Now that spring is officially here and the weather seems to
be following suit, we return to you energized and ready to continue reporting
on important issues and events taking place in D181. We begin with a recap of Monday night’s Board Meeting* held at Hinsdale Middle School. In our opinion, there were some significant highs and lows during the short, one hour meeting.
We begin by thanking the teachers for making two
important public comments.
PRAISE FOR PENA:
On behalf of the faculty and staff at Hinsdale Middle School, a sixth grade Spanish and social studies teacher publicly thanked Principal Ruben Pena for all his work and support during
the water and mold crisis. The HMS staff praised Mr. Pena for having "tirelessly worked for the betterment of our building, he shared information in a timely manner and listened and reacted quickly when more water and mold was found. He kept things from escalating, he respected and supported our teachers who were were sick. He took our concerns seriously. He checked in with teachers to see how they were doing. He helped make classes safer and more comfortable during this time. He was on site every day to monitor the cleanup and rebuilding. He helped us to make the best of a poor situation. He deserves credit for all he has done during this situation."
We commend the HMS faculty and staff for expressing their thanks to Mr. Pena in such a public manner. It is important to acknowledge such a committed building level administrator, who, along with the teachers, serves our students and community on the front line, day in and day out. Mr. Pena went well beyond the typical Principal's job description when confronted with the water and mold crisis. His commitment to addressing the facilities issues, along with the building engineer Tomas Rios (who has also been commended by staff in a comment submitted to this blog), stands in stark contrast to that shown by some of the upper level central administrators who we won't bother to identify by name in this post. Mr. Pena is one administrator that we are extremely proud of and hope will continue to serve the D181 community for many years to come.
CONCERNS VOICED BY HCHTA:
Next up were the 2 HCHTA Co-Presidents and a third teacher from HMS, who began by acknowledging that following the March 10 board meeting, they participated in meetings with the administration to provide feedback on the elementary math program. They stated that the information had been shared with the the Board in a Board Report they received on March 24. They then discussed their perceptions of the current climate in D181. They made the following points:
- Throughout the years of administrative turnover, changes in building and district administration, and the implementation of curriculum and programming initiatives, the teachers "have provided consistency to all of the students who continue to remain our focus."
- The Everyday Math "textbook is not, and has never been, the district curriculum. Teachers have always had the autonomy in the past to deliver the curriculum, utilizing supplemental resources that they have sought out on their own which they feel support the core content."
- Teachers feel devalued. "Many teachers do not feel that their professionalism and educational expertise are often trusted and respected at times."
- "Many teachers do not want to speak up publicly or address the BOE for fear of being publicly criticized or possibly being put under a microscope for others to scrutinize without having or understanding all the facts." Some teachers are afraid to do things differently than what is done at other schools out of concern "that their professional judgment of what works best in their classroom at their school at that moment in time will be criticized or devalued."
- The adults must practice the concept of "acceptance of other's thoughts, feelings and ideas" that the teachers teach the D181 students. "We do not always have to agree, and quite frankly, will have differing opinions, but there has to be a way to use our shared interest of educating our students to compromise and move forward. Our work with these children is too important to lose a moment on discord amongst adults."
- Teachers want to work on committees and be involved in the decision making process but "it is very frustrating to offer feedback and expertise only to have it looked over or ignored. If our opinions are truly valued, we hope that a willingness to act on them is taken. We do not want to be labeled as negative or complaining or questioning authority, but we do want to ask questions, get clarification, and offer suggestions."
- Teachers are in constant need of changing their lesson plans based upon how students respond and this is appropriate and expected. The teachers "would like to see this happen at a district level as well....What we think might work perfectly on paper might not always be realized in practice. Being able to work collaboratively, as we did in regards to the recent math compacting feedback asked of us, we know we can be better together than we could alone."
We appreciate the time the HCHTA took to prepare this statement. We believe it is imperative that the teachers, BOE, administration and parents all work together, especially in the area of curriculum, to ensure that every student's academic needs are being met. We believe it is critical that the teacher input not be devalued by any constituency group. We hope that under new administrative leadership, the teachers perspective and suggestions will not be discounted, and that necessary and appropriate curriculum changes can be implemented.
According to the speakers, the teacher feedback on the math compacting was submitted to the Board on March 24. Why hasn't it been shared yet with the entire D181 community or publicly discussed by the Board of Education? We are disappointed that this has not been done yet, as time is of the essence and the parent concerns regarding the negative impact of the math acceleration on some students must be addressed as soon as possible in order to make the needed corrections to the program and stop the harm that is currently being caused.
We encourage the HCHTA to continue to be vocal on not just this issue, but to speak loud and clear on any other issue that concerns the teachers and has an impact on our students. We hope the administration and Board heed the HCHTA comments and not discount them. We also encourage parents to support the teachers as they continue to work hard to deliver the highest quality education possible for our children.
CURRICULUM COMMITTEE AND YAEGER'S RUDENESS:
In line with the HCHTA's theme of groups working together collaboratively, there was a brief discussion (of sorts) regarding the Superintendent's Curriculum Committee that is in the process of being formed. As everyone knows by now, Dr. Schuster extended the application deadline to allow more parents to apply. Now she is refusing to give priority to candidates who did apply in a timely manner. (Click to open Schuster's answers to Board Member questions.) During Monday's meeting, she also stated that a request had been made of her to solicit additional Board participation. Board Member Garg was the only one who had volunteered to serve on the committee as of last night's meeting. We found it curious that Dr. Schuster did not identify who had made this request. In our opinion, her desire to add another board member or two, just as her desire to increase the parent pool of applicants, could well be an attempt by her to control who finally is allowed to serve on the committee. Time will tell if the selection process for the parent participants was a legitimate one.
Dr. Schuster's solicitation of more board member participation led to the "lowest light" of the evening when Board Members Heneghan and Yaeger got into a heated exchange.
Mr. Heneghan commented that it would be difficult for some working parents to participate in the meetings of the committee if they started at 4 p.m. and asked if they could start at 6 p.m. Dr. Schuster refused to make a change to the start time stating that the 4 p.m. time was picked to accommodate the teacher participants. Mr. Yaeger then stated that he agreed with the 4 p.m. start time and said "being involved with a lot of community things, when something is important to people they'll find the time to get there."
Mr. Heneghan then responded by asking "but Glenn does your comment reflect that you don't consider the finance committee meetings that important since you rarely attend them?" Mr. Yaeger answered, "No I find them very important but I monitor the agenda, Gary informs me what's going on, I do have some family commitments that I find more important than some of those finance committee meetings and Brendan we can talk about that between the two of us." Clearly in the interest of transparency, Mr. Heneghan said "we can talk about it here" to which Mr. Yaeger replied "let's go for it."
Mr. Heneghan then said, "I think that your comment was wrong and it was rude and if somebody's asking to have a meeting at 6 o'clock that's a legitimate request."
Yaeger said, "And I also think it's a legitimate request to put the meetings closer to 4 and to ask people that if it's important that they show up at 4. Why is that rude?"
Heneghan responded by saying, "I think the implication of what you were doing is saying that if you thought it was important you would show up at 4, but if you are working that might not be possible."
Yaeger replied, "I agree." He then went on to call Mr. Heneghan out and said "And Brendan can you show up to the executive committee meetings on time?"
Heneghan replied, "Actually if my train arrives on time I will Glenn."
At this point both Members Garg and Vorobiev intervened and asked if any other board member wanted to volunteer. Mr. Heneghan was the only one who then said he would consider it.
We have transcribed this exchange for our followers to read because we think it establishes the following:
- There is clearly discord amongst the board members.
- Mr. Heneghan was correct in calling Mr. Yaeger out for his rudeness.
- Mr. Yaeger should be embarrassed that his chronic absence from attending the finance committee meetings was finally publicly exposed. He is only one of two board members serving on this committee and relying on the agendas and information received from "Gary" (Frisch? Clarin?) hardly seems like fulfilling his obligations and commitment to serve on the committee. We expect board members to attend all meetings they are scheduled for whether they are regular board meetings or committees they have volunteered to serve on!
- There is a difference between being absent and being late due to a transportation delay, and the "tit for tat" criticism attempted by Mr. Yaeger was childish and unnecessary.
- Bottom line: ONLY Mr. Heneghan stepped up to consider joining Ms. Garg on the curriculum committee. The silence of the other board members to volunteer, including that of Mr. Yaeger, speaks volumes. Put up or shut up. That's our suggestion!
20 YEARS OF MOLD ISSUES HAVE FINALLY BEEN REMDIATED:
Another lowlight of the meeting came in response to Board Member Garg's request for a more detailed explanation of an $800,000 check the Board was being asked to approve on Monday as part payment of a $1.2 million invoice from SERPRO for the mold remediation work done at HMS. The Board did approve this payment after Mr. Frisch explained how the charges on the invoices received from SERVPRO had been verified as appropriate, and he also pointed out how the original bill had been negotiated down by $150,000. While the expenses were all deemed appropriate, we believe that the Board should have been advised well before the expenses increased from the original $129,000 it approved for SERVPRO's work to the $1.2 million invoice that was received. In our opinion, going forward, such a drastic deviation from an approved expense must be "re-approved" by our elected representatives in advance of the actual expenditures, even if this requires calling a special meeting.
Further, Mr. Frisch's explanation was also disturbing in one respect. He stated that as he had previously told Board Member Clarin, "we remediated probably 20 years of mold in the building, so we accomplished a ton in the short period of time and cleaned up a lot, so I think we can say that the building now is in great shape compared to what it was."
Listening to Mr. Frisch's admission that 20 years of mold growth was finally remediated was quite shocking to hear. Less than three months ago, a high level central administrator allegedly told teachers at HMS (while touring the building and hearing their health concerns) that there was NO mold in the building because her sensitive nose would have smelled it. Now, we all know that the building was infested with mold and the cost to taxpayers after 20 years of failing to adequately address the root causes and the actual infestation of mold has resulted in millions of dollars in remediation and continued roof, soffit and leak repair work. Where is the accountability for having allowed this situation to exist for 20 years, let alone the last four years during which the teachers reported many health and environmental concerns?
SUPERINTENDENT SEARCH UPDATE:
Finally on the agenda for Monday's meeting was a presentation by BWP, the search firm handling the superintendent search. Two of their principals presented the results of the focus groups and survey they conducted last month to identify the qualities and characteristics the community wants in the new superintendent. Click to open BWP's Superintendent Candidate Profile report. The focus groups generated the following list of Characteristics/Traits that are desired in our future superintendent:
- Experienced leader
- Curriculum expertise
- Facility Manager
- Good evaluator
- Clear vision
- Strong implementer
- Committed and Visible
- Trust builder/healer
Similarly, the results of the survey identified the following desired Characteristics/Traits in the future superintendent:
- Decision Maker
- Child centered
- Successful superintendent
- Instructional experience
- Teaching Experience
- Strategic Planner
- Relationship Builder
The BWP principals reported that they would be presenting candidates to the Board in the Executive Session following the public meeting . They reported that they believed they would be providing the board with "solid group of people that mirror" the desired traits and characteristics. For the sake of the district's future, we hope they are correct.
According to Board Docs, a special off site meeting to discuss personnel was held on Tuesday, April 8. We assume it was for purposes of beginning the formal interviews of the superintendent applicants with the Board. We close by reminding everyone of Mr. Yaeger's declaration that "when something is important to people, they'll find the time to get there."
We hope that all seven board members are present for each and every interview of the candidates that BWP presents for consideration for the superintendent's position. On Monday night, Board President Turek was absent from the Board meeting at which BWP presented the names of the candidates to the board. Will he show up for all of the interviews? Will the other six board members? In our opinion, failure to be present for all of the interviews should result in that board member's exclusion from participating in the vote on any of the candidates. Participation in the selection of D181's educational leader is probably the most important task any Board of Education can be tasked with. We expect all seven board members to consider this responsibility to be of sufficient importance for them to find the time to be physically present during the entire process. We will probably never know what actually happens, but expect the Board to act in a responsible and fair manner during this important task.
*Note: Below we are copying comments our readers submitted following the 4/7 meeting but before this blog post was published.
Take notice BOE!! The PARENTS of this community are a strength!!! The parents in this town are speaking!!! It sure doesn't sound like everyone's too happy with the current direction of this district. You were elected to work for our children not to hobnob and fraternize with the admin!!!!!! Stop acting like an extension of this administration and get it done!!
I also found the teacher union comments interesting. I applaud them for speaking out for the teachers because many teachers were afraid to do so themselves. I was a little confused as to whether they were upset with parents, the administration or BOE? I got the sense a little bit of each, but mostly the administration. Anyone else's thoughts???
My thoughts on the Everyday Math issue is that teachers have always used supplements, but parents are on hyper alert this year (and maybe unfairly reacting to teachers on this subject) due to the lack of materials last year, the lack of communication from the district, the disparity in rankings (15 vs. 109), and the major inconsistencies across schools in terms of curriculum and its implementation.
Also, when the district came back from winter break, and staff was complaining about mold, I believe it was Dr. Schuster who said that she had a sensitive nose and couldn't smell any mold. I'm sorry, but she wasn't in any particular area for an extended amount of time to really feel the effects, in my opinion.
On the bright side, I have to agree with the letter to the board presented at last night's board meeting about Mr. Peña. He truly was amazing during during the whole mold crisis. As he was here the whole time, he knew that there was a problem and he actually did something about it, and the staff is truly appreciative of him and bios work. However, some people not mentioned in the letter was the building engineer, Tomas Rios and custodial staff for working their behinds off with all this. Tomas is truly amazing. While the leaders like Ruben often get the credit, the people who actually do the dirty work, like Tomas rarely get their due. Tomas really knows his stuff, he's passionate about his work, tries to make things as good as possible, and just works so hard with so little acknowledgement from the administration. It just saddens me that Tomas and Ruben have been telling the central office administration about many of HMS' problems, but the central office admins seem to not listen. As I am not privy to all the information the admins have, I don't want to come off too harshly. With the mold issues, however, the administration has been very negligent.