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.


Anonymous said...

There will be a special board meeting to discuss science/math/ELA curriculum issues, fall map data, map data by quintile (showing that the district is NOT meeting the needs of the top quintile) on Monday at 6 pm at Walker School.

Anyone and everyone who is reading, posting,talking to your school, talking to your neighbor needs to get out to this meeting at Walker on Monday. There are only 3 boe members who consistently ask questions and comment on curriculum. This needs to change. It will only change if there are new faces and new voices vocalizing the concerns that have been voiced by the same few people for the last several years. Parents with young kids in the district, parents of advanced learners whose needs aren't being met....I am talking to you. If you want your kids to have a chance at a stimulating and challenging academic experience, you need to come and speak up. The other 4 boe members and the administration need to see you and hear you in person. It's not enough to talk anonymously through a blog or to your neighbor. Please attend the meeting and make your comments publicly.

Anonymous said...

Parents of young children need to understand that there have been significant changes made to our curriculum and delivery of services to the top 25%-30% of students (advanced learners) in this district over the past 4 years. These changes, in many cases, have resulted in a lessened educational experience and opportunities for growth for these students that may have resulted in decreased or lower MAP scores that will impact middle school placement and/or success, which may impact high school placement. Parents should inform themselves about these changes, in particular, what opportunities were available for these former students - elementary ELA and ACE, significant above grade level exposure in math - all of which resulted in a richer and necessary advanced curriculum for many students. All of this benefitted grade level learners, as well, as it allowed for easier and more consistent, focused differentiation from teachers. Parents should also understand the policies such as math compacting, homemade curriculum, lowered identification scores for advanced middle school classes, etc.. that have been implemented over the past 4 years and which have been reversed because of pushback from teachers and parents and, in some cases, significantly lowered test scores. Damage has been done to many students and parents of younger students have no idea. If parents don't get involved and our current administrators remain as decision makers, there is a danger of continuing to go down this road. Look at the facts and data, don't just listen to the spin.

Anonymous said...

Read the article in the Hinsdalean. Did Giltner really say he wanted Wight b/c they knew about permits? I think any resident in this community understands a permit. If you have ever done even the most minor thing to your property, you have had to pull a permit. It's not that complicated. This town loves permits!! I think Cordogan probably knows a thing or 2 about what they need to do. Please!

Anonymous said...

My conclusions as a long time 181 resident:

White: in way over his head and does not have the skills or knowledge to be successful as a superintendent in our district. He needs to go and the board should make this happen before he can do any more damage.
Schneider: still White's right hand and in control of his social justice vision while special education continues to be an afterthought. He also needs to go.
Benaitis: not enough words to describe her incompetence. Of course she needs to go.
Munch and other former Troy staff: they may have been able to word salad their resposibilities back in their old district, but they increasingly sound like they are playing a casual game of checkers while we desperately need chess players. They need to go along with the person who brought them here, White.
Giltner: now part of the all male bro club with Clarin and Turek who are all so clueless that it would be comical if it weren't so tragic for our kids. Hey Rich, we had big hopes for you, but you are crashing and burning big time. Open your eyes, man.
School Board: you show glimmers of hope that fade away and make us frustrated. Get a broom and clean our administrative house. We don't need whiners (White and staff) we need competent administrators now, not later.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with the comments about the awful car pool drop off lane at HMS. This is the first task that the facilities committee should dedicate itself to. Instead of driving forward (south) towards the exit to let other cars in behind them, many parents immediately stop, and block the entire drop off lane. This makes the back up go all the way to Dips n' Dogs. Not only is the morning drop off time a zoo, so is pick up time. Some parents sit and block the entry so they can wait for their kids to slowly amble up to the sidewalk. Meanwhile the rest of us are forced to wait on Garfield while our kids are already waiting for us. What about testing the skills of Wight and Cordogan by having a carpool drop off design contest between the two firms? The requirements should be to built the least expensive, fastest way to solve the drop off problem at HMS. Testing firms on a real life problem and seeing who actually gets the job done more efficiently is not perfect, but a more ideal way to gauge their skills.

Forgive me if this answer has already been discussed, but why does the district refuse to price out the idea of remodeling HMS in the same location? And why aren't they asking the public about potential new spots for HMS? What about the former Amlings spot on Ogden or the property on the corner of 55th and County Line as a potential spot? If the district is so convinced that tearing down and rebuilding is the best option, what will be done with the 800 students while the school is being built? Are they going to ask our kids to share CHMS again? I hope not. Please don't tell me they think they can demolish and build an entire school in downtown Hinsdale from June to August. Last week someone wrote a very reasonable editorial about the old Sedgwick property on 55th being a spacious, and desirable location for a middle school. I agree. Considering how expensive and complicated building a school is going to be, more time should be taken to determine which site would be more more suitable for children, easier, less expensive, and safer to build on. Tearing down and re-building a school at the current location will be a huge inconvenience to businesses, commuters, and students.

Although I am en engineer, not an architect, to me it seems the easiest fix for this drop off situation is to eliminate several, if not all, of those diagonal paring spots in the drop off area facing Garfield. Perhaps just put 2 or 3 spots along the sidewalk that is adjacent to Garfield's parkway. Also, widen the entrance to the drop off area. This is an easy, quick fix that would immediately make HMS safer for our children and teachers while also benefitting the entire community.

Anonymous said...

Just because parents do not show up at meetings to personally tell the administrators what they are doing wrong does not excuse them from all of their errors. It is the obligation of the administrators themselves to be reflective and honestly assess whether or not their actions have had the desired results. I don't see that happening. Our children are getting grades this Friday, so should our administrators. I would like to suggest that the blog begin a tally on what grades we would give each administrator.

I don't see anyone holding these administrators responsible. I too am disappointed that the district has chosen to focus their energies on a building rather than on addressing the falling test scores. There is no reason why Western Springs should be scoring better than 181. Obviously, test scores are not the most important thing in a district, but since our children are asked to spend so much time taking tests, and our district keeps adding more people to the department of learning, it is hard to understand why more learning is not taking place and why, suddenly, parents are being given less information about their own children's RIT scores.

Since someone by the name of Dr. White posted on this blog, and he never submitted a comment stating that he did not post it, it is safe to assume that he reads this blog. I am surprised that he does not use the blog as an opportunity to address the suggestions that parents have made here. I see this as a high tech, no cost suggestion box that he should be using to address suggestions and issues that arise. Because he does not, yet chooses to spend $50,000 of taxpayer money to create skewed surveys on random residents who may or may not have any knowledge of 181, I do not think he is spending our money effectively. If he really were interested in our opinions, and had any interest in following through or acting upon people's suggestions, he would address them here, on the blog, in black and white. I believe he does not because he refuses to stand behind what he often tells parents at public meetings and behind closed doors.

Although Ms. McGuiggan, the district's Public Relations person is adept at spinning poor results into triumphs, this is abhorrent in a public school. Please fire her and ask a qualified PTO parent, or local retiree, to take over her job. Parents have a much more realistic sense of what is happening in the schools. This, combined with the fact that they do not derive any financial gain by perpetuating the myths of our district's supremacy, make me think that there is no longer any room in our district for a PR Director. Please send her over to a corporation that relies on her skills to sell widgets.

Concerned Parent said...

6:38: Your idea for a report card tally on the administrators is brilliant. Bloggers, if you get enough comments grading administrators will you create a free standing post?

I will get the ball rolling with the following grades for the Central Office Administrators:

Dr. White -- C- (Comment: Dr. White's is seen arriving early at work, so it is clear he is putting in the time, however, he needs to produce more positive results, recommend elimination of some administrative positions and fire some of the slackards. As for the Referendum he is proposing, he needs to heed the concerns raised at the last board meeting that the facility needs of 1 of 9 schools cannot consume the district's attention and resources to the detriment of the curriculum and programs that impact 4000 students. Curriculum should be the priority above all other things. Since he is in year 2 of his 3 year contract, the BOE must push for improvement in these areas, otherwise not renew his contract. )

Dr. Tornatore -- A (Comment: Although just a 100 day interim assistant superintendent, I have been very impressed with her presentations to the BOE and Learning Committee. It is clear she is trying to implement the BOE's directive to reinstate ability groups in math. She is working on the science curriculum renewal process, something that was allowed to flounder for too long. She is professional in her interactions with parents and BOE members, and I would assume with teachers and other administrators. It is too bad she can't stay longer since it is obvious she is trying to fix some of the LFA problems.

Dr. Schneider -- F (for all the reasons other people have repeatedly pointed out)

Dr. Benaitis -- F (for all the reasons other people have repeatedly pointed out)

Dr. Larson -- A (Comment: This new Director of Assessment may not be an expert on MAP testing -- as she candidly disclosed during the last Learning For All committee meeting, but she clearly knows statistics and knows how to conduct data analysis, is sharp as a tack and is has thrown herself into her job, learning all about the assessments students have been subjected to over the last few years under LFA. She was not afraid to point out the data issues -- lack of collection, lack of analysis and poor performance of our highest achievers. It is too bad that no one in the administration bothered to give her a full historical perspective on the districts curriculum history and forced her to spend hours looking through board docs to try and piece the history together herself. (Listen to the last Learning Committee meeting podcast to hear all about this....) I hope she continues to stand up and speak out. The BOE should commend her.)

Mr. Surma: C- (Comment: His primary job should be overseeing and reporting on the district's finances. He has not presented full monthly financial reports to the BOE since he took over in July and his answers on financial matters seem extremely superficial. While he is also in charge of "operations" and very involved with the HMS project, that cannot be his priority. He is paid way too much money to not be presenting timely financial reports.)

Mr. Munch: B- (Comment: Seems to be working hard, but I am not impressed with his presentation style. He needs to be more proactive in bringing staffing needs to the BOE's attention in a timely manner that will not leave the district scrambling to fill positions at the last minute.)

Anonymous said...

As a 28 year resident of D181 who has been involved at every level with the district (PTO to BOE President,) I agree that the current academic and curricular needs of students and teachers must be addressed immediately. The Department of Learning has failed. Dr. Tornatore is trying very hard to make changes, but she is only an interim and can only work 100 days due to the fact that she is a retired superintendent. Who is going to be the permanent curriculum hire? Will anyone truly qualified even apply?I also agree with the previous comment that the administrative fat needs to be cut and qualified administrators need to be hired to service this high performing district. The fact that Dr. White even kept Schneider and Benistis and then elevated Schneider to be responsible for the enitre Department of Learning was a huge red flag!!! Fortunately, the BOE demanded that Schneider go back to only being responsible for SpEd, but he still should go. It is very painful to see D181 compared to the Western Springs district and the comments are 100% correct that Western Springs, with a far smaller administration, has surpassed D181 in student performance. Western Springs' former curriculum administrator is our former Prospect principal, Mike Fusten. D181 has been in "free fall" for 7-8 years and this must be turned around. However, as a member of the current D181 Facilities Committee, please do not hold back on supporting a new HMS just because of these other issues. HMS has been in need since the first referendum was run to address it in 1996! To answer the question about why rennovation and addition hasn't been investigated....well, it has! When the cost of renovation is 60% of the cost of a new building, you go with a new building. Also, the question about investigating other sites....well, that has been done for two decades! The property at 55th and County Line was investigated even before the housing development existed and since as well. The Amling space isn't big enough by current standards. A new HMS can be built adjacent to the current building, as was done when the current building was constructed. The students can stay in the current HMS while the new building is built. I realize that many of the questions/suggestions proposed in this blog are from fairly recent residents who have not been part of D181 for three decades. Please understand that many, if not all, of your questions/suggestions have been posed and investigated by concerned parents and community members in the past. There is such a dramatic, huge need at HMS and it just can't be put off any longer.
The curriculum situation is awful and needs to be addressed along with HMS. D181 was truly a "lighthouse district" when my two children were students. The light needs to be turned back on in the curriculum arena!

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.

Anonymous said...

A report card is a good idea. Dr. Schneider's report card should include his use of a personal email account when conducting school district business. Has Dr. Schneider been reprimanded for using his personal email address for district business? Is there a minimal acceptable level of conduct for our district administrators or does anything go?

Anonymous said...

Can someone please explain why the comments about Dr. Schneider using his personal email to conduct board business are about? I checked on the D181 website FOIA log, found some of his emails that were produced earlier this summer, but they don't look like they are from a personal email account.

Yvonne Mayer said...

While on the BOE, I asked questions relating to best practice research and data to support implementation of the Advanced Learning Plan/Learning for All Plan. When the questions were not answered, I filed a formal FOIA request. The public records I requested included emails between certain D181 administrators. When the FOIA request was denied by the D181 administration, I filed a Request for Review with the Attorney General's office. It took 2 years for the ruling, which was favorable to me in part and ruled against me in part. The district produced many of the documents I sought, and I resubmitted a more limited scope FOIA relating to the emails. The district finally produced the emails but they raised serious concerns, including whether or not all responsive emails had actually been produced. As a result, I filed a FOIA with another public entity, the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee,seeking many of the same emails I had requested D181 produce. Because of differences in Wisconsin's FOIA laws, in order to obtain the public records, payment of the vast number of responsive records they found was required. Along with a group of other concerned citizens, we paid the required production fees and in late summer, all of the emails were produced. What we discovered was that there were additional responsive documents that the University of Wisconsin produced that were not produced by D181, including emails written by a certain administrator on his personal email account in which D181 business was discussed.

The content of the emails produced by the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee raised serious concerns, which I and another resident brought directly to the attention of Dr. White and the Board President on August 28. We requested that the emails and our concerns be shared with the entire BOE. Because the administrator in question used his personal email account to conduct D181 business, Dr. White told us during the meeting that the district would not have had access to or control over these emails and that no laws were broken in the district's failure to produce these public records. While he is probably technically correct in making that argument, it is my opinion that if a D181 administrator uses personal email accounts to conduct D181 business, especially regarding a hot topic that is being discussed by the BOE and which the administration is well aware is the subject of pending FOIA requests, use of personal emails by any D181 employee in which the topic of FOIA requests is discussed, enables the district to circumvent FOIA laws (similar to what has been reported in the news has happened in Illinois with other public employees). The BOE should be extremely concerned about this, but in my opinion, should be more concerned about the content of the emails that were produced by the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. I and the other resident who met with Dr. White on August 28 are still waiting to be told what, if anything, the BOE plans to do about the concerns we have brought to their attention.

All of the concerns we raised are based on the content of the emails the University of Wisconsin produced. All of the emails produced were public records. I will share a PDF copy of these public records with any one who contacts me directly requesting them or you can contact the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee's public records department and ask for a copy from them (although I am not sure if they will charge you for the PDF copy).