Thursday, November 13, 2014

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let it Snow. The November 10th Board Meeting was a White-out!

Monday night's board meeting was a "White-out." We are extremely disappointed with Dr. White and the majority of the apathetic board members (Turek, Yaeger, Clarin) who allowed White's administrators to effectively dodge important questions while "snowing" the board and community with a blizzard of distractions. (Nelson was absent, again.) We  encourage you to listen to the podcast of the November 10th meeting which is available on the district website (link to 11/10 podcast). We also urge you to review the meeting agenda (link to agenda) and questions board members submitted to Dr White prior to the meeting (link to questions).

What wasn't on the agenda for the meeting?

No discussion of ISAT scores or state rankings.

Following the release of the Illinois State Report Cards and State Rankings that showed most of our schools dropped in the rankings, we expected Dr. White to present a formal report and lead a board discussion on the scores and rankings.  We expected him to explain why -- in the face of the harder test and new cut scores used by ISAT --  6 out of 9 of our schools dropped in the rankings relative to other districts that showed improvement. While Dr. White did provide the basic ranking information that aleady appeared in local newspapers, he did so only after Board member Garg's pre-meeting request. However, during the meeting, there was no substantive discussion on the implications, if any, of the school rankings, or how they compared to last year.

Unlike last year's phony "celebration" of the 2013 dismal ISAT state rankings by Dr. Schuster (Click to open link post), Dr. White has apparently chosen to play a game of "avoid" the elephant in the room --  if data stinks, the board should hear nothing about it. There should have been a complete comparative analysis done between last year's scores and this year's scores. There should have been an explanation of why some previously lower ranked districts shot up in the rankings, while most of our schools dropped. The board should have demanded answers to these questions and asked what steps would be taken next year to improve the scores and rankings. None of this happened!

And yet, this morning, the Hinsdalean newspaper had a long story on the rankings and ISAT data quoting Dr. Schneider and Ms. Benaitis doing the Happy, Happy, Joy dance.  Here is what they said about the very data that they refused to discuss with the BOE on Monday night:

Schneider:  "In general our students are growing, students continue to make growth. You can have different conclusions depending on what type of data your are looking at. I think people need to be mindful of that. What we want to see is no matter what data you're looking at, that data gets into the buildings so the leadership teams at each school get a look at it."

Benaitis:  "That one test, one score on one given day, is a snapshot. We want to make sure we are looking at a photo album. This is one piece out of the whole picture, and I think it is really important that you look at multiple measures to get an accurate picture and make any conclusion."
(Source:  11/13/14 Hinsdalean, page 5 article titled: Report Cards Show Students Doing Well)

We agree that the ISAT tests are just one data point. The problem is that no one in the administration is taking the time to conduct an analysis of the multiple data points D181 has amassed over the last three years of the multiple tests our students have taken. Why not? In our opinion, it is because no one in the administration has the skill set, experience or qualifications to conduct such an analysis, report on it, formulate and implement a plan on how to improve the declining performance. Dr. White and Dr. Schneider, we don't want to know what the data shows "in general." We want the BOE to be presented with a detailed analysis of all of the data points the administration has been (or should have been) gathering over the last three years. We want the BOE to start making data-driven decisions, rather than simply buying into the bluster spewing out of the administrators' mouths.

The agenda did not include an update on the Math Pilots.

With the discontinuation in three schools of the Agile Minds and Investigations math pilot programs after last month's board meeting, and their transition back to last year's math programs, we expected the agenda to include a formal report on how the transition was going. After all, nearly 100 parents attended the last board meeting and justifiably complained about Agile Minds and Investigations, demanding their discontinuation and pleading with the administration to fix the mess.  Did Dr. White not realize that a follow up report and presentation to the BOE would be the appropriate course to follow?  Nope. Instead, it wasn't until Board member Garg asked him to provide an update, that he punted the question to Dr. Schneider and two principals, apologizing to them for putting them on the spot with the unexpected question. Unexpected? If anything, he should have foreseen it! Principal Pena was able to give an update on what the teachers at HMS have been doing to identify any gaps in the Agile Minds curriculum and the one they are using now. But then Dr. White asked Dr. Schneider for an update on the elementary schools. Dr. Schneider blundered his answer-- giving a non-substantive response about the two impacted elementary schools. Thankfully, Principal McMahon was present to give a more detailed update.

We have listened to this portion of the meeting several times now and are utterly disgusted that neither the Superintendent or the Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum were able to provide a basic update without reliance on the principals. Isn't the central administration in charge of the curriculum decisions? Isn't the central administration supposed to oversee the implementation of the math pilots and any changes to the curriculum?  It is becoming clearer with each passing day that there is ZERO curriculum expertise in the central administration.  How can the BOE allow this to continue?

Nothing on the agenda addressing the impact of the proposed levy to Senate Bill 16.

While the agenda included a presentation to the board of the proposed 2015 Tax Levy the board will be asked to approve on December 8, the presentation was lacking in any detail that would have exposed it for what it was:  a proposal to under-levy next year, leaving on the table over $500,000 of new construction tax money that could be collected under the Illinois Tax Cap Law. Read the materials posted on board docs very carefully and then go back and listen to the podcast of the board discussion.  (Tax Levy presentation.) The discussion was very short. Not a single question was asked about why the board would under-levy in light of the possible future legislative approval of Senate Bill 16 that may strip D181 of over $1.65 million in state funding. There were no questions or discussion on the compounding impact of under-levying $500,000 of new construction money, nor the possible negative impact of Senate Bill 16 on D181's educational programs and teachers. There were no questions on why money should be under-levied at a time when the Facilities Committee is exploring building options that might require a tax referendum. Why weren't any of these questions asked or discussed?

In light of the very detailed discussions and debates ensuing in District 86, as well as that board's request for multiple proposals and scenarios laying out the impact of possible tax levies, it is disturbing that the D181 board is not conducting more detailed, serious discussions on the tax levy. Isn't President Turek responsible for setting the meeting agendas with Dr. White?  Isn't he following what our neighboring high school district is doing? Isn't he aware that the D86 finance manager is asking for the maximum levy to be approved this year -- including the maximum a district can tax on new construction?  The continued reference by certain board members, such as Gary Clarin, to the work being done by the D181 Finance Committee is a red herring and inappropriate. The Finance Committee only has 2 board members on it. It is a superintendent's committee. It has no taxing authority. It doesn't even present written or verbal reports to the BOE on what it is doing. The only entity with taxing authority is the BOE. That is the entity that should be conducting a detailed discussion before it votes on anything. Board President Turek is shirking his duties and obligations as one of seven elected official tasked with overseeing our district finances and ensuring the meeting agendas cover topics the full board should be discussing in detail.  And he wants to run for reelection?

So what was on the Agenda and what was discussed by Dr. White and the BOE during the meeting? If you take the time to listen to the podcast:

1.  You will hear attempts by Board Members Turek and Clarin to shut down legitimate questions about the math curriculum Member Garg was trying to get answers to.

2.  You will hear Turek and Clarin suggest that curriculum based questions are inappropriate for board members to ask because a board member's role is not to micromanage the administration.

3.  You will hear Dr. White complain that it is too time consuming to prepare reports for the board that address student performance data analysis. Board Member Heneghan asked him if he (Dr. White) was preparing some of these reports, and pointed out that it is not the superintendent's job to prepare reports his administrators should be doing.  Dr. White dodged this inquiry by stating that part of his job does include working on reports. He failed to address Mr. Heneghan's obvious point that with all the different administrators in the curriculum department, Dr. White should be able to rely on them to get the work done.

4. You will hear Dr. White advocate that what is needed instead is more professional development for teachers and that his administrators' time must be freed up to facilitate the professional development.  You will hear him advocate for late start or early release time, which any idiot knows would reduce student instructional time and hurt our kids! In the midst of all of the curriculum mess that the curriculum department has created -- with the ever changing Advanced Learning Plan/Learning for All Plan/Math Compacting/No Math Compacting/Acceleration for All/No Math Acceleration for All/Agile Minds pilot /No Agile Minds pilot/Investigations pilot/No Investigations pilot/and the list goes on and on -- this is the exact WRONG time to even consider shortening any of our school days for more teacher development!  D181 is not a place of Joyful Learning. It is a parent and student's worst nightmare!

5.  You will hear a report on D181's shortage of substitute teachers. The report doesn't show how much has been spent on substitute teachers this fall. No, it took a board member asking that question before we learned that  $25,000 in taxpayer money has already been spent on substitute teachers since the 2014-2015 school year started, most going to pay for substitute teachers covering for teachers who have been pulled out of the classrooms for professional development and committee work. (Board report on Substitute teachers.)

6.  You will hear a report and guidelines on the "disposition of surplus property" that apparently follow Illinois statutes (Board report and Guidelines). Within this report was the statement that "[i]t is important to note that no employee of the school district shall purchase or procure any property or materials owned by the school district unless the property or materials are purchased or procured by the employee as part of a public sale or auction." Board Member Heneghan asked whether the past sale of old D181 computers to teachers ahead of the sale to the public was a violation? This question was quickly skirted over after an admission that this had occurred, and no one else seemed to be concerned. Yet another example of how the administration is never held accountable for anything!

7.   Despite the suggestion that curriculum questions evidence micromanagement, Dr. White had no compunction in writing a report and asking the board for guidance on when to declare a snow day and what steps to take in inclement weather to determine whether school should be cancelled.  (See pages 3, 4 and 5 of Dr. White's report.)

We almost fell out of our seats with laughter when we listened to this part of the meeting. Talk about the worst form of hypocrisy!

No, it seems the administration shouldn't have to prepare reports on student performance data because it is too time consuming. The board can't ask questions about curriculum or students performance on state mandated tests because that would be micromanaging. But yes, the administration has time to prepare reports on virtually any other topic, including when to declare a snow day, and waste time during the board meeting asking for the board to please, please, please micromanage the most basic of administrative tasks. 

We have concluded that Dr. White's approach goes well beyond Dr. Schuster's old tactic of smoke and mirrors. Dr. White's approach is to LET IT SNOW-- blitz the board with reports and discussions on the mundane and micro-managerial content -- until there is a complete WHITE-OUT of what really matters to the parents, teachers and students -- administrative data analysis, presentations and BOE discussions on curriculum, student performance and what our children are provided in their classrooms!  It's time to stop the snowstorm of distraction. It is time for the snow plow to drive into town and clean up the mess! We've already established that the curriculum department administrators cannot drive the "school bus." We've already established that they don't even have a "Road Map" to get our children to the "Emerald City." Now,  if Dr. White refuses to call in the snow plows and clean up the road, then the district is in worse trouble than it ever was under the Schuster Administration.  The BOE cannot allow this situation to continue. What do they possibly hope to accomplish by allowing the blizzard to continue unabated?  


Anonymous said...

What is wrong with the podcast? It is too quiet and I had to blast the volume and wear headphones to hear it. Was this done intentionally by the tech department so it would be so hard to hear the BS at the meeting that people will just give up and turn off the recording?

HMS Parent said...

Thank you to Mridu Garg for your public comment at the end of the meeting. You are an asset to the Board and don't let any of your fellow board members make you think otherwise. You are a wonderful example of what a good board member should do. Turek is a disgrace. Clarin is wrong about almost everything he says and he is the WORST OF THE WORST micromanager -- remember how he ingratiated himself in the HMS mold remediation? Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. Nelson? Who cares anymore. He might as well miss all of the rest of the meetings? Yaeger -- subtly nasty. Can't wait for next April's election. Thank goodness three of these four bozos will be leaving the board. Yes, my prediction is that if Turek runs, he will LOSE!!! Too bad we have to wait 2 more years to get rid of Clarin.

Anonymous said...

Spot on bloggers!

Anonymous said...

SO where is that photo album? That's what's called a data analysis of the past 3 years. Of course our kids are growing all the time but are they growing frustrated and bored, more now than ever? Everyone please be quiet, DATA is in the building. Are there any more words of wisdom??? Thanks to Marty Turek for supporting late start/early release and for not looking out for the tax payers. He will do anything to make this plan succeed. God save the PLAN. Good point about micromanaging HMS during the pipe burst. How do these men succeed in the business place? It is mind boggling.

Anonymous said...

So true! Dr. White, his administrators, Turek and Clarin put in ten times more much effort to hide information and stifle questions than what it would have taken to simply be straightforward, honest, and cooperative with the community. This is precisely why our district will continue to drop in the rankings. Thank you to that group for ruining our schools and our children's educations.

And by the way, I took great pleasure in using Pam Lannom's personal editorial to start the kindling today. It contributed to a great fire. At least the poor trees weren't killed for naught.

Pam, if you aren't going to stop writing fiction in your "newspaper", do us all a solid and go green.

Anonymous said...

I agree about the hinsdalean. It goes from one piece of biased writing to the other. No objective reporting or investigative reporting into what the issues are. It's easy to just report 2-3 administrators point of view. No analysis of how other districts are using and reporting data. Call the testing company! There is spin everywhere but we seem to have boatloads more of it. Why don't they write about joyful learning and schneider's perspective's on inclusive education, his social justice institute and how he has given all of his associates free advertising, plus speaking or consulting opportunities in the district and at TASH. last year the district paid for a bunch of administrators to go to his social justice institute that he benefits from. A good reporter looks to provide both sides of the story with some final perspectives. We are a wealthy district but our taxes are worth just as much as the next district. Tax money is not meant to be thrown away on extreme ideologies. Even though the district may face a crisis in the future by under-levying, I'd rather the board of education not give this administration one extra penny. Maybe they should just eliminate the department of learning. Use that money to pay for the shortfall from senate bill 16 next year.

Anonymous said...

I just looked at the superintendent's report (thanks for link) and feel 90% for this training should have been given over the past two-three years. Now they want to spend extra money or take away instructional time. What did they do for the past two years? Why didn't the teachers speak up publicly about lack of professional development instead of allowing our tax dollars to be wasted on institute days? This all ultimately affects our kids. Why should the tax payers always pick up the slack? Disappointed with the lack of accountability and leadership. I thought White was supposed to be good. Instead he is allowing the same nonsense to continue and is making everyone suffer.

jay_wick said...

Anonymous 8:54 may mean well, but it is totally unrealistic to expect even the most 'activist' teacher to speak out about an ADMINISTRATOR initiated in-service.

Such a thing is just not going to happen even in the most 'teacher centric' setting. Even with tenure and grievance procedures there are LOTS of way for a vindictive administrator to make a classroom teacher's situation very unpleasant. The mix of students one is assigned, the planning schedule one has, the actual building / space one must work can all be decided by administrators that either respect fairness and professional decorum or 'have it out for' somebody that upsets the cozy situation that an administrator may have built for them self.

The other reason that this is totally unrealistic is that only a tiny percentage of even the best teachers ever really immerse themselves deeply in the various shifts in how best to teach the topics need to master. Teachers get into a pattern of managing their classroom that reflects more than a bit of their own personality. Most professors and educational researchers find that mostly to be a good thing -- kids thrive on routine, appreciate a predictable kind of interaction with teachers and do best in an environment where the teacher is confident.

Of course there are wide range of effective teaching styles, some individuals are a bit more reserved, others more natural in the comedic performance or authoritarian exhortations. No one with any brains would really try to stifle those characteristics.

What is very different is when the GOALPOSTS ARE MOVED by the adoption of Common Core standards. The fact is these multi-state goals no longer have the same targets in the end-zone that existed when we had the ISATs! The PARCC tests are measuring things that in some cases even skilled teachers just have not had experience with. It very likely DOES require teachers to be given deeper subject-level instruction so they master certain mathematical concepts that they have not previously been familiar with. A cynic would say that this a backdoor way to get new blood into certain moribund urban classrooms but even the most fair-minded school authority would agree that failing to provide such additional training for teachers is a dereliction of duty. And if that duty does not rest squarely upon the shoulders of the administrator(s) charged with overseeing curriculum / learning than who else would be derelict?

To have led the community to believe that the issues of additional professional development were solved with this contract if that is NOT the case is a deception of the highest order. If the BOE did not have a negotiating team that realized that was a priority of the community when the early dismissals / late starts (and excessive substitutes...) are UNACCEPTABLE there must be consequences for these failures...

Anonymous said...

I too, naively thought teachers would be more vocal about the direction that our district has taken, but they have to be very careful. In private, you get clues to how they feel. It really stinks. All the "clues" I have gotten aren't positive.

I'm so tired of that phrase "going deeper into the material " etc. related to Common Core. Read a bit, and you'll probably discover it's all political, and a total farce! It's all POLITICAL-it's about controlling what your child learns-not a true measure of his/her education.

Several states are keeping their older assessments in place ( Mass.) because there is still too much uncertainity regarding PARCC - and what exactly it's measuring. Come on people-you've been lied to by many in this adminstration ( government) -do you really trust the architects of Common Core and PARCC? We are being treated as sheep.

Anonymous said...

I don't know what to think. The teachers have a union that should represent teacher concerns. It seemed the lack of professional development was discovered during the most recent negotiation. Isn't there a way for these concerns to be known on a yearly basis and are concerns truly communicated to the board or are they relying on the administration? Schneider seems to be worried about dismantling the system. What system is he talking about? He's the one who is dismantling the system and breaking it down. Why are we so unlucky?

jay_wick said...

Part ONE of TWO
While I do not wish to defend Common Core neither do I think that the short term goal of helping our district teachers or students weather this storm is helped by calling the entire effort a 'total farce'.

I have seen too many classrooms where, either out of frustration or a misguided effort to help students practice some specific skills, the students have been given very low quality "worksheets". The sad reality is even the most disciplined, self-directed learners will NOT benefit from low quality lists of exercises. It is quite clear that the best intentions of the folks behind Common Core, not just in math but in reading and science, tried to craft standards that would aim higher than such things.

Having experienced the formerly high quality instruction that students in our district were receiving PRIOR to concerns of Common Core and the implementation of L4A (which though related in TIME are truly NOT targeting the same ends...) I can say that our district has BACKSLID in using low quality instructional materials for mathematics in a dunder-headed in an effort to "compact for all".

In my experience our teachers have not resorted to similarly foolhardy efforts in reading / language arts. It is my belief that this has not happened because the teachers themselves are much more comfortable in this domain. The so-called "close reading" that is allegedly the emphasis of Common Core was already "standard" for most of our district's teachers.

To be blunt I have little reason to think that most of our district elementary teachers are other than exceeding literate people, who themselves read widely and model such behaviors effortlessly.

jay_wick said...

Part TWO of TWO
In contrast the so-called 'deeper understanding' of the Common Core math standards are really not all that different than the NCTM guidelines that have been in existence for over 20 years; the difference that negatively impacted our district was the reactionary move to prohibit overtly tiered math offerings. This was done NOT to satisfy any real 'requirement' of Common Core but to appease squeaky wheels who complained of social issues caused by such categorization.

In my view, if we had more "math specialists" that would have been able to articulate their understanding of how best to improve the mathematics mastery of ALL STUDENTS through appropriate groupings / placements we would never have gotten into the mess that we currently find ourselves mired in.

What causes me the MOST concern is the fact that on the current rudderless course that has been instituted by our new superintendent (and I assume the holdovers from the prior administration) there is no clear path to enable students reaching the same standing that they were previously able to achieve. The parents of current elementary school students can clearly see that they are behind where similarly able middle schoolers were under our older better system. It is outrageous that these students are being sacrificed and the long term harm that will befall our district cannot be overestimated.

To my way of thinking, the path forward should indeed include encouraging more teachers to acquire a deeper understanding of BOTH the content areas of more complex mathematics AS WELL AS becoming more fully versed in the neurological and epistemological underpinnings of learning.
How Classroom Teachers Can Benefit from Neuroscience & Epistemology and Theories of Learning

Ideally such knowledge in the repertoire of even a handful of teachers in each of our buildings would be a huge plus. These "math masters" could share with colleagues a vision that would be enough to give all our teachers the motivation to reject simplistic efforts to dumb down content. Such an effort is the best way to beat the promoters of PARCC at their silly gamed system -- we do not have a crumbling district with kids unable to make it in selective colleges. What we have been previously revered for is an ABUNDANCE of students that literally dominate the standardized tests and then go on to success at the most selective colleges imaginable. Nine District Students Earn Perfect ACT Scores & District Congratulates 41 National Merit Scholarship Finalists

Just as I believe ALL STUDENTS can and do benefit from our highly literate teachers that read for pleasure so to will ALL STUDENTS benefit from more teachers deeply versed in the most cutting edge understanding of how best to learn mathematics. While not every 8th grader will necessarily leave the district with a mastery of algebra only by ensuring the broadest foundation for EACH STUDENT can the district be confident that their needs have been met.

If we want to regain our lead in these areas we cannot do it under the yoke of someone whose goal is very different. What do critics say about teaching for social justice

Anonymous said...

In terms of professional development, we need to prioritize. All professional development at this point should be common core, zero for inclusion. 40 subs a day is not sustainable.

We need to have a serious discussion about inclusion and heterogenious classrooms moving at the same rate. Is this the learning vision of the boe? Does the community want this? Does the DATA support this? Can we economically support 2 teachers in each classroom with structural issues at HMS and a new senate bill looming?

The department of learning needs to be transparent about math. What is the plan? What is the path to Algebra I? Are we compacting? How are we grouping? Do the groups need to wait around to move to the next unit together (news flash - that is what is happening if you are paying attention. Is that what "diving deeper" was intended for?)? What is the end goal?

The administration needs to be honest with the fact that advanced learners are not having their needs met and they need to come up with a plan. Heterogenous classrooms moving at the same pace will not serve this population and will stunt the ultimate end goal for them and close doors to elite colleges. It is not fair to hold these students back simply because it makes others feel better to do so.

We need a director of assessment.

We need a director of curriculum with actual experience with general education and experience with a high performing district.

I'm ok with only having MAP once or twice a year, but you cannot eliminate the only constant data point we have. No sane organization would do that unless they wanted to get rid of benchmarks that offer accountability. We cannot allow this to happen. Schneider does not like MAP because it shows kids all fall on a bell curve and are not the same. He also does not like it because it shows that inclusion is a failure. We all know PARCC will not be a reliable indicator of performance. Wake up admin!

Somewhere along the way everyone has forgotten that we are a high performing district with high standards. We are not a touchy feely everyone the same, everyone equal social experiment. We are not a university. We are not a lab school. We are a public school in a conservative town. Right now parents are busy and oblivious to the changes, but when they wake up all you know what is going to break loose (just like with the math pilot). Mark my words.

jay_wick said...

I don't know how many folks that follow this blog also care about the operation of our associated high school, D86, but anyone that understands what really precipitated the ugliness earlier this fall should be aware there are still extremists running that BOE.

There is a crucial BOE meeting TONIGHT, Monday November 17, 7:00PM in the Cafeteria of Hinsdale Central High School, 5500 S Grant Street.
The levy for the upcoming year will be voted on.
The district 86 new CFO has prepared a detailed yet understandable overview of the entire tax picture.
In that presentation it is abundantly clear using projection based on the negotiated contract, a very modest increase of 1.5% in 'purchased services' and ZERO growth in either supplies or capital expenses the MINIMUM levy should be increased by 1.86% The Levy Effect| Bill Egan CFO See page 17.

The success of the development of commercial property near the intersection of Rt 83 and Plainfield Rd (which was done with a TIF district, also covered in the CFO's presentation ) means that residential property tax be will safely under the the Property Tax Cap if the D86 BOE decides to levy the full amount as recommended by their CFO -- D86 CFO Recommends Maximum Levy| Chicago Tribune November 7 2014

It is troubling (and undoubtedly the work of the Finance Cmt. headed by a known anti-tax activist on the BOE that touts his MBA) that the CFO's levy presentation includes scenarios that would leave the district severely underfunded. Further the potential impact of such insufficient levies on even home owners' with a Fair Market Value of $1M (which is rather uncommon in the district, but is in fact less than the value of aforementioned anti-tax extremist's home) would be about $40.00 per year , or the cost of two fewer carry-out coffee beverages per month...

Save our Schools -- Give radicals on the BOE a Gift Card!


jay_wick said...

The link into the the CFO's excellent presentation got messed up try this:

Levy Info D86 |Bill Eagan CFO

I have been involved in watching local governmental bodies try to make decisions about setting a fair levy for decades and this is one the clearest presentations I have ever come across.

The illustrations of how changes in assessment and the impact of TIF districts can result in temporarily elevated burden for individual home owners followed by potential reclamation of revenue is clearly shown.

I highly recommend folks review this info.

Anonymous said...

Bloggers: Look what I found. Can you please follow the trail?