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.
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:
Dr. Russell, the Co-Assistant Superintendent of Learning, next gave a "brief" presentation of the Winter MAP data, high school math data obtained on how last year's 8th graders are doing this year at Hinsdale Central, and math data on the 6th graders who "opted up" into a higher level of math than the test data would have placed them into. All of the data can be found by clicking the following links: Winter Assessment Overview, NWEA Winter Report. Dr. Russell stated that he did see reason to celebrate the data. In particular, he pointed to data that showed that 13 freshmen at HCHS who last year had opted up in 8th grade, taken a crash course in pre-algebra and then completed one year of algebra in 8th grade, were now in Honors Geometry and were getting A's or B's. He pointed out that if they had not been allowed to opt up, they would not have had the opportunity to take Honors Geometry as freshmen.
We agree with Dr. Russell. In the midst of all of the performance data, these 13 students seem to have proven that the old identification model in place under his predecessor was flawed. The decision to allow students whose parents believed could actually do the higher level math work to opt up, despite not having met the arbitrary cut-offs set by past administrations, was the right one, and one, in fact that Dr. Moon advocated for in her January 2012 report.
However, as former Board Member Yvonne Mayer pointed out at the end of the meeting during public comment, beyond this group of 13 students, it is premature to draw any conclusions about the ultimate success of allowing middle school students to opt up. While the high school data showed that most of the students who opted up a level are receiving A's or B's (with a smattering of C's), the data also shows that the majority of these students are not in honors math at the high school. Ms. Mayer explained that these same students might have been able to place into an honors track after freshman year if they had done well in Algebra, however, any parent who has had students at HCHS knows that once slotted into non honors Geometry, it is almost impossible to move into Honors Algebra 2 Trigonometry or Honors Pre-Calculus. But more importantly, students who rushed through pre-algebra and Algebra 1 in Middle School will not really be tested until they begin Algebra 2 Trigonometry -- regular or honors -- as sophomores. Only then will these students know if they have a solid algebra foundation that will enable them to succeed in that class.
So the verdict is still out as to whether allowing students to "opt up" in middle school math will ultimately help or hurt them. We hope that the high school continues to provide D181 with math data on this group of students and that next year Dr. Russell reports on how this group of students performed in Algebra 2 Trigonometry.
As for the 6th graders' math and ELA data -- Dr. Russell presented data on how the students who opted up a level are performing. The problem with this data is that not only does it show that there are "opt up"students who are not performing well, it is difficult to know whether or not these students have "mastered" the subject matter. Last year, the standard to stay in an advanced or accelerated math or language arts class required a student to maintain a minimum of 80% in the class. This year, Dr. Schuster lowered the standard to only 70%. Last year, data that was presented to the board was the percentage achieved by students on tests and quizzes each quarter. This year, no percentages are presented in Dr. Russell's report, just letter grades. So what do these grades actually mean? And what percentage was needed to get an A, B, C, D or F? During the meeting, Board Member Garg did ask if the letter grades were only for the test and quiz scores. Dr. Russell stated that this was correct. Why then didn't he present the data in percentages, as was done last year? Why did he switch to a presentation by letter grades? In our opinion, something seems off with the administration's presentation -- almost like they are playing a shell game and constantly switching the balls one is watching until everyone gets so confused they stop asking questions. Why do they keep changing the way the data is presented? Why do they keep changing the standards? This has to stop!
As for the elementary schools' MAP growth data, the math data for third grade was better than last year. One or more board members stated that even the 4th grade data seemed promising. The focus of the MAP data was to show the percentage of students in each grade that met their growth targets. The problem is that there was no analysis of the 4th grade math MAP data to determine if students who met their growth targets were amongst the 25% of students in that grade who were recommended for the after school math tutoring in order to master 4th grade math concepts while accelerated in 5th grade math. Without that type of detailed analysis, how much importance should really be placed on student's "growth target" achievement on one test? Even Dr. Russell stated that MAP is just one indicator. But when will the Department of Learning present the board with data on other "indicators" of performance?
The Assessment presentation began quite late in the evening. While some board members asked questions, once again, in our opinion, there was little to no "discussion" by the board members about the data, before they moved on to the Consent Agenda.
Consent Agenda and Board Reports:
The Board next approved the Consent Agenda. Buried within the consent agenda, and without any public discussion, came the approval of a "Project Manager." The report was prepared by Interim Building and Grounds administrator Sue Kamuda, who came out of retirement last month to return to work at D181. (Click to open report.). Ms. Kamuda will only work through March 21, and "[d]ue to the recent restoration work at Hinsdale Middle School, a need has arisen for someone to coordinate and monitor many projects." While we do not argue that many projects lie ahead for HMS, we question why the Board did not publicly discuss exactly what this "project manager" would be doing, what qualifications the person should have, what the job description would say and why the current buildings and grounds staff are unable to do the work. In fact, there has been no public reason given for Ms. Kamuda's hiring in the first place. Why is that? The Board is responsible for ensuring that our tax money is well spent. If there is a need to expand the buildings and grounds department by another two administrators -- first Ms. Kamuda and now the overlapping project manager -- why aren't they asking the administration to explain why the current staffing numbers were insufficient? Again, there may be good reasons, but there does not seem to be any transparency in decisions that are made via consent agenda since there is no public discussion before the items are voted on. We are not asking the Board to discuss individual personnel decisions in public, but we are asking them to publicly discuss the need to add positions and grow the district budget.
Monthly Financial Report and Buried Shocking Mold Remediation Cost Report:
One thing that taxpayers expect the elected Board members to do at each business meeting is discuss the "Monthly Financial Report." Typically, Assistant Superintendent Frisch reviews the Treasurer's report, Fund Balances and Fund Summaries. Since January, HMS Mold Remediation costs have also been publicly discussed during his reports. Monday night was different. Due to the lateness of the hour, Mr. Turek informed Mr. Frisch that no presentation was needed after stating:
"We know you're good, we read 'em, so it's late, it's late, it's late buddy." To which Dr. Schuster then stated, "Could we just jump to questions and you guys all read it? Is that all right?" No one objected. No board member had any questions. So that was the end of the Monthly Financial Report.
All we can say is Wow! Pathetic! Embarrassing!
Didn't the Board think the community might be interested in the Mold Remediation Cost report? Wasn't even a brief discussion of this called for especially since the costs (that will NOT be covered by the insurance) have now skyrocketed from the $655,000 costs reported last month to over $1.8 MILLION? And those costs do not include the needed roof replacement or soffit work!
Talk about a total lack of transparency!! Did the Board and Administration think that no one in the community would notice these costs? And yet the Board had NO QUESTIONS? None of them? Couldn't they at least have asked for this item to be tabled for discussion until the next meeting at which perhaps when more awake and alert, they could have reviewed this staggering cost data? The Board's refusal to discuss this cost data is simply shocking to us. The Mold Remediation cost data can be accessed by clicking on the following link: Cost data. When costs triple in less than one month, we expect the Board to publicly discuss them. We hope you all agree. Perhaps if even one Board member reads this blog, they will ask for this item to be put back on the next Board meeting agenda!
After listening to the entire 4 + hour meeting, we were left feeling quite unsettled. There are many critical issues that this Board must address and make decisions on in the next few months: hiring a new superintendent, negotiating the next teachers' contract, reviewing Dr. Moon's report when it finally arrives, discussing how it is going to fix the obvious flaws in the Learning for All Plan, making decisions on mid and long term plans to address the facilities needs at Hinsdale Middle School, approving foreign language and new math curriculum, to name a few. Each one of these items will require serious and thoughtful consideration. Each one of these items will require buy in from parents, teachers, students and all tax payers. To get buy in will necessitate full transparency and accountability by the Board. To get buy in will require information and explanations that are not "moving targets."
Is this Board of Education up for the challenges that lie ahead? Time will tell.