With the start of the new school year, we -- the bloggers -- have made a decision to "stand down" following this post. Our readers might expect that with all of the important issues D181 students, staff and taxpayers are going to face this year, that we would continue posting regularly in our continuing quest to ensure transparency in all things D181. However, we have decided not to. Why is that, our readers might be asking? The reasons include:
1. We have written about important issues for over two years and provided a forum for the community to speak out without fear of repercussion, however, it is time to pass the baton to younger parents who need to step up to the plate and push for accountability and transparency by the district authorities -- the administration and the Board of Education. As we drove or walked our older children to school this morning, we saw the smiling and proud faces of the district's youngest learners -- 5 and 6 years olds, who are starting the first year of their nine year D181 educational journey. For some of these children, they are the oldest in their family and their parents have no experiences with the curriculum turmoil that older students have gone through. For others, parents of older students --while they too were smiling -- they may have been feeling trepidation (as we were) over what this year will hold for their children. In both instances, these parents must now do more than smile and hope for the best. They need to stay engaged, alert, attentive and not tolerate any harm coming to their children from poor administrative and curricular decisions. They need to assume responsibility, get involved and stay involved in overseeing their student's education and not just assume that because their students are enrolled in D181 that everything is perfect and cannot be improved.
2. We hope that the Board of Education will partner with parents to demand that the administration be held accountable for its poor (and in our opinion, harmful) past decisions and take the necessary steps to ensure that our children are no longer harmed academically by the continuation of the experimental, social justice ideological, untested, unproven curriculum models that the administration forced upon our children for four years.
3. Three new board members, Leslie Gray, Jennifer Burns and Richard Giltner have for the most part impressed us since they joined the BOE in May. Along with Board President Mridu Garg, they have been asking the right questions and were instrumental in forcing the administration to begin to change the one size fits all instructional model that clearly wasn't working for our students. In addition to asking meaningful and pointed instructional and assessment questions, they have also started asking tough questions about district expenses. It is our hope that they will not back down and will continue to demand answers and information on any issue that impacts our children and our pocketbooks. In fairness to their efforts to date, we do not think it would be productive or constructive to (for lack of a better term) "micromanage" all of their actions. Change takes time and we believe the new BOE is well positioned to move the district in a positive direction. So we will give them the opportunity to assume the torch and shine a public light on the good and the bad in D181 and more importantly, fix the bad. We hope they don't let us down.
There will be many D181 issues that will impact students and taxpayers this year and it is our hope and expectation that the BOE will insist that the administration provide them and and all residents real, accurate, timely and unbiased information so that ALL OF US, can make well informed decisions. These issues include:
1. Is Dr. White doing a good job as the superintendent and should his three year contract be renewed? He is starting year 2 of a 3 year contract and by the end of this school year, the BOE should decide whether or not he should be told his contract will/won't be renewed so, if necessary, there will be time to conduct a search for a new superintendent during his third year. What should influence the BOE's decision?
a. Have the administrators Dr. White recommended the BOE hire and is responsible for overseeing been successful? Specifically, he recently split (with no reduction in salary) Dr. Schneider's job responsibilities and hired a second Assistant Superintendent of Learning. Unfortunately (as some of the new board members bravely pointed out at the last board meeting), hiring someone who is retired and can only work 100 days is very troubling. Whether that person works 100 straight days and then the district has to hire another interim, or works two months straight and then only part time for the rest of the year, the bottom line is that this is not an effective approach to address the curriculum crisis that they are walking into. Whatever the "real" reasons are for Dr. White's decision to hire a second Assistant Superintendent of Learning, in our opinion, this decision should have been made months earlier, well before the summer break, so that a PERMANENT, FULL TIME, QUALIFIED, EXPERIENCED CURRICULUM AND INSTRUCTIONAL LEADER WHO UNDERSTANDS AND CAN RELATE TO OUR DEMOGRAPHIC could have been recruited and hired. The BOE must pay careful attention to the actual work done by the interim administrator(s) Dr. White brings on board, because our children cannot afford for any time to be wasted attempting to undo the curriculum mess. Someone should have been hired whose sole focus was to right the sinking curriculum ship, and not just do "projects" (as Dr. White stated in the district press release that the new interim would be doing). The BOE also needs to keep a close eye on the new assessment director who we are not confident possesses the correct skill set to effectively analyze our student's performance data and report on the effectiveness of our children's curriculum.
b. Does Dr. White hold his administrators accountable? For two years we have written about the failure by the administration and the past BOE to hold staff accountable for poor decisions and the negative impacts on our students. We have argued this until we are blue in the face. Before the BOE renews Dr. White's contract, it must decide not only if the administrators he has hired are actually doing their jobs and doing them well, but if they have not, has Dr. White held them accountable, or has a "circling the wagons" mentality simply continued in order to protect under performing administrators. In addition to Dr. White's new hires, has Dr. White provided sufficient justification to the BOE to keep administrators that are not pulling their weight in the Department of Learning (you all know who we are referring to)? Taxpayers pay the extremely generous salaries of all D181 staff. We should not have to pay high salaries for bad administrators.
c. Does Dr. White understand our community's demographic and really understand (or want to understand) the type of educational environment that will make all of our students thrive? Does he really want to hear what residents have to say or will this be another year where there is no meaningful, public forum such as a Town Hall Meeting despite repeated requests for one?
2. Are all student's being taught to their academic level and are they being properly identified? We have spent two years reporting on the curriculum mess in D181. Rather than fixing the identification process for placing students into different academic tiers in math and language arts (or into the now defunct gifted programs), the district embarked on a four year curriculum revamp that morphed from an attempt to implement more effective differentiation for all students to an Advanced Learning Plan with math acceleration for all students, to a Learning for All Plan with a one size fits all inclusive integrate class room model to what we have renamed the Learning for None plan. Throughout this journey, despite brave parents stepping up to demand grade level instruction for their students who should never have been slotted in the "everyone will be accelerated in math" model, and despite a proper data performance evaluation of the curriculum changes and their impact on students, in our opinion, the administration's attitude was nothing more than a warped version of the Emperor's New Clothes. The BOE and community were repeatedly told that the new programs were great and everyone should be able to see that, and the old BOE allowed the "Map" to be redrawn over and over again with no real destination in sight other than an experimental journey to reach a socially just nirvana. Finally the NEW BOE stepped up to the plate and said, enough is enough. Time to change course again and actually, reverse course. So now academic tiers and placement testing into tiers have made a return to the district. But with this most recent change, come the "same old questions" of years past. Is the identification process currently being used to place our students better than the one that was thrown out four years ago? How will we know if what the administration is telling the BOE regarding placement decisions is valid? We hope the BOE will start the year by asking these important questions and not turning a blind eye to "Emperor's New Clothes" type answers.
3 Best Practices. Anything that impacts our students in the classroom should be based upon best practices. In another instance of the Emperor's New Clothes, our community has been asked to simply believe that all the curriculum changes forced upon our students were based upon best practices. For years, brave parents and board members demanded to see the proof that would establish that best practices were being implemented through the Advanced Learning/Learning for All plans. In our opinion, the proof of best practices was never presented to us or the BOE. With the curriculum changes being implemented this year, we hope and expect the BOE to insist that if the administration says something is based on best practice that they actually have to prove it. Otherwise, we fear that this year will be nothing more than a continuation of the past curriculum mess.
4. Facilities and the Impact on Taxpayers. We could probably set up an entire blog to track the decisions that will be made (first by the BOE and then by taxpayers) on the future of Hinsdale Middle School. In the next month or so, architectural schematics on "what to do" with HMS will be presented to the community during public meetings. Issues surrounding the future of HMS include: Should it be renovated and possibly expanded? Should it be torn down and a new school built? Is it "fair" that HMS students have to attend a school that some believe is sub-standard when compared to the 8 other schools in the district? What will the two options cost the taxpayer? Will the community support a referendum for either option? What will happen if a referendum fails? Dr. White has told the BOE that a decision must be made whether to go to referendum to raise money needed for either option as early as March 2016. That is less than seven months away. As we sit on the sidelines and watch Dr. White, the BOE, the facilities committee and the finance committee take first crack at debating the issues, we have to say that we are not confident that a referendum for either option stands a chance at passing, at least not the first time around. Why do we lack confidence?
a. We lack this confidence because while the community has been asked to complete an online survey on the future of HMS, no actual financial information was provided in the survey. We know, because we have taken it. Yes, some broad projections were provided, but they were provided AFTER the questions on what option was preferred. And those projections were not based upon any actual schematics that were received by the district. In our opinion, the administration is wasting our time with useless surveys. They should have waited until the schematics were presented by the various architectural firms and once the actual cost of each proposal was vetted and converted to taxpayer impact scenarios (for more than an owner of a $500,000 home) THAT information should have been presented to us in a survey asking for our opinions on both options. WE ARE ALL SUPER INTELLIGENT TAX PAYERS. The administration will not be able to snow us on such an important capital decision that will negatively impact our tax bill regardless of which option we might or might not support. What we need to know is what will the financial hit actually be and then tell us why we should be willing to support it. We are already troubled by the information stream we are being given before we are asked to give the BOE and administration our opinions. That approach needs to change if we are to feel confident in any referendum request.
b. We also lack confidence in what option is best for HMS because even now, the much smaller project of installing extra mobile units to increase learning space capacity could not be completed in time for the first day of school. We have heard Dr. White and the administration blame the Village of Hinsdale for slowing down the permitting process. But in our opinion, the Village of Hinsdale did nothing wrong. It was the administration that should have decided months earlier than it did, that mobile units were needed for this school year. Had they asked the BOE to approve the mobile units in late winter or early spring, they would have been able to seek the permits and start the installation process right after school let out for the summer. Instead, the BOE wasn't asked to approve the mobiles until late spring. Even under the best scenarios, the administration should have been foreseen that the mobiles would not have been ready on time with such a late start to the project. The administration should have been more candid about that from day one, rather than represent that the project would be completed by the time school resumed. Having to make the walk of shame at the last board meeting and admit the work wouldn't be completed in time was hard, but for the administration to not assume any responsibility for this poor planning was really shameful. What we are left with is the sad realization that the incoming 6th graders -- who by the way are the same "guinea pig" students who were experimented on and harmed by the acceleration for all, social justice/all inclusive, integrated classroom/one size fits all model -- are now starting their middle school experience as displaced students. While this inconvenience will hopefully only last a week or two, as parents, we should all be asking just how many negative experiences does the administration expect to put our children through before we are forced to consider moving them out of district? If we can't trust the administration to get a small capital improvement project done in a timely way, how can we trust them with the huge undertaking of renovating or building an entire building?
5. Other Taxpayer issues. A can that has been kicked down the road for the last several years by the Illinois legislators is how to fix the public employee pension system. The legislators have debated options that include moving the pension burden to the individual districts and if this happens, the district will be forced to spend millions of dollars each year funding the teacher pensions. That is money that will reduce our operational budget and may force the district to spend down its reserves or ask the tax payers to approve an operational referendum (beyond any capital referendum to fix/rebuild HMS). The administration has not built projections on the possible impact of such legislation into the school budget, and we think this is irresponsible. It is pretty clear from the ongoing political debate that school funding models will be changing. In addition to the pension changes, the idea of freezing property taxes has been floated in Springfield. All of these changes will affect our pocket books and schools. While the Illinois legislators have managed to delay school funding decisions, it is not in D181's best interest to pretend that change is not going to happen. The administration should be planning for the "rainy day" and presenting these plans to the BOE. The administration's failure to do so should cause all of us taxpayers to question any attempts to raise our taxes.
There are no doubt many more issues that we could list, but we will stop with these five. Our hope, however, is that all of our readers and D181 taxpayers/residents will not stop. Our hope is that you will all stay informed on any issue that you think impacts your children's education and your pocketbook. While this will be our last blog post, we do not intend to shut down the blog to community member comments. We encourage our readers to send in comments on any concerns or complements you have relating to D181. We also encourage the District Teachers to continue to use this as a forum to let us know if there are issues or staff concerns that parents should be aware of. More importantly, we encourage our readers to be brave and fight for what you think is right for all of D181's students. Don't be afraid to speak up. Don't be afraid to ask questions. Don't be afraid to demand accountability. Remember that the school board members were elected by all of you to do represent the electorate (not the administration) and they were elected to oversee and approve all expenditures, tax levies and financial obligations that will impact our pocketbooks. Most importantly they were elected to evaluate and approve all school programs and do what is best for our children. Don't be afraid to publicly remind the board members of their obligations and remind them that as they do their jobs, they must also be fully transparent and hold Dr. White accountable.
Finally, we want to thank all of our readers who have supported this blog and empowered us to continue to speak out. Now it's your turn!