As we reviewed the upcoming board agenda for the Monday 2/10 BOE Meeting at Oak School at 7pm, we were once again struck by the lack of status reports offered by Dr. Schuster and her hand-picked administration. As has been the case for months, Schuster and her administrative foot soldiers (Schneider, Russell, Benaitis, Igoe) will be sitting in front of their computer screens during the course of the board meeting with little to no contribution or participation regarding the effectiveness and status of Learning for All, Special Education, or Testing and Assessment. By the way, it is common for Superintendents and Board Presidents to jointly decide on the meeting agenda, which probably means Marty Turek is actually approving the topics on the agenda recommended by Schuster. Truth be told: we see President Turek working on behalf of the administration rather than to represent and work for those he was elected to represent. We see this same pattern reflected in the participation of Mike Nelson (from afar) and Gary Clarin (recently elected and self-appointed administrative cheerleader). May we remind these board members they were elected to represent and serve their constituents, not to promote the whims, spins, and tactics of Dr. Schuster and her administration.
Here are our immediate concerns:
- Dr. Schuster’s report (click to open report) consists of “celebrations” instead of offering a summary on how and where the district is heading. We congratulate Oak School for its nomination to apply for the blue ribbon award, however, there are 9 schools in this district, 4 blue ribbon winners in their midst, that have pressing curriculum issues that must be addressed right now. Parents need and want data and solid information on how the curriculum changes Dr. Schuster has mandated have affected our children. Mentioning a presentation by Dr. Ginsburg and her upcoming Lunch and Learn get together is hardly providing a comprehensive update to parents, especially after the instruction middle school students has been greatly impacted. Where is this discussion item? (Considering that two of the last three Lunch and Learns have been cancelled and registered attendance extremely poor, perhaps it is time for Dr. Schuster to offer a real Town Hall meeting, open to all –- registered and unregistered participants – at which she and the board will have to answer questions on the spot.)
- The MAP test was given in mid January, yet no formal summary of results has been given by Dr. Schuster, Kurt Schneider, Kevin Russell or Dawn Benaitis. We have been contacted by parents who are concerned that the MAP scores for their children have gone down from Fall to Winter. Test results should be communicated immediately; parents want and deserve this. Note: It appears Kevin Russell will be giving a presentation on MAP test results on 2/20 in yet another controlled setting with no opportunity for questions. This session is listed on the district homepage, but why isn’t Russell providing the test interpretation information at the board meeting where the board members can ask questions and discuss the results? And shouldn’t Dawn Benaitis, who was hired to be the assessment director, be providing a comprehensive report and presentation of the MAP results? What is she really getting paid to do as an assessment director?
- Class size is an important issue in the face of the Learning for All plan. It is obvious that the Learning for All plan cannot be effectively managed with class sizes are large as they are in most cases across the district. How is the administration handling class size? Is their recommendation reasonable?
- One positive, and yet concerning note: Dr. Moon and the newly hired consultant Dr. Friedman will apparently be presenting reports on the Learning for All (formerly the Advanced Learning Plan) at the next BOE meeting on Monday 2/24. Should be interesting to hear their take on the state of learning and differentiation in the district. Our concern is that they will have only spent one day visiting classrooms across the district before they present their "report" to the BOE that same night. How thorough and thoughtful can their report actually be if they do not spend more time in the classrooms, meeting with teachers, or even talking to parents about how the plan has impacted students? Also, what is the purpose of Dr. Friedman's involvement? She is a professional colleague of Dr. Schneider, but is not affiliated with the university that Dr. Moon is from. Is she taking over for Dr. Moon following this visit? If so, why would the board cast Dr. Moon aside, since she was carefully selected through an RFP process over two years ago and her contract could be extended. Will the board discuss this issue, or simply allow Dr. Schneider and Dr. Schuster to make this significant change without explanation?
- Summer school will be shortened this year from 17 days to only 14 days, and the second ESY (extended school year) session -- offered last August -- has been eliminated. This is the shortest summer school session in many years; prior to last year it was 16 days long. The Administration made a big deal last year about the need for the two ESY sessions last year, in order to help students with disabilities gear up for the new school year. Will the administration present any data to support this reduction in summer instructional time offered to all students, including those who are "opting up" into higher level math and english at the middle school? (Compare the last 2 summer school proposals: Click to open 2013 Summer School memo. Click to open 2014 Summer School proposal.)
- Last year, despite opposition from a board minority, the majority approved a 4 day per week summer work schedule for the Administration. This year, Dr. Schuster is once again asking for a shortened work week in July. We cannot believe her audacity. After all of the issues that have been raised this year regarding curriculum and facilities, it should be painfully clear to everyone that the administrators must work on site five days a week for the entire summer, unless they take time off using their paid vacation days. We will eagerly watch the decision the board makes regarding this request this year and hope they vote it down.
- We are glad to see that Dr. Schuster wants to implement a Curriculum Committee. Our concern is with her desire to close the meetings to only members and "invited guests." She states that she will be complying with the Open Meetings Act by posting the agenda and minutes of the meetings, but the OMA requires meetings to be held in public unless they fall under one of the enumerated exceptions. Discussions on curriculum do not fall under any exception to the OMA that we could identify. Why wouldn't she want the community to listen to the discussions of this committee? If she wants "buy in" from the community on curriculum changes, or the continuation of the current acceleration for all programs, she should "shine a light" on these discussions and not slam the door in our face. High School District 86 has implemented many committees this year, but all of their meetings are held in public unless a specific issue requires an executive session. Dr. Schuster should take a lesson from their willingness to be transparent, even if the community does not always like what it hears.
- The board is being asked to approve Human Resource software that includes "time clocks." Are teachers and (we hope) administrators going to be "punching in" every day they come to work? We were under the impression that the current teachers' contract does not define the length of the required work day. Perhaps it should, however, without this contract provision, why should the board approve a nearly $38,000 expenditure? How do the teachers feel about this? And if it is approved, will ALL employees, including Dr. Schuster, be required to punch in each day? If required for even one employee, it should be required for all. This will allow any community member to file a Freedom of Information Act request in the future to see how long each D181 staff member is actually on site.
These are important issues we believe should be addressed, and we encourage attendance and participation at Monday’s meeting. Letters to the BOE can also be written that address parent concerns. The time is now to voice concerns; we cannot depend on the district administrators or the majority of the board to do so.