Monday, August 3, 2015

Two Small, But Significant Acts of Transparency -- Board Committee Agendas Posted on Board Docs

Happy August Everyone!  With D181 schools starting in less than one month (and D86 high schools starting in two weeks -- that's right folks), the Board of Education is getting back to work this month, after a brief summer hiatus from regular meetings. Four meetings are scheduled this month that we know of -- two regular business meetings, a Facilities Committee meeting and a Learning Committee meeting.  The dates, times and locations are as follows:

Tuesday, 8/4 -- Facilities Committee Meeting, Administration Center, 9 to 11 a.m.
Wednesday, 8/5 -- Learning Committee Meeting, Administration Center, 6 p.m.
Monday, 8/17 -- Regular Business Meeting, Walker School, 7 p.m.
Monday, 8/31 -- Regular Business Meeting, Walker School, 7 p.m.

We want to point out a few things that we believe while small, are significant.

1.  The Administration Center moved out of Elm School this summer and into leased space in the office building directly behind the PNC Bank building (which is across from the Clarendon Hills Jewel) at the Holmes Avenue/55th Street intersection.  The official address is 115 W. 55th Street, Clarendon Hills.  This location is where the committee meetings are scheduled to take place.

2.  According to the BOE meeting calendar of meetings, all Regular and Committee of the Whole meetings will now take place at Walker School.  Click to open Meeting Calendar.  No more rotation between schools.  It will be interesting to see if the community embraces this change, since years ago, the locations were static at Hinsdale Middle School, the community complained that for the sake of convenience to parents, meetings should rotate through all the schools.   We personally don't think this change matters, since attendance at board meetings has been relatively light since that change (except during crisis periods -- mold-gate, ALP/LFA/Learning for none and Math Curriculum discussions), but we certainly hope the administration and BOE review this change in a few months and seek parent feedback.

3.  Finally, it looks like Board Committee meeting agendas are now going to be posted on Board Docs prior to meetings.  This is a small but significant act of transparency!  Since the new BOE, under Mridu Garg's presidency, decided to regain control over the committees by changing their structure from Superintendent to BOE run committees, the meeting agendas will now be noticed up pursuant to the Open Meetings Act rules and 48 hours notice must be posted at the location of the meetings and on the D181 website.  This week's two committee meetings were posted on Board Docs and their agendas can be accessed at:

Click to open Facilities Committee Meeting Agenda.
Click to open Learning Committee Meeting Agenda.

You will notice that public comment will also be allowed at these meetings, a change from when they were run as Superintendent's committees.  Another small but significant act of transparency!  We hope that D181 has a trifecta of transparency and decides to audio-tape and post Podcasts of all committee meetings on the D181 website, just as it does for the regular BOE meetings.  We have pointed out before that D86 does this for ALL meetings (actually they film and post the video-tapes, which is even more insightful and transparent), so if they can do it, so can D181.  We hope the new BOE members are reading this blog and will decide as a full board to have all meetings audio-taped and posted.


We encourage all D181 parents and taxpayers to begin attending all of these meetings because critically important issues and decisions are on the horizon that will impact all D181 students, teachers, parents and taxpayers.  They include:

1.  The hiring of a new Assistant Superintendent of Learning (Curriculum and Instruction). As we previously announced, this summer half of Dr. Schneider's responsibilities were removed and he will no longer serve as the sole Assistant Superintendent of Learning, rather his new title will be Assistant Superintendent of Learning (Pupil Personnel Services). Dr. White must now identify and recommend the hiring of a new Assistant Superintendent who will oversee the curriculum for the regular and "unique/advanced/gifted" learners. After four years of utter chaos and harm to many of our youngest learners, Dr. White better get this recommendation right. Our children can ill-afford another year of experimentation, lack of performance data analysis or poor administrative oversight. We are cautiously optimistic that since he made the decision to split the Assistant Superintendent of Learning position into two, that he recognizes the critical nature of this next administrative hire. We will be waiting, watching and hopefully soon reporting on who the new administrator will be, so stay tuned.....

2.  Last Spring, the new BOE decided it was time to change the "learning for all/learning for none" nature of the curriculum to one that once again required more placement criteria for automatic admission to advanced learning classes. There has been push back from some parents who are not pleased with the new "cut-offs." We, the blogger, believe that the "opt-in at one's request" option harmed the curriculum, since as teachers complained, it forced some of them to slow down or water down the curriculum.  However, we cannot forget that the old system that Dr. Schneider and company trashed when the ALP/LFA/Learning for none curriculum model was rolled out four years ago, also had significant faults since it was rigid and did not allow students to appeal placement decisions if they did not meet the cut-off scores to place into higher level classes.  The test this year will be whether or not there is flexibility and a legitimate appeals process to address student, parent and teacher concerns of students who do not place into the curricular level they believe they should be in. Again, we will watch this issue carefully over the next year and report on any discussions that take place, so stay tuned.....

3.  What direction will be taken regarding Technology in D181 this year?  Last Spring, Ian Jukes was hired to give some technology presentations to parents and teacher and after "Phase I" of his contract, the community is still waiting for his report and recommendations AND a decision on whether or not the district (and taxpayers) will proceed and pay him for Phase II.  When will the BOE and community see the report/recommendations and when will the BOE make the decision on Phase II?  It appears that the Learning Committee may be discussing the Technology initiative at the 8/5 meeting, so stay tuned for updates....

4.  Important Facilities issues will also be addressed this year:

a.  First off, anyone who has driven past Hinsdale Middle School can see that parts of the parking lot adjacent to the portable classrooms have been blocked off, and we assume it is to mark the spot where additional portables are to be installed.  The only question is why with less than three weeks until teachers report back to school (8/19/15) hasn't more work taken place and WHERE ARE THE PORTABLES? (Click to open 2015-2016 school calendar.) The district has had all summer to get the portables installed and ready to ease the overcrowding at HMS. Will the new portables be ready for the teachers to move their supplies in and for the students to learn in on 8/26, the first student attendance day? Hopefully this issue will be addressed at both the 8/4 Facilities Committee and the 8/17 BOE meeting. If this work isn't completed on time, will anyone be held accountable, or will this be another example of work not getting done or not getting done right with no negative consequences, except to our teachers and students? Cross your fingers that the work gets done and stay tuned for updates.....

b.  The Referendum -- Tentatively slated (per late Spring BOE meeting discussion) for a public vote on March 16, 2016 election is a Capital Referendum to raise tax money to pay for either a new Hinsdale Middle School, a renovated and expanded Hinsdale Middle School, a possible new administrative center, a possible new professional development center (REALLY??), and possible capital improvements to other schools. Critical decisions will need to be made by both the Facilities Committee and the full BOE on the scope of the referendum and the date it will officially be put on the ballot. All D181 taxpayers must closely monitor the discussions on the Referendum and become knowledgeable about the proposed plans, and more importantly how the costs will impact our pocket-books. So stay tuned for updates.....

After last night's storms, we appreciate the sunshine -- both in the weather and from the BOE. We end the late summer post by applauding the BOE for its small but significant acts of transparency.  Communication and engagement with the community -- students, parents, teachers and all taxpayers -- are necessary steps the BOE must take to regain the trust that was eroded under the Turek led BOE. We hope the new (and improved) BOE continues down this path, and next tackles the important task of accountability.


Anonymous said...

I've heard from people inside the district that one reason the new portables at HMS are late is due to not getting the permits from Hinsdale until fairly late. I don't know if the district got in the applications late, or if it's the village's fault.

I've also heard that the principal & vice principal at HMS are hoping to get the portables ready by the start of school, but are making plans should the portables not be ready on time.

Anonymous said...

While the village of Hinsdale might be partially responsible, at the end of the day the kids and teachers are the ones that suffer. Perhaps if the administration had asked the BOE for approval for the mobiles to be installed months earlier it could have gotten the permits approved sooner and had the whole summer to install them. HMS conditions have not changed much in the last year -- mold free yes (perhaps....) but still as overcrowded as ever with traveling teachers galore...

And lets not forget that the administration reported to the BOE in June that the permits had been approved. So I agree with the bloggers, where are the mobiles?

Laughing So Hard It Hurts.... said...

Yeah, this trip to the market will really make such a difference for voters:

How about establishing a Referendum Committee as has been done historically in D181 for past referendums? The phrase "it takes a village" exists for a reason, not the phrase "it take a couple farmers markets and an ice cream social....."

Anonymous said...

For the life of me I don't understand why HMS is getting dumped with more portables, when CHMS has a newer building and TONS more free space for the portables. CHMS is surrounded by acres of open parks and parking, while HMS is burdened with the main train station, shopping district, and 200 more children than Clarendon Hills Middle School.

Why didn't the district redraw the boundaries back to the way they were when The Lane went to CHMS 5 years ago? Hasn't HMS suffered enough? If they offered a bus from The Lane school area to CHMS, I wonder how many parents would volunteer to send their kids there instead? As a current Lane parent, I would gladly send my children to CHMS if given the opportunity. I would rather my children walk to a portable through grass than through a crowded public parking
lot of a downtown shopping area.

HMS and the downtown area need the parking spots that the portables are monopolizing. Plus, let's face it - it will be an even larger eyesore to downtown Hinsdale to have even more portable trailers in a few weeks. How would you feel as a business owner or landlord of downtown Hinsdale to know that there will be more traffic and kids swarming around downtown, but less parking for shoppers?

Anonymous said...

A couple of replies to your suggestions: first and foremost, your child CAN attend CHMS; I believe there still is open enrollment in our district to attend either middle school. The reality is, most 5th grade students would rather enter middle school with their peers, even if the alternative is a shiny new school. If you were able to convince enough people, 50?, you could probably negotiate a bus. Sadly, the Lane School families have been pushed and pulled in different directions over the years, and, I for one, think it's unfair to ask them to do that again, as doing so would only result in overcrowding again at CHMS - which is why they moved back to HMS. CHMS was not built to hold more than 650 students. Not to mention, CHMS tried to add portables in the past, but the district doesn't own the property behind the school. The park district does, and the answer at the time was a big NO. The only place for portables would be the parking lots, which would disrupt flow to CHMS buses and to Prospect parents. While I respect the concern for parking, the Village is not losing parking in this "deal," the district is. The district owns the part of the lot where the portables currently sit (and all of the spots that stretch their way to the art sculpture). In order to get the Village to renegotiate the $1 a year they pay to lease all of those paid parking spots, the district had to give them back other village parking previously swapped in the lease agreement to account for the 15-20 they are no longer going to be able to use because of the new portables. So, I doubt the shoppers will be affected, as those spots were handed back to the Village in other places. Unfortunately, we didn't pick the location of Hinsdale Middle School; alternate locations have been vetted. There are none. The bottom line is that portables are supposed to be a short-term fix. They temporarily give students a place to learn, but they aren't ideal in any way. The community has been discussing the inadequacies of this building since the 1990s, long before mold was discovered in about 85% of the drywall. It's more than mold. It's more than space (although that's having a much greater impact on student learning at the present time). If you haven't been in the school lately, I suggest you take a comparison visit. Go to CHMS. Go to HMS. How a district of this size and means allows two schools with such extreme differences in the quality of facilities to exist is beyond me. Every other school in this district has undergone major renovations or new construction in the recent past. It's time to address HMS. Our focus should be on the future of our children, not parking.

Anonymous said...

Portables are intended to be temporary. If you look at the plans, the students will not be asked to walk outside at all, as an enclosed hallway will be added for security and shelter. As for parking, the district- not the Village- owns those spots the portables will be sitting on (and currently sit on). The Village currently leases them. Parking is an issue the Village needs to address regardless of the school.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the clarification regarding parking and the portables. If parents were asked, or even encouraged to send their children to CHMS instead of HMS in the spring, I am certain the enrollment could have been managed in a more cooperative way. Having Dr. White talk to random people at the farmer's market a few weeks before school starts is simply not an effective use of his time. A more logical action on his part would be contacting parents of incoming middle school students and asking them if anyone would like to voluntarily send their children to CHMS this year. Also confounding is that the population problem has been foreseeable since last year, so I don't understand why the portables are still not in place.

In the spring, parents only received information about their need to register and submit their checks to the district to cover fees. No one received any encouragement to help the district handle their imbalanced populations by encouraging them to enroll their children at CHMS.

How telling (and predictable) that the administration secured their own office space in June instead of worrying where teachers and staff would start teaching and learning in August.

Anonymous said...

To the person who seems so concerned about The Lane School parents being pushed and pulled in so many directions: why would it be more fair to keep Lane school children at HMS? It was bad enough that when we moved here, all our neighbors' children had been going to CHMS. We were promised CHMS. Now to imply that it's better for our children to stay at HMS' terribly old, dysfunctional, AND crowded environment is ridiculous. HMS has about 200 more kids than CHMS. And have you ever seen the parent and bus drop off lanes at HMS? That, along with downtown traffic is incomparably worse. As far as the park district people saying, "No" to portables in CH parks, perhaps they should start asking for the district to pay them rent. The money could be put to use towards upgrading the equipment and facilities at parks. God knows the district has more than enough money to spend on administrators. Time for the district to start paying the community back and taking the needs of teachers and students into consideration. If children spend 8 hours a day, 180 days a year in crowded schools, and the parks are generally only used during the summer and a few hours after school, wouldn't it be a better use of the community's property to allow the children to use it? As was mentioned previously, the portables were only a short term solution, but parents have still not been presented any other viable options. Although some are adamant that a new school must be built, this administration's lack of transparency, communication, and fiscal responsibility is a very bad sign. There is no way that I would trust this district to build a new middle school, especially back in downtown Hinsdale. Businesses,commuters, parking lots and shoppers belong in downtown..students do not.

Finally, as far as the suggestion that parents should take it upon themselves to rally the Lane community to try an organize emigration to CHMS, I have a better suggestion: ask our administrators to do it. Look at the ever growing number of useless administrators in our district. Obviously, at least one, if not all of them should have realized that this is staff's job, not parents. If the district can afford to pay administrators $800/day, I would expect them to personally visit student's homes as well as provid bus service.

Anonymous said...

Why should any child in District 181 have to learn in a "terribly old, dysfunctional, crowded environment"?