Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Last Curtain Call . . . A Final Message From the Bloggers: An Invitation for Open Forum Posts From Our Readers

(Taken from Wikipedia curtain images.)

As the saying goes, all things must come to an end. We would like to share with our loyal readers that for the time being, this post will serve as the last of our own on this blog. From day one, our goal has been to inform the D181 community of the state of our district, good and bad, and provide a link to the information that should have been forthcoming from the administration and the BOE for several years. But now we believe it is time to bid farewell. We’re certain there are members of the BOE and remaining administrators who will be thrilled the posts written by us bloggers will cease, but we want to emphasize that we will cease our posts to allow the new superintendent, Dr. White, to begin his work to hopefully quickly address the numerous issues this district faces, and to do so without scrutinizing his every move. Dr. White deserves an opportunity to get to know the district – from staff to students to parents to other community advocates – and to both identify and implement needed changes that will bring D181 back to a state of excellence. We do have concerns as to how effectively he will begin to foster change and improvements given the recent changes he has made within the administrative organizational structure, but more on that in a minute.

Though the bloggers will no longer be making regular posts, we will immediately begin accepting posts and written transcripts from our readers. We will also continue to accept and post comments that are sent to this blog. This open forum will allow various topics of concern to be posted on this blog at the request of our readers. Following today’s substantive post, we will set up one up that is titled:  “Community Concerns 2014-2015.”  If you wish to write on a certain topic or issue, please do so and submit your blog post or comment to the “Community Concerns 2014-2015” post for our review. Any submitted post must be written within the same guidelines as those stipulated for comments. We would like to provide a forum for readers, parents and community members to voice their concerns, though the original bloggers will no longer be submitting posts on a regular basis.

During the past year, we have learned a great deal about District 181, the community and the Board of Education. We know that no school district or community is perfect, but we certainly had high expectations of a district that once was, as one parent put it, a “beacon of light” within the community.  Time and time again we searched for truth and common sense, even when it seemed most elusive during the Schuster reign of chaos, along with a Board of Education that basically rubber stamped anything her administration requested. As a result of our extensive fact checking and analysis, we would like to share several perspectives that we believe will be important for parents to consider during the next academic year, for it will be a year of great significance due to the change in district leadership, the board of education election in April 2015, and the many academic concerns our children will face.

Before we present our list of perspectives, we feel compelled to share with you a traditional Native American saying, to which we will then explain its significance:

“Which wolf inside us wins, Grandpa?”

(Taken from Wikipedia wolf images.)

“The one you feed, my child.” 

Oh, yes. This ancient saying gives us great relevance of the here and now. Because truth be told, there are many wolves among us. They are lurking about in the community and within the ranks of the D181 administration and BOE. We have seen countless examples of these wolf packs gone wild with hidden agendas, mantras, slogans, and delusional double talk. And while the – in our opinion -- loony toons rhetoric of Schuster is now permanently gone, we must remember that some of her highly paid protégés/foot soldiers are still employed in the D181 central office. Which leads us to the first of our perspectives:

1. A bus that has a flat tire will travel nowhere, and a “driver” that is actually a trained chef in disguise will steer the bus off into a ditch, guaranteed.

Recently, Superintendent White referenced a famous writing, Good to Great by Jim Collins. Let’s consider the full quote by the author:

Collins says, “People are not your most important asset. The right people are.

Collins uses the analogy of a bus driver while describing how to create a winning team within your organization. He recommends that you first get the right people on the bus, and then you get the wrong people off the bus, then the right people in the right seats, and then figure out where you want to drive that bus. Hire people with characteristics you cannot easily instill. Focus on whom you are paying, not how. He also recommends analyzing someone’s character, work ethic, intelligence, and dedication to their values before deeply analyzing credentials and practical skills.

So, what is the significance of this reference? In our opinion, Dr. White has made a rather risky decision by placing Kurt Schneider in charge of the Department of Learning. On what basis is he qualified, because from what we can determine, he is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Schneider is a fanboy of Learning for All, his original brainchild/educational experiment brought from his last district in Wisconsin. You can refresh your memory here by reviewing this link:

Kurt Schneider clearly feeds his inner wolf instincts as a moonlighter for the practice of full inclusion and the practice of sole differentiation within the classroom. Read about his lecture circuit that he conducts during the school year and summer through presentations at conferences in the following posts:

His entire administrative experience and education focuses on the field of Special Education.  Why did Dr. White select Schneider to oversee curriculum and assessment?  Parents have been requesting test data for more than a year regarding the effectiveness of the Learning for All Plan. Schneider has not collected, analyzed or offered data.  In our opinion, this should be considered by Dr. White as he assesses Schneider's work ethic, dedication and the very attributes that Collins highlights in his writings.

And so Kurt Schneider is now in charge of the entire Department of Learning. This person will oversee the entire district curriculum despite the fact he has never taught elementary-school children. Schneider has little to no training in curriculum and assessment, yet will supervise these areas in the district?
And try this on for size: Currently, there is no central administrator who is effectively in charge of Special Education. Schneider “oversees” it, but it appears to us that no one is in charge of the day to day operations of Special Education. We have looked around at the local districts and each one has a dedicated Special Education administrator. Shouldn’t we have the same?  Remember, D181 no longer receives support from LADSE, which makes it imperative that an administrator is running and carefully monitoring Special Education operations. With Christine Igoe now departed, who will perform this task?
Please pass the Sominex. We are already having difficulty sleeping and the school year hasn’t even begun. 
Yes, dear friends. The potential ramifications of this first decision by Dr. White are huge and far-reaching. We are very concerned because, as you know, history is a predictor of future behavior. So we guess we can expect to hear/see some of Schneider’s “colleagues” Capper, and Frattura along with a freshly crafted mantra of social justice and inclusive philosophy for the next school year.   What’s done is done and Dr. White has made this decision for the 2014-2015 school year.  We can only hope Dr. White will quickly recognize that Schneider’s social justice philosophy and full-inclusive hype is not what is needed in D181.  We also hope Dr. White strictly monitors all of the curriculum duties and responsibilities that Schneider is tasked with and then fulfills the representation he made at the last board meeting that he will be the first to admit his mistakes, if he makes one.

We cannot imagine a “reality” where Schneider will actually prove effective and successful as the sole Assistant Superintendent of Learning in D181 after witnessing the damage and emotional destruction that has befallen many of our students as a result of the Learning for All Plan roll out.  Hopefully, it will not take Dr. White too long to live in the D181 “reality” to reach this same conclusion and end this nightmare by replacing Schneider with an experienced administrator who has a solid track record in curriculum and instruction.

And since our new Superintendent seems to enjoy the use of quotes and sayings from the field of business management, we thought we would offer up one of our all-time favorites by guru John C. Maxwell from his now classic book, Leadership Gold in which he writes:

It’s very important for a leader to get the right people in the organization and put them in the right positions. There are few things that a leader does that are more important than this. If you need eagles in your organization, make it your mission to search for people who possess some of the qualities you have seen in other eagles. Look high and low. If you can’t find any potential eagles within your organization, search for them outside of it. Don’t get a duck. No matter how much you train that person, all you’ll receive is a “quack.” (John C. Maxwell, Leadership Gold, p. 92)

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

And since we are highlighting the criticality of hiring and placing the right people in the right jobs, let us now focus on the continued employment of Dawn Benaitis, another fluffer of Learning for All who was promoted from Monroe School principal to take over as Director of Assessment when Kevin Russell was promoted to Assistant Superintendent of Learning (his stepping stone to departing our district on June 30 to become superintendent in another district). In our opinion, Benaitis did not and does not have the skill set or experience to successfully fulfill the demands of her position.  No matter how many different job responsibilities were added to the job description in an attempt – in our opinion – to somehow encompass tasks she could handle, the bottom line is the assessment component was supposed to be the primary focus of the job.  Anyone who attended board meetings or parent meetings in the last year knows full well that Russell, not Benaitis, continued in the role of assessment director.  This makes us very nervous because in the face of the Common Core standards, assessment, data collection and analysis are critical for monitored progress of any school district.  It is our opinion that D181 is not prepared for the demands of the Common Core, nor does the district have an administrator who is versed in the nuances of its teaching requirements or necessary assessment methodologies. This is a dangerous place to be on many levels. We send out a final double-strength “duh” to the BOE for approving a three-year contract (and a raise this year) for Benaitis, given the demands of her position and her dismal track record of falling test scores as principal of Monroe. As we pointed out in our earlier post this Spring, "We have calculated that in less than three years (from 2012-2013 to the 2014-2015 school year), Benaitis' base salary has increased 18.8% from $109,660 to $130,250." (See June 4, 2014 Post on New Administrator contracts and salaries.)

This duck sure can quack.

Hopefully, Dr. White will quickly conclude that perhaps a downsizing of the administration is needed to eliminate administrators and positions that are not adding true value to the district.

Which leads us to our next perspective:

2.  Beware the Caucus and candidate dogma in the 2015 BOE election: We shouldn’t be hoodwinked again.

While we are willing to give Dr. White a chance to begin his job without posting on his every move in the hope that he will prove to be an outstanding leader who brings excellence back to D181, we cannot say the same for most of the board members.  The wolf pack including Turek, Nelson, and Yaeger will be up for re-election next Spring, and we do not believe they will suddenly become responsible, fully engaged board members under Dr. White.  No, no. It is time for Turek, Nelson and Yaeger to go.  In the next few months, the Caucus season will  get underway and candidates for the next election will be endorsed or announce their independent candidacy outside of the Caucus process. We hope the wolf pack of 3 (Turek, Nelson, and Yaeger) will not bother to run for a second term.  Using one of Turek’s infamous phrases:  Do us all a favor and go back into your “rat holes,” and don’t bother running for the board. Should any of them dare to run again, the voters must not forget the damage they have inflicted on our children by neither holding Dr. Schuster accountable for her own actions or her refusal to hold her central administrators accountable.  Voters must not forget

  • Nelson’s truancy from board meetings,
  • all three of them bullying fellow board members and community members publicly,
  • Nelson and Turek’s call for legislation to restrict open governance laws intended to ensure transparency and accountability,
  • their refusal to insist on data-driven decisions or
  • their refusal to assess the success or failures of programs, including the Learning for All Plan, with an actual data analysis, and not just the half-baked manipulations of what little data the community has been subjected to for the last couple of years.
There is only one board member up for reelection next spring who should run again and that is Brendan Heneghan.  While we are sure he must be burned out with all of the personal attacks and disrespect we have witnessed him endure during public meetings by his fellow board members or administrators who refused to answer his thoughtful and responsible questions, we urge him to stick it out for another four years.  D181 staff, parents and most of all students deserve to have board members with the caliber of integrity, responsibility and intelligence, along with a willingness to ask the tough questions, that Heneghan has exhibited for the last 3 ½ years. 

Even if he should run and win, however, there will still be 2 additional vacancies on the board.  Unfortunately, many of the previous Caucus endorsements have not served our students well.  Four years ago, the Caucus endorsed Yaeger, Nelson, and more recently Clarin (despite his obvious conflicts of interest).  The Caucus did not endorse Turek four years ago  -- a very smart decision -- and hopefully they will not endorse him this time around should he run for re-election.  We have been notified by parents that many members of the 2013 Caucus, who endorsed Clarin, had their children in local private schools. Given this fact, we can speculate the Caucus wolves have an alternative agenda, perhaps selecting “one of their own” so to speak. The Caucus should be watched closely as should any board candidates who emerge in advance of the election.

Other than Heneghan, what is needed is a set of new board members.  With 4000+ students in D181, there must be dynamic, involved parents who are willing to run for the school board and make the education of everyone’s children the priority.  In our opinion, the priority cannot be serving the personal aspirations of administrators such as Schneider or personal political aspirations of one or more fellow board members who may view a seat on the board as a mere stepping stone to a “higher office” (right, Governor wannabe who currently sits on the board!) . This is a prime example of the motivation of the wolf within that needs to be fed; the unmistakable, insatiable desire for power, control and authority that is evidenced by unprofessional and destructive conduct as a board member.  We can look around and see board member after board member in local districts abusing their elective offices, wreaking havoc and creating uncertainty within the ranks of administrators, teachers and staff, pitting community members against each other regarding educational beliefs and ideologies, promoting unfounded, irrational decisions as being the “best for the district” when in fact these amateur jokers would be bounced out of corporate board rooms in a heartbeat if they attempted such reckless decision making while on the job. And this is just a partial list.

Who pays the ultimate price? Our children.

Parents of D181 students, our children need you!  A Caucus endorsement is not a gold seal of approval that proves anything.  Even if you are not endorsed by the Caucus, or don’t believe in the Caucus process, it is still your right to run for the school board.  It is time to step up and help Dr. White bring D181 administrative and board member excellence back to our district.

3. Final thoughts:
Yes, friends; the past year has indeed been a challenge.  This blog provided a forum when no one else appeared to be listening. Your comments and messages kept us going in search of truth and data. It is now time to turn the reigns over to our readers who may wish to submit posts on various topics. It will be up to you, the community, to continue using this board as a forum for concerns and questions, because as long as the wolf pack of Turek, Nelson and Yaeger serve on the board, the information regarding the district will continue to trickle out. We have discovered that elected board members have a hidden agenda that can be used to create a positive vision for a district, or destroy one because of pettiness and trickery. We must read between the lines carefully during the Caucus interview process.
And we must also have the D181 BOE and administration on our radar as we move forward. We can not afford to sit back as passive, pantywaisted parents while our district continues to under perform and plod along in a stupor. Challenges lie ahead. The Common Core is upon us and is here to stay, like it or not. We still have, it appears, the Learning for All experiment continuing and our children are in the Petri dish while sufficient data are not being collected. If we are more worried about when the next cocktail party or social function will take place than the educational needs of our kids, then we allow unfettered change to occur within the classrooms across D181 with little to no accountability.
As we sign off, our message is very clear. We need to show up to board meetings, be heard in public and in our writings to the BOE, and finally, to demand more than our children are getting and deserve.
Ultimately, we get what we give. The wolves among us are hungry. Perhaps more so than we. Is this acceptable to us?  The answers lie within.
See you around.

1 comment:

jay_wick said...

I cannot do other than agree that any sane parent / community ought to have grave concerns about many important issues facing the day-to-day and long term operations of our district.

The track record of the current BOE majority at D181 {don't get me started on D86...} is extremely troubling. There has been a lack of consistency in how priorities have been set, how staff is evaluated, and an especially galling lack of ethical behavior.

While the selection of Dr. White is perhaps a bright spot, it remains to be seen if this is some sign of things taking a turn for the better or merely the good fortune of having a particularity advantageous combination of talented third party search firm and changes in state law that made our district attractive to a superior candidate. It is my sincere hope that Dr. White quickly lives up to the promise of prior accomplishments. To do that he must make some big shifts to the inaction that was all too common under the previous administrative regime.

Nothing could be better than to eliminate the "star chambers" that were created to deal with the fiscal and facilities issues the district is facing. There is no reason for these to be "closed to the public". Only distrust, antipathy, and unneeded contentiousness can come from hiding behind locked doors. At least most of the folks serving on these "principal's committees" are well qualified; a whole other level of obfuscation and stupefaction went into the selection of the yet-to-meet curriculum committee. If Dr. White's intent is to create an even deeper and more vehement set of oppugners he could not do worse than conducting these vitally importantly meeting in a setting where the main goal is not enlightenment but from all appearances, the deracination of dissent. I beseech him to immediately countermand the foolish "invitation only" protocol of the prior superintendent. It is my firm belief that if all these meetings are conducted to the standards of existing board meetings, with full access to any and real-time web casts as well as archived, the benefits far outweigh any potential downsides.

In this vein I must disagree with the blog owners in their claim that there is any failing in the caucus processes. Having been active in the caucuses not just to find BOE slates but also seeking candidates for the Clarendon Hills Village Board I can speak to the assiduousness of the openly selected volunteers in finding those willing to run for office and the appalling apathy / fear of too many qualified individuals to refuse to get involved is the real problem. I am going to be blunt: Folks that say things like 'Shoot me if I decide to run' and other seemingly humorous efforts to avoid these sometimes unpleasant moments in the public eye are precisely why we have low quality board members that are on the verge of destroying the most precious assets of our communities. The best way to remedy these problems is to PUT FORTH THE EFFORT to either find neighbors that will run or simply show up the Caucus formation meetings so that there is a diversity of opinion / supporters of the values that have made our communities desirable. If only axe-grinders, cranks, corporate climbers and self-interested / bored potential candidates show up for either the caucus slating meetings OR the election then we will only have low quality board members elected.

It is my firm hope that the folks that visit this blog for any reason, regardless of how much they may find themselves agreeing with the views expressed or questioning sentiments put forth, engage more deeply in the issues -- if you see a flyer in your mail or a story in the traditional newspapers or a posting on social media or a yard sign stuck in front of neighbor's home or a t-shirt that supports a particular view of how our schools should / should not be run: PLEASE question it! Be a skeptic! Seek out others that can illuminate the controversies. Do not abide hypocrites! Expose the prevaricators!