking the contract. It will cost the district $ to hire a search firm. Let's hope the board isn't planning to ignore this contract provision."

2/10/14 Board Meeting Highlights and Unaddressed Issues

By now everyone has heard the big announcement made during the 2/10 board meeting -- Dr. Schuster has resigned effective 6/30/14.  Below we provide a brief description of other topics discussed and decisions made during the meeting, followed by a commentary on what was not addressed, but (in our opinion) should have been.

Topics Addressed (besides revised school calendar which was addressed in an earlier post):
  1. Public Comments:  Three community members spoke.  Yvonne Mayer criticized Board President Turek for suggesting that she acted inappropriately when she called ISBE in her capacity as a parent to make inquiries about whether the upcoming teacher institute days could be converted to student attendance days. (Note:  Ms. Mayer submitted her email exchange with Turek in an earlier comment to this blog.) She called him out for trying to silence parents who are seeking answers to questions that deal with student issues.  She called him out as a hypocrite for also attacking D181 FOIA requester, when it is now known that he has personally filed at least 5 extensive FOIA requests with non-D181 school districts.  Finally she called Nelson out for his lack of physical attendance at board meetings and asked him to resign.  Ann Mueller, a former board member spoke on the need to have Board Committees, rather than Superintendent committees like the one Dr. Schuster was proposing in the area of curriculum.  She said the board policies that deal with Board Committees are being ignored.  Matt Bousquette, a current D181 parent, thanked all involved in resolving the HMS mold issue but pointed out that the hardest work in the district is yet to come.  He pointed out that there is enormous talent in the community that should be used by the board to support the administration in addressing the middle school facilities needs.  He also addressed the Learning for All Plan and said despite the desire by the administration to not label kids, there appear to be arbitrary decisions being made to select a small group of elementary students to be bussed to the middle schools for math instruction.  He asked how they were being selected and said there is still labeling going on.  No answers were given to his questions, however, Schuster stated that there was an answer and she would contact him with it.  WE ASK:  Why couldn't she have taken one or two minutes to explain the process for selecting these students? Why not explain it to the whole community, rather than to only one parent?
  2. Personnel:  Amongst the personnel items that were approved, Sue Kamuda was rehired out of retirement to be a Building and Grounds Interim at $50/hour, not to exceed 600 hours.  (Click to open consent agenda.Our opinion and question: Ms. Kamuda's eagle eyes and outstanding service to the district have certainly been missed, but questions remain: Why was she brought back and who is she replacing?  Or is the administration adding yet another administrative position to the already top heavy central office?  
  3. Superintendent's Report: (Click to open full report.)  Dr. Schuster commended all persons involved in the HMS mold crisis for their collaboration and efforts to remediate the school and allow HMS students to share CHMS.  We echo her gratitude.  She reminded everyone that Dr. Moon and Dr. Friedman will be presenting a report at the February 24 board meeting.  A Reminder: Dr. Moon was previously hired to conduct the gifted evaluation and presented a report that also pointed out that the district was lacking in differentiated instruction.  Dr. Schuster has repeatedly stated that the Learning For All Plan was developed as a direct result of Dr. Moon's recommendations.  The February 24 meeting is an important meeting for all to attend, especially those with concerns about the impact the acceleration for all model is having on students. (Click to open Dr. Moon's report.)
  4. Gifts and Contributions: The Board approved three extremely generous gifts and contributions made for the benefit of Madison School and Hinsdale Middle School.
  5. Staffing 2014-2015:  Mr. Eccarius gave a very comprehensive report on the projected staffing needs for the 2014-2015 school year and encouraged a change in past practice that will allow for potentially smaller class sizes and avoid an end of summer scramble to split classes and hire last minute teachers. (Click to open Staffing Report.)  Our opinion: We commend Mr. Eccarius for his innovative suggestion and a move in the right direction for this district.  Smaller class sizes are definitely needed, especially if effective differentiation by the home room teacher is to be accomplished.
  6. Board Meeting Calendar:  The board approved a calendar that will now eliminate a July board meeting.
  7. Summer School Proposal:  Tabled until the next meeting.
  8. Summer Work Schedule for administrators to only work 4 days per week in July: Tabled until the next meeting. Our opinion:  With Dr. Schuster leaving on June 30, it would appear that all hands on deck -- full time, five days/week -- should be required of the remaining administrators, especially to assist whoever is hired to replace her to have a successful transition.  We hope the board will quickly vote this request down, reminding the administrators that they can use their paid vacation days if they want time off in July.
  9. Financial Reports: During Mr. Frisch's presentation, he reviewed the savings that have been achieved by the refinancing of bonds.  (Click to open Bond Report 1,  click to open Bond Report 2.) Our opinion: Kudos to Mr. Frisch for his vigilance in reviewing D181 finances and identifying ways to save the district -- and taxpayers -- money! As of Monday's meeting, it was also learned that $665,000 has been spent on the mold remediation work at Hinsdale Middle School (excluding what the insurance has paid), and that amount is expected to increase.  At one board member's request, an itemized report will be prepared and shared with the community and board.
  10. Superintendent's Learning Committee:  Despite concerns raised by Board Member Garg that the "Learning Commitee" should be a Board committee due it its strategic nature, the majority of the board directed Dr. Schuster to continue with her plans to develop this committee as a Superintendent's committee.  This might require a revision to the board policies that address committee structures.  The meetings will be noticed and minutes taken. The public WILL be allowed to attend and observe, but NOT participate.  Parents will be selected to serve on the committee through an application process.  Our opinion: We are glad to hear that the public will be allowed to attend these meetings, but we agree that the Board should oversee such an important committee.  In the past, the Board had development and performance monitoring committees, but in the last few years, there are no Board Committees.  Dr Schuster stated that there is a Policy Committee, but only one board member, Jill Vorobiev is on it.  We also find it interesting that each time the board finds that it is not following a policy, it seeks to change it.  
Topics that were not addressed:

As is the practice, board members receive their board books on Thursday.  They are allowed to submit questions to the Superintendent prior to the Monday board meetings. Typically, Dr. Schuster answers them and posts them for the board and community during the afternoon of the meeting.  Once again, only 2 board members asked questions:  Mr. Heneghan and Ms. Garg.  (Click to open Q&A.)  We have reviewed the Q&A's and would encourage all of you to take some time and read them.  Then ask yourselves:  Why weren't any of the following issues raised for discussion by the full board during the meeting and when, if ever, will this board -- all 7 of them -- be willing to talk about some of these concerning issues:

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The "Official" Announcement

Email sent today from Dr. Schuster announcing her resignation:

"February 11, 2014

Dear District 181 Families,

During last night’s Board of Education meeting, the Board accepted my resignation. My last day as Superintendent of District 181 will be June 30, 2014. Deciding whether to leave District 181 at the end of this school year has been heavy on my heart, but I have family needs to address that require my time and care.

We have wonderful students, staff, and families and a supportive community that values education and our neighborhood schools. Through our collective efforts, our students are growing in excellence, becoming responsible contributing citizens, and developing their talents and interests.

We still have much to do this school year, and I look forward to continuing the work of leading our great school district through June 30. The Board will begin the process for filling the Superintendent position. Please stay tuned for opportunities to contribute to that process.


Dr. Renée Schuster

Revised 2013-2014 Calendar Discussed and Partially Approved During 2/10/14 Board Meeting

During last night's board meeting, two options were presented to the board for making up the missed instructional days due to the weather and mold school closings. Dr. Russell posted these two options on BoardDocs yesterday afternoon. (Click to open description of the options.) The board approved part of option 1 which calls for all students to attend school next Tuesday, and Hinsdale Middle School students to attend school next Monday. The board deferred a final decision on the remainder of the makeup days until a future meeting, but indicated it is leaning toward approving the rest of the Option 1 calendar. Assuming no more snow days occur, all students will be done on June 6 and there would be no need to extend the school year for students into the second week of June.  Below is the letter Dr. Schuster sent out to the D181 community this morning explaining the decision.  We applaud and thank the administration for crafting a solution that will allow most of the missed instructional time to be made up.* 

Letter from Dr. Schuster:

"February 11, 2014
Dear District 181 Families,
Yesterday evening, the Board of Education held a discussion regarding the 2013-14 school year calendar. We have had significant impact on our calendar this year due to four school cancelations for extreme cold temperatures and three days of cancelation for only Hinsdale Middle School to address water damage and mold remediation. The administration presented the Board with options to consider in determining how to make up those missed days. (You can hear the full Board discussion via

The Board determined that it was important to address lost instructional time, have the end of the school year conclude at the same time for all students, and minimize the time in school during June. Therefore, calendar changes as described below are being implemented for this school year. 
  • School will be in session for HMS only on Monday, February 17. This day was previously a non-attendance day for Presidents Day.
  • School will be in session for all schools on Tuesday, February 18. This day was previously scheduled as an Institute Day. 
We recognize that many families may have already made vacation plans around these days. HMS students not in attendance on February 17 and any students not in attendance on February 18 will have an excused absence.

The Board has further calendar decisions to make to account for the remaining make-up days. No decisions have been confirmed regarding the dates below, but families and staff should be aware of these potential calendar changes.  
  • School is very likely to be in session for HMS only on Friday, April 18. This day was previously scheduled as a non-attendance day. 
  • School is very likely to be in session for all schools on Friday, May 16. This day was previously scheduled as an Institute Day.
  • School is very likely to be in session on Monday, June 2. This day was previously scheduled as Grading Day.
  • 8th Grade Graduation may be moved to Thursday, June 5.
  • School is very likely to be in session on June 5 and June 6 (except for 8th Grade), however both days would be half-days for students, per contract with our teachers association. In the afternoon on June 5 and 6, staff only would participate in In-Service and School Improvement Days.
  • If the above changes were confirmed, Staff Institute Days would take place June 9 and 10. Students would not be in attendance on June 9 and 10.
The Board is likely to waive the third make up day that would have been needed for HMS. (The Illinois State Board of Education permits the waiving of up to two days due to the emergency work that was needed in the facility.)

If Additional Weather Closings are Called
If an additional school cancelation is called due to weather, the Board will need to re-visit the 2013-14 calendar. If more than one additional weather-related school cancelation is called, the Board may submit a request to the Illinois State Board of Education to waive the need to make up any further days.

Thank you for your attention to this important notice.
Dr. Renée Schuster

*During the meeting, Dr. Russell stated that he and the communications director had already drafted a letter explaining Option 1 that could be sent out almost immediately. While we commend the administration for anticipating the decision and being prepared to announce it, we would suggest that if three sets of eyes are going to review something that goes out on Dr. Schuster's name, that it should be spell checked for accuracy. "Cancellation" and "cancelled" were misspelled four times. We know this is nit-picky, but if it requires the involvement of 3 highly paid administrators to send out one email, we expect that it not have mistakes.