Wednesday, February 12, 2014

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:
  • 107 4th grade students, district wide, have been identified or are being considered for after school math tutoring.  Remember:  All 4th graders are currently being taught 5th grade Common Core Math -- a full year of acceleration, regardless of their ability.  By our calculation, that is 25% of the current 4th grade population.  When will the board discuss whether it is time to bring back grade level math for students who need it or want it?
  • 12 5th grade students are bussed to the middle school for math instruction. During public comment, a parent asked what the identification process is for these students. No answer was given. We were unable to find the "standards" or process on the D181 website, despite the fact that Dr. Schuster stated that there is an answer. We hope the question is answered for everyone and posted on the D181 website.
  • Concerns have been raised about the new 1 to 4 grading system for 4th grade math versus the traditional percentage scales previously used (last year 80% was needed to show proficiency, at the beginning of this year only 70% was required and then the system changed to the 1 to 4 scale).  We would like to know who came up with the 1 to 4 system and have the district website explain the relationship between each number and an equivalent percentage.  We would also like to know how the teachers have been trained on this new system in order to ensure that their "subjectivity" is not resulting in different percentages of students being given 1, 2, 3 or 4 between all of the schools. Who has decided what percentage or number equals "mastery."  The administration keeps using a shell game.  Keep moving things around until everyone is so dizzy that one can no longer find the shell and gives up.  We expect more transparency from our educational leaders.
  • Asbestos concerns:  During the mold remediation reports at the January meetings, Dr. Schuster disclosed that a "basic asbestos checklist" that was required every six months had been missed last fall and was scheduled for January.  During those meetings, Mr. Heneghan pointed out that in fact the information showed that the last 2 checklists had been missed, not just one. Based upon answers to additional questions he asked regarding the asbestos issues at HMS, it has been disclosed that the 3 most recent 6 month inspections were May 2010, March 2012 and January 2014.  So more than 2 inspections were missed.  Only one per year in 2010, 2012 were conducted with NONE in 2011 and 2013.  Why wasn't this information given to the Board during the last three meetings?  Again -- how hard would it have been for Dr. Schuster to provide full and accurate information to her bosses -- the board?
  • HMS Roofing Needs:  In response to a question about warranties that might be exercised for potential claims for summer 2013 roof work done at HMS as a result of the roof leaks this winter, it appears that the D181 administration completely dropped the ball and did not come to the board for permission to pay for needed work.  Arcon, the roofing company, recommended last year that the district replace a "heat trace system for gutters and downspouts" because they were out of code and deteriorated. The estimated cost for this work was $50,000 to $60,000.  This request was NEVER brought to the board for discussion or approval because the administration made a decision that due to the "mild winters" we'd been having, a heat trace system to melt snow and ice might not be needed. When the winter turned cold, salt was thrown onto the gutters in the hopes that it would melt the accumulating ice. In our opinion, it was utter negligence for the administration to have ignored an obvious need. How many winters have we had with mild temperatures? Yes, two or three, but before that they were COLD!  It is, in our opinion, utterly absurd that when the D181 coffers have literally millions of dollars in reserves, that $50,000 to $60,000 was not sought for approval to address recommended facilities needs.  
  • Questions were asked regarding when the board would be updated on the math curriculum renewal process, 4th grade assessment report, 6th grade assessment report.  Ms. Garg pointed out in her questions that Dr. Schuster previously said the assessment reports would be given in February. According to Dr. Schuster's answers, the reports will be given "by June 2014." No longer can she commit to a discussion on these important topics in February.  In our opinion, that is unconscionable.  Half of the year has elapsed without the board reviewing performance data on how the acceleration and opt in models are working.  To wait until June 2014, shortly before Dr. Schuster leaves the district, is a complete cop out.  The board should demand that the five administrators who oversee the department of learning --  Schuster, Russell, Schneider, Igoe and Benaitis  -- get their acts together and bring the data forward for discussion.  What is wrong with the majority of the board who are remaining silent?
In conclusion, there are many important topics that directly impact the day to day lives of our children that the full board seems unwilling to address.  It is time they get to work!


Anonymous said...

The info that is Board Docs from Heneghan and Garg is excellent -- it shows that they are asking hard questions about crucial items relatied to everything from the progress of children, selection for "doubly accelerated" math, facilities and other expenditures.

Why other board members do not demand similar answers is a valid question and one that should be pushed by anyone with real concern.

Are parents / commmunity members so apathetic that they cannot see these things for themselves?

Are the board members that literally "phone it in" going to continue to get away with behavior that ought to at least be repremanded -- imagine if others continue to behave in this manner. We could soon have folks living completely outside the district making the legally binbding decisions that effect our taxes and the value of our homes. We should ask Marty's pal, Rep. Bellock, to get some good government types to ammend the School Code clarfiying that is NOT how elected officials should conduct themselves.

Have the squabbles promoted by sensationalistic headline about "asbestos" or other "all smoke , no heat" issues made folks immune to really tracking these issues and holding all the board members cupable for their inaction?


Anonymous said...

The fourth grade math problem is imploding. It cannot be ignored any longer. Parents deserve answers. And we need to go back to the tiered program of the past, but with more flexibility.

I have a question about Dr. Schuster's pension. Does her Illinois pension vest in June after having only worked in this district since 2010? If so, how much does she get and for how long? Remember, she already has a missouri pension.

I want to remind people that the Department of Learning contracts are up for renewal in March. If you do not want their contracts renewed, then please email the individual board members and tell them just that. I am concerned that Russell will be named interim and Benaitis will get promoted to his position. This is not acceptable.

Also, everyone needs to show up at the next board meeting and also speak during public comments.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know what/ how Mr. Russell or Ms. Benaitis have enriched the curriculum under their watch?

Ms. Garg commented that we were supposed to have math pilot updates-nothing so far. It also seems that the new "Core Curriculum" edition of Everyday math books are practically the same as the older version. I'm not sure why we spent the $ on it-it doesn't provide more practice or indepth study. This is just my quick observation-please comment is you think otherwise. It's frustrating because I would expect some feedback/direction from the curriculum experts.

Some students are just starting a new vocabulary lesson/program now in February. I'm so pleased with this ,but why such a late start? half the year is over. Not all grades are participating. Why?

Anonymous said...

RE: New Vocabulary

I would recommend asking the question first of classroom level teachers especially if the reason for the question is about your child's performance.

If this is a concern that goes beyond issues of one's own child perhaps forwarding that request to board members that have shown deligence would be a more appropriate avenue.

Just Trying to Help

Anonymous said...

RE: Concerns with Math, especially 4th Grade

The history of the "math problem" goes back at least to 2011, here is a typical letter to the editor from that period -- Parents express concerns about "dumb math" vs "smart math" It is important to understand that the local changes in the math curriculum were largely motivated to address those concerns.

That said there are also wider concerns that people that could rightly be called experts have seen over and over -- What are the problems in mathematics education today?

It is highly unlikely that folks that cannot bother to show up in person at board meetings or those who harumph in their basso-profundo shop voice about not wanting to micro-manage or those that belittle the concerns of earnest community members are capable of even understanding the problem.

Folks that want to make a change before any election would do well to think of strategies that might be used to turn the board members that have not yet shown themselves to be overly hostile to community input...

Just Trying to Help

Anonymous said...

Dear Just trying to help:

How do you know who does and does not show up to board meetings? How do you know who does and does not meet with Dr. Schuster, the Department of Learning, principals, teachers and board members? How do you know who does and does not offer up alternative solutions? I appreciate your advice but I have done, and continue to do, all the above.

Anonymous said...

There are no emoticons on blogger. :(

My efforts at mentioning folks that do not bother to show up at BOE meetings was an effort to call attention to elected officials that continue to just 'attend' telephonically. It was not meant to demean any parent or community members efforts to get answers.

There are only a minority of the BOE that have expressed any interest / responsiveness in addressing concerns about the questions regarding the math acceleration. Perhaps the presentation scheduled by Dr. Moon can serve as an opportunity for middle-of-the-road BOE members to understand the frustration that many parents have been dealing with for more than three school years.

Just Trying to Help

Anonymous said...

I cannot find the Mayer / Turek email exchange. Where is it? I have heard Mayer told Turek to climb back into a rat hole. Is that true? Yikes!

The Parents said...

Is a comment to the post called "Upcoming Monday Board Meeting: More "Celebrations"..." It is true that she used his rat hole phrase against him.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for locating the email exchange. However, I only see the rat hole reference in Mayer's email and not in Turek's email.

The Parents said...

The comment was made by Mr. Turek during the December 9 board meeting in response to an opinion that Board Member Heneghan made. Mr. Turek's "rat hole" comment was described in our post published on December 10:

We also want to take a moment to express disappointment in the author of an anonymous comment we have chosen not to publish because it is a comment that condones violence. We hope that the author realizes that the use of the phrase "rat hole" was first used by the Board President.

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.

Elementary Parent of Child Who Needs Grade Level Instruction said...

The next superintendent should be someone who is willing to bring data and information forward without only doing so in response to board member questions. The next superintendent should be willing to discuss the information and answers with the full board in public. The next superintendent should be someone who is willing to answer parent questions. It is unbelievable that the curriculum and facilities issues identified as a result of Heneghan and Garg's questions were not discussed by the full board on Monday night. Shell shock from the unexpected resignation of Dr. Schuster should not have precluded a discussion on these issues. It is a sign of the lack of transparency that currently exists in D181 that the educational leader only brought the data forward after being specifically asked for it. And then she didn't encourage discussion on it. When the Advanced Learning Plan/AKA Learning for All Plan was approved, the board said they would monitor the implementation and make changes as needed. Well, without being presented data, they can't monitor it, can they? Without these topics being put on an agenda for discussion they can't decide if change is needed. How long do parents of children who have lost self-esteem, who now require tutoring to keep up with an acceleration model and who now dread going to school instead of loving it, have to wait before the board has the hard conversation about whether the ALP must be modified in some way? Why is the administration now waiting for Moon and a new consultant named Friedman to come to town for only one day and then present a report to the board that very night on the state of the ALP? What can two "experts" who are not even colleagues (Moon's colleagues that came with her last time are not returning this time around) possibly accomplish in only one day? Will they have time to speak with teachers or just "observe?" Will they have time to speak with parents -- both those that have students that are thriving and those that have students that are suffering? Will they even have time to write a report before a 7 p.m. board meeting on the very day they make their rounds through the schools? There is something very wrong with the way that this top heavy administration continues to gather data and use paid outsiders to come in to give official reports to the board. June 30 can't come soon enough.

Anonymous said...

Dear Elementary Parent Of Child Who Needs Grade Level Instruction

I could’ve written your exact post!! I agree with every single comment you made. My child is in the exact same situation. Please write a letter to the BOE and come before the Board on Feb 24th and ask for grade level instruction to be part of the curriculum. Is it easy to get up in front of a table of individuals, when the majority does not agree with you or like what you stand for? No, it’s not. But you have to be an advocate for your child because the majority of the Board is not advocating for this group of students. It could be argued that a few members on the board are not advocating for students at all. Coming before the Board does not make you a nay-sayer or a squeaky wheel, as many of us have been labeled (this is a very small town!). Writing letters, meeting with teachers, principals, administrators, coming before the Board, and meeting with Board members makes me and others who have done so ENGAGED PARENTS. And for any parent who is reading this, if your child is in the same situation, please come forward. There is no shame in a child needing grade level instruction. 25% of 4th grade students have been identified as needing 4th grade instruction after school, it only makes sense to make grade level math part of the curriculum. There is no reason that these students should be learning 4th grade math after school and 5th grade math during school. Thank you, Elementary Parent, for sharing your thoughts!!!!!!