After five days of reflection on Monday's board meeting, we can best describe it as a roller coaster with a few highs and many lows. The meeting began at 7:20 p.m. and lasted more than three hours. Here is the summary that left us begging to get off the ride.
"The Shocking Fix"
The roller coaster started off at the top of a very steep hill. Everyone in the audience, and those listening in, eagerly waited to hear if the board would start an uphill climb re-establishing itself as a group that expects the very best conduct from its leader, or if it would go downhill and condone and affirm the poor leadership of last year's board president. Sadly, all seven board members took the downhill slope.
As predicted, the board officer elections proved once again that the "fix was in." Marty Turek, Jill Vorobiev and Mridu Garg were all reelected to their positions as president, vice president and secretary, without any other board members being nominated. They were elected by "acclimation" which means that because they were uncontested, a vote was not even taken by the board. Individual board members were not given the opportunity to publicly vote Yes or No. Instead, Turek's nominations was simply "affirmed" by Mike Nelson (acting for a brief moment in the meeting as president pro-tem), followed by an affirmation of Garg's and Vorobiev's reelection by Turek, who immediately re-assumed his seat as president.
The vote for Turek, therefore, could be considered unanimous. That's right folks. Even the board members that we have come to respect, knowing that they will not support actions that are not in the best interest of our children, and will make decisions that are supported by data, let us down. By re-electing Turek, the seven board members basically told all parents and staff that they approve of Turek's one year reign as a hypocritical bully, leader who has proven over and over again that he will not share all information he receives from the administration with the full board, a leader who has admitted he doesn't necessarily even read board docs materials until he is at his paying job on the same day as a board meeting, and a public official who has called for Freedom of Information Act reform to limit the access of public records by the community. What were they thinking? We can only say that we are beyond disappointed in all seven board members.
More $ To be Thrown at Data Analysis?
The ride continued on its downhill run as Dawn Benaitis, the Assessment Director, took center stage along with a representative from ECRA -- Educational Consulting Reseaerch Analytics -- a company that D181 is considering purchasing a "student growth model" from. (Click to open Board report on ECRA.) In a nutshell, ECRA will provide online products and services that will enable D181 to track and monitor individual student performance, create a data dashboard and assist in the analysis of the data through the production of reports called "growth scatters." (Click to open ECRA power point presentation.) The board was not asked to approve purchase of the growth model -- that will happen at the 4/28 board meeting -- but learned that it will cost approximately $50,000 per year.
Ms. Benaitis explained that the district has spent the last year "cleaning up our data"as they worked with Hinsdale Central High School and other feeder districts to identify a student growth model that could be used as a data cooperative by all of the schools to track student performance data. She admitted that this model will replace another model called PD360. In public comment at the end of the meeting, we learned from a community member that other student data monitoring programs, such as "Just 5 Clicks" were purchased by D181 in the recent past, but that none of these programs have been successfully implemented. It would be interesting to learn how much money has been spent on these past, failed programs.
In our opinion, until the current Department of Learning administrators, especially those tasked with analyzing our student assessment data, actually learn how to do their jobs and prove that they are qualified to receive their exorbitant salaries, no additional money should be expended on yet another "student growth model." Dr. Russell has presented student assessment data to the board in the last year, despite the fact that Ms. Benaitis was hired -- purportedly -- to be the Director of Assessment (her title morphed into Director of Learning, but everyone knows that the position was created for then "Mr. Russell" before he was promoted to be the Co-Assistant Superintendent of the Department of Learning and was touted as an assessment position.) Now that Dr. Russell is leaving, Ms. Benaitis has suddenly started presenting at board meetings. Everyone should listen carefully to the podcast of her presentation on Monday night and the answers she gave to board member questions. You will hear that she couldn't even keep track of a two part question, and, in our opinion, her answers were weak, at best. Before any more D181 tax dollars are spent on a "tool" for Benaitis to use, the administration should consider if perhaps money should be spent to hire a qualified, experienced data assessment administrator. After all, there is no point in throwing good money after bad.
HMS Roof Replacement Put on Hold
As the roller coaster cart hit the bottom of a very steep hill, we were pleasantly surprised as the ride continued uphill with a presentation from the Facilities Committee. Two parent members of the committee presented the recommendation of the "majority" of the committee as to what should be done at HMS in relation to replacing the roof. (Click to open Majority's presentation.) We would like to commend the members of the majority of the committee who, in our opinion, presented the most professional, thorough, well reasoned and thoughtful presentation to the board that we have heard in the last few years. The majority of the committee set forth a recommendation for a Short Term solution for Long Term Planning. Under this recommendation, a new roof will be deferred until after the community is surveyed on whether or not it will support building a new middle school. In the meantime, short term repairs and maintenance will take place at HMS on an ongoing basis to ensure the health and safety of the building, students and staff.
The minority of the committee -- Mr. Clarin admitted he had been in the minority - supported a full roof replacement at a cost of approximately $2 million. Following the presentation by both the majority and minority of the committee, the board discussed the course to follow. The consensus of the board was opposed to a roof replacement or any further expenditures at this time, and instead directed that the community be surveyed on its willingness to support a new school as a long term solution to all of the problems that have and will continue to exist at HMS. We were pleased that Mr. Clarin showed a willingness to compromise. After publicly admitting that he supported a new roof, he said community feedback should first be solicited. Mr. Turek also stressed that a board of seven should not make a decision like this without getting community input.
While we will not opine on whether or not we support the building of a new school, we do support the board's decision to get input from the community before any decisions are made on spending more tax payer $ on HMS. We find it ironic however, that when it comes to facilities issues, the board is willing to survey the community to find out what it wants and thinks, but it has been unwilling to conduct a satisfaction survey to see what parents and taxpayers think about the Learning for All Plan. It is time that a satisfaction survey on Learning for All be conducted. Cherry picking what issues are worthy of community input is not the type of behavior that will instill confidence in our elected officials or help the board to establish credibility.
Now it will be up to the board to follow through with its plans to survey the community. When will the survey window begin? When will it end? It will be interesting to see how the survey questions are phrased. Will they provide data and projected costs of the building of a new school, or just be speculative in nature? Will they be skewed to "scare off" support for a new school or will they be phrased objectively and without an obvious bias? Who will ultimately draft the survey and how will all community members who no longer have children at D181 be reached to facilitate their participation?
Long Awaited Board Discussion on Dr. Moon's Report A Series of Ups and Downs
The parents and staff in D181 have waited a very long time to hear the board discuss Dr. Moon's follow-up report. She came back to the district in January 2014 (a visit that was itself delayed by over one year past the point that her contract had originally called for), gave a brief presentation to the board at the end of the first day of her two day visit, finally submitted a report to the board in March, but the board would not discuss it until after the principals and teachers met with the Administration to discuss it.
One would think that after the long delays, the board would at least schedule its discussion on her report early in the agenda, in order to allow parents who attended or were listening from home to still be present (and awake). Instead, Dr. Moon's was dead last on the lengthy agenda and the discussion didn't begin until nearly 10 p.m. By then most of the parents in attendance had left. In stark contrast to the very detailed public presentation given by the Facilities Committee on the options for the HMS roof, there was no public presentation by the administration, explaining either Dr. Moon's report or what the teachers and principals had discussed with the administration about Dr. Moon's report. Dr. Schuster merely and very briefly stated that the written report on board docs set out the action steps that the administration planned to follow to address Dr. Moon's "considerations" and then opened it up for discussion and questions. There was no actual review or "presentation"of the action steps for the board or parents and listeners who hadn't had a chance to read the board report.
Most of the board members who spoke seemed to agree that the professional development called for by Dr. Moon and planned for in the "action steps" was necessary to successfully implement the Learning for All Plan. Probably the most provocative statement of the night was when Mr. Clarin declared that the Learning for All Plan is not going anywhere. The implication, of course, is that the new superintendent the board is about to hire is supportive of a plan that many parents believe is hurting their children. Back in January, when Dr. Moon returned, Member Nelson expressed concern that the program might be hurting some students and said this was a question that needed to be answered. To date it has not been answered, as pointed out by former board member Yvonne Mayer during closing public comment.
While some of the comments published on the blog this week have praised Mr. Nelson for asking some good data questions during the 4/21 meeting, what he and the other board members need to do now is to follow up and demand answers to their questions. In response to his questions, Dr. Russell answered that there will be a presentation sometime in May. For us, hearing this was just another example of the current administration kicking the can down the road. The school year is almost over. The students have taken three MAP tests this year. The results of the computerized tests are almost immediately available for the administration to analyze. Yet rather than provide substantive feedback in response to Mr. Nelson's questions on Monday night, the administration once again deferred to a later date.
Does anyone really believe that this isn't being done intentionally by the administrators? After all, two of the educational leaders -- Dr. Schuster and Dr. Russell -- are leaving in less than 2 months. One could argue that they since they no longer have "skin in the game" they have no reason to provide timely information to the board. It is the board's job to demand it!
Until the data is presented to the board and community that proves that the Learning for All Plan is not hurting any of our students in its current form, it is -- in our opinion -- completely inappropriate for any board member to even remotely suggest that everyone had better just accept the current state of affairs. It is -- in our opinion -- completely inappropriate to suggest that the new educational leader that will take the helm on July 1 is not going to make any changes. How can any board member suggest this? Doesn't the board want the new educational leader -- who will hopefully have a strong curriculum background (as desired by the community) -- to review and thoughtfully consider, with a set of fresh eyes, the state of D181's curriculum and programs? Or is the board only looking to hire a person who will endorses the social justice experiment that continues to roll forward, with our kids as guinea pigs and lab rats?
Like we said at the beginning of this post, by the end of Monday's roller coaster meeting, all we wanted to do was get off the ride. Unfortunately, we cannot really do that because as parents it is our responsibility to continue to advocate for what is in the best interests of our children. We can only hope that the board starts to do the same by demanding data and accountability for the current administratiors' actions that, in our opinion, are hurting students in D181.