Sunday, December 20, 2015

Ho! Ho! Ho! First Christmas Present of the Season -- BOE Approves Placing a Whopping $65 Million Referendum Question on the March 2016 Ballot. This "Gift" to the D181 Taxpayers is the Result of a Masterful Bait and Switch Game!

Within one hour of this morning's Special Board meeting adjourning, D181's Communication Director sent out an email from "Don." It read in relevant part,

"This morning, we held a Special Board of Education meeting regarding the potential new construction of Hinsdale Middle School. Below is a brief highlight of the action taken today.

After Public Comment, representatives from Cordogan Clark and Associates (architects) and Pepper Construction (construction manager and cost estimator) outlined design options that were developed to reduce the estimate presented at the Board meeting held Monday, December 14. Board members then shared questions and comments regarding a number of related issues, including cost, design considerations, square footage, community views, etc. Following discussion, Board members voted to approve a resolution to place a $65 million referendum question on the ballot for community vote in the March 15, 2016 election (Vote 5-2; Nay: Gray, Giltner). Therefore, please note that we will be moving forward with a referendum for new construction of HMS."

The email ends stating that a more detailed board meeting summary will be issued next week. Well, we are so appalled at what transpired this morning that we aren't going to make our readers wait for the "official district communication" before publishing our commentary on the vote.  

Here goes:

The BOE has spoken. This morning, 5 board members -- Garg, Vorobiev, Burns, Clarin and Turek -- voted yes to place a $65 million referendum question on the March 2016 election ballot to raise funds for a new middle school. This vote comes, in our opinion, after a masterful Bait and Switch game that was played out right under the noses of 7 (or at least 6*) highly intelligent board members and the entire D181 taxpaying community by the administration and possibly the one lone board member who has a construction background. Only 2 board members realized this and tried to put a stop to it.  Before we elaborate, we want to give a HUGE SHOUT OUT of THANKS to Leslie Gray and Richard Giltner who were the only board members to let rationality, fiscal responsibility and thoughtfulness guide their NO votes. While they lost the vote this morning, they have earned the respect of all D181's taxpayers who know that their NO votes were the right votes.

Now on to the explanation of the Bait and Switch game.  

Healy Bender used to be the D181's "go to" architecture firm. In 2013, they prepared an Education Adequacy Analysis of the district's facilities and (per the discussion this morning) estimated that a new HMS would cost $65 million. However, less than 7 months ago, on June 1, 2015, the BOE decided to host a design competition and a Request for Proposal was released. As the D181 website states:

"On June 1, 2015 we sent a Request for Proposals (RFP) to a number of architectural firms with two goals: (1) to see design concepts for Hinsdale Middle School (HMS) showing renovation and new construction options, and (2) to receive cost estimates for those options. "  (Source:

Apparently, even though Healy had been the architect that over the last seventeen years designed earlier D181schools and renovations, they were not selected as the default firm to use for this project.  In fact, they did not even submit a design concept. We would surmise that this is in great part due to the sticker shock their 2013 $65 million estimate caused.  

So a design competition moved forward, fully supported by a Facilities Committee that worked for the last couple of years identifying and addressing district facilities needs at HMS and the 8 other schools.  Three firms submitted and subsequently presented design proposals to the community at public meetings held at the Hinsdale Public Library in September 2015.

Legat Architects' proposal projected a full cost in the amount of $ 56,541,533. (Source:

Wight and Company's proposal projected a full cost in the amount of $54,900,000.  (Source:

Cordogan Clark & Associates' proposal projected a full cost in the amount of $46,876,115. (Source:

After a back and forth debate over which of the three firms to select, controversy over the method the Facilities Committee used to rank the firms and delay by the BOE (which was warranted) in voting on which firm to select -- the BOE sent the rankings back to the facilities for further evaluation -- on October 19, 2015, the BOE picked Cordogan Clark & Associates.  

At that point in time, there was no discussion or concerns raised suggesting that the Cordogan proposal (or for that matter, any of the three) was significantly below the $65 million Healy estimate from 2013. After all, why would there be? The Cordogan proposal came in $18 million below the $65 million estimate!  No one -- not Ken Surma (Assistant Superintendent of Business and Operations administrator), Gary Clarin (Chair of the Facilities committee and with all his "expertise" in construction), any other Facilities committee member, Dr. White or any other BOE member questioned this amount or suggested that ANY of the proposals had missed the mark and were way too low. On the contrary, some board members raised concerns that there were aspects of the proposal that perhaps should be eliminated-- such as the auditorium -- in order to bring the costs down and create greater parity between a new HMS and the existing CHMS. A decision was made to move ahead to negotiate the architect contract and fees and bring the contract to the BOE for a vote at the November 9 board meeting. Clarin, Giltner and Ken Surma were tasked with negotiating the fees with Cordogan Clark & Associates.

At the November 9, 2016 meeting, the contract and architect fees were still being negotiated, so the BOE was unable to vote to approve the contract.  Of significance, however, was that there was absolutely no indication that the original costs of a new HMS floated by Cordogan were about to sky rocket. Instead, a Special Meeting was called for November 19 to further discuss the upcoming tax levy and the contract with Cordogan. On November 19, however, there was further delay.  Only 4 board members were available to attend the meeting and those who were present were not given enough time to review the proposed contract. So once again, the vote on the fee contract was tabled, this time for nearly one additional month until the December 14 meeting at which the BOE was also scheduled to decide whether to go to referendum next March. Yet again, on November 19, there was no indication that Cordogan's projected costs were about to escalate dramatically from the original $47 million proposal.

Then came December 14 -- ah yes, a date that will live in infamy.....the date when the $73 million bomb was dropped on both the BOE and the taxpaying community, along with an agenda item calling for the BOE to decide that night whether to go to referendum. We won't rehash the shock and awe expressed by community members and FOUR board members -- Gray, Giltner, Vorobiev and Burns -- at the 55% increase in total project costs, as well as the disgust over the "Data Dump" dropped on them at the eleventh hour by the administration.  As one reader commented earlier today, until that date, the administration -- A.K.A. Dr. White -- had publicly represented that he expected the cost of the project to be LOWER than any one of the design concepts submitted by the 3 firms and at no time suggested that the costs would or should be HIGHER or closer to the $65 million Healy Bender estimate.

Here is part of what the commenter submitted:

"Portion of Anonymous Comment:  For confirmation of the hypocrisy shown by Dr. White during this morning’s meeting, please read the following article published in the Hinsdale Doings on September 12, 2015:

Here's the relevant quote:  

"District 181 initially estimated the cost of building a new school at $65 million; however, estimates from the architects were $47 million to $57 million from Legat Architects and about $50 million from both Cordogan Clark & Associates, and Wight & Company. "I think the ultimate cost will be even lower," White said. "None of the proposals from the three architects are going to be built exactly as proposed. Things will be tweaked, and I'm sure there will be things in their proposals that we won't do, which will reduce costs."
Yet today Dr. White made a point of asserting that $65 million has always been the target $ amount."

December 19, 2015 at 8:44 PM

At last Monday's (12/14) board meeting, there was still no talk of the Healy Bender $65 million estimate. In fact, we have reviewed all the board meeting summaries since the design competition was held and we have not found a single reference to the Healy Bender $65 million estimate being part of the BOE discussions held as it contemplated eliminating some of the features Cordogan had included its original designs. Instead, last Monday Dr. White acknowledged that the plans had grown and were now more costly as a result of meetings Cordogan held with HMS teachers, after which the building square footage increased, and new bells and whistles were added.  As he stated, some of the increases were wants, not needs, that the teachers had identified.  

As a result of the sudden skyrocketing costs, a majority of the BOE refused to vote to go to referendum until it had more time to process and discuss all of the new information. However, because of the statutory deadline it was facing to approve referendum language prior to December 28, in order to get it on the March 2016 election ballot, and the desire of all board members to participate in a meeting, the only available date was four days later -- December 19.  In the short time frame between the meetings, the BOE tasked Dr. White with meeting with the architects and HMS staff to try and bring the costs down. There was reference to the "survey" the community took, including a maximum referendum cost of $65 million, but this was NOT given as a justification for the skyrocketing costs, nor was there any discussion that in fact the costs were as predicted by the Healy Bender 2013 estimate.  

At some point in time between the 12/14 and 12/19 meeting, the administration gave the BOE new documentation on Options A and B.  These options brought the $73 million price tag down slightly --   Option A would have cost $66,451,803.  Option B would have cost $63,709,009. The community got to see those options for the first time on Thursday. However, suddenly late Friday, an additional Data Dump was posted on Board Docs that included documentation regarding the Healy Bender $65 million estimate.  That's right, last night.  Which of course means that the BOE probably didn't get it before then either.  This could explain Board Member Giltner's comment today that this second Data Dump prevented Board Members from having enough time to process all the new information before the Special Meeting.

During the BOE meeting today --  for the first time -- the focus suddenly shifted to justifying new Options A and B costs by stating that they are in line with Healy Bender's $65 million estimate.  Suddenly Dr. White was no longer surprised or concerned about the inflated costs, which Board Member Gray appropriately pointed out were still 1/3 greater than the number she and other board members had been relying upon as the total project costs. Suddenly, Board Member Vorobiev was no longer concerned (as she had been on 12/14) with the huge cost increase. Nor was Board Member Burns concerned enough with the hugely inflated costs to vote with Gray and Giltner to slow down the process so it could be properly vetted before going to a public referendum vote. The magic $65 million number was suddenly acceptable and palatable to 5 board members.

Yes, the Bait and Switch was complete. A triumph for whoever the mastermind was who came up with this successful strategy. Sure, people wanted a NEW, not a RENOVATED HMS. But people were aghast in 2013 at the suggestion that a NEW HMS would cost $65 million. So the administration led the board to hold a design competition. The concepts -- all of them -- were well below the $65 million, but still very expensive and filled with Taj Mahal qualities that would create unfair disparities between the new HMS and existing CHMS.  All the while the BOE was pushing for additional designs that would show how to reduce the overall costs and possibly eliminate certain extravagances -- such as a running track and auditorium -- it appears that behind the scenes the opposite was taking place. The scope of the project was growing, not shrinking, and the costs were shooting through the roof.

In order for a majority of the BOE to take the BAIT, it is our opinion that the costs were pushed well above the $65 million mark to $73 million.  And then came the SWITCH.  Fast financial fingers and rapid fire changes in the four days between the 12/14 and 12/19 meeting brought the numbers of two NEW options down to either $66,451,803 or $63,709,009.  

And now for the magic of numbers. 

If you add $66,451,803 and $63,709,009 and then divide the sum by 2, guess what number you get? 

Voila! You get $65,080,406!

As if by magic, you get $65 million -- the magical original Healy Bender number!! And guess what happened this morning?  Once it was clear that a majority of the BOE had fallen for the Healy Bender argument, someone -- oh yes it was Turek -- suggested that the BOE simply accept $65 million as the amount it  should approve to go to referendum for.

Yes, the Bait and Switch was complete.  

We will leave it to our readers to decide if you think this kind of ploy is acceptable in D181. Notwithstanding all the delays, costs changes and shenanigans that preceded today's vote, we are hard pressed to believe that any of you will find what took place under all our noses as something that should be blindly accepted by the community.

As an old saying goes, "Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me."

How many of you will allow the administration and board majority to continue fooling the community?

* We leave it to our readers to decide who on the board is not highly intelligent.

Friday, December 18, 2015

NEW AND UPDATED Cost Information for Hinsdale Middle School Now Posted on Board Docs

We the bloggers have temporarily come out of retirement with this short post.  As everyone knows, tomorrow morning the Board of Education will hold an unprecedented Saturday morning meeting (9 a.m. at the Administration Center) to further discuss, and possibly approve, going to referendum next March to raise funds for a new Hinsdale Middle School.

Dr. White's updated report, in which he recommends the board approve going to referendum, can be accessed at the following link:$file/BOE%20Report_Potential%20Construction%20of%20a%20New%20HMS%2015-12-19.pdf

An updated power point presentation on the costs of the new building, as well as two new cost options, can be accessed at the following three links:

Power Point:$file/HMS%20BOE%20mtg%2012-19-15%20FINAL%20BK3.pdf

Option A:$file/SD%20181%20Hinsdale%20MS%20Budget%20Summary%20Option%20A%20Revised%20121715.pdf

Option B:$file/SD%20181%20Hinsdale%20MS%20Budget%20Summary%20Option%20B%20Revised%20121715.pdf

As you can see the hefty $73 million price tag has been neatly trimmed to a still outrageous amount in both options.  Option A will cost $66,451,803.  Option B will cost $63,709,009.

We will not get into the details of what has been slashed out of the original $73,000,000. Rather, we will simply point out the obvious. D181 taxpayers are all being taken on a crazy roller coaster ride.  The price goes up and down and up and down. Fast and furiously, we are spinning out of control on this ride, and we don't know what the next curve or hill will reveal. There is absolutely no reason for any taxpayer in the communities feeding into D181 to believe for one minute that either of the numbers presented in these options are solid, final numbers.

One month ago, we thought the BOE had selected an architect firm that wasn't the most expensive, but was still going to charge upwards of $45 million for a brand new school that the administration and certain board members marveled would be a crown jewel. Some in the community, and wiser board members (Gray, Burns and Giltner), thought the design was too extravagant and would cause unfair disparity between CHMS and HMS. Rather than deal with the disparity issues, the project plans became even more extravagant and the cost ballooned to the projected $73 million discussed at last Monday's board meeting. Faced with the obvious public dismay and sticker shock caused by the 55% inflation over earlier projections, the administration has scrambled to make it right, but only after four board four board members (Gray, Burns, Giltner and Vorobiev) insisted from the outset of the meeting that this was simply too much money to ask the taxpayers to fund. Board President Garg came around at the end of the meeting to join the four board members, but Clarin and Turek seemed comfortable approving a $73,000,000 referendum questions.

Now the revamped numbers have been released and we are left asking, is this a joke?Does the administration really think that it can slice off $7,000,000 (Option A) or$10,000,000 (Option B) in just three days and expect the BOE to be comfortable that either option is the right path to follow and that the new projections are accurate? At the end of the day, both of these options are still $20,000,000 more than community members were led to believe we would have to pay for a new school. The bait and switch tactic that the administration has pulled on the board and community  is unconscionable.

We urge all community members to attend tomorrow's board meeting and let the administration know how you really feel, before the BOE votes on whether or not the time is right -- and more importantly -- the price is right to go to referendum in less than three months. Hopefully, rational minds will prevail at tomorrow morning's meeting and the board will halt the roller coaster ride and get back to the drawing board.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Comment of the Day: The New Hinsdale Middle School Could Cost $73 Million! More than $20 Million Previously Projected and Represented to the Community.

Well, well, well.  Look at the comment we just received.  It shocked us when we read it, but it's true.  All we can say is that there is NO WAY we, the bloggers, will support a $73 Million Dollar middle school when CHMS was built less than 15 years ago for less than $20 million.  As always:  SPEAK OUT!

Comment of the Day:

AnonymousYvonne Mayer said...
Bloggers: Have you seen the Cost Estimate for the new HMS that was posted on board docs today? The school could cost as much as $73 MILLION! Here is the link:$file/HMS%20Cost%20Estimate%20DRAFT%20Executive%20Summary%2012-13-15.pdf

This is over $20 million more than the public has been told the building would cost. Please post this as a free standing post! The community has a right to know this.
December 13, 2015 at 3:31 PM

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Comment of the Day: 6th Grade Advanced Math Students' Parents Notified of Student Struggles; Common Core/Big Ideas Blamed rather than the Learning for All/Advanced Learning Plan

Yesterday and today we received the following comments informing us of a letter that 6th Grade Middle School Advanced Math students' parents received this week.  (UPDATED to include HMS letter.) The comments speak for themselves.  Our only eye-rolling comment is, ARE YOU SURPRISED?  We are not, since this latest move by the administration -- like a spinning top out of control -- is exactly the kind of blind eyed refusal to acknowledge the real cause of the students' math struggles.  Nothing is going to change unless Dr. White holds the Department of Learning administrators who were here from the initiation of the Advanced Learning/Learning for All Plan accountable.  In our opinion, there is only one way to do that at this point and that is to fire them or not renew their contracts.  Anything short of this should result in the Board of Education firing Dr. White, a step they can easily take under the no-cause provision in his contract.  

As always, SOUND OFF!


Anonymous said...

Bloggers: Have you seen copies of the letters sent from the Middle School Principals to the parents of advanced math students? According to the letter I received from Principal Sonntag, there are many students struggling and they are proposing to offer assessment and tutoring to these students. Remember, this is the class that lived through the failed Learning For All plan as it was initially rolled out when these students were in 3rd grade. Every student was accelerated a full grade, ability tiers were eliminated and Everyday Math materials were pushed to the side in favor of DOL created curriculum. Of course, none of these facts are outlined in the letter. Instead, Mr. Sonntag blames only Common Core and the new materials. These things are not the cause of the students problems, they are just making a bad situation worse. We have to remember that MR. Sonntag was one of the key members of the Advanced Learning Task Force that was responsible for continuing and expanding this disaster of a plan. A plan that has failed so many students and teachers from Grades 3-8. Come on Mr. Sonntag, let's tell parents the truth about what has really happened to their students so that they can get them the help that they need in time for high school. Hiding the facts hurts students. HMS parents did you receive a similar letter from Mr. Pena?
Bloggers: Here is a copy of the letter CHMS 6th grade advanced students received. I have deleted the teachers' names because I don't think they need to be identified on this blog. I agree that this letter raises many concerns, in particular, it is ridiculous that D181, such a high achieving district, is blaming Common Core for the problems this group of students is experiencing. The lunacy of that suggestion proves once and for all that the administrators running the department of learning are delusional and need to be fired en masse. Everyone with half a brain knows that the problems this GUINEA PIG cohort of students is having in math is a direct result of the Advanced Learning/Learning for All Plan, and yet those "plans" are not even mentioned in the letter. I wonder if the full BOE or Learning Committee were made aware of these issues before the letter was sent out. I would bet any amount of money that they were not. What a shame if this blog has now become their source of information. It should make them all realize that the administration cannot be trusted.

"Dear CHMS Parents of Students enrolled in 6th Grade Advanced Math (7th Grade Common Core),
The CHMS Administration and Math Department would like to address some of the concerns that have been expressed regarding the 6th Grade Advanced (7th Grade Common Core) math class and our plan to support students whose performance fell below expectations in these classes moving forward. Thank you to parents who have asked questions or shared concerns through our PTO meetings and our Math Coffeetalk a couple of weeks ago.
I want to start by saying that XXXXXXX and XXXXXXX are doing an exceptional job teaching our students. I can’t say enough about how proactive, flexible and positive each of them has been meeting students where they are at and helping them move forward. We are very fortunate to have them teaching math at CHMS.

I think it is important to note the following grades were achieved during 1st quarter in 6th Grade Advanced Math: 37% earned A’s, 43% earned B’s, 19% earned C’s, 1% earned D’s. I am providing this information simply to provide context and information for this discussion as I have heard misinformation being reported. The vast majority of our students are proving successful (80% achieved an A or B during 1st quarter), and for these students, we need to maintain the pacing and rigor of the course. Remember, successful completion of this math course and the 7th Grade Advanced Math class will result in students taking high school Algebra as an 8th grade student at CHMS.
Some additional background information is important as well. As we continue to transition to the Common Core Math Standards, we are moving away from only memorizing how to compute math problems. The Common Core Math Standards support traditional algorithms and why and how the algorithms work. Last spring, District 181 adopted Big Ideas as a math resource that includes a component that teachers can use to explore concepts and teach the conceptual understanding behind the concept. These activities (or explorations) are provided by Big Ideas for each math lesson. Each activity begins with an essential question and students are given time to work with a partner. From there, the students may lead a mathematical discussion with the class. The activities promote curiosity, communication, perseverance, and learning. At times, these explorations may be frustrating to students that have been taught math through lecture for many years. Students are not expected to understand a concept based upon the activity alone. The activity is just one part of the multi-pronged lesson. Teachers spend approximately 3 – 5 days to work through one math lesson, depending on the concept and how quickly the students are understanding it. The additional time for each lesson allows teachers to teach mathematical proficiency, including conceptual understanding, computational fluency, and application.
Students are assessed throughout a chapter using formative assessments. Formative assessments are learning checks to tell our teachers if the students are learning what they are supposed to be learning. Some examples of these are mini-quizzes, exit slips, online homework, and accuracy checks. Our goal is to assess students for this mathematical proficiency during their learning. In addition, our chapter tests look different than they did in past years because deeper, essential questions from some activities and conceptual understanding questions are being included, often in short answer form. In a nutshell, students are being asked to do more than memorize and do the math. They are being asked to explain what they did and why they did it to show a deeper understanding.
At CHMS, we administered a short assessment assessing the prerequisite skills that would help students be successful with the new skills they are learning in chapter 3. Each student will come home (today) with a printed report showing their performance on this assessment. If your child does not come home with this today, please email me and we can send you a PDF of the report. For students who struggled with one or more standard on this test, we have put together a short list of resources that students can access from home to help them master these skills. The list of resources is attached to this email and contains links to IXL Lessons and Khan Academy videos. Students are not required to do this work over Thanksgiving Break, but we wanted to get the information to you prior to break in case this is a time that your child can devote to some review.
After Thanksgiving Break, students in the 6th grade advanced math classes at both CHMS and HMS will administer a more comprehensive assessment of all of the sixth grade standards. We will use the results of this assessment to help guide our future instruction. For standards in which most of the class struggled, we will use class time to review and make sure that students have the skills they need to be successful. For skills that were challenging for only a handful of students, we will look at other options for filling these gaps. One option will be a self-guided set of resources, like the one we are providing for Chapter 3. We will also explore options such as after school support and/or a math lab class in place of encore classes. Finally, for some students who show significant gaps in their math knowledge, we may recommend that 6th grade standard math is a more appropriate placement after attempting to fill in these gaps.
Thank you for all of the support you have already provided your children, and for your patience and support as we work through how to best meet our students’ needs. We are excited about the plans we are putting in place, and we look forward to watching your children continue to learn and grow in math this year.
Please utilize the resources at the link below if your child needs them.
Griffin L. Sonntag, Principal
6th Grade Chapter 3 Prerequisite Skills Assessment Resources.docx
Bloggers: Here is the HMS version. I too have redacted the teacher's name. I wasn't planning to send this to you, but since it is so radically different than the CHMS version, I thought the community should see it. I ask, why would the HMS version be so much shorter? Can you update the Comment of the Day to include this?

November 20, 2015

Dear HMS Parents of Students Enrolled in 6th Grade Advanced Math (7th Grade Common Core),

The HMS Administration and Math Department would like to address some of the concerns that have been expressed regarding the 6th Grade Advanced (7th Grade Common Core) math class and our plan to support students whose performance fell below expectations in these classes moving forward. Thank you to parents who have asked questions or shared concerns with either teachers or administrators.

I want to start by saying that XXXXXX is doing an exceptional job teaching our students. I can’t say enough about how proactive, flexible and positive she has been meeting students where they are at and helping them move forward. We are very fortunate to have her teaching math at HMS.

I think it is important to note the following grades were achieved during 1st quarter in 6th Grade Advanced Math: 31.5% earned A’s, 44.4% earned B’s, 21.3% earned C’s, and 2.8% earned D or below. I am providing this information simply to provide context and information for this discussion. The majority of our students are proving successful (75.9% achieved an A or B during 1st quarter), and for these students, we need to maintain the pacing and rigor of the course. Remember, successful completion of this math course and the 7th Grade Advanced Math class will result in students taking high school Algebra as an 8th grade student at HMS.

Students are assessed throughout a chapter using formative assessments. Formative assessments are learning checks to tell our teachers if the students are learning what they are supposed to be learning. Some examples of these are mini-quizzes, exit slips, homework, and accuracy checks. Our goal is to assess students for this mathematical proficiency during their learning. Students are being asked to do more than memorize and do the math. They are being asked to explain what they did and why they did it to show a deeper understanding.

After Thanksgiving Break, students in the 6th grade advanced math classes at both CHMS and HMS will administer an assessment of all of the sixth grade standards. We will use the results of this assessment to help guide our future instruction. For standards in which most of the class struggled, we will use class time to review and make sure that students have the skills they need to be successful. For skills that were challenging for only a handful of students, we will look at other options for filling these gaps. One option will be a self-guided set of resources, such as IXL lessons and Khan Academy videos. We will also explore options such as after school support and/or a math lab class. Finally, for some students who show significant gaps in their math knowledge, we may recommend that 6th grade standard math is a more appropriate placement after attempting to fill in these gaps.

Thank you for all of the support you have already provided your children, and for your patience and support as we work through how to best meet our students’ needs. We are excited about the plans we are putting in place, and we look forward to watching your children continue to learn and grow in math this year.


Ruben Pena, Principal

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Comment of The Day: Former BOE Member Calls for Board Action and Accountability of D181 Administrators

This morning we received the following comment from former Board Member Yvonne Mayer that was a copy of a letter she sent to the Board of Education last night.  We agree with the points she has raised regarding the negative impact the Advanced Learning Plan/Learning for All Plan has had on D181's advanced learners and the need for the BOE to take action this year.  As always, SOUND OFF!

Yvonne Mayer said...

Bloggers: I am submitting (in several parts) a letter I emailed the Board of Education last night. After attending the Learning Committee meeting earlier this month and listening to the podcast of Monday's BOE meeting in which curriculum and data was discussed, I felt compelled to express my disappointment and anger.

Dear Board of Education Members:

I write to you today as a former Board Member who voted to approve the Advanced Learning Plan. Out of respect for my former status as an elected representative, parent of four D181 graduates and fourteen year resident, I hope that despite the negative opinions some of you have of me, that you will each read this entire email and carefully consider its content. While some of what I will say is harsh and critical, in my opinion, there is no benefit at this point in holding anything back. The district's reputation of providing the highest quality instruction for all students is teetering on the brink of destruction because of the continuing harm caused to advanced learners by the Administration's refusal to identify and implement changes needed to reverse their academic decline resulting from the Advanced Learning/Learning for All Plans.

As you know, and as I have publicly reminded Mr. Turek since my term ended, I voted yes to approve the Advanced Learning Plan (despite expressing concerns about the plan and how it might negatively impact the district's highest achievers) because I wanted the administration to have a unanimous vote that they would take seriously. My naive expectation was that they would collect and analyze performance data to ensure that the "Raise the Floor to Raise the Ceiling" plan would actually benefit ALL D181 students. Following the vote, Mr. Turek personally thanked me for being a team player and assured me that he would make sure the data was collected and analyzed and there would be accountability.

Fast forward 3 1/2 years to Monday night's BOE meeting. The data presented to six of you on Monday night (and which was presented earlier this month at the Learning Committee meeting which I attended) established that math students performing in the top 10 percent (using Dr. Larson's virtual MAP analysls) in grades 4, 5, 6 and 8 have not met their growth targets. As Board Members Gray, Garg and Burns pointed out, the conclusion must be that the math programs implemented over the last four years have not benefited them. As Jill Quinones, an educator and parent on the Learning Committee, pointed out during closing public comment, the district is worse off today that when she moved here 15 years ago, because of the elimination of programs offered to advanced learners to meet their needs. (I urge Board Member Vorobiev to listen to the entirety of last night's meeting.)

t has been six years since a qualified Assessment Director (Dr. Strykowski) worked in D181, a position that was unfortunately eliminated at Dr. Schuster's recommendation when the BOE cut $5 million from the budget. It took six years before a qualified assessment director -- Dr. Larson -- with actual educational training in statistical analysis, was hired. In three short months she has thrown herself into her work, analyzed the performance data and publicly informed you and the entire D181 community of the lack of growth shown by the district's advanced learners in Grades 4, 5, 6 and 8.

It took Dr. Larson to analyze and explain the data, that as Board Member Gray highlighted, proves that the advanced learners in the 6th grade class have shown the most stagnation in meeting their performance goals in math. And you all know that this 6th grade class is the guinea pig class (as it has been referred to by concerned community members) that was subjected to the experimentation, acceleration for all, one size fits all, "socially just" curriculum changes in the Advanced Learning/Learning for All Plans.

Further, it took Dr. Larson to inform you that the way MAP data has been presented to you over the last several years -- Fall to Fall and by quintiles -- was inappropriate and essentially useless, and that what should have been analyzed is Fall to Spring data, using a Virtual Comparison group method. As I listened to Dr. Larson's explanation during the Learning Committee and BOE meetings, it made me very angry to realize that the assessment administrators that were promoted to that position during Dr. Schuster's superintendency, and were renewed and/or further promoted by Dr. White, were unaware Fall to Fall reports were inappropriate and never once proposed the use of the Virtual Comparison group method.

As concerned community members, including myself, have pointed out to you over and over again, D181 should have been filling administrative positions with qualified and experienced individuals, rather than with individuals who had to learn on the job, and had no educational expertise in statistical analysis or general and advanced learning curricula. Over the last four years, the district paid over $500,000 in salaries to assessment administrators who did not analyze the data correctly, yet there has been zero accountability for their failure to do so.

Over the last three years, the district paid more than $500,000 in salaries to administrators who rolled out programs that I and former Board member Heneghan kept arguing were not ground in best practice research or supporting data. You all are aware of recently released public records that show that the "best practice research" and power points presented to the BOE in support of the Advanced Learning for All Plan were virtually non-existent. Yet no one has been held accountable.

It has been nearly four years since the radical curriculum changes were rolled out that ignored Dr. Moon's recommendation that what actually needed fixing was the identification method being used to place students into advanced learning and gifted classes, and expansion of the advanced learning programs so that these students' needs would be met every day. It has taken 4 years for the data on the "socially just" programs to be analyzed by a qualified statistician and data analyst. It has taken FOUR years for a candid presentation on the findings of this data to be presented followed by an actual discussion by the board members.

It is, therefore, sad (not to mention infuriating) that despite Mr. Turek's personal promise to me that he would insist on proper data collection and analysis in order for the BOE to be able to effectively evaluate the Advanced Learning Plan as it rolled out, that last night he came off as a boorish, angry, defiant bully who wanted to ignore the harsh conclusions that you ALL should have reached following Dr. Larson's presentation. The conclusion? That D181 has utterly failed the advanced learners ever since the Advanced Learning Plan was implemented.

Yet instead of all of you who were in attendance supporting Board Member Gray, Garg and Burns' concerns about the implications of the data, and then turn to the administration to present what steps they are going to take to fix the programs THIS YEAR, Mr. Turek tried to minimize the data analysis. Equally disappointing was Board Member Giltner's suggestion that additional changes to the curriculum to address the underperformance of the district's advance learners should be delayed until more data is collected.  

The time to act is NOW, not six months from now or one year from now. How many more years must D181's young learners have to wait for a program that actually meets each of their individual needs? How many more years must go by before all seven of you acknowledge that the dismantlement of the gifted program was a huge mistake that needs to be rectified this year. How many students have to NOT LEARN at their potential and NOT GROW during an academic year before you realize that the district has come full circle to where it was when Dr. Moon was hired to evaluate the gifted programs?

The flexible ability groups that you directed the administration to implement last spring as a first step to address the problem (which was becoming evident even before Dr. Larson's full data analysis) is not enough. The manner in which the administration has chosen to implement your directive is unrealistic. As pointed out by another parent during public comment last night, the administration has set cut off's that have most likely resulted in the exclusion of many advanced learners who should be learning at a faster pace or higher level in math than grade level. The cut-offs make no sense and I would ask you to direct the administration to explain what data was used (and how best practices were followed to analyze the data) to select the cut-offs.

As pointed out last night, the district has gone from identifying 1/3 of its students as needing acceleration to one where only students who have proven that they are already two years ahead in math can receive ONE year of acceleration. In other words, even these few students will not learn anything new if one applies your identification standards. Admission into any type of accelerated math program has become even more exclusive that the gifted program criticized by Dr. Moon. And yet the administration doesn't seem to be concerned about this fact.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Comment of the Day: D181 Survey on Strategic Planning Goes Live. All D181 Residents Should Take the Time to Complete the Survey.

Today we are publishing one of our comments to the last post as the Comment of the Day.  We encourage all D181 residents to take the D181 Strategic Planning Survey between now and November 8.  After you have taken the online survey, please SOUND OFF on this blog and let us know the types of answers and narrative comments you gave on the survey.

The Parents said...
Everyone who lives in D181 should take the online Strategic Planning Survey that went live today. It can be found at the following website page and clicking on the Survey link on the right hand side of the page:  
It went live today and is available through November 8.

For once the district has created a useful survey that will allow community members to give real feedback about the district in the following areas: Quality of Education (now and compared to the past), the Learning Environment (this including whether the district is leading our children in the right direction -- this allows for narrative feedback on the current curriculum programs in the district), Communication and community relations, Governance and operations, your district priorities, your vision (for the future) of the district, and KEY to the present -- whether or not you would support building a new Hinsdale Middle School.

We bloggers want to thank BOE member Jennifer Burns who is on the Strategic Planning Committee and who has been working with the strategic planning firm on the survey questions. We appreciate the real effort this survey makes in asking straight forward questions on the State of the District and what parents really want for their children's education.

The only question we are somewhat disappointed in is the HMS question. Rather than simply ask the responder to say if they will vote YES or NO if the referendum question is on the March 2016 ballot, the question provides you four options -- Definitely No, Probably No, Probably Yes, Definitely Yes. This will, in our opinion, create enough wiggle room to allow the administration to spin the responses. Unless people simply say they will vote No, the administration will paint a probably no as a possible yes, thus skewing the results.

Finally, we want to point out that the learning environment question is a good one because it asks you to rate whether or not the administration is making decisions in the best interests of the students. For all parents who believe the social justice, learning for all program has hurt your kids, this is your chance to let the Administration know how disappointed you are in their decisions.

Spread the word to all your neighbors that this is a real opportunity to SOUND OFF to the administration and BOE!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Comment of the Day: Before D181 Goes to Referendum, The Public Has A Right to Have ALL Options on HMS Fully Vetted and Priced Out

We have decided to publish the following comment we received today as the Comment of the Day.  It raises questions and concerns we believe deserve to be addressed by the D181 Administration and Board of Education.  As always, SOUND OFF!

Anonymous said...
The whole process of choosing an architect for HMS reminds me of the process the district used when they hastily decided to tear down all the successful curricular work of previous administrations build the brand new Learning for All plan. It also reminds me of the flawed way the Department of Learning run its math pilots the last 2 years. The few parents that showed up for Board meetings could tell that all BOE members didn't really seem to comprehend the details of LFA and math pilots - probably because none were given. Alternatives options to tweak or improve the current systems were not offered. When people asked for details and data to support the innovative plans, or inquired about the ramifications to students, the administration promised answers and success. None ever appeared. When the public looked on the website for details about the new plans, none were there. Since no one ever showed up to challenge the administration, the BOE felt compelled to submit to the the superintendents. The Learning for All Plan and the math pilots passed, and our kids are still suffering through the kinks. Yet the district refuses to address the growing pains they created in the curriculum, ignores the falling test results, and instead, wants to spend all our money building a new $60 million dollar school? We just spent $2 million on HMS last year. Why would we through that investment away? Our children are more important to us than a new school.

By denying the public the opportunity to see specific costs and visuals of remodeled schools, the administration is telling us again that they will not negotiate with us. They have limited our options, asked for 40% more money to finance a new build rather than remodel, yet expect full support. I don't know about you, but $24 million extra for the same size school in the same bad location is more than I am willing to hand over to the same folks who brought us Learning for All. If we do not explore and negotiate the best way to improve HMS before we hand over the checkbook, and provide these details to the public in writing, the BOE will be making the same, unanimous mistake they made when they allowed LFA to pass years ago.

HMS already is functional, it just needs some tweaking. Maybe the neglect in maintaining HMS for such a long period of time was the reason why the district was so successful academically back then. All of our resources were concentrated on providing the best education possible for students. The main mistake the lighthouse era people seemed to have made is that they did not Obviously, structural needs should not have been ignored, but do we really want to swing the pendulum so far away from educational excellence and spend all of our time and energy on a building a physically excellent new school? The Learning for All plan has been far more costly than ever expected. Especially since it occurred during the time we should have been preparing for the Common Core. The district's heart is in the right place by wanting to build a new school, but if we continue to allow such an expensive, poorly conceived project to occur in our district again, the results will be even more harmful. Before board members begin choosing architects and pulling permits, please slow down and consider all of our options. Show us what a remodel would look like. Tell us how much land we need, and how much other properties are. Make this information public. How much money could we make if we sold HMS' current property? Give us exact estimates, models, and time frames for the cost of a remodel before we decide to dismantle the district again. Now is not the time to build a new school or plan referendums. But it is the time to fix the mess the academic problems this administration created.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Comment of the Day: Building a New HMS Will Not Solve D181's Problems.

We feel compelled to post the following 2 part comment we just received as a Comment of the Day. It is exactly how many in the community feel and it is exactly what the BOE and Dr. White need to read and process before they foolishly "move forward" with a March 2016 referendum.  Sound Off!
Anonymous said...
To believe that somehow a new HMS will suddenly turn our administrators into qualified, competent leaders is ridiculous. Building a multi million dollar school is not going to suddenly make our children understand their new math books better. Nor will it explain why our kids's test scores are falling while the amount of time they spend on homework is rising. The vision and priorities of the superintendent are off course. The BOE needs to immediately halt their plans for a new school and instead:

1) Address academic, student, and curricular needs of students and teachers.

The Department of Learning is failing miserably. Test scores and confusion in the classrooms prove it.

2) Cut the administrative fat that is draining the largest piece of our financial pie: salaries, benefits, and pensions.

Our neighbors, Western Springs, have higher test scores. Obviously their leadership did a better job of preparing the teachers for common core than our district did. While our administration was focusing on experimental math pilots and the elimination of flexible grouping, WS district focused on teaching students what they needed to know in order to be better prepared for the new standardized testing. Why was WS able to do this so quickly without the struggles that our administrators seem to be having? Address academic and student needs, and demand results before administrators ever utter another word about building a new HMS. The only exception to this is improving the facility for immediate safety concerns.

3) Address Safely Issues.

Fix the Drop off lane at HMS. Immediately widen the parent drop off area at HMS to accommodate parents to stop and drop off children, while another lane of parents can drive by. The back up onto Garfield is dangerous and causes a great deal of traffic congestion during the early morning commute. Commuters are rushing to catch the train and are not concerned about driving slowly and cautiously to watch out for 11 and 12 year olds. Lock the back door of HMS that is on the north side of the building. Downtown Hinsdale.
Anonymous said...

4) Help teachers learn how to communicate with parents better.

Last week, HMS parents were only given information about a field trip on the same day that the field trip began. It arrived after kids were already in school. Recently, all HMS parents were emailed information about a teacher, but what the administration didn't tell all parents was that that same week Police and ambulance were called to HMS for a safety issue related only to student behavior that required an entire classroom of students to be evacuated. A new school will not correct the the information stream to parents.

5) Correct the bully D181 culture in which teachers and administrator's opinions carry more weight than those of parents, students, and taxpayers.
Parents trusted the district 5 - 20 years ago because the results were better and the costs were lower. Private schools and tutors were cheaper. Kids weren't always stressed out from homework and testing. Children went to middle school and high school prepared. Now, the expenses are through the roof, and the scores are lower than ever. Yet admin has the nerve to ask us for more money to build a $65 million school? And they call our children privileged? Dr. White sounded like a whiny kid complaining about his chores. The secret to earning parent trust is honesty, follow through, and most importantly, successful results. We don't need a brand new school, but it becoming obvious that we need brand new administrators. We expect our money to be spent on education, not buildings. The biggest problem facing our district is not facilities - it is The Department of Learning. Before we waste any more time, money, and energy on a new school, figure out how to fix the learning environment going on inside of it. Right now, all I see is a bully district who steamrolls its way over all of us in order to earn generous salaries that they have not earned and distract us from the real issues. Building a fancy new school will not improve our children's educations.

Monday, October 19, 2015

10/19/15 BOE Meeting -- HMS Architecture Firm Selected and more.....SOUND OFF!

A little while ago we received the following comment:

Anonymous said...
Bloggers: Can you create a free standing post to address matters discussed during tonight's (10/19/150 BOE meeting? And can you move the comments you have received so far regarding the board docs to that post?
Everyone should check out board questions - wow
Anonymous said...
So let me get this straight. Earlier this summer Dr. White split Dr. Schneider's job as Asst Sup. of the entire Dept. of Learning back into 2 positions. Dr. Schneider got a raise while also losing some of his job responsibilities -- his new title became Asst. Sup. of Dept. of Learning PPS (which everyone understood to mean he would be running the Special Education department). The rest of the Dept. of Learning -- curriculum and instruction -- was to be supervised by the newly re-created Asst. Sup of Dept. Of Learning - Curriculum and Instruction. Dr. Tornatore was hired as the interim Asst. Sup. to oversee the Dept. of Learning Curriculum and Instruction. There were, however, references to Dr. Schneider working alongside Dr. Tornatore in the Dept. of Learning and this was very troubling to many parents in our community.

I and other parents, have spoken to parents who brought met with Dr. White at the end of the summer to discuss serious concerns related to information uncovered in FOIA responses they received from D181 and the University of Wisconsin dealing Dr. Schneider's use of personal emails to conduct D181 business and other accusations and provocative statements made in these emails. During this meeting, Dr. White stated that Dr. Schneider was no longer going to deal with general or advanced learning curriculum matters. Yet today in the board member question and answers posted on board docs, Dr. White reveals that Dr Schneider is going to evaluate the performance of Dr. Larson and Dr. Benaitis, both whose positions are supposed to report to the Asst. Sup. of Curriculum and Instruction, and not report to Dr. Schneider. What is going on with Dr. White that he would flip flop on what he clearly told the concerned parents? Why isn't he going to conduct these evaluations himself if Dr. Tornatore may not be here at the time of the evaluations? I sincerely hope that the BOE members get to the bottom of this and demand an explanation from Dr. White. He certainly is paid enough to handle the evaluation of two of his central office administrators.

Monday, September 28, 2015

D181 Elementary Math Ability Groupings -- The BOE Mandated Them. Will the Administration Comply?

Per a reader's request, we are creating a free standing post on whether or not the D181 Administration will be implementing the mandated return of Elementary Math Ability Groupings.

Anonymous said...
To the Bloggers:
Would you please make a free standing post on the ridiculous excuse for a math ability grouping update in Dr. White's board of education report for Monday's meeting? Parents should be aware that the administration is stalling and asking for more time to collect results on how our kids are doing in math after completing two chapters. The Board told Dr. White math must have ability groups and it looks like this depends on the teacher your kid gets. Also, Dr. T is only working 100 days in the Learning Department. By my count she has already worked about 37 days. What projects has she or will she complete since math ability grouping results won't be reviewed now until sometime in October?
Another waste of time and money. More lip service from the administration. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

PARCC Assessment Comments -- "Read them and Weep....."

We have begun receiving a steady stream of comments regarding the release of the PARCC Assessment Results.  We are happy to oblige an anonymous reader's request that we create a free standing post where comments can be submitted.  Below are the ones we have already received. As alway, we invite you to sound off!

Be sure to click on the link in the last comment copied below.  It shows the preliminary data ISBE released today.  Pitiful. Looks like school district administrative spin machines are about to kick into high gear state wide.....

Comments received so far:

Anonymous said...
Part 1: Bloggers: I'm copying an email letter D181 parents and community members received today and that is also posted on the D181 website regarding the upcoming state release of the PARCC assessment scores. That is the test that replaced the ISAT tests. I don't know about you, but I read this letter as preemptive excuse making, should D181's students score badly.....

Text of Letter: "This letter is to share news on the initial release of PARCC Assessment data and to provide an update on efforts to review our District 181 Assessment Framework.

Assessments are of critical importance for continuous improvement. They are used to support students by informing instruction, guiding differentiation, and measuring growth for individuals and groups of learners. Some assessments provide immediate feedback, and some are used to create comparative analyses over time. To this end, we have built a robust assessment framework that includes nationally normed assessments as well as formative assessments that help our classroom teachers make day-to-day decisions about students' content mastery and help our team of educators make long-term decisions about curriculum and instruction across the District.

Our Assessment Framework must include a balance of all types of assessments while also being sensitive to the time that is taken from the actual tasks of teaching and learning. We are currently reviewing this balance and considering which assessments could be eliminated in response to consistent feedback from teachers, parents, and administrators. It is important we continue to talk with our community about why we administer each of our assessments, how they benefit students, are how they are used in decision making.

The PARCC Assessment is not being considered for elimination, as it is state-mandated, having replaced the previous Illinois Standards Assessment Test (ISAT). The first administration of the PARCC Assessment during the 2014-15 school year was a challenge for districts across the state. Change can be hard, especially considering the move from a written format to an online format and most importantly, the alignment of PARCC questions to the new Common Core standards. I am extremely proud of the partnership of D181 staff and parents in supporting our students' participation. We did not allow what seemed to be daunting hurdles to get in the way of our efforts to create a positive testing experience."
Anonymous said...
Part 2 -- Letter from Don White re PARCC tests:

"I recently received a communication from the State Superintendent Dr. Tony Smith in which he notes that the State Board of Education will release "the initial, and still incomplete, statewide results from the PARCC test" on Wednesday, September 16. I am excited to see how Illinois students have performed. According to Dr. Smith, district and student level data is not ready for release to school districts and may not be shared until later this fall. We will post a link to the released data on our website as it is made available ( > Learning > Assessment > PARCC). On this same webpage, we have posted an important memo outlining changes to PARCC that have been announced for 2015-16.

I think it is extremely important we understand that PARCC is simply one assessment, a part of the District's overall assessment framework along with components like the MAP Assessment, end-of-unit tests, and teacher observations. We must be cautious not to overreact to any one set of data and should focus on how data can inform and ultimately improve our work. Dr. Smith highlighted this caution in regard to the PARCC data. He shared that while the numbers are not final, the percentage of students across Illinois who demonstrate proficiency are likely to be lower than the percentage of students who were proficient on the ISAT. The State Superintendent said it well when he offered that "the initial [PARCC] results are simply a new baseline from which we can move forward."

Taking on warranted challenges are worth the effort when students benefit and when educators are stretched to consider new strategies for improving our practices to better support the children we serve. I am confident that if the State can accomplish the goal of providing individual student results by the start of the school year in the future, PARCC will be a great tool to help educators provide improved learning opportunities.


Don White, Ph.D.
Jill Quinones said...
I guess I am most troubled by the last sentence that reads in part "PARCC will be a great tool to help educators provide improved learning opportunities." As we know, more and more states, both those that have and have not abandoned the Common Core, have dropped out of PARCC. Illinois is now one of only 12 or 13 states using it. A recent article in Education week revealed that cut scores were set by teachers sent from each state analyzing data and making recommendations to PARCC representatives who then looked at where the actual student test scores would fall using those teacher-recommended scores and then adopted "mid range" cut scores - whatever that means. I have never heard of test cut scores being based on actual student performance when you are trying to hold students to a certain standard of performance.

My understanding is that the scores posted tomorrow will not include those from students who took the test paper/pencil - only computer. In Ohio that meant 36% of the students' scores were not included.

As a teacher, no one has yet been able to articulate to me in any specific way how a student's score on this test will translate into improved learning opportunities. I personally have little faith that the scores will really reflect what the CCSS expect to be mastered.
Jill Quinones said...
For anyone interested, PARCC released today a mock score report:

Level 2 Standard score 700, Level 3 725, Level 4 750 and Level 5 depends on grade and subject. No word on how actual score translated into Standard Score....
Jill Quinones said...
PS - States are allowed to change the Pearson-set cut scores and set there own...
Anonymous said...
Bloggers: Please create a freestanding post for PARCC comments. Here's another one. Read this and weep:
Anonymous said...
No one in HS Math exceeded expectation on the PARCC assessment: