Sunday, June 22, 2014

D181 Parent Jill Quinones' Letter to Dr. Schuster, Dr. White, the BOE, Dr. Russell, Mr. Chisausky and Mr. Sonntag

Parent Jill Quinones has submitted via comment the following letter she sent tonight to Dr. Schuster, the Board of Education, Dr. White and various principals.  She also stated it can be published as a stand alone post. Because it is such a powerful message, we felt it warranted publication as a stand alone post.

Letter from Ms. Quinones:

Dr. Schuster,

I don’t know whether you are still receiving D181 email, but my comments here are equally relevant to some of your Administration and the BOE, so I am sending it to them as well. I also would like Dr. White aware of what has transpired so he can make it a top priority to make sure future processes are carried out with more integrity.

First, let me assure you that while my concerns are an outgrowth of the “process” used to select candidates for the Superintendent’s Learning Committee, this is not about not being included on that Committee. It actually never was my intention to apply for that Committee. Ms. Garg contacted me on the day applications were first due asking if I would consider it. I already have 25 hours of things to do in a 24-hour day, but as always, I would have gladly done my part if I had been chosen. I have no issue with any of the parents that were chosen – I am sure they will work tirelessly. However, the “process” was flawed from the beginning when you extended the deadline despite having received by your first deadline more than enough applications from extremely talented people from every school except Elm. The fact that you or some of your administrators didn’t like some of the people who applied did not justify extending the deadline. Obviously enough people knew of the first deadline given that more than you were looking for applied. The flawed process became unsupportable when you created your own secretive pre-screening and gave no thought to the resulting defamation.


I don’t know whether to call it ironic or disingenuous that you would set up criteria to prescreen applicants as possible bullies of teachers when not that long ago you personally (together with BOE Members) witnessed a then-BOE member of the community commit an assault and battery against another BOE member and rather than condemn the behavior you rewarded it by appointing that person to a District Committee. It seems to me at a minimum you pick and choose when to apply your own rules. Your actions suggest that your desire to keep bullies out of all aspects of the District only applies when it supports your purpose.


I am not sure who, when, or how you were approached by teachers with concerns about intimidation by parents being chosen to serve on the Committee, (I am assuming BEFORE March 1 or it would have been produced in response to my FOIA - perhaps I should FOIA specifically that issue), but the fact that you did not “advertise” that criteria reeks of non-transparency and collusion. You state that you didn’t want to embarrass anyone? How would advising applicants that teacher bullying was one of the criteria you were looking at when reviewing applications embarrass anyone? And why wasn’t the selection committee – including BOE Member Garg, informed of this criterion BEFORE you applied it. And frankly, why wasn’t the decision about whether an applicant could be deemed a teacher bully part of the selection committee’s decision making process – all of them? Too much unilateral power wielded in secret for a public school district. And I won't even discuss the fact that principals were asked outside of the selection committee process to bring forth recommendations as to whom they wanted as the parent representative for their building. Smoke and mirrors....


And again, either ironic or disingenuous – but certainly inconsistent – is your application of Board Policy 8:030. You have championed this Policy when it suits your purpose. Although it is entitled ”Visitors to and Conduct on School Property” you have on at least one occasion that I know of decided it applies to e-mails from parents as well. So, if any of the alleged teacher bullying happened either in person or through e-mail, shouldn’t this Policy have kicked in? Shouldn’t the “bully” have been notified of his/her misconduct and been given a chance to respond and/or request the hearing referenced in the Policy preferably at the time of the incident, but certainly before being excluded from consideration for a committee?


It seems to have become standard practice recently in this District (for those of us who have been around a while it has not always been this way) that when you, some of your Administrators, or even some BOE members are challenged on your Professional opinions, philosophies, conclusions, or practices that you, the Administrator, and/or BOE member respond by attacking not the critic’s opinion, philosophy, conclusion or practice, but by attacking the critic Personally. I have witnessed it happen by Administrators and/or BOE members to other Administrators and/or BOE Members, to teachers, and to parents. At a recent BOE meeting the teachers even expressed, "We do not want to be labeled as negative or complaining or questioning authority, but we do want to ask questions, get clarification, and offer suggestions." I have heard about (but not witnessed) other occasions where the parent was on the receiving end of a personal attack by an Administrator or BOE Member, and now, apparently, I have been on the receiving end myself. I just don’t understand why teacher, parental or Board Member questioning or criticism of educational philosophies, decisions, etc. cannot be responded to with respect for the person while disagreeing with the message. How can you not consider these personal attacks to be bullying?


Over the past 12 years, I have had A LOT of communication with my three children’s teachers; some positive, some questioning, and some critical. I have written letters praising teachers efforts on my children’s behalf and asked that they be put in the teacher’s permanent file.

Because I am a teacher and I moved to this community because of the reputation of the schools, I have very high expectations of my children’s teachers. I am totally “one of those moms” and admit to it. But I am also a teacher who deals with “those moms” every day. I know when parent advocacy crosses the line and becomes adversarial. I go out of my way to raise my concerns with teachers by first giving the benefit of the doubt to the teacher (sometimes against my child’s own version of the story) and making it my child’s issue – not theirs.

Just like a doctor being a patient, it is not always easy being a teacher-mom. This District has some teachers on staff who are way better at their craft than I am. It has others who are not. I have questioned, suggested, and offered constructive criticism to my children’s teachers because I know education just as well as they do, but I know my children better than they do.


I have never yelled at teachers, called them names, threatened them, or cursed at them. If a teacher has ever “come to the principal for assistance crying, consider quitting, or reporting that they are being bullied” then this is news to me. And it shouldn’t be. And shame on Mr. Russell, Mr. Chisausky, or Mr. Sonntag (apologies to whomever of you this does not apply) if this ever happened on their watch and they didn’t advise me of it. I would want to be aware of it, and I would want to remedy the situation with the teacher. I made a teacher cry, want to quit, or feel bullied and the administrator in charge did not feel it was necessary to talk to me about it AT THE TIME IT HAPPENED? Really? Isn’t supporting teachers in that way part of their job? How convenient for you that they remembered something at the same time Committee applications were due.

Any communication from me that a teacher may have deemed as “negative” was written solely because for some reason the teacher and my child were not connecting and his/her education was suffering as a result. It certainly was not meant to bully or intimidate and it troubles me greatly that a teacher might have felt this way and I was not advised. I should have been told at the time it happened. I certainly should be told the specifics now. I should never have been preemptively removed from consideration for appointment to a District committee without being advised of these allegations. As to some of us, this "process" emulated a witch-hunt or kangaroo court and was anything but transparent.

I have worked tirelessly on behalf of this District for years, long before you arrived, and to be labeled as a bully by you Dr. Schuster, who places the responsibility of that label on principals and teachers, principals who didn’t find my behavior to even warrant a discussion with me at the time it supposedly happened, is outrageous behavior by the head of a PUBLIC SCHOOL District.

I respectfully request that you (or Dr. White) now do the right thing and (i) have the relevant administrator provide me with the specifics upon which you relied to remove my application from consideration and (ii) ask Louise Perkowski – the Walker School teacher representative to the Committee – if she feels my inclusion on the Committee would have been in anyway threatening or intimidating to her or the other teachers and report what she says to the selection committee.

Griffin, I have included you on this letter because we have three years together coming up. I would truly appreciate it if you ever think (or a teacher comes to you saying) that I have crossed the line from advocate to bully that you let me know right away so that I can remedy the situation.
Dr. White, I implore you to do a better job than this when you and your staff conduct yourselves relative to the parents in this District. You were quoted recently in the Doings newspaper as saying, “It was my goal to ensure the selection was done in a fair and transparent manner. All of the 28 applicants were considered.” I respectfully disagree. The entire selection committee did not consider all 28 applicants because two of us were preemptively removed. I respectfully disagree that the process was fair and transparent because a secret standard was first applied and used as part of the decision making process without the candidates against whom it was wielded being informed and offered the chance to know what was being said about them.

You were also quoted as saying, “It was also important that the members have demonstrated an interest and ability to move forward in a positive direction, while focusing on issues not people.” Perhaps it is time to direct and demand of your Administrators and BOE the same perspective. I assure you, for parents it is now, will be, and always has been about the issues, not the people – especially those issues impacting their children on a daily basis.

Jill Quinones


The Parents said...

Ms. Quinones: Thank you for your willingness to share this letter with the D181 community. Your courage to stand up for what is right and to call out what is wrong is not only commendable but exhibits the qualities that our voters should look for in our elected representatives. We hope and encourage you to run for a seat on the D181 BOE next spring.

Jill Quinones said...

Thanks for the vote of confidence, but not happening :)

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Jill Quinones, for securing these documents and promoting transparency and accountability in our district. And thank you, bloggers, for your tireless efforts to provide a forum for productive discussion about the ways to better the education of children in d181.

I am writing to weigh in on the discussion about posting Learning Committee applications on the blog. As an applicant, I admit I felt a bit violated when I first saw my words staring back at me in a public forum. After all, I was applying as a volunteer not as someone in public employ or as and elected official. However, I understand the need for full disclosure in order to appear fair, especially when the complaint being made is about unfairness and inequity. As such and for better or worse, I will continue to offer to be part of the solution - if only to reserve my right to complain if a solution is not forthcoming ;) - and I hope other community members will, too.

Having gotten that out of the way, I respectfully suggest that the biggest "Are you kidding me??!" that came out of Jill's FOIA and the most productive discussion focus is the appalling stereotyping of parents as "bullies" by Superintendent Schuster. That someone in a position of power should toss around a label like "bully" without justification is shocking; that she feels comfortable enough to provide a paper trail of such namecalling suggests that this is not an isolated incident. Indeed, it gives credibility to the witch hunt stories about the attempts to disclose the source of this blog.

A formal apology should be forthcoming and the blatant abuse of power should be included in Schuster's employment record.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with the anonymous poster at 9:45. To be a bully, one must be in a position of power. Dr. Schuster and some of her fellow BOE members and administrators clearly have become quite comfortable with bending the truth to suit their needs.

When teachers and parents cannot trust their own administrators to model empathy, communication skills, and integrity, how in the world can we ever expect our children to?

Anonymous said...

to 7:11am - actually, a bully does not have to be a person 'in power' but is "a person who uses strength or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker."

Anonymous said...

Here is my new definition of bully: Schuster, Schneider or Russell.

Anonymous said...

For a district that can't control bullying in its schools, it makes sense to turn around and call parents bullies. Unbelievable. On second thought, I totally believe it.

Anonymous said...

to 10:44am - PERFECT!!

Anonymous said...

to 10:44am, how about Schuster, Schneider AND Russell?