Monday, January 12, 2015

Updated Board Docs for Tonight's (1/12/15) Board Meeting -- Non-Answers Given to Important Board Member Questions

Two additional documents have been added to Board Docs for tonight's meeting: an HMS Sprinkler Head Malfunction Incident Power Point Presentation and Board Member Questions.

We have a few observations to make regarding each document.

HMS Sprinkler Head Malfunction Incident Power Point Presentation:

Thank you to Board Member Heneghan for asking a question about the cause of the Sprinkler Head Malfunction in the Board Member Questions.  We are glad that his question pushed the administration to prepare a glossy visual report on what happened last week at HMS.  The report will be presented during Monday's meeting.  While we commend all of the actions the administration took to immediately dry the affected rooms and test the air quality, unfortunately, there is still no determined cause as to why the sprinkler went off, despite 3 possible scenarios being presented.  Bottom line for us parents -- we don't want sprinklers going off during school, potentially soaking our children with freezing cold water.  We don't want sprinklers going off at night, causing any more water damage to our classrooms.  We want the cause of the sprinkler malfunction identified and fixed.  End of story.  And oh yeah, we are crossing our fingers that the air quality test results, which according to the power point are due later this week, will not show a resurgence of mold.  Stay tuned.

Board Member Questions:

In typical fashion, the only two board members to ask any questions this week were Mr. Heneghan and Ms. Garg.  A continued thanks to both of these board members for asking the tough questions many of us have also identified.  It is our opinion, that the administration would rather ignore and disrespect the substance of many of the questions, rather than make a real effort to answer them.  Here are but a few examples:

Mr. Heneghan asked the following question regarding the Seminal Document on the Learning for All Plan:

"Your superintendent report says the board requested "learning around the topic of the Learning for All Plan to take place over a series of Committee of the Whole meetings, with the first such session on January 23.' My recollection is that the board requested a documented written report describing the plan and specifically rejected the need for three meetings for learning about the plan.  When can we expect that written report?"

The Administration's answer:

"The administration is in the midst of crafting a document that provides an overview of the Learning for All Plan.  This document will include a high level summary, relevant background, terms, information on each of the six key components of the plan....a subjective/grade overview, and future considerations, among other sections.  For January 26, we anticipate the focus will be on the summary, background, terms and the six components as shared in the written document.  We will highlight math in the Learning for All Plan on February 9, and the remaining information will be highlighted on March 9."

Once again, let us simply say:  FLUFF AND DRIVEL!!!!!

Mr. Heneghan's question is simply not answered, is it?  WHY NOT?  And to suggest the administration is CRAFTING a document is probably an accurate descriptor.  Rather than WRITE the seminal document, something that should have been done THREE years ago, now someone, most likely Dr. Schneider, is CRAFTING a document.  And of course, there is still no mention of any QUANTITATIVE information being included in the report, rather words such as "subjective grade/overview" are used.

We would predict that Dr. White did not write this answer.  No doubt, he receives board member questions and then circulates them to the relevant administrative department for a response.  This question probably went to the Department of Learning and the answer was CRAFTED by Dr. Schneider, Ms. Benaitis or Mr. Walsh.  Will any of them OWN this answer during tonight's board meeting?  Will any board member other than Mr. Heneghan point out the obvious -- the administration is clearly not equipped with personnel capable of providing straight forward answers, information and data on curriculum matters.

A blind man can see that Dr. White needs to make a change in the Department of Learning leadership!

Another example of a non-answer comes to one of Ms. Garg's questions:

"How was Ian Jukes selected?  Who are the other experts for digital learning, especially for school districts?  Any that have been used by school districts in the Chicago Area?"

The Administration's answer:  "During the brainstorming process for an outside facilitator to assist in the educational technology process, Ian Jukes was suggested due to his extensive experience in the field, and my expertise in this area."

Notice how the answer does NOT identify WHO in the administration suggested Mr. Jukes?  Was it Dr. Schneider or someone else?  Why isn't the person identified?  But more importantly, why weren't ANY OTHER technology experts even considered?  Sorry, but this is not the way a $67,000 "expert" should be selected by ANY district!

On the technology front, Mr. Heneghan asked:

"The report says that 'increased technology access is required to implement the New Illinois Learning Standards Incorporating the Common Core.  Is it the administration's position that D181 does not have the technology resources that are required to implement the Illinois Learning Standards?  If so what technology purchases are required to implement these standards?"

Mr. Heneghan's first question should have been answered with a YES or NO.  Instead, a long winded response is given about the history to the new Learning Standards and then the statement is made:

"As we move through the various curriculum renewal processes that will align us with these new standards, we expect to continue seeing increased demand for technology access and related professional development. We believe the Digital Learning Initiative will bring together all stakeholders under a uniform vision that establishes guidelines which will inform our curriculum renewal and technology purchasing decision making, and expect to make recommendations for purchases at the completion of the initiative."

So Mr. Heneghan's question was NOT answered at all.  Rather, justification for hiring Mr. Jukes is all the response appears to address.  Well, as D181 parents and taxpayers, we say NO WAY!

Enough is enough.  We believe this is nothing more than another attempt by the administration to try and convince the board to implement one-to-one technology.  Those attempts have failed in the past and so far the administration has been unsuccessful in providing any meaningful or "best practice" data to justify this.  But how much you want to bet that if Mr. Jukes is hired, one of his recommendations will be implementing one-to-one technology!

We certainly hope the BOE -- the current one, but more importantly the future one -- does not fall for this drivel.  We know we sound harsh, but frankly, we are fed up with the non-answers, non-data, non-substance that keeps coming out of the mouths of the administrators attempting to respond to board member curriculum or technology related questions.

In addition, to suggest that we -- a lucrative, high achieving district -- must revamp our technology in order to successfully implement the new standards, makes us wonder what the less lucrative, less fortunate, lower achieving districts must be facing.  How will THEY EVER successfully implement the new learning standards?  We are not fooled.  We believe -- and perhaps the administration can prove us wrong -- that the technology initiative is unnecessary at this time, the hiring of Mr. Jukes will be a waste of taxpayer money and it is time for the HIGHLY PAID Central Office administrators to each work a little harder, do a little research of their own and stop hiring OUTSIDE consultants to do their work!


Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more!! And stop hiring consultants, especially ones that are Friends of Schneider. I'm sick of my taxpayer money greasing the pockets of Schneider's friends. Don't believe me? Check out the Stoughton web site. It is a blueprint of D181 paid consultants!!!

Anonymous said...

The administration can't write a report about LFA b/c it's dead in the water. When they stopped forcing the grade compacting/when they reinstated tiers for 5th grade, that was it. LFA was all about grade compacting. That doesn't exist anymore. Time to rid this district of the title Learning For All and anyone who supported it. You know who are!

Anonymous said...

LFA is also about eliminating ability based tiers, hyper-differentiation and the workshop model. The DOL is still pushing all of that (although backing down a little). It all needs to be stopped! One size does not fit all and this district can and should expect better!

Anonymous said...

Bloggers, this post doesn't sound overly harsh at all. Sadly, everything you say is the truth. I just read the Board questions and answers and can't believe how ridiculous the "answers" are. April can't come soon enough for me. Enough of "checked out" BOE members who really don't seem to care much about what is happening in D181 classrooms.

Anonymous said...

I encourage all stakeholders - including the administration and BOE - to read this powerful and important article that was recently published in education week.

It is especially important to read this article after the fiasco of last night's board meeting. At the previous BOE meeting we made real progress. The BOE directed the administration to create a seminal document stating what L4A is, what it means at each grade level, and get down to specifics at the micro level. Mr. Nelson eloquently said "shame on us" for not getting past the macro level in 3 years time. There was agreement to make the L4A exercise 2 steps - not 3 - because we did not need another macro level presentation on learning for all.

Well, it seems like that meeting never happened. Suddenly, there is no need to create a seminal document. According to Mr. Clarin and Dr. Schneider, it already exists. Also, the L4A review will be 3 steps with the first one being a macro overview. Mr. Turek thinks that is important because the public needs to be "socialized" to the plan. We do not need to be "socialized" Mr. Turek! We have lived this plan for 3 years and it is a failure. Show us quantitative proof that it is working! And for that matter - what is it? It used to be grade compacting and acceleration. Now is it "going deeper"? Inclusion? Push ins only? Differentiation via technology? Everything under the sky you want to justify?

I was so disappointed last night. Dr. White and Dr. Schneider, along with the BOE majority, have once again failed this community. April cannot come fast enough. Time to spring clean this house.

jay_wick said...

Who is Ian Jukes and what must the district do to get value from hiring him?

He is a "visionary" of digital learning. Along the lines of 'futurusts' like Alvin Toffler he draws together information from many sources include neurology, sociology and traditonal education psychology to help plot out a wise use of educational technology.

The Foundation has generously agreed to partner with the district to help bring Ian Jukes here for two sessions. He is an internationally known speaker that is well respected among education leaders, business people and governmental decision makers.

The presentation topics listed on his speaker's bureau site include many interesting areas including integrating gaming into the classroom, providing staff development, improving test scores through appropriate technology and accountability for expenditures.

If the district is to really derive value from such a talk and it not be just a costlier version of TED it seems incumbent on the district leadership to have some clear end in mind. When BOE members focus on just the costs of either the speaker or any associated staff time and not on some tangible change in how the district expects investments in technology to have postive outcomes the same problems will be perpetuated.
Sadly the BOE did little in their meeting to help uncover why there is parent dissatisfaction of the curent direction of how technology is allocated or used. Such simple questions as "Do parents feel other districts do this better?" or "Are there some bright spots in the district?" went unasked.

The lack of ability to think in anything like a strategic way is sadly apparent. If the visit of Ian Jukes is merely a break from the often hectic school year there will be no transformation. If teachers go back to their indivual schools and classrooms with no clear message of how or why a deeper understanding of technology can improve kids' understanding and appreciation for learning there will be no "return on investment".

Funny thing too, I am all but certain that Ian Jukes' presentation will be largely that of a "sage on a stage". It would be very intersting if there would be less focus on what he says / shows on a screen and more of elucidation of the tools of technology shifting how teachers can guide student learning.

If the BOE is really serious about helping to align the many technology resources with real improvements in learning there has to be a more serious approach to not just expenditures but priorities. Instead of sycophantic praise for the Keynote slides the board should ask for evidence that district level staff is actively facilitating the efforts of classroom teachers to master technology, coordinate a consistent experience between all schools in the district and truly be worthy of the offices they hold.

When the BOE fails in their duty to oversee the implementation of new technolgy the costly hardware becomes just a shinier version of the felt cut-outs and vinyl stickers of earlier classroom materials. If indivual board members themselves cannot critically judge what is merely a gargantun looking collection of jargon filled binders and what is instead truly a useful framework for the direction of learning in the district they won't be respected by staff. The opposite of respect in such a context is not contemp but disregard -- staff what will then do what suits their desires and whims, not that of the community.

If the expenditure for Ian Jukes is made as part of a real commitment to foster not mere activity but true innovation there could be many postive outcomes. Of course the path to innovation is littered with some failures. In not just technolgy but every aspect of district operation those failures born of hardwork and deligent preparation must also be tolerated and quickly recoverd. Failures whose root cause is instead lack of preparation and poor implementation cannot be repeatedly countenanced.

Anonymous said...

I agree Wick. I think we need to do a little homework on Jukes before spending the big bucks. We should pick up the phone and call Highland Park TX and ask them if they are happy with Mr. Jukes' services and whether the services he provided had a beneficial impact on their district.

If someone called us and asked us the same questions about Dr. Moon, I'm not sure the responses would be positive. We need to do more due diligence before throwing good money at another shiny consultant.

White claims he came up with Jukes' name to throw in the pot. That seems fishy when no other Illinois district has used him and his name appears on the Stoughton web site along with a plethora of other names that the Bloggers have made bubbles for - and all of those bubbles link back to DR SCHNEIDER!

Anonymous said...

I agree that there is most likely a connection between Mr. Jukes and Dr. Schneider. That has me worried that this digital learning initiative is tied to inclusion. Everything seems to tie back to inclusion lately.

jay_wick said...

Ian Jukes is a legitimate visionary. If the Foundation is generously willing to help bring him here for two sessions that could be a wonderful thing. I know there are teachers in the district that would benefit from having such a presentation and follow-up session with a truly talented person.

Further, it should not bother anyone that there are many mentions of Ian Jukes and inclusion; it is impossible to make a living as a speaker / consultant in education and not be current with the appropriate buzzwords.

To that end I don't doubt that some schools do a better job of using inclusion to foster student achievement than others. Those districts with a clear understanding of where inclusion is appropriate likely have staff that are more pragmatic and less bound by ideology.

From the info that is available on the web about Ian Jukes he seems to have a balanced, pragmatic view of what is achievable with hardwork and appropriate resources. I would worry less about who many have suggested hiring Ian Jukes and more about what happens after his presentation and what support teachers get to incorporate technolgy into their delivery / evaluation.

District staff that show their dedicated to the improvement of the school ought to be supported by the community; distinct staff that do know have the best interests of the community as their primary objective will eventually not be tolerated by those around them.

Anonymous said...

Our district needs less visionaries and more experts who are specifically trained to help a district like ours turn around this sinking ship.