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:

  • Schuster told Reporter Goudie her, “resignation was planned weeks prior to the mold problem surfaced.” What? Did the entire board know Schuster was planning on resigning weeks ago? If that is the case, why has the board not begun the superintendent search process for her replacement yet?  What have they been waiting for?
  • Why didn't Schuster inform the entire board about the health concerns brought to her attention over the years?
  • In light of Hygieneering's reports and refusal to guarantee their work since they were not responsible for finding or addressing the "moisture sources," why hadn’t Dr. Schuster addressed these building concerns with the Board and community in a public meeting? 
  • When parent Dr. Norton, an environmental engineer who was also featured in the news report, offered his assistance in working with staff on the remediation efforts, why wasn’t he contacted? Why didn’t the board follow through, as was suggested by Marty Turek?
These are just a few questions that can be raised. We believe these questions are relevant, despite Schuster’s resignation because once again, it proves the Board of Education is not functioning in an acceptable manner. Several board members: Turek, Nelson and Clarin have consistently supported Schuster in her efforts to diminish facts and to withhold information. These elected officials need to be reminded they should be working for their constituents, not the administration. It seems, and now we have proof, their first priority is promoting the D181 administration above the taxpayers.

This is wrong*.

*Stay tuned for our next two posts that will be published prior to next Monday's board meeting.  The posts will address Drs. Moon and Friedman's February 24th "visit" to D181's classrooms followed by their presentation to the BOE that night at Elm School (7 p.m.).


John Norton said...

Just an FYI. Along with Turek's request at the board meeting, both Board Member Garg and a current parent reached out to me to confirm my participation on the Superintendent's Facilities Committee. I attended my first meeting on Feb 11 and will be actively participating on the committee.

Unfortunately the committee is not currently addressing the short term issues. Instead the mandate appears to be (from my single meeting thus far) a larger examination of the building's learning environment. Important yes, but does not meet the immediate need.

- John Norton

Anonymous said...

This clip sums it up

This video clip from 1976 http://rutube.ru/video/fd2be09caaf7b0aaa396f23e9ac7fd7b/

Captures the essence of the public school and government experience - it's like the phone company before it was broken up - and it will get broken up

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Mr Norton, for the information. Wow is all I can say. I supposed nothing should shock me anymore. Thank goodness you are part of the committee.

Anonymous said...

HMS Parent said:
Mr Norton: thanks for stepping up and trying to help with the HMS crisis. I'm not surprised you were not contacted by the remediation company or the board. Even though the board didn't recognize your expertise the way they should have, we in the community do.
Isn't it interesting that the direction the administration is taking your committee is down the road of learning facilities rather than ensuring all mold-related problems have been resolved? Yet another example of poor leadership by our administration and board.

Anonymous said...

There seems to be some confusion as to the role of the Facilities Committee. It was never intended to be a crisis management team when it began meeting in the fall. Although HMS was quickly noted as the focus for the district, the community seems to be very misled about its influence and/or power. This is the original call for members that appeared in the paper in September:

"Community Consolidated School District 181 welcomes applicants for the new Facilities Committee being formed for the purposes of assisting in the prioritization of current building needs and assisting in the development of a multi-year facilities master plan.

Applications for committee membership are available at the District Administration Center (6010 S. Elm Street, Burr Ridge, IL 60527) and online at www.d181.org > Resources > Facilities Committee. Completed applications can be submitted via e-mail (gfrisch@d181.org), mailed to the Administration Center, or dropped off at the Administration Center.

Applications are due no later than 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday, September 25. Applicants will be contacted to confirm receipt of application and application status on September 30.

The anticipated time commitment for members includes approximately six hours per month, with meetings held on Wednesdays, beginning at 3:45 p.m."

Anonymous said...

As a taxpayer, I'm not confused at all sbout the role of this committee. You can bet your last dollar that our soon-to-be-ex-current-part-time superintendent will be pushing her fantasy of learning for all within the confines of HMS big time. And if this means a new school or reconfigured classrooms, the facilities committee members should have input. Brace yourselves for the surprise sneak attack she is known for.

Anonymous said...

As a taxpayer and concerned community member, I fully support a new school. It is time for HMS to get the same treatment as the rest of the schools. We are all one community - this affects us all whether we have kids in the school or not. We owe it to the students and staff at that school. Also, HMS is a turn off to prospective home buyers.

As a taxpayer, I am appalled that we are not addressing the root causes of the mold. We are throwing good money after bad. It is unconscionable. How the BOE can tolerate this climate of trickery and secrecy is beyond me. They should be ashamed of themselves - not only for the HMS mess but also for the curriculum mess. Newsflash - it is past time to micro manage. You work for us, not the administration.

Monroe and CHMS parent

Anonymous said...

A new HMS school design should use the already paid for and vetted CHMS plans to the greatest extent possible. To do otherwise is wasteful and inefficient. I don't believe that the review of HMS as a usable facility has anything to do with L4A, nor should it. They are separate issues and should remain that way.

Anonymous said...

I agree that we should use the CHMS plans to build a new HMS. This can be done by building on the HMS field - it is a big level piece of property that lends itself to the CHMS design. When the building is finished, tear down the old HMS and build the field on that property.

jay_wick said...

Anyone that cares to review the contentious and expensive process that surrounded the construction of CHMS is welcome to re-open that pandora's box:




More reasoned folks might recognize that there are far more pressing concerns that desperately need to be addressed.

<a href="http://hinsdale.patch.com/groups/schools/p/less-than-half-of-d181-3rd-graders-hit-math-growth-targets> Less than half of D181 3rd Graders Met Math Growth Targets </a>

Anonymous said...

I think we should put all of our "mold management" experience to work and the new school should have a pool.

The new school should also have paddle tennis and possibly new computers if there's any money left over.

jay_wick said...

While I generally think that comments that ae overly sacrastic tend not to further the conversation I do think that the experience of other local units of governments might be instructive.

I know that the Oak Brook Park District runs a very nice facility in their Aquatic Center. Many community members undoubtedly have been their; some folks pay taxes to both the OB Park District and D181. It would be very interesting to see what sorts of expertise Oak Brook employs in managing the moisture issues at their Aquatic Center and associated Fitness Club. No doubt the costs of such maintenance are considerable but the pay off is greater satisfaction from the users.

To be sure I would not advocate that any effort be put into considering a pool (or paddle tennis courts...) be designed for any D181 facility, but it would be instructive to compare the expertise of staff and scale of expenditures for maintenance that OBPD makes in comparision to D181...

Anonymous said...

I would rather have my kids learning, happy, and showing growth NOW in trailers of the HMS parking lot than wait 3 years for an appropriate "architecturally & aesthetically pleasing" building! Come on, kids are there to learn, NOT to look good or impress people driving by. Oak Brook, New Trier, and Latin School don't have the most beautiful buildings, but their students come out of there prepared for high school. Our kids used to be better prepared, but they no longer are. HMS is fixable. Mold remediation is done all the time. But our children's educations, not aesthetics, should be the main focus.

Stupid people are are impressed only by pretty buildings instead of the quality of education. Do we really need any more shallow people, who are more attracted to bling instead of substance this town?

Anonymous said...

Hilarious! You know, there a lot of people out there who think you are completely serious!!

Anonymous said...

I found Mr. Norton's comments to be excellent and am glad he is involved. However, it looks as though he is being sucked in to the Schusterzone, where committee's never actually focus on the issues and serve merely to delay any decision making, but also in essence silencing vocal but articulate critics by making them part of the system.

What Mr. Norton and others bring to the issue is the level of serious debate that is appropriate. I honestly have no idea whether we should build a new building, fix up the old one, set up trailers, or simply have the kids build mud huts in the big depression to reach our goals, but I want intelligent engaged people focusing on the issue and providing the community with options.

I mean, I do understand JWick's concern about starting a new unneeded project, one with political implications, but I also fear throwing good money after bad for a building passed its sell date. I hope we are going to start the process of making good decisions.

Jens Glager

John Norton said...

To one of the above posters:

Thank you for the clarification regarding the mandate of the Facilities Committee. I appreciate you taking the time to look up that old posting. Your information provides me good context to be helpful as a committee member on that board.

Let's work together to help the district continue to offer awesome education to our children!

- John Norton

jay_wick said...


I agree that if thoughtful people are allowed to fully engage in a process that allows for truly open discussion of all the issues surrounding the facilities of the district it would be easy to support recommendations that come out of that process.

Unfortunately we are waving adieu to a superintendent under whose reign many parents and community members came away with the impression that the administration was not just unresponsive but deceptive.

Further we have a BOE of which the majority has demonstrated a lack of seriousness to their elected office - shocking breaches of ethics concerning FOIA, inappropriate ties to district personnel, no commitment to the importance of even attending to the most minimal requirements of their office and a general adherence to an "orthodoxy of silence" that has brought our district infamy.

I urge anyone that wants to change these things to get involved in a productive and cooperative spirit.

As I hope I have made clear, too many people are woefully uninformed of the actions not just of the current BOE but of those who have contributed time and effort to trying to get the best for all children and community members.

Anonymous said...

Future of Education - Once we accredit the student, not the institution, students will be measured on what is actually learned and mastered.

One of the key insights from recent work in psychology is that humans tend to substitute easier problems rather than solve difficult problems. Daniel Kahneman explained this dynamic in his recent book “Thinking, Fast and Slow.”

To "solve" a difficult problem we are unfamiliar with, we substitute a lesser problem we already know the answer to, and then declare we've "solved" the original (often knotty, complex) problem.

The real problem then festers, unsolved and addressed, while the misguided "solution" only drains resources and exacerbates the real problem.

The HMS mold problem provides a live example of Kahneman’s thesis.

Another, also pressing example, is in higher education where the real problems are soaring costs and sharply declining yields in actual learning and in the real-world value of a diploma.

• Media and knowledge are no longer scarce—both are essentially free

• Students no longer need to be congregated in classrooms to hear oral lectures; the lectures can be distributed at almost no cost via the Internet

• The factory model of teaching the same texts and curriculum no longer makes sense; every digital device is a library and a display for oral lectures

• Lessons and methodologies of learning can now be tailored to individual students (adaptive learning) via interactive software

• The need for live oral lectures as the primary (and presumed to be best) mode of teaching has vanished

THE FUNDAMENTALS HAVE BROKEN - "Time is the New Competitive Dimension;" the educational systems needs to understand what this means.

The New Economy requires Lifetime Learning, Continual Innovation and the full spectrum of Entrepreneurial Skills.

Real estate tax bills will decline by over 75% as learning effectiveness triples.

Productivity the American way

Anonymous said...

Thanks to Jay Wick - A special thanks and "shout out" to Jay Wick for his insightful commentary on all matters educational, for which we are all grateful.

Also grateful that Mr. Wick was a math teacher and not an English teacher.

jay_wick said...

Re: Grammar

I am glad that my efforts are appreciated.

Also thanks for your leeway in understanding that I am making these posts on my own time at breaks from work, often from the cramped keyboard of my smartphone.

Rest assured that I now work in an field where my grammatical errors have no consequence. ;^)

jay_wick said...

Re: Accrediting the Learner

While MOOCs may radically change some aspects of vocational learning and even some aspects of traditional colleges the problems of how we might restructure not schools but society to deal with "unschooled" children of elementary age is something that I doubt anyone from Khan Academy, Coursera, Dabble, Skillshare, Udemy, Udacity or TED will ever be able to deal with.

Sorry, but this also Illinois where things like "mosquito abatement districts, water reclamation districts, and special service districts for sidewalks and drainage swales" exist in near perpetuity.

I would not start spending any windfall from the dismantling of traditional school districts until someone starts giving you "nuclear energy too cheap to meter"...

Anonymous said...

Totally agree. Public elementary schools are no where near ready for this to happen. I would just be happy if my 6th grader knew how to keyboard because his handwriting is so bad. Even though school let him borrow his own iPad last year, I can't believe he still can't type. Who cares if he can play garage band or do Oregon Trail games on it? I would rather have an incredible, live music teacher any day.
If I had known that HMS was full of mold, I never would have voted for Elm's PTO to donate all of our parent money to iPads. I would hard preferred the fundraising go to building renovations or math prof development for teachers.

Jill Quinones said...

Here is the letter I sent the BOE:

Dear Board of Education,

For a governing body, together with an Administration, oft criticized for being unwilling to engage in any real discourse with parents, I probably should not be surprised that for the first time in 11 years at a Business Meeting you have decided to move public comments from the beginning of the meeting to after the presentation by Drs. Moon and Friedman. Your attempt at censorship couldn't be any more obvious (perhaps we should give points for transparency here - another area in which you are oft criticized). Are you so unsure of what she will think about what you have done to our students that you need to insulate Dr. Moon in particular from hearing what parents think about how her recommendations have (or more appropriately have not) been implemented since she was last here? Now perhaps if you wanted to give her time to respond to any parent comments made after her presentation, then the movement of when you will take public comment would not be so disconcerting. That does not appear to be the case, however.

This action on your part reminds me a bit of China trying to limit its people from Google and other internet sites lest they actually be exposed to a complete picture of the state of things. If you are truly interested in an honest appraisal by Dr. Moon then you will either move public comment back before her presentation so she can hear from parents about what they are experiencing or you will allow her to hear these comments after her presentation and give her time to respond.

Thank you for your time.

Jill Quinones
Parent, Walker School