Tuesday, May 13, 2014

One Parent's Commentary on How the 5/12/14 Board Meeting Exemplified Reasons Why The D181 Community Continues to be Frustrated with the BOE.

The following post was submitted in part as a comment from "Jay Wick," one of our loyal readers.  Mr. Wick thoughtfully discussed and commented on last night's Board Meeting at CHMS.  We asked Mr. Wick for permission to publish his comments as a free standing post, and he agreed, sending us additional supplemental material to publish.  Thank you Mr. Wick.

In light of Mr. Wick's post, we will not be posting our own summary of last night's meeting, although we may write up a commentary on the discussion the board conducted on the proposed Parent Survey that is set to launch later this week.

Jay Wick's Commentary:

For anyone that cares to listen to the BOE meeting it is up on the district’s podcasts —BOE Podcasts | D181.org Oddly still no sign of the L4A presentation. Oh well…. No need to rehash the whole meeting, not a whole accomplished. That said it is yet another interesting example of why folks get frustrated with how the BOE is run. The agenda seemed mostly light, as one might expect when there is transition from the outgoing superintendent to the new, but the fact there were inaccuracies in the agenda items points out how frustrating it can be for concerned parents / community members to figure out what the heck the BOE is trying to accomplish. 

One particularly glaring problem was highlighted with the item concerning a substantial technology replacement. Not bad enough that there was confusion as to whether BOE needed to vote NOW on nearly $500K worth of replacement laptop computers (there was no such urgency …) but the BOE certainly did not seem even to have clarity on whether they were making a decision about an expenditure or a more strategic goal. Apparently folks on the BOE do not really even understand the difference between Mac Book Airs and iPads, let alone things like Chromebooks. My kids know the differences. Here are some simple summaries — Mac Book Air vs iPadContrast that with -- Chromebook, cheaper, but not nearly as capable as Mac BookDifferent tools for different tasks…

In a pattern that is not at all uncommon for the BOE, the lack of a coherent meeting plan became painfully obvious. Discussion at about 45 minutes into the meeting drifted into talk of the BOE being unable / unwilling to budget for the training of district staff in appropriate usage of iPads in a “one-to-one” ratio with students. There was nothing but a quote / invoice for hardware. Sort of funny that this came after the BOE seemed glazed over by earlier discussion of revised budget for existing school year. The costs of unscheduled improvements at HMS put the budget nearly $2M out of whack, but through various fund transfers apparently all is well. Highlights the lack of any desire / interest / ability of BOE to actually repriortize things so that staff gets training. The majority of the BOE endorsed a sad status quo where the district “graciously accepts PTO / PTA gifts of hardware for student use after parents knock themselves out at fundraisers…

When asked for his general views on how to address these concerns, Dr. White wisely suggested beginning with considering the desired outcomes for in-class instructional experience. Wow. Imagine that, actually talking about educational end results! Looking forward to hearing more of that! Don't get me wrong -- I love all kinds of computer HW but unless staff has the right kind of environment, such HW won’t have much impact. 

In their defense, district technology staff tried very diligently to help BOE understand the very different needs of teachers using laptops vs the “one-to-one” ratio of iPads for student use that is in limbo. Apparently the district has not yet “recycled” away any iPads, even first gen units that don’t run the most current apps. With an excellent record of reliability and a great deal of utility, that seems to make sense, but still one wonders what could be achieved if there were actual alignment between strategic goals, appropriate training and the kind of support that parents have demonstrated…

Parents from the 181 Foundation reminded the BOE that the Foundation will pick up the tab for some staff training. The Foundation wants to support the incorporation of appropriate technology across the curriculum…

While this hardware refresh was for planned staff equipment, parent representative from the middle school pointed out that the computers there are notoriously old, and the PTO finds parents “burned out” from trying to privately handle fund raising for technology upgrades following the drumbeat of six years of requests to support elementary school initiatives. Apparently the district has an actual policy to replace all HW at least every four years, but the CHMS PTO parent believes older kids are often on machines nearly double that age. Not exactly great news for anyone that thinks a district like ours ought to be supplying students with the kind of equipment that would allow them to efficiently incorporate things like high quality video and other media into their presentations…

Sadly for as much time as the BOE spent on this discussion, it really seeming lacking in strategic clarity and mired in the vaguest concerns of cost / utility (as an aside, earlier in the meeting a parent told that BOE that it was her belief that things like failed referenda as far back as the 1990s were defeated because of things like confusion over appropriately sized schools NOT the actual finances — strongly implying that if a sound case were made community members would support any initiative, including a referendum for the November 2014 cycle; I am not so sanguine, but it is nonetheless an interesting perspective) Ultimately, after about 30 minutes of discussion on a matter that apparently could be tabled until after the new superintendent is fully up to speed, no action was taken. Knowing how these things often go, the next time this comes up it may very well be on a “consent agenda” to authorize the spending of nearly $500K, though as far as tonight’s meeting went, there was clearly no consensus as to what is the most pressing need -- to replace hardware, train staff or change direction….

Another amazing level of “micromanaging” was demonstrated as pretty nearly each BOE member weighed in on “tweaking” the wording of the questions for the satisfaction survey as well as the mechanics of how folks might be actually take the survey. While I know it is impossible to operate on a purely ‘policy setting level” this strikes me as a another pretty clear example of what happens when the BOE is under prepared / not supplied with the material they need from staff to make a reasonable decision. How much more efficient could these meetings be if staff laid out ahead of time a few alternatives? Part of me is flat out shocked that no more than one of the BOE members said anything like “well my neighbors / kids’ classmates parents have already said _ _ _ _ and I’d really like to know how pervasive that view is.” Apparently most of our BOE members are rather detached from the concerns of other parents / community members. Not that prior surveys have resulted in a plethora of input, apparently responses for past efforts have been just a few hundred. Further evidence of complacency? Apathy? Resignation?

What seemed like it might hold the potential for some differences of opinion regarding revisions to the official district policy manual quickly become another footnote to the meeting. The “service” that the district retains to provide suggested revisions did not supply the familiar “redlined” drafts. After a BOE discussion of splitting up the work to match old against new, Dr. White graciously suggested to supply such marked-up changes for the BOE to review at a later date. Apparently the district he is leaving has also been burned by this services that do not supply documents in a format that is appropriately usable. Ah the efficiency of Illinois!

BOE retreated to "Executive Session". Wonder how contractor negations are rolling along? 

I remains my sincere hope that more people make an effort to understand why the district is not making progress -- the BOE seems to be completely out-of-sync.

I don't know if there is a need for a town meeting or a "retreat" or just someone that has the ability to help focus things, but when one listens to a meeting like last night one can understand why so little progress has been made on so many pressing issues. It could literally be an "anti-model" of what happens when a "deliberative body" is not given the proper framework to make decisions.

If staff would recognize that too many of the elected members do not seem to make any significant preparation prior to the meeting maybe there needs to be more time spent literally laying out "choice A, B , or C". While I am not a big fan of being a stickler for Robert's Rules of Order, there needs to be some formality in making motions and weighing the consequences of major expenditures. To use last night as an example, the staff perhaps could have laid out rationale for spending money to get new technology hardware for staff (there was a verbal mention that older hardware is slowing down some task for staff), or at least included a reference to previously approved policies. Ideally I would hope staff also tries to include a more comprehensive plan on how such expenditures fit with what one hopes is an approved overall direction for technology. Maybe alternatives or "consequences of inaction" could have been laid out too. Instead the discussion devolved into a rather incoherent set of fears that really were only tangentially related to the hardware...

Ideally I believe that it is better to create a range of alternatives in open meetings of sub-committees that include distinct leadership, staff, parents and community members. If there is consensus in those settings the full BOE meetings would be MUCH smoother and the likelihood of coherent policies much greater. Of course the risk is that any transition to such a system of sub-committees risks upsetting folks that have grown accustomed to BOE meetings going on & on....
Instead the BOE could focus on its rightful role -- hashing out and articulating a consistent set of polices that improves education for all the students in the district.

One could certainly imagine that a little creativity in using podcasts or even teleconferences ought to give folks the opportunity to be aware of where appropriate frameworks / options are developed. If staff includes things like benchmarks from other districts as well as data that illustrates the trade-offs of each alternative the BOE would not be mired in their current fog.


Anonymous said...

So glad I didn't go waste my time at the BOE meeting last night. Perhaps this is the plan of the President? To discourage people from attending the meetings and expressing their views? Not sure that will help Dr. White become familiar with our district if he is always being given a one sided, "positive" view of our district. Yes, our district does have many positives, but we also have many glaring problems that NEED to be addressed. If we expect the man to help us, he needs an unbiased, truthful account of the situation is.

On another note, if the BOE members themselves are allowed to listen telephonically and even participate in the meetings over the phone, I think it would only be fair if parents and teachers were given the same opportunity. Parents who are obligated to be at work or home, should be able to phone in their public comments as well. I hope that Dr. White considers the fairness of this situation.

Finally, I find it odd that professional development for iPads is begin addressed, yet, after 2 years of dropping in the rankings, no mention has been made about what our district intends to do in order to start giving professional development in math, language arts, and writing. iPad usage is NOT part of the new Common Core. They are simply tools, like pencils and paper. The Common Core does NOT require that our schools have iPads, so why the focus on it?

Yes, D181 claims that they prepare teachers, but what exactly DID they do last year and what do they intend to DO this summer to make sure the teachers are actually prepared to teach their students this fall?

Anonymous said...

You can bet our highly paid administrators don't have a clue as to how to prepare teachers for next year. Isn't interesting that Schuster was "ill" last night so she wouldn't have to chime in her two cents on anything of relevance? Meanwhile, my kids have three weeks of school left and teaching has already slowed to a crawl. Dr White, you have some serious concerns that need attention. Please keep that in mind when Turek, Clarin, Nelson and Yaeger try to fill your head with generalities and simpleton viewpoints about how well the district is doing. Believe me, parents know otherwise.

jay_wick said...

Honestly there was no evidence of any sinster "plot" to keep people out of anything, there was plenty of opportunity for "public comment". The problem was, like we've seen repeatedly this year, the BOE really does not have a clear direction either internally or from district staff.

This HW purchase seemed to be kind of "routine" in that the district tech staff seemed to believe they were acting in accord with an approved replacemment policy. I feel bad for the district tech staff -- they clearly did get quotes for new hardware at the direction of someone.

The disconnect with the tech HW refresh reminds one of other disconnects -- the BOE has incomplete awareness of what they want to accomplish. If they don't feel that staff has given them enough rationale to spend the money they are too timid to ask for additrional details or maybe they just don't want a record of authorizing expenditures. Or maybe they don't have a clue what the difference is between a Mac Book Air and an iPad or a Chromebook...

I think I accurately conveyed the swirl of issues that the meeting touched on AND the fact there was not just a lack of resolution to these things but kind of an ever widening vortex. The contributions of concerned parents / community members with regard to things like PTO donations of hardware for student use or Foundation offers to fund some staff training did not serve to move things forward but merely to sidetrack the disorganized BOE. (And to my understanding the Foundation funding was more along the lines of things to get staff up to speed on "what is out there" for incorporating technology into the curriculum and less an affirmative step toward the 1:1 iPad iniative, which is still in limbo...)

We've seen this before and the result is similar -- lack of data, blurry statements of what is the "right thing" or a something that is "here to stay"...

It was encouraging that Dr. White did not jump into the deep end of the pool, but honestly unless he works with district staff to create some "guardrails" to keep the BOE on track these kind of directionless meeting will continue to waste time while other districts tackle the hard work of really getting teachers the requiste knowledge of content and pedogical techniques aligned to Common Core....

Anonymous said...

I think Dr. White handled himself very well at the meeting last night. I am optimistic about him.

So, Dr. White starts full time May 27. Next Monday's BOE meeting has been cancelled. Does that mean no more Dr. Schuster at BOE meetings?? Dr. White will start with a whopper of a meeting - MAP results and math pilot. Should be interesting.....

I was so offended with the 10+ minutes of ballot stuffing talk last night. Way to build mutual trust with the community! Does the admin and BOE really think that parents have nothing better to do with their time than fill out multiple bogus online surveys?? And if that really were the case why is participation in surveys so low? They should be more worried about getting greater participation than some perceived ballot stuffing plot. Please! We are educated adults - please start treating us with respect.

Anonymous said...

These were my comments in the parent survey. I feel the survey questions were unclear and didn't give us enough options. Here are some ideas that you may want to consider when filling out your own survey.

My Comment for RIGOR Question:

In my child's experience, the amount of homework in math has not allowed them to practice the basics enough. Homework takes too long because kids don't seem to learn concepts well enough in school. Unclear what you mean by "rigor". If by "rigor" you mean "hard", then yes, the materials are too hard. But, it is because kids aren't getting enough practice in school about what they are learning. Am I expected to tutor my child? If children were given more independent practice during the school day in what they were learning, the rigor would be appropriate. Once they consistently "get" it, they need to be bumped up right away. If children still don't understand concept, the school should re-teach during the day. Not keep them after school 2x week indefinitely.

School needs to look at the "pacing" and slow it down with more independent practice. The school needs to go back and re-teach what the kids are having problems with. Teachers have never asked me if the homework was too hard, or too easy, or if my children were able to do the work independently. When I have told teachers assignment seemed "confusing" for my child, it seemed like they immediately expected 1) ME to teach my child OR 2) Bumped my child down a level. My child easily was able to learn the harder concepts, but it seems to me that the school didn't give enough independent practice in the topics. School should figure out how to place kids in the right groups so that they are challenged, but not bored or frustrated.

I have hardly seen any grammar or skill builder type homework that goes along with what they learned in class.

My child gets great grades, but it is surprising that many children can't do all homework by themselves when they come home. How much are parents expected to help? Last year the 3rd grade math homework was terribly confusing, yet nothing was done to rectify the situation. It wasn't the "rigor" though, it was the poor materials. Seems like kids are going too fast and don't get enough practice in homework with science and language arts, too.

I know children work on science in school, but they never get professional science or social study homework. But all of a sudden in March, they get huge, teacher created study guides the day before tests or ISATS. Material seemed more geared for high school level. This stressed my child out. Schools should be preparing students all year for this, not cramming the day before test.

(continued below)

Anonymous said...


In 6 years here, I have learned that if I leave my child's SELAS experience only to the school, that my child will NOT be OK. There are several teachers who are well known by parents and administrators as "hating active boys", "are yellers", or who use cruel sarcasm in disciplining our children. This is NOT acceptable. Many teachers seem to have no idea about how to discipline positively. Our kids need constructive criticism, but they shouldn't be crushed by it. The worst behaved kids usually need MORE love and support, not LESS.
District really needs to train their STAFF on how to teach kids in a more positive environment.

Incorrect group placement and lack of acceleration when children are clearly capable of accelerating has been a problem. However, when I have pointed this out, the school has addressed and corrected the problem. As a result, my child began to thrive. If you assume the teacher already knows how to do this, you will most likely be disappointed. Only a small percentage know how to do this.

Parents who assume that our schools always address our children's needs (IEP or otherwise) are being very naive. If you never bother to verify that the schools are doing the right thing for your child, you will never really know the truth. The teachers haven't received enough support and training to be able to do this. Pre-testing was terrible for my child because she was kept out of higher groups because I hadn't exposed her to tutoring. MANY other parents do this, and then ridiculously complain when their children are "bored" in school. Parents should be discouraged from doing this, or at least pay for the acceleration of their children themselves. NOT expect the school do it. Very few children NEED to be accelerated so quickly.

Also, I feel like some other children are bullies and parents do not know what to tell their children what to do when someone bullies them. Schools may tell the kids what to do, but they don't tell us. If schools don't advise parents how to help children problem solve with each other, they shouldn't assume that parents can teach SELAS skills at home. SELAS could work much better if parents were included in the process.


Schools need to take a good look at why so many parents are tutoring their children. Our kids need free time after school, not more school. Many times, parents who tutor feel that the schools are NOT doing a good job, but don't want to offend the teachers or principal, so they simply hire a tutor.

If the teachers and administrators took a more active interest in WHY parents were hiring teachers, and then addressed it, they could learn a lot about how to help our kids.

Also, I feel it is very unethical for our children's teachers to charge us to tutor children from their own school. They should have been able to teach them during the day, refer them for RTI or IEP, or stay after school a couple days to help. We all have to stay after work a little bit for difficult clients. So should teachers. Monetary gain from children who are having problems is a clear conflict of interest.


Our children deserve hot lunches. At the very least, they should be given access to refrigerators and microwaves. Parents could volunteer to microwave. Oak Brook has catered lunch options that parents pay for. Parents should not be expected to take their children home for hot lunches when teachers and children across the country have this benefit.

Dr Gary Tietelbaum said...

Just finished Dr White's 5 paragraph introduction ... My assessment of anyone who writes 5 paragraphs to say hello is:
(1) They don't listen;
(2) They won't listen;
(3) They can't get to the point;
(4) Because they don't have one.

Good luck with the new PhD

Anonymous said...

Gary give the guy a chance!!

Anonymous said...

I agree that we need to give white a chance. I liked his email.

Anonymous said...

I am a supporter of the blog. But it may be time to shut down for a bit so that we can give the new guy a chance.

Anonymous said...

I am also a supporter of this blog, and I'm sure parents might be a little skeptical of a rambling email from our new superintendent after dealing with Schuster for 4 years. We are so programmed now to have to read between the lines because of Schuster and the BOE's style of communication, which is cryptic, to say the least. I am willing to give Dr White a chance, but it concerns me that it looks like Schuster can't let go and will be around after Dr. White's start date. Very unfortuante. We are ready for Dr. White to lead our district out of a mess; we don't need Schuster around to acoompany Dr. White to the Rotary luncheon. I'm sure he is quite capable of doing that on his own.
And I'm glad this blog is still up.

Anonymous said...

If a free lunch is being offered, you can be sure Dr. Schuster will be there!

Dr. Whilte should distance himself from our former superintendent in order to show his neutrality. He should sit with other community members so that he can get a better sense of what our community is like. Hearing Renee's twisted version of reality will do him no good.

Anonymous said...

I thought his e-mail was good. I hope that the community gives him a chance to focus on the educational issues at hand without the distraction of immature sniping about things that are irrelevant. He needs our help and support, not our criticism before he even starts his job.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the last post at 8:02pm.

Anonymous said...

I too agree the community should give Dr. White a chance, but I feel that Dr. Schuster needs to leave effective May 27. Dr. White's email to the community while thoughtful, seemed to try to justify Dr. Schuster continuing on after he arrives full time by saying she will accompany him on visits to schools and to a Rotary club meeting. Really? He is a more experienced superintendent than Dr. Schuster has ever been -- in terms of years of experience and number of districts he has served as the superintendent in. He does not need Dr. Schuster to hold his hand or guide him in any way once he starts full time. He is perfectly capable of standing alone and beginning his work as our superintendent without her interference in any way. Dr. Schuster is nothing but toxic. It is time for her to get out of D181 and let Dr. White start to clean up the mess she has made. The community will stand behind Dr. White if he doesn't tie himself in any way to Dr. Schuster or some of the incompetent administrators she has hired/promoted. He needs to distance himself from her and them as quickly as possible. The BOE should pay her one months salary through 6/30/14 and end her involvement with our district once and for all.

Middle School Parent Blog Follower said...

Dr. Schuster -- I agree with the last comment. D181 does not need 2 superintendents. It needs only one -- Dr. White. Time for you, Dr. Schuster, to hit the road and let Dr. White take over. I for one am thrilled that you are leaving and will support Dr. White. Remember, you resigned. You weren't fired. No need to drag this out for any one in D181, especially our students.

Anonymous said...

To the person who posted at 8:02. If you were an actual parent in D181, you would have known that Dr. White specifically requested parent's opinions in yet another survey just last week. We were asked questions pertaining to the rigor of homework, SELAS, tutoring, and lunch. I hardly find it respectful to Dr. White's survey to call parent's valid responses "immature sniping about things that are irrelevant". If Dr. White asked for our thoughts, we need to tell him the truth, not Dr. Schuster's version of the situation.

Had the previous administration and SELAS coordinator taken these complaints seriously, perhaps our district would not currently be embroiled in such a public relations nightmare. Parents and children have a valid expectation to be treated fairly and humanely. Hopefully, when Dr. White is in charge, when the community asks for some cooperation, he will comply.

Whoever chose to insult a parent for sharing their valid concerns should be the first person that Dr. White and the BOE should terminate.

Anonymous said...

Everyone needs to give Dr. White a chance and back off. And it was not his survey. It was Schuster's. He has not started yet. We need this guy to work so everyone back off and stop blaming him for the current administration's mistakes. This is ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

I just completed the online survey and have to say, it was a disappointment. No, it is not Dr. White's survey. That is clear. It is the survey prepared by Dr. Schuster's administration. It is a shame that many of the questions asked by Board Member Garg and outspoken caring parents were not included, as pertain to the Learning for All Plans and other detailed aspects of the Curriculum. Please, please, please Dr. White, conduct another survey after Schuster is gone, gone, gone. Everything this administration has done has been skewed to get the results they want, and not really find out how parents really feel.

Anonymous said...

Part 1: Here are some of the comments I submitted in the online survey. I hope these answers show up in the published comments released to the public at some point in the future......

#13. If you have comments about the level of rigor in any other academic areas (i.e. Health, Applied Tech, Family and Consumer Science, Band, Orchestra, French, Spanish), please note your comments here.

Comment: Spanish -- too slow. Need to provide high achievers with the same opportunities as are provided in Oak Brook so that students with the intellectual skill set can complete Spanish 2 by the end of 8th grade and start high school in Spanish 3.

#14. (K-5 Only) Please select the option below that best applies. (If you are not a parent of a student currently in Grades K-5, please skip to the next question.)

Comment: It is ridiculous that you are only asking parents of kids with current students in K-5 to answer this question. Having had students in this district for many years, I can speak as an experienced parent of multiple levels of students that the Learning for All Plan that has eliminated grade level math has been a disaster. Our kids are not guinea pigs for the pipe dreams of certain administrators. The Learning for all plan with its accelerated math for all is hurting students. It needs to be halted and revised to allow grade level instruction to be offered for those who need and want it, just as it is in every other district in Illinois.

#19. If you have any comments about the academics section of this survey, please note your comments here.

Comment: The Learning for All Plan is a horrible change to a district that used to be one where all students could excel. The Learning for All Plan sets up kids for failure in high school in math by accelerating all kids, regardless of their maturity level or academic ability. The administration's efforts to label "naysayers' of this plan as racists is offensive to me personally as a minority parent. I am a minority , but will not identify what type for this survey since it shouldn't matter, and has never mattered in this district. My child has never been treated differently by students, parents, or individual teachers because of his/her race. This administration that has tried to paint our community as racist should wake up to the realities of the demographics in this community and the tolerance and "inclusiveness" that already existed before certain administrators came to town trying to make us all look like we are socially unjust. I hope to see this comment in the published survey results because otherwise it will prove what a sham this survey is.

Anonymous said...

Part 2:

#21. When thinking about your child's overall attitude regarding his/her classroom (academic) experience this year, please select the option that best applies.

Comment: Depends on the class. In ACE social studies, my child's experience has not been positive. Personalized education plans, as they are called, at least at HMS are a joke. Students bake cookies, decorate cakes, and other non-academic projects that they then present as a passion project once each quarter. With over 30 in the class now, too much instructional time that could be spent learning history is wasted with these presentations that add no value. How about having the students in this high achieving social studies class actually do a research project on their own -- not just as a group -- where they have to thoughtfully answer a historical questions and present that? It boggles my mind how throwing in arts and crafts projects, and the like, is really a good idea. Is this what every student is going to have to do once ACE rolls down to all kids in middle school -- from 6th to 8th grade? Also, along the lines of SELAS, anyone in the administration who thinks labels are gone is mistaken. The students who were added this year either at the teachers' recmmendations or via the RTI process have been labled as the "opt ins" by the "originals." Not kidding! Hope you print this, if you really want to be transparent.

27. If you have any comments regarding tutoring, please note your comments here.

Comment: Why would you include as an answer to #24, "I prefer not to answer." What will that tell you? Nothing! This is a question that should only be answered with a yes or no, and by allowing people to say neither, you will skew the results. But that is par for the course with these surveys generated by this current administration. (I hope you print my comment and be transparent.)

Anonymous said...

Parents need to "back off"? Easy, Yosemite Sam. And no one is blaming Dr. White for anything, especially as you point out, "He has not started yet." The only ridiculous comments are those that try to silence parents.