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?