Friday, May 8, 2015

Our Ship is Adrift: It's Up to the New BOE and Parents to Stop it From Sinking

(Source:  Wikipedia)
Monday night's Board of Education meeting brought much needed change to D181.  Not only were three new board members seated -- Jennifer Burns, Richard Giltner and Leslie Gray -- but new officers were elected.  Mridu Garg will serve as the BOE president, Richard Giltner will serve as vice president and Jill Vorobiev will serve as the secretary. Congratulations to all of them!

The meeting mostly centered on seating the new members and electing officers, however, a couple significant issues were raised.  

1.  A two tier bus system was proposed for next year that the administration explained could save the district over $350,000 in the next two years.  Click on Report to read the details of this proposal which could result in middle schools starting ten minutes earlier (7:45 a.m. rather than 7:55 a.m.) and elementary schools starting 15 minutes later (8:55 a.m. rather than 8:40 a.m.).  There would be a 70 minute gap between the start times.  On the dismissal end, middle schools would end ten minutes earlier (2:35 p.m. rather than 2:45 p.m.) and the elementary schools would end 15 minutes later (3:20 p.m. rather than 3:05 p.m.).  There would be a 45 minute gap between the dismissal times.

We, the bloggers, do not support such a change.  Not only does it inconvenience working parents or those who drive their kids to school (since let's not forget some people live just under the required distance necessary to qualify for bus service and therefore will drive their kids to school, especially on bad weather days), but it will cause chaos in any household that has both sets of students.  Many of the middle school after school programs last about 30 to 40 minutes, thus would create conflicts for parents who would need to pick them up, while also having to pick up elementary students.  Not to mention the possible impact on non-D181 after school extracurricular activities, some of which start at 3:30 p.m. and will make it impossible for elementary students to participate. 

And what if a bus breaks down in the morning or after school?  Are we really going to expect our second tier students to wait for the replacement bus?  This may not happen often, but no doubt it will happen one day, and it's simply not fair to put our students in that predicament.

We see this as an exercise in diversion from the real issues our district is facing. We have much more serious problems related to curriculum, student performance, and learning philosophies than we do dealing with implementing cost savings from altered bus routes. Give us a break. What we should be seeing from our highly paid administration is an all hands on deck approach when it comes to reviewing the services our children receive and if the measures being implemented are of value and are improving the learning environment overall. Memo to Dr. White:  instead of focusing on tiered bus routes, how about analyzing the effectiveness of the non-tiered-fully-inclusive-nana-nana-boo-booed-soon-to-be-no-acceleration-learning for all (some) program pipe dream your rear Admiral continues to promote both in and out of the district on his presentation junkets? Hey, come to think of it, isn't the Admiral about to present this summer per standard ops? Ahoy, yes! (But don't take our word for it, check it out for yourself at:

As one parent stated during Monday's public comment, if the goal is to save money, there are other ways to do it. The parent suggested that there should be a top down analysis of the District Administrative staff to see if any of their positions should be eliminated. We couldn't agree with her more. We all know who should be immediately terminated -- you can all guess, the overpaid former principal whose current central administrative position has morphed so many time in name and job responsibilities that no one really knows what, if anything she does that adds value to our district. Time to pink slip this employee and save the taxpayers at least $260,000 over the next two years, and that doesn't even include insurance and TRS benefits. No doubt there are other administrative positions that could be eliminated -- how many assistants and secretaries does the central office really need to have? 

We hope the new BOE will look long and hard for ways to save money before they put the savings on the backs of our students and parents!

2.  Digital Learning Initiative:  Despite Dr. White's reference in his superintendent's report that during the May 4th meeting he wanted "to engage the Board of Education in a conversation about pacing and next steps regarding the Digital Learning Initiative, for discussion purposes only. Board member input will help guide our thinking as we refine our timeline and plans," this did not happen.  Perhaps it was because of the shocking public comment made at the beginning of the meeting by a community member who attended one of the Digital Learning Parent Presentations a couple of weeks ago. The parent pointed out that the video of the parent presentation included criticisms made by D181's recently contracted digital learning expert/consultant during a portion of the meeting when parents were supposed to be talking to each other, and also included statements to suggest that the consultant was not going to be as objective and independent as the community had been led to believe. 

Following the board meeting on Monday, we watched the video and confirmed what the parent said. We wrote down the provocative statements which included the digital initiative consultant calling a parent a "trouble-maker" several times, "a real serious troublemaker," saying "you wait, we haven't heard the last of him."  We couldn't see who the consultant was speaking to when he made these comments.  Shortly thereafter, he spoke to another person and admitted that the parent presentation wasn't the one he originally planned to give, rather that he was told by the "customer" to give a different one. He states: "I wanted to do that presentation, and in fact tomorrow night when we do the caroussel planning thing I'm going to go do it again, but they absolutely insisted that this is what they wanted." The person he is speaking with says something (which was not picked up by the audiotape) to which the consultant responds, "I know, I know, I agree with you, in fact we debated tonight whether I should do instead of the one....they wanted continuity between all the presentations.  Ah yeah, well, you know what, listen..."  Person speaks again and then consultant says "I agree, listen, I speak 200 days a year and after you've spoken 200 days a year, you kind of know what works and what doesn't work. And I know this is a difficult audience, there's lots of agendas floating around this room right now, ok? That's not what I would have done, but you know, I can encourage but the customer's always right, ok?  But tomorrow, I'm going to tell you, in 25 minutes, I'm going to do a take no prisoners and I'm going to talk about different things I talked about the other day."  Other person speaks and then the consultant says, "this is what your superintendent needs to hear."  (Note:  When we took these notes, this portion of the videotape started at Counter 1:15:15 of the video.)

Wow. We couldn't believe what we heard. In addition to the inappropriate criticism of a community member who was invited to attend the presentations (as we all were) that the administration sold as sessions to engage the community for the purpose of identifying digital learning goals  -- we had hoped that the administration hadn't tied the hands of the $67,000 paid consultant (Click to open Consultant's contract), forcing a predetermined outcome/agenda on him. The comments the consultant made, however, seem to suggest otherwise.  

Rather than address this situation head on and release a statement about the implications of what was audio taped, the administration went into damage control mode. Sometime yesterday, the administration edited out the comments the consultant made during the parent presentation and replaced that segment of the video with a black screen. Really? That's their response? Are they kidding? Who do they think they are fooling? Why the cover up?

It's a darn shame that Dr. White chose this path to follow, rather than publicly address the consultant's comments. In our opinion, the BOE must seriously consider whether or not this consultant is the right fit for our district and whether Phase 2 of his $67,000 contract (worth $40,000) should be terminated.  We agree that as part of the strategic planning process, the administration and BOE must address digital learning, what skill set our students need to develop during elementary and middle school to make them successful in the ever changing digital landscape. We do not agree, however, that a false process where the administration has predetermined the outcome and simply wants to now "lead the horses to water" is the approach that our highly intelligent community should be forced to participate in.


Lack of transparency, cover ups, pre-determined outcomes and lack of data-driven decisions:  these are just a few of the reasons why we, the bloggers, do not trust the administration.

If you need to clear the administrative decks, then so be it.  

Now that the BOE has changed hands and new officers have been elected to serve our community, we hope that substantive changes will follow. We hope that the new board shows a real desire to be transparent, demand transparency and accountability from the administration.  We hope that when the BOE and administration "engage" parents and seek their input, that they really want it and will actually use it to guide future goals and strategic plans. We hope that our taxpayer money will not be wasted on overpaid consultants who are simply being told what outcome to reach. We hope that our taxpayer money is not wasted on useless administrators who add no value to our district. Parents, it's our responsibility to speak up now! We owe it to our children to let the new BOE know what we think and what we expect from the administration.We hope that the BOE will right this sinking ship!


Anonymous said...

I sincerely hope that Dr. White addresses Ian Jukes' inappropriate and alarming comments. If Dr. White asked IJ to deliver what is essentially a marketing campaign to parents instead of acting as a facilitor of ideas as was promised, he needs to come clean and explain himself. If he didn't, then we need to disassociate ourselves from IJ and demand our money back as his actions were totally inappropriate, unprofessional, and, frankly, libelous. If Dr. White was not involved in asking IJ to change his presentation at the last minute, then he needs to find out who was and address the issue. I am tired of this district spending a fortune on "independent" consultants who are hired for the sole purpose of achieving Kurt Schneider's pre-determined grandiose vision for this district. A vision that parents in the know don't want. If his ideas were so great, we would see other districts implementing them, concrete and unbiased data backing them up and he would have the support of a variety of experts, not just those with whom he has a relationship and who are "pre-screened" to ensure support. Along these lines, I am also very concerned about new hires to this district and whether or not they are being screened to make sure they agree with Dr. Schneider's educational social justice plan. We need smart, committed, experienced and independent thinkers in all cases.

jay_wick said...

I did attend both presentations in the evenings at HMS and CHMS.

From my location at the back of the room, I overheard much of the conversation that Jukes was having and, in context, it was not as dramatic as it may seem on the incomplete feed the district A/V team captured.

The presentation at HMS had a different focus than other parts presented the following night. From what faculty / staff that attended the daytime presentations told me, they also were given a bit of a different slant.

Nothing sinister, it was just Jukes trying, within his experience, to tailor what he presented to what he perceived to the be the bulk of each audience.

Frankly, those are mostly signs of a good presentation. Folks that mindlessly drone through a canned presentation are going to put any audience to sleep these days. That said, there are probably some legitimate concerns about how much 'bottomline value' the district gets from having ANY of the often costly "headliner" type speakers that are part of what some funds are spent on. The scrutiny of how each dollar gets spent is something the Foundation does not have to worry about but governmental bodies have different standards.

There are always going to be disagreements about what is the "best path forward". In fact if you listen to the end of the most recent BOE meeting (from Monday May 4th) you will hear Matt Bousquette specifically mention that he has no pre-defined "end point" to drive the district toward in terms of technology. I won't speak for Matt or the Foundation but I urge anyone that cares to listen to go directly to that podcast. If you do listen to the podcast you will also hear me address the BOE after Matt and make a plea for the BOE members / district staff to reach out to folks that may be voicing opposition / skepticism about technology. Some of the folks voicing such concerns can eventually be advocates and many of them have excellent suggestions that should be incorporated into changes and evaluations of alternatives.

The generous purchases of the PTOs have done much to equip all our district schools with lots of very capable hardware. Many of teachers have made good efforts to utilize these tools with the various age groups /classes they teach. Unfortunately, some of what has been done is less than optimal and hard to replicate. With better coordination and more informed decisions I have little doubt that all the district schools can do better.

I was thinking about the difference between a really well run restaurant, maybe owned by a corporation or small group of investors, that might have a nice range of dishes prepared expertly but not really having a menu where each offering is related to the others. Contrast this to another restaurant run by a much more deeply skilled person / team where there is clearly much more thought put into not just was is offered but what is 'edited out'. In the latter you won't see any tired, over-done dishes and when you leave you will be eager to come back and enjoy another exciting experience. It is my hope that, to the greatest extent possible, each of our district schools can innovate in more engaging ways. When I see success stories from other districts I know that the ingredients for even greater success are already present in our community. And make no mistake, the most experienced chefs who can translate the unique aspects of food that may be a little unfamiliar to diners and serve it up affordably and creatively are ultimately more successful than the temperamental genius that refuses to offer anything to people with modest budgets or aversions to certain ingredients.

If enough concerned community members, parents and staff come together to share their ideas about what are the most pressing needs of the kids in our district I am sure we'll end up with something much better than allowing a detached "chef de cuisine" to cook up their degustation in secret and unveil it when there is too little time to do other than excuse oneself...

Anonymous said...

I think that calling parents with questions "troublemakers" and "a**es" is problematic and unprofessional. Parents are entitled to their opinions and should be treated with more respect than that. Who was Ian Jukes speaking to at that time, anyway? A parent who disagrees is not a troublemaker but just that, a parent who disagrees. Nothing wrong with that and, Ian Jukes concern with it does indeed suggest something more sinister in my opinion.

Jill Quinones said...

I recently took the D181 Parent survey - interesting.

For one question it asked you to rank pressing needs in order of priority by which they should be addressed. My number 1 wasn't on there, so I had to write it in, namely take the time to appropriately crunch the data and determine what is, and more importantly what is NOT working for kids at all levels when it comes to curriculum - both content and delivery model(s).

As to technology (another question), I continue to believe that teachers need to take a hard look at their curriculum, determine where technology would provide a BETTER result for their students in terms of learning and then request that technology.

To purchase the technology because it is the latest and greatest and because our kids are techno-natives is a waste of money in my opinion if there is not a direct connected benefit. I remember the hype to the PTOs to buy the schools Smartboards because of all the fabulous engaging ways math and science could be taught using them. Money was spent and it was a big hit for a year or 2, but every time I asked my child how they were being used it was mainly by the teacher like a slightly cooler whiteboard.

And then the students need to be TAUGHT to use the technology and not just be given assignments that presume they can do it. For instance my child is currently working on assignment to make a brochure using the PAGES software. She has limited knowledge on how to use this software and is getting hugely frustrated at every turn when she tries to do something and it doesn't work (in addition to wasting many dollars of my money on colored ink to print the thing out only to find it didn't print out like it was showing on the computer)!

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know why the administration didn't allow teacher input into the 6th grade placement process?

I don't understand why the people who know our children best, other than us, weren't consulted this year.

It seems to me that once test scores are in, the teachers should be looking through them and making any recommendations based on their knowledge of the student.

Anonymous said...

I agree with 4:22. It also seems to me that they shouldn't be changing the standards every year since 2011 with not even a crumb of anslysis. This fifth grade class messed with yet again.

Anonymous said...

I am also so upset about 5th grade placement. I thought the whole premise of learning for all was to make the guidelines more flexible and inclusive. Something went very wrong this year.

Anonymous said...

The identification guidelines for middle school ACE, ELA and the math classes have changed every year for at least 3 years and each change has been problematic, many being made without teacher input - both 5th grade and middle school. These changes have been made with questionable data, spotty teacher support and, in many cases, have caused poor experiences for students both when they have been advanced inappropriately or when too many kids are advanced and the spread of ability levels in one class is too great to move at the faster pace the classes were designed for. The overall problem is that the administrative staff making these decisions have no experience doing so and have an inclusive agenda - they want almost all ability levels in one classroom and have fudged the guidelines (including opt-ins) for years in an effort to achieve that goal. And, so many of these decisions have been made in an administrative vacuum with few straightforward facts communicated to teachers or parents leaving everyone to wonder what happened and why. The middle school identification process we had 5 years ago wasn't perfect but at least we were moving in the right direction. Now it is an unsubstantiated and untrusted mess.

Anonymous said...

Where are the identification guidelines? I haven't seen them and don't have a current 5th grader. Also felt the survey was focused on many other things but learning. confused by wording of questions.

Anonymous said...

Parents of 5th graders received copies of the guidelines with their test results. The math guidelines were presented to the BOE in February and are on board docs. Both the math and ELA/Social Studies guidelines were seen by teachers before finalization. They've tightened up the opt-in program to try to avoid situations where students are pushed into classes that are too difficult for them. This was in response to both teacher and parent concerns. Students who have been opted in by overzealous parents are struggling in some of the advanced classes, and the staff is trying to avoid that going forward.

Anonymous said...

There are also many children whose parents opted them in to the advanced classes who are thriving.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I am sure there are many children who are opting in and are thriving, since the district administration has done such a poor job of identification, from everyone being accelerated to now hardly anyone accelerated. Remember, with the old gifted program, 80% of the students were accelerated one year in math, and most of those students were doing very well. Now, that we are moving to 3 or 4 students in each building, and where they got that number we will never know, you will again have the problem with too few having their needs met because no one in central office really knows what they are talking about when it comes to curriculum or programming for advanced learners.

This should not be acceptable in any district, but especially not in a district like ours. Where is the outrage? Not everyone can just put their house up for sale and move. I cannot believe there are not hundreds of parents upset by this. I cannot be the only one, or the few who post to this blog, that find this situation unacceptable for our children. We need someone to take the lead and find a way to pull all of us together. What ever happen to GECO, or whatever that parent group was who were advocating for gifted children. Someone needs to put that group back together and give advocacy back to those of us who feel our children are being left in the back of the class to teach themselves.

Anonymous said...

Do we know for a fact that only 3-4 students per building got into ELA? Where is this information?

Anonymous said...

The placements just came home Friday afternoon, how do people already have so much information about this? Is it on the district website? I am happy with my 5th graders placement. Maybe it is a problem with a particular school?

Anonymous said...

Yes, there are many students thriving in the opt in program. However, there are also many who are struggling, and teachers are having a difficult time maintaining the pace of the advanced class while meeting the needs of all the learners. This is why they are tightening up the guidelines for the accelerated classes. With respect to the old program, I am not sure where the statistic that 80% of students were accelerated by a year. In the past there was maybe one section of advanced students in the elementary grades 3-5. In the middle school the breakdown has been closer to 1/3 in each of accelerated, advanced and grade level. I believe what people are referring to when they speak of only three or four students per school being accelerated is the fact that currently, about that many fifth graders from each school are pulled for math in the middle school's advanced classes - i.e. they are ready for 7th grade math in 5th grade. There is really nothing sinister going on.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you 4:41. Sounds like a lot of misinformation and maybe some unhappy parents jumping to conclusions. I think that the 80% refers to the fact that 80% this years' 5th grade class was accelerated a grade level in math. That failed miserably because, as you say, in the past only about 30% of students were accelerated successfully.

Anonymous said...

In the original program approved by the board many years ago, 30-40% of elementary students were accelerated one year in math, but 80% of middle school students were accelerated one or two years in math. You can find this information in the old board reports, when we actually got data from central office to support what we were doing.

I think the important point here is we are in a district with a lot of very talented children, and even the report by Moon felt most students could be accelerated one year in math. The problem was trying to accelerate everyone, which is unrealistic to believe would work. The district students cannot have changed that much over these years that we can go from 30-40% acceleration in elementary to everyone accelerated to now 3 or 4 accelerated in each building. If they are only referring to the extremely talented students in math who can be double accelerated, then maybe the 3 or 4 number works, but that still means there are a lot of children in a classroom who are not really going to be challenged.

I know they are all experts at differentiating instruction, but how many years have to go by before we admit this is not working and is not possible, especially with the large class sizes we have in our district. One teacher can realistically only do so much. In the end, our children will again be the ones who suffer, and I as a parent will have to continue with the high cost of tutoring my children so they are actually prepared for a high school that does ability group students. Where is the common sense and collaboration with the high school? Why is the board continuing to listen to their administrative experts when they just keep changing their minds all the time? Something is very wrong with this picture.

Anonymous said...

If you look at all of the failed experiments the administration has tried over the past 3 years, it is pretty incredible. Multiple programs for advanced learners eliminated, home made curriculum and materials, acceleration and compacting for all, poorly designed math pilot programs and middle school identification guidelines that change every year and which have been, until this year, not based on teacher input. Why all of the back and forth and scuttled programs? The administration would have us believe that it is because of the fact that they are considering teachers' feedback and making modifications based on that. The truth is, they have rarely asked for teacher input (outside of the chosen ones on the Advanced Learning Task Force) and if they had, we probably wouldn't be in the mess we are today. They finally had to go to the teachers to help them solve the problems they've created. Ridiculous.

And, you're right, 10:31, our population hasn't changed much in the past 10 years. Simply improving core materials, flexibility and identification guidelines 3 years ago, leaving everything else the same would have increased learning for all students in not just math and language arts, but would have allowed us to begin to look at and focus resources on Science and foreign language instead of languishing the way we have been. The administration likes to blame the parents for all of the problems, but those in the know know that it is inexperienced "leadership" and unproven theories that have put us where we are today.

Anonymous said...

I am in the process of writing a letter to the BOE. I recognize that my letter isn't "breaking news" but since I want to make sure my voice is heard and know no other way to do so, I am writing a letter.

I am also writing my comments here in the hopes that the Board Members see my thoughts here too.

I urge our voted and trusted BOE members-both newly elected and seasoned-to review, assess, question and challenge evaluation criteria for advancement and acceleration in our district. I call upon them to ask the second and third level questions--how will children be measured? how will objective data vs subjective data be weighted? How will you account for differences in flexible ability based grouping? If cut off scores and 2 standard deviations above a district mean are to be used in MAP scores, then ask and challenge how those "means" are calculated. Ask what is a representative sample of students-don't assume.

I want to know how flexible grouping is going to look under Math in Focus. If children are grouped for ability IN the classroom what will be done to meet the needs of those kids who are not accelerated but who are head and shoulders above their peers? How will you meet their needs? How will you validate their strengths while not demoralizing the rest of the students? how will you meet their unique learning styles while still validating their abilities?
There are too many variables that cannot be solved with a blanket three bulleted guideline like what is proposed on BOARD DOCS for subject acceleration.
RIght and left, injustice is happening. Our children talk to each other. They hear who is doing well and who is given opportunities that they themselves do not receive. Children know and understand flexible ability based grouping.

I am disappointed today. I am disappointed with yesterday too. I am worried that I will be disappointed with the future of my children in D 181. As a graduate of this community's elementary and secondary schools I can attest to the competition and responsibility that is present in our schools. We need to be responsible. We need to take action. And our BOE needs to DEMAND guidelines and challenge teachers and staff to identify step by step uniform standards among our schools. Children should be blindly evaluated and there shouldn't be an over emphasis on teacher input at the risk of ignoring factual data either. It should be a partnership. It is time for children's needs to be met. It is time for my child's needs to be met.