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.