Saturday, March 29, 2014

Hope Springs Eternal; A Spring Break Message from the Bloggers

(Taken from Wikipedia Spring Images)

As we prepare to enjoy Spring Break with our families next week, we would like to extend our appreciation to our loyal readers. Your active involvement and comments help us to continue our quest for transparency and accountability in District 181, which are the very reasons this blog was created. Our goal is to continue with our mission to inform the D181 community, and this will continue until a new superintendent begins. After our new superintendent starts, we want to give him/her the opportunity to provide the transparency that we hope we will no longer need to provide through this blog.

We look to the new spring season ahead as a time of renewal and hope. Yes, we want to believe we will collectively move beyond what has transpired during the past three years to a better direction under new leadership with positive results.

Spring is the season of hope, and we believe that with a change in leadership, good things can transpire in D181. We are looking ahead toward brighter days with cautious optimism. We would like to know if you feel the same way. Regardless, feel free to make a comment.

The upcoming change in D181 leadership gives us something to hold onto.

See you back here after Spring Break.

Monday, March 24, 2014

UPDATED: Breaking News: Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Doug Eccarius Resigns; All Administrator Contracts Renewed

Tonight, following a very brief Board of Education meeting, Dr. Schuster emailed all parents that the BOE approved a revised calendar. She also informed parents that Doug Eccarius has resigned.  Her email is copied below. The community is still left in the dark about what exactly was on the Personnel Consent agenda that the BOE approved unanimously.  Did the board renew all of the other administrators' contracts for the 2014-2015 school year?  We will have to wait until the administration posts the Personnel Consent Agenda on Board Docs.

UPDATED AT 11:30 P.M.:  The Personnel Consent Agenda that was unanimously approved by the BOE has been posted on Board Docs.  Click to open Consent Agenda.  All Administrator Contracts were renewed for one year terms.  Salaries for the 2014-2015 school year will be determined at a future date.  

Letter from Dr. Schuster:

"Dear District 181 Families,

This evening, the Board of Education approved the following 2013-14 calendar changes, outlined in the attached amended at-a-glance calendar (if no additional emergency days are used):
  • Friday, April 18: This will be an attendance day for HMS only.
  • Friday, May 16: This will be an attendance day for all students.
  • Monday, June 2: This will be an attendance day for all students.
  • Thursday, June 5: This will be a half-day for all students, with a teacher in-service in the afternoon for staff only.
  • Friday, June 6: This will be a half-day for all students (last day of school), with a school improvement day in the afternoon for staff only.
  • Monday, June 9 and Tuesday, June 10: These will be Institute Days for staff only. 
Also, in administrative news, District 181 Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Doug Eccarius has accepted a position as Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources with Indian Prairie School District 204, effective July 1, 2014. Mr. Eccarius has shared a letter (below my signature) with all families. Please join us in wishing Mr. Eccarius well in this new position.

Lastly, as a reminder, the superintendent search survey closes at the end of the day on Tuesday. Thank you for your participation.


Dr. Renée Schuster

- - -

Letter from Mr. Eccarius

Dear District 181 Families,

It is with bittersweet emotions that I am writing to inform you that, this evening, I was approved to serve as the new Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources for Indian Prairie School District 204 in Naperville. My new position begins July 1, 2014.

For the past 11 years, I have been fortunate to serve District 181 as the Assistant Principal at Clarendon Hills Middle School, Principal at The Lane School, Director of Summer School, and currently the Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources. I have been fortunate to build relationships with eager students, talented staff members, and involved parents. It has been an honor to serve as an administrator in two buildings that are nationally recognized as Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence. This is a great community, and I have felt an enormous amount of support from parents and staff.

I am very excited to have the opportunity to serve as a leader in District 204, the district that gave me my first teaching position. I have fond memories of my time there and look forward to the opportunities and challenges that a unit district provides. Indian Prairie School District is a short commute from my residence and serves approximately 29,000 students across Pre-K through twelfth grade. There are 33 schools with close to 3,000 employees. 

During the remainder of the school year, I will continue to keep students, staff, and labor relations as top priorities, as well as preparation for a smooth transition to new leadership for District 181. One of my first priorities will be to assist the District in filling the vacant central office positions with leaders who will continue to help Community Consolidated School District 181 work towards its vision, “to be a school district where all students experience success and grow in excellence.”

Once again, I want to thank you for your constant support over the last eleven years. I am extremely grateful to have been provided the opportunity to serve the District 181 community.


Doug Eccarius
Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources"

Selection of Parent Members to Superintendent's Learning Committee Delayed

We have received the following comment from Parent Jill Quinones who asked us to publish it as a free standing post. Because we believe the topic covered is significant and addresses the "process" being used to select parent members to the Superintendent's Learning Committee, we have agreed.

Comment from Ms. Quinones:

"You can post this as a stand alone under Superintendent learning Committee and see how many other Blog readers applied and if any "missed" the communications....

Below is my email to Dr. Schuster when she announced today she was extending the deadline for applications to the Superintendent's Learning Committee and her response. I would have had more respect if she had just said, "you are right, we felt the applicants were too controversial and we were hoping there were some neutral folk out there.""

#1 on my wish list for a new Superintendent - one who is honest and transparent.

Dear Dr. Schuster and Board of Education,

Without looking to jeopardize my own application, I feel as if I have to write to you to express my displeasure over today’s decision to extend the deadline to submit applications to be considered for membership on the Superintendent’s Learning Committee. This extension will only serve to delay the committee from starting its work.

While I hope my conclusion is incorrect, this extension appears to be a thinly veiled attempt to manipulate the parent membership on that committee. I have drawn that conclusion based on the reasoning sent out today as to why it was necessary to extend the deadline and what I know about each "reason."

(1) Some schools are not yet represented in the applications received by the original deadline – while I applaud you in trying to seek out a parent representative from every school and the diversity that will bring to the committee; the fact is, you may never get a parent to volunteer from each school. Moreover, I personally know of parents who have applied for membership on the committee from both middle schools and four of the seven elementary schools. I am sure there are others of which I don’t know about as well. If you need to leave the application period open to try to get parents from the three unrepresented schools, I understand that, but parents who met your original deadline should be the ones who are considered from the schools they represent – unless, of course, you are trying to manipulate membership.

(2) There have been requests from parents for an extension as they had not seen the opportunity in our recent communications – for the life of me, I cannot imagine how a parent missed the communication on this one. News of the potential for a committee was included in the February 7 Newsletter sent around by Ms. McGuiggan to families and Key Communicators. It was discussed and included in the Board Docs for the February 10 Board Meeting. The call for applications was posted to the D181 website and included in the D181 E-News sent by Ms. McGuiggan to families and Key Communicators on March 7. It was publicized in the Suburban Life and Hinsdale Patch online on March 11 and 17, and probably other places as well. At Walker School and others, it was linked on the PTO website either directly or by a link to the District website .A reminder of the deadline for applications was again sent around on March 21 from Ms. McGuiggan to all families. If many parents missed this communication prior to March 21, it would be surprising. And if a few did and contacted you, then give them an extra few days to submit their application, but do not stop the entire process for another three weeks (two more weeks to accept applications and another to choose membership). The school year will be almost over before a first meeting can be called.

(3) The search for a new superintendent is progressing rapidly, and by extending the deadline for applications, the new superintendent may be able to participate in the committee member selection process – What? Even the most aggressive search will not have a new Superintendent approved much before May 31, and it could be later than that. If the new Superintendent is already employed somewhere it is doubtful that he or she will place selecting parental curriculum committee membership as a high priority prior to July 1. If the intent was to get this committee up and going this year (I think it was originally posted as membership term of 2013-14 and 2014-15), then this third reason is really a reach.

I would urge you to reconsider this extension to the general public and limit it to parents who contacted you and schools from whom you have no candidates. The original posting did not have you announcing membership until March 28. Using that original date the committee can start its important work soon after Spring Break. Additional members from missing schools, if any apply, can be added as you select them.

Thank you,

Jill Quinones

Her response (and no, she didn't sign it):

Dear Jill,

Thank you for your email. I appreciate your perspective and expected some of the people who met the deadline to feel the same way. I weighed that perspective with that from the parents who missed the other communications when making the decision to extend the deadline.


D181 Students to Be Subjected to More Unnecessary Testing This Spring

Last night we began receiving comments from parents who just learned that starting this week, some D181 students will be participating in FIELD TESTING of the new PARCC assessment.  PARCC stands for "Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers."  Starting in the 2014-2015 school year, PARCC will be replacing the ISAT tests.  This morning we received a comment from parent Jill Quinones who asked that we post her detailed comment as a free standing post.  We are doing so because we believe the information Ms. Quinones provides is important for all to read.  At the end of this post, we will also be copying all of the comments we have received so far on the field testing.

Time for you to sound off.  Please let us know what you think about this additional testing? Should D181 have declined to participate in the field testing? Should parents individually opt their students out of this testing?

Ms. Quinones' Post:

Dear Parents

You can use this as a stand alone and put other Common Core Comments here:

PARCC Field Test

I will be piloting this with some of my 6th grade special education students next week. Here is some more info for you all:

Pearson, PARCC”s Field Testing Contractors sent letters to District’s on member states notifying them if school’s in their District had been selected for the Field Test. The final list of participating schools was compiled in December 2013, so yes; D181 could have been a little more forthcoming. Schools were selected to participate in a specific grade, content (math and/or reading) and mode (online/paper-pencil) and are not allowed to change that selection. Specific classrooms were selected by a minimum of 2 District representatives to make sure the selection was random. There were some other guidelines about this as well:
Every pilot classroom for the online version will do a practice component that lasts 60-90 minutes. There is A LOT of technology involved with this test, the majority of which is available to all students:
The actual testing sessions are 90-120 minutes ELA and 75-90 minutes Math. If they are taking the PBA test there are 3 sections of ELA and 2 of math. If they are doing the end of year later in May ELA and Math are both 2 sections.

Here’s the link to try the sample question that were released:
If you want the whole Field Test overview:

Teachers should not be looking over shoulders as Pearson and PARCC over the top on the security on this one. Teachers are not allowed to be on their computers, phones, or eve grading papers while students are taking this test. They must be circulating around the room the entire testing period. All teachers administering the test sign off on a lengthy security agreement agreeing to such and more. Any reported violation could potentially void the test results once this is being given “for real.”

Personally, I have mixed feelings about this Field-testing. It seems outrageous that it is happening right after ISAT and there will not be any scores associated with it – it is just research for PARCC and Pearson to make sure everything works and trouble shoot for when it rolls out next year. On the other hand, perhaps they will realize it doesn’t work! Also, those students involved in the Field Test will have a slight advantage over those that were not in that they will have been exposed and have had practice. Not sure if this is good or bad. This is a major headache for teachers as well, as we keep getting updates and changes thrown at us. Whatever your thoughts about the PARCC in general – those are issues with ISBE, not D181.

That said, I do know many Districts are, in fact, scaling back their other assessments because this test going forward will be given several times a year. For example, in my District MAP will be given Fall only to grades 3-8 and we will use Fall to Fall growth norms.

Given that D181 has done away with pull-out gifted programming and any parent/teacher can opt their kids in to accelerated programs I don’t know why we need to waste instructional time and $ in D181 with the Inview and some of the other testing we are still giving. Our Dept. of Learning should take a look at all the assessments that are being given and when.

For a funny yet sad commentary, see:


Below are the other field testing comments we have received.  Future comments will appear as regular comments following this post.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Two Important Meetings Scheduled for Monday, 3/24. BOE Has Created a Scheduling Conflict That May Force Parents to Attend Only One.

There are two important meetings scheduled for Monday, March 24, that we encourage community members, parents and teachers to attend.  Unfortunately, the meeting times have some overlap that may make in impossible for interested persons to attend both.

The first meeting, announced on March 17, is the superintendent search focus group led by BWP (the search firm).  This meeting is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. at Elm School.  The purpose of the focus group (as stated on the D181 website) is "to further capture staff and parent input in the search process" beyond that obtained through the BWP survey.

The second meeting is a Special Board Meeting that will also be held at Elm School beginning at 7:30 p.m.  This meeting was first announced to the public on March 21 in an email communication sent out by the Director of Communications.

The announcement stated that "[t]he meeting will begin at 7:30 to allow time for those interested in attending the Superintendent Search Focus Group at 7:00 p.m. to attend both events."

Nice attempt to dodge the criticism the BOE must have known would result by choosing to meet during the focus group.  Does anyone really believe that the focus group will start promptly at 7 pm and then conclude within 30 minutes?  If so, how interested is BWP or the board in providing a meaningful amount of time to gather input from community members?  Even if only a few parents show up, 30 minutes is hardly enough time to let each person speak.

No, it is painfully obvious to us that the BOE intended to create this conflict and intentionally scheduled both meetings at the same time in order to keep the attendance down at its board meeting.  You might ask, why would the BOE do this?  Well, here are the reasons we have come up with:

The last few meetings have been very well attended by parents willing to step up and make public comments critical of the board, administration and the Learning for All Plan.  By creating a scheduling conflict, it is likely more parents will choose to attend the focus group and stay away from the board meeting.

While there are only 2 items on the agenda for the special meeting (click to open agenda posted on Board Docs), Amended School Calendar and Personnel, both items are somewhat controversial and we are sure the board would prefer to address them quickly and quietly.

The Amended School Calendar is up for final approval.  It will result in Hinsdale Middle School students attending school on Good Friday, while the rest of the district has the day off.  There may be some parents who oppose this plan, but if given the choice between making a public comment at 7:30 or providing input for the superintendent search at 7, most parents will likely forgo attending the board meeting.

While we do not know what the Personnel item is, we can make a pretty good guess.  The board must publicly approve the renewal of Administrator Contracts on or before April 1, or they will automatically be renewed after that date.  Up for renewal are all of the Central Office administrators, the principals, assistant principals, deans and PPS administrators. We hope that the board will be formally voting on these contracts at this meeting, since no other meeting is currently scheduled to take place before April 1.  Each board member should be allowed to vote yes or no on each administrator.

Parents have been quite vocal on this blog, and in letters sent to the board, about their desire that one or more administrator contracts not be renewed.  We will not identify those administrators in this post, but we agree that change is needed in some of the Central Administrative positions.  As a result of the public criticism, it is clear that by scheduling these overlapping meetings, the board is hoping to deter public comments relating to the administrator contracts.

Wouldn't it have been possible for Board President Turek and Dr. Schuster to pick any other date between Monday, March 24 and April 1 to hold their Special Meeting?  If not, wouldn't it be possible to begin the meeting at 8 or 8:30 pm to allow people to attend both meetings?

In our opinion, not doing so is simply the latest in a series of attempts by Mr. Turek and Dr. Schuster to stifle open government and transparency.  While the district can look forward to a new beginning (of sorts) on July 1 with the hiring of a new superintendent, there is also the BOE officers election to be held during the annual Organizational Meeting (in late April or early May)(Click to open Board Policy 2:110.)  We hope at that time a new board president will be chosen.  The non-renewal of some administrators is not the only change needed in D181.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Parent Survey Results from the 2012-2013 5Essentials Survey Finally Published Today (3/20/14) on D181 Website

Today, a community member sent an email to D181 asking where the parent results for last year's 5Essential Survey could be accessed?  (See comments posted to 3/17 blog post titled "Update: Superintendent Survey Now "Live"....)  Tonight, the parent survey results were finally published on the D181 website, but four months after Dr. Schuster and the Director of Communications told the Board they were being compiled.

They can be accessed at the following link:

The parent survey results are quite interesting. We encourage all of you to review not only your own school's data, but that of the other D181 schools.

We leave you with questions the community member asked after receiving this data:  Why didn't the D181 administration post this data sooner?  Why wasn't this done until a parent asked about the data? The Director of Communications assumed responsibility for the "error" of not posting the information,  however, in our opinion, Dr. Schuster was ultimately responsible for bringing this data to the BOE for discussion and publishing it on the D181 website.  She put her name on the Board Report she presented on November 18, 2013 in which she and the Director of Communications told the BOE the parent data was being compiled and would be publicly released.

We have a right to expect transparency from the administration.  We have a right to expect timely access to survey results.  If parents are asked to take surveys, parents should be able to see the results.  Anything short of this is inexcusable.

Updated 3/21/14:  A commentor has asked if D181 posted the teacher results.  They were presented to the Board at the 11/18/13 board meeting and a power point presentation can be found on Board Docs at the following link:$file/5Essentials%20Survey%20Presentation%2013-11-18.pdf.
As of this morning, it does not appear that this link is on the D181 website on the 5 Essential Surveys page (link above).

Common Core Science Presentation Held Last Night (3/19/14)

Last night the D181 Administration hosted a Common Core Science Presentation at Elm School.  Both during and after the presentation, we received comments related to it and the current science curriculum offerings in D181.  This morning, we were asked to publish the "Science" comments in a free standing post.  Here they are:

Monday, March 17, 2014

UPDATE: Superintendent Survey Now "Live" on D181 Website and Focus Group to be Held on 3/24 at Elm School-- No Notification from BOE

The online Superintendent survey that the Board of Education is conducting to gather information from the community is now "Live" at the D181 website at the following link: When the page opens, scroll down to the paragraph titled Superintendent Search and click on the word "here" to access the survey.

The survey window is from today through March 25, 2014.

We want to express our disappointment that as of this morning, no official notice to the parents or community members has been issued by email.  Nor did the board announce the survey dates during last Monday's (3/10/14) board meeting.

Does the BOE really care what the community thinks?  Their lack of TIMELY notification speaks volumes.

With respect to the actual survey, we have just taken it.  We are surprised that BWP did not include a "comments" question that would allow the responders to explain any of their answers or express concerns about the current leadership that they do not want to see repeated.  BWP does provide the address below that people can mail additional commentary to, but in this age of technology, how many people are really going to MAIL a letter to the search firm?  Why didn't they at least provide an email address?

BWP address:

BWP & Associates - Community Consolidated School District 181
872 S. Milwaukee Ave. #221
Libertyville, IL 60048

So we have taken the liberty of providing our readers with the email address available on the BWP website:


In addition, the D181 website page with the survey link has been updated to announce the Focus Group BWP will be hosting to gather more input on the qualities the community is seeking in a superintendent.  The announcement states:

"A community focus group is being held March 24 at Elm School (7pm). All residents are welcomed to attend. BWP anticipates presenting a slate of candidates to the Board of Education in April."

We encourage you to spread the word on both the survey and the focus groups yourselves, rather than wait to hear from the BOE.  Overall, a very disappointing start to the superintendent search.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

UPDATE on Superintendent Search -- Search Firm to Conduct Survey from 3/17 - 3/25

The D181 Website has been updated with the following information:

"Superintendent Search

District 181 invites the community to complete a survey to assist in the District’s search for the next superintendent. The survey asks respondents to consider the District’s strengths, issues facing the District, and skills and characteristics to seek in a superintendent. The survey will be open March 17 through March 25 and can be accessed on this webpage once it is live on March 17. The Board accepted the resignation of current Superintendent Dr. Renée Schuster on February 10, with the resignation effective June 30, 2014. On February 24, the Board approved the hiring of BWP and Associates to lead the superintendent search process. The firm developed the survey and will lead focus groups to further capture staff and parent input in the search process. The firm anticipates presenting a slate of candidates to the Board of Education in April."                                             (Source:

We look forward to the Board of Education sending out official notification to parents and community members of this Survey prior to the response period commencing on March 17.  We also hope the Board of Education will create a LINK on the D181 website (similar to what other districts have done*) that will keep the community updated on the search process and include the following information:
  • Timeline of the search process
  • Information about the "focus groups" referenced above that will also explain if the focus groups will be open to all, or limited in number (and if so, what method will be used to select the participants.)
  • Superintendent Leadership Profile developed by BWP after the survey and focus groups.
  • Regular updates.

In the meantime, the following information is available on the BWP (the search firm D181 is using) website:

"Community Consolidated School District 181 Hinsdale, Illinois
Announcement of Superintendent Vacancy
The Community Consolidated School District 181 Board of Education, Hinsdale, Illinois, announces the commencement of a search for a new Superintendent of Schools who will assume responsibilities on either May 30th or July 1, 2014. This is an outstanding professional opportunity for a qualified and experienced educational leader to work with an enthusiastic and supportive community, staff and Board of Education.
The Hinsdale Elementary School District 181 is located in highly desirable DuPage County, approximately 19 miles west of downtown Chicago. District 181 includes seven elementary and two middle schools. The K-8 student population of almost 4,000 is characterized by high academic achievement. There are also numerous programs that support the academic and social emotional needs of all the students in the district. Parents are involved and are supportive. The community takes great pride in its schools.
The schools are supported by a strong administrative team, a dedicated Board of Education, and a devoted staff of teachers and support personnel. District 181 has proven to be a great place to work and live.
Application Procedure
Interested candidates are urged to complete the online application process at as soon as possible. This will be a “ROLLING SEARCH”, with applications being screened as they are received. Applications will be accepted from February 27, 2014 until the new Superintendent is selected.
An Application should include: 􏱕 A completed online Applicant Data Form 􏱕 A letter of application indicating qualifications and reasons for interest
in the position 􏱕 A current resume 􏱕 A brief description of major professional accomplishments 􏱕 College/University transcripts 􏱕 Four to six letters of recommendation 􏱕 Evidence of eligibility to be a Superintendent in Illinois
All of the required material should be submitted online at Application materials will be treated confidentially. Applicants are requested not to contact members of the Board of Education.A regionally competitive compensation package will be offered to the successful candidate. The Board is willing to work with the candidate concerning issues generated by the Illinois Pension Cap.
Each candidate will be informed of the Board’s selection and appointment of the new Superintendent. The final selection and appointment is the sole responsibility of the Board of Education.
BWP and Associates, Ltd.
872 South Milwaukee Avenue, #221 Libertyville, Illinois 60048
For additional information, contact BWP search consultants:
Dr. Mark Friedman Dr. Anne Noland Mr. Steve Griesbach Dr. Phil Ehrhardt
847-975-8393 630-624-3336 708-822-8706 630-514-7003
An Equal Opportunity Employer"
*  Examples of another district website's Superintendent Search link (this district is also using BWP):
Frankfort District 157-C:  A link called "Superintendent Search" is on the District Office homepage:  This link opens up to the following page (which has sub-links to detailed search information):,6769

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Will the Board "Continue the Reign of Decline" or "Work Together to Achieve Long Term Goals" in the Best Interest of All D181 Students?

We begin this post with a quote from a public comment made by a D181 Parent at the March 10th board meeting. 

"[L]ack of excellence has been demonstrated by the majority of this school board to this point.  It cannot continue.  If it does, we will continue to have a school district that is not moving in the right direction.  I strongly urge each one of you to look deep inside of yourselves and determine what you want out of your term on this board.  If you want to preside over a reign of decline, over educational malpractice, then continue to do what you’ve been doing. If you have some respect, if you have some care of your neighbors, and some long term goals, please work together to achieve them.”  Comment made by Parent at 3/10 BOE meeting.  

The father who made this statement was one of 14 parents who stepped up and for almost sixty minutes publicly expressed their concerns about Dr. Moon's report, opinions about the failed implementation of the Learning for All Plan for students throughout the ability spectrum, and who implored the board to finally discuss what they plan to do to remedy the obvious harm that has been felt by some of the D181 students.   The father challenged the board to work together and end what he described as a reign of decline.

We couldn't agree more with this parent's statement and along with over 40 parents, teachers and administrators who were in attendance and hopefully many more who were listening by podcast, we waited to see how the board would respond.

We are pleased to report that following public comment, the board -- all SEVEN board members who were present (THANK YOU MR. NELSON for attending two meetings in a row!) did engage in a meaningful discussion about next steps.  Despite the fact that Dr. Schuster -- who we consider to be in the lame duck stages of her superintendency -- had not intended for any discussion to take place on Monday (as indicated in the Board Doc Q&A's), the board spent the next 90 minutes discussing with each other and the Department of Learning administrators the topic of the Learning for All plan.  

Each board member asked questions and seemed genuinely interested in addressing the parent concerns.  The board recognized that there is a desire by some parents that grade level instruction be offered as soon as possible for any student who wants it or needs it. Further, some of the board members recognized that there is also a concern that as a result of the Learning for All plan, students at the high end of the spectrum may not be getting sufficient challenge or growing academically as they  previously did under the old programs.  Board Member Garg went so far as to bring a motion to have grade level instruction reinstated immediately -- while at the same time keeping parts of the Learning for All plan intact so that students who need more challenge or want to try more accelerated work than they might previously have been identified for under the old criteria, will still have those opportunities.  Board Member Heneghan seconded the motion.  A discussion on this motion followed and ultimately Ms. Garg tabled her motion after the board reached consensus that the administration should first discuss Dr. Moon's follow up report with the teachers and principals AND ask the teachers what they think about the idea of reinstating grade level instruction as an option for students.  The board indicated that this should be done promptly so that it can then further discuss the issue and make some decisions.

While some parents may be frustrated that no decision was reached by the board on Monday night, their decision to gather more information first from the D181 teachers -- our front line soldiers -- was, in our opinion, appropriate, especially if the board plans to revisit this topic promptly.

What was clear from Monday night's discussion was that the board has taken an important first step to fixing a curriculum program that is clearly hurting students.  Now, the hard work will begin.  The board must get confirmation from teachers that grade level instruction is appropriate for some of the students in D181 and must be offered.  We hope the teachers are willing to acknowledge this, just as some have in discussions with concerned parents. It is time for the teachers, parents, administrators and Board to all get on the same page and acknowledge what is happening, rather than have parents speaking out, teachers quietly having discussions with parents and the administration turning a blind eye.  The board seems willing to finally address the concerns and we hope they push ahead with this plan and work together and with all of the impacted constituency groups to remedy the problems with the Learning for All Plan.

We could point out and express concerns regarding some of the representations made by Department of Learning administrators in response to board member questions (as some parents have already done in comments posted since Monday night), however, we want to emphasize the positives in this post.  In our opinion, it is very important to focus on the fact that the board seems willing, ready and able to put an end to the reign of decline and work together for the benefit of each student.  We hope they don't let us down.

So we end this post with some thank yous:

We thank our Board of Education for having a public discussion.

We thank each board member for expressing their opinions and conducting a meaningful discussion that ended with some "next steps" being laid out.

We thank Board Member Garg for bringing her motion to reinstate grade level instruction.  (Ms. Garg, you are MORE THAN JUST A MOM!!)

We thank our Board of Education for realizing that the current situation and parent concerns can no longer be ignored.

We thank our teachers and principals in advance for the discussions you will now be asked to have on the Learning for All Plan, Dr. Moon's report, parent concerns and the question of whether grade level instruction should be reinstated.

We look forward to the next board discussion.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Letter to BOE providing Comparative Analysis of Dr. Moon's Reports: "Our children need the Best Practices and other recommendations made by Dr. Moon - especially those from two years ago that remain undone - to be undertaken immediately. "

Readers:  Last night, D181 parent  Jill Quinones sent a letter to the board addressing Dr. Moon's report and then submitted it to this blog as a comment.  The letter referenced a chart that provided a comparative analysis of recommendations and commendations Dr. Moon made in both her 2012 and follow-up 2014 report, and spotlights  what has and has not been implemented in D181.  We requested that Mrs. Quinones provide us with a link to the chart and asked her permission to publish her letter and the chart as a free standing post.  She has now provided us with both; the link that will open the chart is copied below followed by the letter .  We thank Mrs. Quinones for the time she spent over the weekend preparing the comparative chart.  It is clear that it must have taken her hours of review, reflection and analysis.  Her observations and conclusions shine a light on the weaknesses of the Learning for All Plan and the need for the Board to immediately address them.  Let us hope that the Board does not turn a blind eye to the substantive work done by Mrs. Quinones (and Mr. and Mrs. Alex), work that should have been done by the Department of Learning and presented to the Board for discussion some time ago.
Chart created by Jill Quinones:  Click to open chart.
Letter from Jill Quinones to the Board:  (Note:  For emphasis we have highlighted some of the text.
"Dear BOE, Dr. Schuster, Dr. Russell, and Dr. Schneider,

Feeling a bit overwhelmed with information I sat down this weekend and made a chart which I am attaching (here for you. I started with the commendations (+), concerns (-), and recommendations (R) made by Dr. Moon in her first report, added in those identified in her recent follow up report, and then added a column looking from a parent's perspective (mine) what had and had not been done over the last 2 years. I loosely grouped her comments by topic and tried to line up where she made comments on the same points in both reports. I pretty much included her comments word for word, although I did compact here and there. The numbers in parentheses are the page numbers the comments came from so you can easily see from where I pulled them.

In adding my own perspective I also color coded green for accomplished, yellow for started but not finished, and red for not really started. If I missed some information that is out there and more is done in certain areas than I know of I would love to be corrected. That last column is my perspective from what I could discover on the District website.

What my visual really highlights, I believe, is that while the District did create a philosophy and structure in accordance with Dr. Moon's first Report recommendations, there is a significant amount that has either barely been started or not started at all necessary for successful education of our children. And many of these items that I see as yellow or red are those that most parents, and I dare say teachers, would have expected to be in place BEFORE actually trying to educate our children under the new structure. 
Most glaring to me is the lack of well-articulated specifics as to differentiation. Some of the most basic differentiation is driven by RTI. RTI plans were due to ISBE about 5 years ago. RTI plans require the use of research based interventions when children are struggling. Although State-required RTI only speaks to the struggling learner, it would be expected that a similar process would be in place for the higher achieving learner pursuant to the advanced learning philosophy. So why is it these specifics, if they are in place, cannot be communicated to parents? Dr. Moon is suggesting they are not really in place. What exactly is the District RTI protocol? Where do parents access it? Parents should not have to initiate their children receiving RTI interventions/differentiation. In addition, conclusions from Team meetings about interventions outside of the regular curriculum/differentiation should be communicated to parents from teachers as they happen. Certain benchmark scores (high and low) should trigger immediate consideration for research based interventions. Grade level teachers and differentiation specialists should also be meeting on a regular basis (5, 6, 7 weeks?) to look at benchmarks and classroom assessments to drive instruction and interventions. Classroom teachers should be looking at data on an even more frequent basis to drive this instruction. If such a protocol exists, it is not on the website nor has it ever been shared with parents. If such a protocol exists it does not seem that it was shared with Dr. Moon. 

It is great that there is a structure and you feel it can be paraded in front of others at conferences as a success. Unfortunately, as Dr. Moon has now pointed out, again, what that structure says is happening and what specifically is happening day to day for students is random and not well articulated. I am not saying there aren't good things going on in the classrooms; I know that there are. But, as a parent who is also an educator I would expect from this District and for the tax dollars it receives from me better articulated, consistent programming and teachers who had been provided appropriate training and supports BEFORE being asked to implement a structure that has no data supporting it from use anywhere else. For example, Dr. Moon forewarned of "a myriad" of issues related to whole grade math acceleration that needed to be considered. Because this did not happen, and the District took a structure and ran with it, it is forced to trying random reactive interventions (like teacher-provided tutoring) when all students are not successful in the same accelerated curriculum. Teacher-provided tutoring using what? Where is the research base for that intervention? This is just one example.

I take no comfort in Dr. Moon's conclusion that 84% or parents approve of their student's education. Not only was that survey sent around at the beginning of the year before the effects of random programming changes were implemented, but the 84% is 84% of 316 parents who answered question 5 (not question 6 as Dr. Moon cites). 55 parents who responded to the survey did not even answer the question and 316 out of the close to probably 6,000 parents or 3,000 families who could have responded can hardly be interpreted as overwhelming approval.

I would urge the Board as you look at candidates for Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent of Learning to find candidates with the strongest background in curriculum and instruction generally and data driven, differentiated curriculum and instruction specifically, so that all of the red and yellow can turn green in less than another two years. Our children need the Best Practices and other recommendations made by Dr. Moon - especially those from two years ago that remain undone - to be undertaken immediately.

Thank you,

Jill Quinones"

Letter to BOE addressing Math Acceleration for All: "D181 should be learning from these huge mistakes made by these school districts, not recreating them."

Readers:  This morning D181 Parents Amy and Dave Alex gave us permission to publish a letter they sent to the BOE over the weekend as a free standing post.  After they submitted it as a comment, we requested their permission to do so because we are grateful that they took the time to read beyond Dr. Moon's follow up report, review research on other districts she cited in her report and contact the board explaining the flaws with D181's Learning for All Plan that were exposed as a result.  Mr. and Mrs. Alex have asked us to emphasize the following:  "Let us [Mr. and Mrs. Alex] caution readers that we are not advocating to adopt Montgomery County or Fairfax County's curriculum."  

Letter to the BOE from the Alex's: (You can click on each link cited to open up the research they reference. Note:  For emphasis, we have added highlights to some of their conclusions.)

"Dear Board Members,
My husband and I spent some time Saturday morning reviewing Dr. Moon’s follow-up report. We wanted to address one aspect of the report and then share some information that we have uncovered doing our own research that pertains to Learning For All. 

Dr. Moon sited Thomas Jefferson Magnet School of Science and Technology located in Fairfax County VA, Fairfax County Public School District, as support for all students in D181 enrolling in 8th grade Algebra 1.

“The District moved to commit to having Algebra I as an 8th grade offering for all students. This decision was made as a result of extensive reading into the research literature. This decision does not come without its opponents as well as proponents. However, many of the top high schools in the country require that 8th graders complete Algebra I prior to admission (e.g., Thomas Jefferson Magnet School for Science and Technology, Fairfax County (VA) Public Schools, U.S. News & World Report, 2013, #4 ranking).” (Source:  Dr. Moon's follow up report, p.5,

Here is some information on the highly selective admissions process for Thomas Jefferson Magnet School for Science and Technology High School.  

-Attendance is based on an admissions test which consists of a standardized mathematics and reasoning test along with two essay questions, prior academic achievement, recommendations and essays. 
-Students must be enrolled in Algebra 1 or a higher math course in order to apply (as Dr Moon stated).
-Using a sliding scale, the math and reasoning test score is combined with the student's middle-school GPA to form an overall, objective ranking; the admissions office designates the top scorers as semifinalists, a group generally about three times as large as the planned freshman class. The semifinalists submit further information, including teacher recommendations, awards, previous experience in science, mathematics, and technology, and several personal statements. Two selection panels review this information, along with the student essays written during the admission test, and select the next year's freshman class.

Hinsdale Central is a very good high school, but Thomas Jefferson High School is in an entirely different league. This is an apples to oranges comparison and not relevant to this district.

In researching Thomas Jefferson Magnet School, we discovered information that indeed pertains to Learning For All about two school districts in similar socio-economical areas such as District 181. Fairfax County is ranked 3rd for median household income in the country. Montgomery County is ranked 11th.

The Fairfax County Public School’s curriculum used to look very similar to Learning For All. They cherry picked concepts/skimmed the surface/skipped concepts to accelerate, which created achievement gaps for students. So in order to close the gaps, they instituted a modified version of that curriculum, which was implemented in 2011-12 school year. This link is an audio/powerpoint explanation:

This is a link to the current curriculum: issues with math acceleration have plagued the Fairfax County Public School system since at least 2008, but in order for students to be better prepared for higher level mathematics, the district has made changes to the curriculum that are in the best interest of its students.

In addition to Fairfax County Public School System’s acceleration woe’s, Montgomery County Public School District, has also experienced a similar fate. In a Washington Post article (not a blog, not a community newspaper, but The Post) dated Nov 5, 2010, it was reported that Montgomery County Admits Kids Were Pushed Too Hard In Math. This district implemented a program very similar to Learning For All and it failed. We highly encourage you to read this article and the comments afterward.

We believe that we can speak for parents in that we stand corrected. Whole grade acceleration has been attempted in other school districts. Montgomery County Public Schools admitted failure. Both, Montgomery County and Fairfax County Public School districts, have made changes to their curriculum so that they are more aligned with the Common Core State Standards. They offer grade level math and acceleration tiers when students are identified as ready for those opportunities. D181 should be learning from these huge mistakes made by these school districts, not recreating them.

The article from the Washington Post was dated almost four years ago. District 181 is behind the eight ball. It has been almost two years and we are still trying to make Learning For All in its current form work, when we have known for a long time that it does not. We are still trying to do something that has been proven unsuccessful in other districts. We are continuing to beat our heads against a locked door thinking that this will make it open. Learn from other district’s mistakes. No program is going to be perfect, but Learning For All is a disaster. Please do what should have been done long ago. Put a stop to this program.

Amy and Dave Alex"

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Important BOE Meeting on Monday, March 10 at 7:30; Show Up and Be Heard, Email the Board, or Forever Rue the Day

(Taken from Wikipedia Cat and Fiddle images.)

They say every cat has nine lives; that fairy tales and folkloric fantasies provide happy, positive endings to what would ordinarily be a lesson in futility and negative consequences. Hmmmmm….such references have led us bloggers back to a classic story that has stood the test of time, much like the sound educational practices of yesteryear that have been tried, tested, and still are the best platform and strategy to use when educating elementary school children.  Those of you who were educated with such practices years ago understand what we are speaking about, and we all know it works for the majority of school-age children.

So, with the issues that have dogged D181 for more than 2 years, we now see a chance for all parents, teachers and taxpayers to voice concerns at the upcoming 3/10/14 Monday BOE meeting, 7:30 at Elm School. Upon reviewing the information posted on BoardDocs (click to open meeting agenda), we believe the ball is now in the board’s court, to paraphrase what a community member told the board two weeks ago. Instead of voicing our own concerns about upcoming topics on the board agenda for Monday’s meeting, we plan to wait and see if the BOE members actually pick up the ball and engage in thoughtful discourse or let the ball drop.  

Will the board pick up the ball or drop it?  We will all have to wait and see.  In the meantime, we would like our loyal readers to read Dr. Moon's report and the other documents posted by the administration on BoardDocs, and consider contacting the board to voice your opinions on the following:

·      Are you satisfied with the final report from Dr. Moon? (Click to open Dr. Moon's follow-up report.) Why or why not, and what are the implications for Moon’s report on our district?
·      Do you believe Learning for All has benefited our district? Why/why not?
·      Do you believe in and trust the D181 administration?
·      What are your reactions to the math committee presentation? (Click to open math presentation.)

While we invite parents and community members to submit comments to this blog, we also believe it is imperative that parents and community members speak out at this stage: test scores are largely trending downward, facilities issues at HMS continue to plague the district, Dr. Moon’s brief report could have serious implications for our students and staff, and yet again, the math committee is reviewing options for a math program that has yet to be identified.

Speak up and speak out. At the very least, please send an email* to the BOE about these and other issues of concern.  

We can’t just sit on the sidelines, fiddling away, while hoping our issues will be addressed by someone else.

To think they will be is just a fantasy.

*You can send emails to the entire board (and Dr. Schuster): 
to individual board members:;;;;;; 

Saturday, March 8, 2014

UPDATE: Administration Finally "Shines a Light" on Russell's Resignation

Looks like the administration finally realized that it should send all parents the announcement about Kevin Russell's resignation, and try and explain away the lack of transparency. At 12:25 a.m. this morning, the D181 Communications Director sent parents the resignation announcement, tacked on as  "in other news" on the email announcing that the Moon report was available on Board Docs.  The email is copied below.

That's right folks, either the Director of Communications intentionally stayed up until after midnight to email all parents, or simply set the "send" function to alert parents in the dead of night. Either way, in our opinion this "stealth" announcement was a scramble on the administration's part to do what they should have done as soon as Dr. Russell notified D181 staff about his resignation. Apparently, this direct email announcement was only intended "for those who may have missed the posting" on the D181 website.  Really? Just how many people does the administration actually believe regularly surf the district website for news updates, rather than assume important news will be sent directly to them by email? Also, does the administration really think all parents are now going to subscribe to Twitter in order to keep up with D181 news announcements? Are we really paying our administrators to Tweet rather than send out timely, transparent, formal email announcements? What is this district coming to? Who is really "missing the beat?"

Text of Email: (note the key phrases we have highlighted in red)

"Good evening, District 181 Families,

We noted in this afternoon’s D181 E-Newsletter that the Follow-Up Report from Dr. Tonya Moon on her February 24 and 25 progress check would be posted on BoardDocs. This email is to notify you that BoardDocs is now open, and her report is available (under the Superintendent’s Report agenda item). We have additionally posted Dr. Moon’s report and the resources we provided to Dr. Moon and Dr. Friedman on our website: > Learning > Program Evaluation (Moon).

In other news, please join in congratulating District 181 Assistant Superintendent of Learning (CAI) Dr. Kevin Russell in being named Superintendent of Chicago Ridge School District 127 ½, effective July 1, 2014. For those who may have missed the posting in our website news, the Chicago Ridge School District Board approved his hiring on Tuesday of this week. To be sure you don’t miss a beat with our District news, follow us on Twitter @CCSD181.

Wishing you a great weekend!
Bridget McGuiggan, APR
Director of Communications
Community Consolidated School District 181