Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Kicking the Can Down the Road...

(Image source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2013
It has been one week since the last public school board meeting.  As we all patiently wait for any kind of "word from behind closed doors" on the status of the superintendent search, we thought we would take a few minutes to draw everyone's attention to two issues that we believe the board should address as a group -- publicly -- without further delay, but which the administration seems bound and determined to delay or put off indefinitely.

Math Acceleration for All Students:

On April 9, 4th grade parents received a letter advising them that next year, when their students are 5th graders, some form of grade level math instruction will be offered.  (See below for full text of letter.) The letter stated that due to parent concerns raised this year and the BOE's request to address them,  teachers and administrators had met and determined that no changes will be made for this year other than to possibly modify, as needed, the pacing of instruction for some students.  At the end of this school year, students will be assessed to determine their placement for 5th grade.

We are very concerned about this letter for the following reasons.

  1. During the public comment the HCHTA co-presidents made at the April 7 board meeting, they stated that back on March 24, the board had received a report of the meetings.  Where is this report?  Why hasn't the board or administration published it for the entire community to read?  Why hasn't the administration scheduled a public discussion amongst the 7 board members of what the teachers and administrators discussed?  A discussion on math compacting and acceleration is not listed on the agenda items for the upcoming April 21 Special meeting or April 28 Regular Business meeting.  According to the Board Meeting Schedule available on the D181 website, there will only be 3 more board meetings after April 28 and before school adjourns for the summer.  (Click to open Board Meeting Schedule.)
  2. The administration has successfully avoided allowing the board members to participate in a public discussion where they can address the parent concerns that have been brought to their attention repeatedly since the 2013-2014 academic school year began.  The board finally asked for information to be gathered from the teachers in order that they could address the math concerns.  Rather than allow the full board to discuss the report publicly, the administration dodged by presenting them with a written report and failing to schedule a discussion on a future board meeting agenda.
  3. The letter is no substitute for the public discussion that the entire D181 community should be allowed to listen to and participate in.  Moreover, why was the letter only sent to 4th grade parents and not all parents?  Why didn't the letter address what is going to be done next fall for this year's 3rd grade students who have started the math compacting/acceleration model?  Why didn't the letter address what is going to be done next fall for this year's 2nd grade students when they begin 3rd grade?  Will math compacting/acceleration be modified for 3rd, 4th and 5th grades, or just 5th grade?
  4. These are but a few of the questions that parents have and that the BOE members should have.  These are but a few of the questions that require a public discussion by our elected officials.  These are but a few of the questions that Dr. Schuster and the Department of Learning are continuing to avoid publicly addressing.  Could it be that Dr. Schuster and Dr. Russell are just trying to "kick the can down the road" until after they leave on June 30?  Could it be that Dr. Schneider is trying to "kick the can down the road" because he just doesn't want to answer the tough questions parents and some board members have been asking?  
  5. What is wrong with the D181 Board of Education members who seem to not care enough to discuss these critical parent concerns publicly?  What are they waiting for? Why aren't they demanding that Dr. Schuster schedule a discussion of this important topic on the next board meeting agenda?

The Administration is Being Insubordinate in Refusing to  Answer Board Member Heneghan's Question on Dr. Schneider's "Non-Negotiable" Principles

As everyone knows from an earlier posting on this blog, Dr. Schneider has been riding the "lecture circuit" espousing his social justice philosophy, Learning For All model of instruction, and "non-negotiable principles".  During the January 13, 2014 Board Meeting, Board member Heneghan asked for "a verbal explanation of the Non-Negotiable principles discussed by D181 Staff at the TASH Conference" at which Dr. Schneider was presenting.  

The can was kicked down the road.

No verbal explanation was given then, nor has it been given since then despite Mr. Heneghan's repeated requests.  In our opinion, this continuing conduct by Dr. Schuster has been a blatant act of insubordination. On March 10 and then again on April 7,  Mr. Heneghan reiterated his request in the Board member questions submitted to Dr. Schuster, asking her to "provide a written discussion of these principles and put this on for discussion at a committee of the whole meeting." Dr. Schuster refused to do so.  Instead, she responded that "Dr. Schneider's upcoming presentation that has been requested by Ms. Garg will cover the non-negotiable principles that were discussed by the D181 staff at the TASH conference."  On March 10, Ms. Garg had asked for an evening presentation on this topic for the community in March or April that would also allow time for Q&A's.  It is unbelievable to us that Dr. Schuster has managed to "kick the can down the road" for 3 months and refused to answer Mr. Heneghan's questions, put this topic on an agenda as requested by one of her BOSSES (since after all, lest anyone forget, she works for the BOARD OF EDUCATION -- all 7 members!). (Click to open 3/10/14 Board Member Q&A's.)

No, Dr. Schuster chose to ignore the request of one of her bosses and instead decided when and if to provide the requested information.  She has made everyone -- Mr. Heneghan and the D181 community -- wait 3 1/2 months to address the topic of non-negotiable principles, despite the fact that Dr. Schneider has batted this phrase around all year in discussing the Learning For All Model of instruction and gone on a lecture circuit to preach his various "mantras".  Now finally, according to the E-Newsletter the administration emailed to parents and "key communicators" last Friday, the "non-negotiable principles" will be discussed on Friday, April 25 and Tuesday, May 6:

""Non-Negotiable Principals for Creating Inclusive Schools for All" (April 25 at Clarendon Hills Public Library, 9:30-11am) and (May 6 at Elm School, 7-8:30pm) This session will focus on the non-negotiable principles that are necessary in order to create proactive, high achieving, inclusive schools for all students. Dr. Kurt Schneider, the Department of Learning, and D181 staff will share research, federal law expectations, and national, state, and local data trends. Time for Q&A will be included. Please RSVP by contacting FRN Parent Liaisons."

Fascinating.  Neither of these sessions are scheduled during a Committee of the Whole Meeting, as requested by Mr. Heneghan last January.  Neither of these are structured as a board meeting, where the full board can discuss -- as a group -- the topic or questions they might have.  Will PODCASTS of these sessions be live-streamed or made available to allow parents and community members who cannot attend the meeting -- or even board members who cannot attend those dates and times -- to listen in?  Will the sessions actually provide the content of what Dr. Schneider and other D181 staff presented at the TASH conference?  Neither of these sessions provide a written explanation of the non-negotiable principles as requested by Mr. Heneghan.  Why not?  What is so difficult about his request that Dr. Schneider or his assistant could not generate a written response that was actually substantive and not just a delaying tactic?  

How many more times will the administration kick the can down the road?

We close with one more point.  Why do people planning to attend either of Dr. Schneider's sessions have to RSVP?  Is this a subtle suggestion that if you don't RSVP, you can't show up?  That is how some parents will read this announcement, and if their schedule frees up to allow them to attend at the last minute, they may think they cannot attend because they did not RSVP.  Such subtle messaging needs to stop.  Meetings should be open to all, regardless of an RSVP.  This is a PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT, after all! Enough with all of the formalities!

Text of Department of Learning's April 9 Letter to 4th Grade Parents:

"Dear District 181 4th Grade Parents,

As we continue in Year I of the Learning for All Plan, it is important we continually reflect on the progress toward our goals, listen to feedback from parents and staff, and make adjustments as needed to ensure we are providing the best possible education for students. The compaction of the 4th grade math curriculum has been an area of concern for some parents. As one possible solution to address these concerns, the Board of Education requested that the District Office administrators, principals, and teachers examine the feasibility of offering a grade level option for 4th grade students. (Currently, all 4th grade students are taking 5th grade math, and students who are above or below grade level are receiving in-class differentiation.) 

The administration and teacher leaders have met several times to discuss the Board request, and neither recommends changing the current plan at this point in the school year. However, all groups are in agreement that it is feasible to create a grade level option for 5th graders in the 2014-15 school year. 

For the remainder of the current school year, all 4th grade students will continue in the 5th grade math curriculum with the goal of completing no less than Everyday Math Unit 6 because completion of this unit aligns to the expectations of the 4th grade Common Core. However, we do not want to rush students who need more time to learn concepts, nor do we want to slow the progress of students who are ready to move forward. Therefore, the pace of the units will be adjusted to meet the needs of the learners; all students may not be in the same unit at the same time. 
Parents will continue to be notified when their child starts and finishes a unit. Flexible groups will continue and will be determined at the building level using teacher input, assessment data, and in-class performance. Everyday Math will continue to be the core resource; teachers may supplement this resource with other materials they deem appropriate for their students. 

At the end of the school year, building teams will assess the mathematical progress of all students using assessment data, in-class performance, and teacher input; they will recommend whether a student continue in the accelerated curriculum next school year. In any determined options, teachers will differentiate materials, pacing, and lessons to meet the needs of their students. 

The administration and teacher leaders will continue to work together over the next two months to further develop this plan for the upcoming school year. The plan will be shared with parents prior to the end of this school year. 

We look forward to our continued partnership with you in the education of your child.

The Department of Learning"


Anonymous said...

Lake Forest District 67

Scroll down to From Department Of Student Services


Educational Program Review
"We are beginning our educational program review with Dr. Kurt Schneider and Dr. Elise Frattura. Focus groups and interviews will take place on January 15, 16, 17. This will be a chance for us to learn from two experts what is working well with our special education and response to intervention programming, as well as areas in which we can improve. Stay tuned for more information!"

The Parents said...

We are appalled that Schneider is doing this kind of "program review" with Frattura at another school district. Just who does he think he is? No data on this end shows that any of his ideas are working at D181! Also, did he take time off from work at D181 on January 15, 16 and 17 to participate in the focus groups and interviews at Lake Forest District 67?

Anonymous said...

What the heck?!? How much moonlighting is this guy doing? Unbelievable. Has he even done such a review for our OWN special education program? He keeps on focusing on L4A. Is there anything about moonlighting in his contract?
Maybe we can convince Lake Forest to steal him from us if he is so great.

Anonymous said...

Please post on the blog that there is a special D181 BOE meeting on Monday, April 21 at Elm School at 7 pm. On the agenda is the subject of a new roof for HMS. The D181 Facilities Committee will be recommending the BOE NOT approve a new $2.33 million roof for HMS. Instead, the overwhelming majority of the Facilities Committee recommends that the BOE select Option 1, Patch and Repair. This option is a short-term (up to 5 years) roof solution that will keep the HMS students safe and allow the District to complete research to determine the community's interest in a long-term solution for HMS. The Patch and Repair Option deals with the remaining identified issues at HMS, while allowing the BOE to take informed, research-based action that would have long-term solutions for HMS. In addition, it would also allow time for the new superintendent to be involved in the HMS solution process. It is crucial that the D181 community attend this meeting in order to understand the situation and options for HMS, as well as demonstrate to the BOE the support for a permanent solution to the inadequate HMS building. Thank you.