Thursday, May 29, 2014

Lowlights of the May 27, 2014 Board Meeting and a Look Ahead to the "Special" Board Meeting Scheduled for Thursday, May 29.

This post will address the Lowlights of the 5/27 Meeting and look ahead to what is on tonight's (5/29) Special Board meeting agenda.

Lowlights of the 5/27 Meeting:

Tuesday night's board meeting left many people in the D181 community feeling like they'd been kicked in the gut.  We do not plan to summarize the entire meeting, but focus on a few key lowlights we heard upon listening to the meeting and speaking to people who were in attendance.  We encourage you to listen to the Podcast, from start to finish, because it will give you a very good idea of where Dr. Schuster's and the current BOE's priorities are not.

1.  D181's retiring teachers and staff were disrespected Tuesday night. Despite a good turnout of teachers, staff and community members at the retirees' (and lest us overlook Dr. Schuster's resignation) reception, rather than immediately follow it with the reading of the "resolution" and have the parents and students who were in attendance for the Ambassadors awards listen and honor these teachers and staff, Dr. Schuster chose to present the Ambassador awards first.  As has happened after every awards presentation this year, almost every parent and student left immediately after the presentation of the awards.  Parents don't typically stay for the board meetings, especially if they have to drive their kids home.   Last night, most probably didn't even realize that anything special was about to happen, and some even left as the "generic" resolution was read by Communications Director Bridget McGuiggan.   Dr. Schuster did make a brief announcement  as parents and students were streaming out, but it was too late.  Had the Ambassadors awards ended AFTER an announcement was made that the retirees were about to be recognized, or had the retirees' recognitions been part of the awards presentation, this might not have happened.   But no one seemed to anticipate this and so the reading of the lone resolution was disrupted as people exited.  It is a shame that this happened.

2.  D181's retiring teachers were not shown the respect and personal recognition by the Administration or the Board of Education that they each deserved.  Board members did not read individual, personalized resolutions for each retiree.  Nor did Dr. Schuster. Rather, one generic resolution was read by the Director of Communications, after which each retiree was called up to receive a paper certificate, not the beautifully framed personalized resolutions past retirees have been given.  This impersonal recognition was like a slap in the face to our wonderful teachers and SHOULD NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN!  If Dr. White reads this blog, we hope he realizes how demoralizing the reception and reading of a generic resolution was to the retiring staff.  We hope he adds this to a growing list of concerns and and hope he finds a way to return to the traditions established by past administrations in ensuring that future retiring teachers are properly thanked and recognized.  Sadly, it is too late to do so for this year's retirees.

3.  When the meeting started, there were very few people left in the audience.  The usual group of principals, central administrators and 10 to 12 parents who regularly attend board meetings were there.  Yet almost all of these die hard parents left before the meeting ended (well after 10 p.m.).  Some of these parents tried to stay to the end with the intention of making closing comments regarding some of the math curriculum issues discussed during the meeting, but eventually gave up.  

4.  Elementary Math Pilot:
  • Despite hundreds of parents showing up one year ago to protest the proposed math pilots for the 2013-2014 school year, almost no one was there Tuesday night.  Why?  Plain and simple, we believe the Administration kept this agenda item under the radar so that very few people would realize this discussion was taking place.  We believe the Administration did not want to run the risk that parents would show up again, demanding data and answers or expressing concerns and opposition to the proposed pilots.
  • Representations were made last night by Dr. Russell about last year's proposed pilot that we simply don't believe are true.  He represented that last year only a 4th grade math pilot was on the table, whereas this year the proposal is for kindergarten through 8th grade.  Well, all you have to do is look back at the pilot presentation from the May 28, 2013 Board Docs, to realize that the proposed pilot was not just for 4th grade.  (Click to open 5/28/13 pilot presentationClick to open 5/28/13 Memo to BOE explaining pilots were for Grades K-5.)  
  • Despite last year's BOE stopping the proposed pilots -- which included implementing a math curriculum called "Investigations"  -- last night, it approved a pilot for next year which includes "Investigations."  In our opinion, no good explanation was provided for why this would be appropriate for the 2014-2015 school year, when it was not appropriate for this year.  Moreover,  parents were not allowed to comment after the presentation or ask questions about it (because Business Meetings do not allow for comment following agenda items) before the pilots were "essentially" approved.
  • The BOE did not actually VOTE on the pilots last night, but apparently this was not necessary.  If you listen closely to what was said after board members asked some questions, you will realize that the pilots are going ahead next fall, after which the BOE will be asked to formally approve one or more of the piloted programs as PERMANENT for the 2014-2015.  That is very different from what happened last year. 
  • Since there is probably nothing that any parents can do now to question or stop one or more of the proposed pilots, all parents should carefully monitor how these programs are implemented and impact their children.  Closely track Board Docs for the date on which the pilots will be discussed next winter and the BOE asked to approve one or more as the permanent math curriculum for future years.  If you have any concerns, voice them -- LOUD AND CLEAR. Maybe, just maybe, someone (Dr. White, perhaps?) in the new administration will listen.
5.  Next Year's 5th Grade Math:  Another agenda item that was kept under the radar was a presentation on what is going to happen not just to next year's 5th grade math curriculum, but to 3rd and 4th grade math.  Yes, two meetings were held last week for 4th grade parents ONLY, to discuss the proposed changes.  Last night, it became clear why no other parents were invited to attend those meetings.  
  • For the 2014-2015 school year, ONLY for the 5th grade math classes, the Learning For All Plan that calls for ALL students to participate in accelerated math will be scrapped.  There will be math tiers and students scoring a 225 math RIT score on their Spring MAP test will be accelerated, with others also being accelerated if a teacher recommends it after reviewing student performance on other assessments.  All students will have the option to Opt UP or DOWN a level.
  • Students must maintain an 80% to remain in the higher level, although a wishy-washy explanation was given about whether dropping down a level would be automatic, or parents simply would be spoken to and encouraged to drop their student down a level if they could not maintain the 80%.
  • Prior to the 2013-2014 school year, the "competency standard" that students were required to maintain to remain in an advanced or accelerated class was 85%.  The Administration dropped it this year to only 70%.  Next year it is going back up to 80%.  NO EXPLANATION or DATA ANALYSIS was given last night as to why this see-sawing change is happening.  The Administration didn't acknowledge that the 70% competency standard this year was TOO LOW.  It didn't explain why 80% will be the right standard for students to maintain, and not 85%.  (AND NO ONE on the BOE asked!) Why is that?  Why can't the Administration ever present the data and a proper analysis of the data?
  • Board Member Heneghan did ask Dr. Russell what percentage of this year's 4th grade students who received after school, district staffed math tutoring, had scored a 225 or higher RIT score on their Spring MAP test.  Dr. Russell could not answer the question and said he would get the information to the board later.  HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE?  Dr. Russell or Dawn Benaitis (who is supposed to be in charge of data assessment) should have had data ready to present in response to any question asked about this group of students.  It was quite shocking and frankly disturbing that Dr. Russell was not able to provide answers for any of the data questions he was asked last night on this topic.
  • BUT MOST DISTURBING OF ALL was the answer given to one board member's question about what whether these L4A changes were only for next year's 5th graders.  The answer was YES. Dr. Russell said that only this particular group of students was going to see changes in the math curriculum because of the particular problems it had this year.  WHAT???  To suggest that the problems were because of the "group of students" is, in our opinion, LUDICROUS!  What possible basis does the Department of Learning have to assume that next year's 3rd graders or 4th graders, who will begin or continue with the Math Compacting and Acceleration model for ALL, will not have the same problems as this year's 4th grade class?  Where is the data to support the continuation of the compacting for 3rd graders and acceleration of ALL of next year's 4th graders?  
  • Has the administration learned NOTHING from this year's students?  We wouldn't really know, because the year has ended WITHOUT a presentation of data to the board on how the students performed in math IN ANY of the grades where acceleration/compacting/or voluntary opting up took place. In 2012-2013 periodic data was presented to the BOE on how middle school students who had taken a crash course in pre-algebra were doing after opting up into algebra.  That data showed that many students were not able to maintain 85%.  We believe that rather than recognize that opting up might not be working, the competency standard was lowered to 70%.  This year, the BOE has not been given quarterly data on how middle school or elementary students are doing in math.
  • WHY HASN'T THE BOE DEMANDED THE DATA?  What is wrong with this board?  Once again we can only express our hope that Dr. White will do what the prior administration and BOE have refused or possibly simply been incapable of doing and demand a thorough Math DATA ANALYSIS to determine the impact the Learning for All Plan and OPT UP options have had on our students in each grade.

A Look Ahead to Tonight's (5/29) Board Meeting:

Students, staff and parents may have a reason to cheer (and breathe a sigh of relief) if the BOE approves a contract with the Teacher's union (HCHTA) tonight.  A Special Board meeting has been scheduled for 7 p.m. at Prospect School.  (Click to open 5/29 agenda on Board Docs.)  Two main items are on the agenda:  the HCHTA Contract and Administrator Contracts.

HCHTA Contract:  The current teachers' contract is set to expire on June 30, 2013.  (Click to open 2011-2014 HCHTA Contract.)  If a new contract is approved one full month before the expiration date, it will be the first time in years that a new contract was approved BEFORE the expiration of the prior one.  

That is good news for our students, who will not have to face the possibility of "informational pickets" or even worse, a teachers' strike.  It is good news for our teachers if they will be fairly compensated.  They deserve to be. They deserve raises.  The economy has turned around since the last contract was negotiated.  Not only do they deserve raises, but they deserve a contract that guarantees that they will receive appropriate professional development needed for them to successfully implement the many curriculum changes the BOE has approved in the last couple of years and that will continue to roll out.  They deserve a contract that is not punitive to them, while administrators somehow continue to receive inexplicably high raises.    

We will not know the terms of the new contract until after it is approved, but we are cautiously optimistic that it will be a fair and just contract.  We will, of course, post it as soon as it is made available to the community.

The other item on the agenda is Administrators contracts.  Since all of the contracts were previously approved, without a salary set for the 2014-2015 school year, we assume that what the BOE will approve on Thursday night are the salaries for each of the administrators who will be returning (as of now) this fall. We have previously written posts and published an Administrators' salary/raises chart addressing the outrageous raises some of the administrators have received over the last couple of years.  Enough is enough.  This year, we hope the BOE holds certain central office administrators accountable for their missteps this year -- both in the areas of curriculum, assessment and facilities -- and not send mixed messages to them by approving inappropriately inflated raises.  We will do a quick analysis and create an updated salary chart as soon as the salary increases are published. 

Will the BOE do right by our teachers?  Will the BOE hold certain administrators accountable?  We should know tomorrow night.  So stay tuned.


Anonymous said...

I have a few friends who teach in District 86. I guess the board at their meeting on the 19th clarified something: outside teachers applying to the district will only get half of their experience honored, up to five years, rounded down. For example a teacher with 20 years of outside experience will only be honored for 5 years of experience. Those with 3 years will only be honored 1 year. That's ridiculous! Why not cap administrator salaries/benefits?

I'm not sure whether to be happy or sad that D181 isn't the only one with these kinds of problems.

Anonymous said...

In the placement letter that went home, they changed the percentage to 70% to stay in the advanced fifth grade class. No explanation for the change.

The Parents said...

When did the letter go out and can you provide us with the text of the sentence from this letter?

Anonymous said...

It went home yesterday and had personalized placement information

Anonymous said...

To the person who posted at 6:34, when I taught in another district in DuPage County 15 years ago, there was already a 5 year cap for experienced teachers who were new to that district. While it is sad and unfair, the reality is that the 5 year cap is a very common provision in all school districts that has been around for a very long time. Luckily our teachers get paid very well, and work in a desirable area.

Anonymous said...

Text of the letter: "If a student's test and quiz average falls below 70% at the conclusion of a trimester, or if the team identifies a concern, the student may be placed in a course that more effectively meets his/her learning needs."

The Parents said...

Wow! That is not what parents were told at last week's meetings. 70% is way too low. If this wasn't a mistake in the letter, once again the administration is setting these kids up for failure.

Anonymous said...

They are setting these kids up for failure. Rumor has it that almost all the kids are being put in the advanced class except those at the very bottom. I think this is marginalizing the grade level class and will result in many opt ins. So essentially we are right back where we started.

Anonymous said...

About Math - Math is a NUMBERS GAME - the only numbers shares 71% expected to pass 5th grade exam & so long as the pilot was 4 months the district did not need to put the materials on public display. If d181 stands behind the materials, d181 should be happy to display the materials.