Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Middle Schools are Back in Business, but What About Missed Learning?

Hinsdale Middle School is back in business. Earlier today Dr. Schuster sent an email update thanking everyone and outlining next steps. Her email is copied below. We are relieved that full time learning has returned for the nearly 1500 6th, 7th and 8th graders at HMS and CHMS. We hope that the mold situation has been fully remediated and that no future health concerns caused by the infestation of mold will be reported. However, we will not rest comfortably until significant time has elapsed, and unless regular air quality and mold tests are continued that come back negative. And of course, not until the Board publicly reports, also on a regular basis, whether new health concerns have been raised. After all, despite weeks of mold removal and cleaning, the district had to scramble with additional cleaning and expedited tests yesterday to clear a building that still had mold spores in its midst. Even today, Dr. Schuster states that additional cleaning will continue. What exactly does she mean by that?

In her email today, Dr. Schuster points out that the Board will be discussing what to do about the missed days of school. By her count HMS students missed 7 and everyone else missed 4 due to snow/cold days off. Well, by our count HMS and CHMS students missed the equivalent of an additional 2 1/2 days because of the 5 days during which they attended only 4 hours per day (1/23,24,29,30,31). Those missed hours are significant due to the shortened class periods, in particular in math where a large percentage of students are taking high school algebra and geometry classes. Those classes will form the foundation of their high school math experience and it is imperative that D181 takes no short cuts or skips any of the materials they are expected to learn.

Will this issue be discussed by the Board before it votes to waive up to four of the missed days? At the last meeting, Dr. Kevin Russell reported that 2 snow days days can be waived for all and 2 additional "emergency" days can be waived for HMS. Would that really be in the best educational interest of the students? It will be interesting to hear what recommendation he makes to the Board and what questions they ask.

We will just have to wait and see...

Dr. Schuster's email update:

"February 4, 2014

Dear District 181 Community,

Today, HMS students and staff were back in school, and both CHMS and HMS had a full day of instruction. Life in the middle schools is getting "back to normal" but we recognize that the facility challenges at HMS have not yet been fully addressed. Our immediate focus has been getting the building safe and ready for classes. We have next steps to tackle in regard to the work to be completed by SERVPRO, the impact on this year’s calendar, and of course the facility itself and its long-term future. We also want to continue investigating the reports of health concerns to ensure those have been alleviated to the best of our ability. Those items are outlined below, but I first want to extend thanks to the many individuals and groups who have contributed to the management of these challenges since early January.

Thank You!
  • Students: Our students have shown exceptional resilience. When out of school and when on the split schedule, they continued to demonstrate positive behavior and came prepared ready to learn.
  • Staff: The collaboration, preparation and hard work of our staff members has been outstanding. They have supported one another and truly gone above and beyond to ensure a positive learning environment. Activity sponsors and athletic coaches have been flexible and creative. Our Buildings & Grounds crew, teacher and staff associations, and District and school leaders have demonstrated true teamwork.
  • Families: Families at both middle schools rearranged childcare, transportation and their schedules to accommodate changes over the last several weeks. Our PTOs have shown their continued generosity, with both kind words and kind actions to show their support.
  • Safety Partners: The Hinsdale and Clarendon Hills Fire and Police officials have been strong partners for District 181. Their commitment to student and staff safety is beyond measure.
  • Service Professionals: The work to ready the school and ensure it is safe would not have been possible without the teams from SERVPRO and Integrity Environmental Services. Their knowledge and guidance have been instrumental in our action planning.
  • Community Partners: The DuPage Regional Office of Education, the Chamber of Commerce, staff of National Louis University, architects from Healy, Bender & Associates, and leaders from the Villages of Hinsdale, Clarendon Hills and Burr Ridge all helped to provide assistance as we discussed alternative sites.
Next Steps
  • The work by SERVPRO is not yet complete. Some walls still need to be finished and painted, and the baseboards must be applied throughout the building. The SERVPRO crew will be on hand when students and staff are not in attendance (nights, weekends, etc.) to complete this work. Additional D181 Buildings and Grounds staff will be at the school for the next several days to help with additional cleaning, also.
  • The Board of Education will have several options in considering how to address the three missed school days for HMS (January 17, 21, 22) and the four weather-related closings for all schools (January 6, 7, 27, 28). We will be discussing the calendar during theFebruary 10 Committee of the Whole Board meeting at Oak School. We will notify all families of any calendar decisions upon the Board’s approval.
  • We take the reports of staff and student health concerns very seriously, and we want to continue working with our staff associations, health professionals and environmental professionals to determine what next steps we can do to help alleviate any ongoing issues that may be reported.
  • The Board of Education, the Facilities Committee and ultimately all of our District 181 community will have important decisions to make regarding the building’s mid-term and long-term future. We will continue to notify the community about opportunities to engage in that discussion. 
To all of our community, thank you for your support of our schools.

Dr. Renée Schuster


jay_wick said...

Had "The Parents" bothered to show up at the HMS open house and talk to the contractors or the BOE members that were available to answer question perhaps they would KNOW that the "additional clean up" includes after-hours painting of the drywall that is new and/or exposed due to removal of paneling that was done in search any hidden mold. The contractors also removed all the baseboard / cove modelings to ensure that the area that was susceptible to contamination from mopping were also inspected. New non-absorbent molding will also be installed.

As is too often the case on this blog the ravings over trival matters far overshadow any possible legitimate concerns. It is true that our middle school students have had a compressed schedule and it is fair to wonder what impact that may have. I fear that no matter what answer the adminsitration or BOE supplies the folks whose paranoia and negativity cloud their every interaction with the schools will not be satisfied...

Anonymous said...

Based on what I understood was that they are going to test the air quality once everyone is back in the building. The clean up could refer to the fact that mold was found in classrooms that had been cleaned. Could it happen again? In my opinion we need to make up all of the days. Not much happens during the last days of school, more subs usually. We have a long enough summer break without it starting prior to school ending.

The Parents said...

Mr. Wick: Some of us do have children who go to HMS and we did attend the open house and heard about the paint and other work Servpro will be doing that does not really constitute "cleanup". What we are referring to is whether or not more mold will need to be remediated if future air tests show evidence that mold spores are still floating around the building. We do not know if this is what Dr. Schuster is referring to, however, we have learned that we need to carefully scrutinize every word she writes in her emails to the community because much is left unsaid and yet after the fact she claims she did disclose it. For the sake of the children and teachers and staff members in the building, we hope that all future tests come back negative. But we do not trust Dr. Schuster, plain and simple. As for making up missed work, we send our students to school to learn. We send our students to complete the designated curriculum for any given year. If it requires our students making up all of the missed days in order to not fall behind in the math curriculum taught at the high school, then that is what the board must direct Dr. Schuster and her administrators to do. Granted, there will be parents with scheduled summer vacations and summer activities for their children that will keep there students home, however, not everyone will fall into that category. As we said before, it will be interesting to listen to the recommendation brought forward by Dr. Russell who is currently in charge of curriculum, as well as any discussion that the board members may have regarding this important issue at the upcoming February meeting. Finally, you reference our "ravings" regarding trivial matters. We take serious offense to this allegation. Nothing having to do with our students' education is trivial.

Anonymous said...

I am most concerned about covering all of the math curriculum.

I know this post is mostly about HMS/CHMS but I have been bothered that the elementary school rarely ever completes the entire Everyday Math books. This program is a spiral, and the entire book should be completed. One teacher, in one grade at our school manages this-no one else. It's frustrating. Certainly all classes move at a little different pace but not covering Chap. 9, 10, 11, and 12 is troubling.

jay_wick said...

I am sure you feel that constant nitpicking of every missive from the district is vital to the success of your children and the nonstop call to replace the administration will put your children at the tippytop of performance.

Cooler heads might say that you have lost perspective and harming the ability of truly concerned community members and parents to move forward.

Anonymous said...


I guess nothing is going to stop you from continuing to mispresent everything that is said on the blog to support your idea that if onlty people could express things in the cool, calm, and collected superior manner that you have to communicate the issues you agree with would be resolved. Point one, I don't think that the blog is nitpicking every single missive from the district. Curriculum and facilities issues are central to the school's mission. Point two, you are continuing to push the logical fallacy that it is the "squeaky wheels" that are somehow impeding the ability of unamed others to effect positive change. That is, you claim to believe that the decisons the administration has made behind closed doors were somehow driven by parents, driven in that the administration made decisions that are somehow the opposite of what the "squeaky wheels" want or, perhaps, you are saying that the administration would simply reverse their decisions but are constrained from doing so for fear that they would responding and validating the squeaky wheels.

Yet, if you actually believed that the BOE was making decisions about our community and our children for reasons of ego and retribution, why should they continue one more day in positions of authority.

Nor have you indicated any success with your own calm, cool, collected, intellectual, savvy, articulate approach, in which you use your overpowering charm and supreme persuasive manner to cause the BOE and the administration to do just what you want. If you are able, as with Obi Wan Kenobi, in Star Wars to simply say "These are not the droids you are looking for" and have the forces of empire back off, then please be my guest. Go to the board meeting, use your charm and your calm, cool, collected, intellectual savvy and superior approach to effect change.

I live in Illnois not on Tatoine. In Illnois, we have rough and tumble debates and mobilizing public opinon matters. Hence, the time for sliding gently up the podium, making small talk with Marty Turek about the Bears, and then causally sllipping in comments about the curriculum has come and gone.

The community needs action and airing the facts and exposing public figures to debate over public decisons is entirely proper and appropriate. If the facts show that the criticism is overwrought than the criticism will be ineffective.

You are right that we should all work together and I hope you will.

Eddie Cajun

Anonymous said...

I would like to congratulate the D181 Foundation and Hinsdale Township High School District 86 for presenting such an incredible lecture this morning by Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg. He spoke about his book, Building Resilience.

If you missed it this morning, please go to the evening lecture at Hinsdale Central at 7:00.
You need to RSVP at www.d181foundation.org because space is limited.

He is a nationally known author, speaker, and researcher and was featured in the film, The Race to Nowhere. Well done D181 Foundation and D86!!!

Village Mom

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with Village Mom' s recommendation to attend Dr. Ginsburg's presentation on "Resilience" tonight at Hinsdale Central at 7 pm. His presentation at the Community House this am was outstanding and covered so much incredibly important parenting information. Dr. Ginsberg's presentation was the best I've heard in 33 years of parenting!

jay_wick said...

Dear Mr. / Ms. Cajun:

I am sorry you feel that I am misrepresenting the content of this blog but far too much is unquestionably overheated ranting and far too little is thoughtful writing.

It ought to be clear that I am not enamored of the direction of the BOE. I have been said that those volunteer office holders who may feel the demands of the work are too great or the whole endeavor just not what they expected should step aside. I will go even further, if some of the volunteer office holders have had ethical lapses and hypocritical actions unacceptable to the rest of the BOE they should call them out. That would give air to things in a way that could allow them to be addressed and if that volunteer member steps down it likely would renew the respect that the BOE has lost.

The steps are very different than the nonproductive calls for the termination of paid administrators. Even if the BOE is unsatisfied with performance I am not at all sure that termination is really in the best interest of the district.

I have seen first hand how the careless actions of the BOE can lead to things getting worse. Even seemingly simple decisions made by an interim superintendent can have far reaching negatives. I was in the audience when previous interim superintendent's recommendation to allow Chevron to leave in place non-functional duct work in the gym storage areas at HMS has not directly contributed to the current mess.

Worse than any physical harm to the district facilities the inevitable shifts that come from dumping administrators whipsaws staff and the whole learning environment. The curricular choices that previously were available to our children were radically altered. I will not go so far to say that this is causing harm to our children but I know of no parents, teachers, or community members that feel things are better now than under prior leadership.

I do blame the squeaky wheels. While it may make for amusing political sport to choose up sides and go at with all the fury of banshees I have lived in Illinois nearly 50 years and have seen that losers in these tiffs are the regular people and the winners are few and far between.

I have made no secret of my lack of confidence in many of the BOE members and have no reason to believe that engaging them while discussing sports will dissuade from whatever directionless path they may be on. Sadly I have seen the legalistic barricades that non-stop criticism drives elected officials into and I have no doubt that the administration likely also feels that by banding together they can resist the fury of those that certainly seem to have gone over to the "Dark Side" of irrationality.

I would very much like to see the BOE again use subcommittees and encourage a more interactive way to slowly move forward with a coherent plan to address valid concerns about how successful all the students in the district can be. It is extremely unlikely that such a thing will happen if the BOE and administration are fearful that any such meeting will be a donnybrook...

jay_wick said...

HEY The Parents --

I left a "not" in where I should have edited it out...

phrase should be ... recommendation to allow Chevron to leave in place non-functional duct work in the gym storage areas at HMS has directly contributed to the current mess...

The abandoned ductwork left that space unheated and that was lead to the pipe bursting. The contractors have insulated that space and added a small hydronic heater.