Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Hands of the Few Adversely Touch the Lives of Many: The D181 BOE Lets Another School Year Slip Away with Little to No Accountability

Yes, indeed. In our opinion, the winds of change during the last several years have ushered in a new era in D181 of unprecedented administrative salaries, undeserved promotions, and unfounded sweeping instructional changes gone wild that are clearly having a negative impact on our children. During this time, there has not been one shred of evidence to suggest that the Learning for All Plan has produced positive results. Period. MAP scores show little to negative growth across many grades and all schools. The ISAT results during the past three years have trended downward. Recent District 181 rankings among other school districts have been on a consistent downward slide. All of this with virtually no BOE oversight or accountability.

And to be fair, we realize that many BOE meetings this school year had sparse attendance by parents. There were several meetings, however, wherein parent comments were plentiful and served as a true testament to the frustration felt across the district. But ultimately, the community members who made such comments were labeled as “naysayers” and the “small fringe,” mainly by two board members: Gary Clarin and Marty Turek.

We have become increasingly concerned in light of recent comments made by Mr. Clarin, who seems to have his hands in many facets of the district. Not only has he served as a defacto project manager during the HMS mold crisis, he has also taken it upon himself to sit in a classroom observing teachers during a school day, meet with the administration (specifically, Dr. Schneider, as Clarin proclaimed in the last board meeting) and serve on the Facilities Committee. While Mr. Clarin has volunteered many hours of his services, he appears to be, in our opinion, set in his opinions about the direction of the district (which he deems as positive) along with the recent public statement that “Learning for All is here to stay” as if he were giving the public a heads up about where the district is headed, even before the new superintendent is announced. We would also like to remind our readers that Mr. Clarin also serves on the negotiations committee for the teachers’ contract, despite the fact his wife is a teacher at HMS. Truth be told: this might not be a direct violation of district policy, but in our opinion, it definitely creates the appearance of impropriety.

Is this conduct we are witnessing of an elected school board member acceptable?  We think not. Nor do we believe it is acceptable to have several board members consistently claim that their ideology and promotion of Learning for All is working, when they have zero evidence to back up their claims. This is simply wrong, and yes, it is ultimately harming our children. Let us remind you that two majority board members, Nelson and Clarin, have no children in the district. They have no direct experience with the changes that have taken place during the past several years, nor will they ever come to know how the changes Dr. Schuster and her foot soldiers implemented will impact the lives of our children in high school and beyond. Private tutors and after school teacher tutoring are not the answers to supplement or to provide the instruction that should have been delivered on a daily basis in classrooms. The board members in the majority should be aware that there are hundreds of students waiting to learn in this district on a daily basis, despite the best efforts by our great teachers. Is this what they believe to be acceptable for our children? Is this what they apparently want to continue in our classrooms, as evidenced by their public comments?

In our opinion, they are clearly out of touch, and our children are now almost out of time.

History can teach us many things, if we are seekers of truth, knowledge, and wisdom. But in a sea of constant change and turmoil, the path to what held D181 together and made it a great high-performing district has now become clouded and murky with floating debris like spin, mantras, and misleading double talk, by both the administration and the BOE.

Let’s hope the new superintendent is able to see through the haze and guide the district to a better place.

We look forward to the announcement of our new superintendent on Friday, May 2, 5pm at Elm School.


Anonymous said...

Well said bloggers!

Anonymous said...

Didn't the Caucus endorse Gary Clarin? What a disappointment he has turned out to be.

jay_wick said...

My impression, based on the members' performance at BOE meetings, informal meetings that have been held at district facilities, and limited observations outside school, is that when there is an obvious task that could benefit from direct investigation some BOE members are not afraid to "pitch in". So long as this is not cover for incompetence in other areas this is not really a bad thing.

That said, when matters are less clear cut or perhaps would benefit from skepticism instead deferring to "learned authorities" really only one or two BOE member have had the backbone to consistently question such things. Sadly some BOE members seem to have no desire fulfill even the most rudimentary function --
Foundational Principles for School Boards | Illinois Association of Schools Boards

1. The Board Clarifies the District Purpose.
...Effective ends development requires attention to at least two key concerns: student learning and organizational effectiveness... Well-crafted ends enable the School Board to effectively and efficiently monitor district performance and assess organizational success ...

2. The Board Connects With the Community.
The School Board engages in an ongoing two-way conversation with the entire community. This conversation enables the Board to hear and understand the community's educational aspirations and desires, to serve effectively as an advocate for district improvement and to inform the community of the district's performance... The School Board must be aggressive in reaching out to the community – the district's owners - to engage people in conversations about education and the public good. ...

3. The Board Employs a Superintendent.
The Board employs and evaluates one person - the Superintendent - and holds that person accountable for district performance and compliance with written Board policy.

4. The Board Delegates Authority.
...empowering the Superintendent and staff to pursue Board ends single mindedly and without hesitation. A Board that does (or re-does) staff work disempowers the staff. High levels of Superintendent and staff accountability require high levels of delegation.
Delegation is difficult for anyone accustomed to direct action. However, to appropriately stay focused on the big picture and avoid confusing the staff, members of the School Board must discipline themselves to trust their Superintendent and staff and not involve themselves in day-to-day operations. ...

5. The Board Monitors Performance.
... A School Board that pursues its ends through the delegation of authority has a moral obligation to itself and the community to determine whether that authority is being used as intended.
Unless the Board is clear about what it wants, there is no valid way to measure progress and compliance. ...

6. The Board Takes Responsibility For Itself.
...Individual Board members are obligated to express their opinions and respect others' opinions... Board deliberations and actions are limited to Board work, not staff work.
The Board seeks continuity of leadership, even as it experiences turnover in membership. The Board accomplishes this by using written Board policies to guide Board operations, by providing thorough orientation and training for all members, and by nurturing a positive and inviting Board culture. ...

Perhaps the folks that think up "mock scenarios" for potential candidates ought to focus a bit more on when / why BOE members should be deferential and when they should be assertive...