It is time to say goodbye.
For the last three years, we have diligently followed district happenings and tried to create a forum for D181 issues to be discussed in a transparent fashion. We have published 365 posts, 5545 comments and over 685,000 readers have accessed the blog. We are grateful to all our followers for not only reading, but participating actively on the blog.
But it is now time for change. After attending or listening to the last few board and committee meetings/Podcasts, we have concluded that there is nothing more we can do to shine a light of transparency on the district dysfunction, curriculum nightmare, facilities bait and switch tactics, irresponsible administration and valiant attempts by a few board members to hold people accountable for the problems that exist in D181 and are causing detriment to students and taxpayers. We can continue to cry foul until we are blue in the face, but it seems that nothing has really changed in D181 and the district has come full circle to where it was five years ago when the administration began dismantling a research based curriculum program and implementing a "socially just" (haha!) "Advanced Learning/Learning for All" programs. And in the area of facilities, chaos and disorganization has been the rule of the day since the HMS mold infestation was discovered in January 2014.
In our opinion, D181 continues to be run by a top heavy, self-serving administration. Rather than look out for the best interests of all students and all taxpayers, the administrators look out for themselves with their end goal being internal or external promotion to the next, best administrative position, personal acclaim, outrageous and undeserved salaries ultimately culminating in inflated pensions upon retirement.
As we contemplated what to say in our final post, we decided we would simply sign off with some thank you's and reminders of what we have witnessed during our blog "journey." Our journey is ending, because all of our children have now graduated from D181. While we will continue as taxpayers and community members, we will no longer allow the dark clouds that hang over D181 to overshadow our daily lives. We will be moving forward in the hope that our children's future high school and college days will be filled with sunshine. Our excitement for our children's brighter future, however, is tempered with the knowledge that every year there will be thousands of students who will continue to be subjected to the whims of the D181 leadership.
We believe that it is the responsibility of all current and future D181parents to not only closely monitor their children's educations, but to take all necessary steps to ensure that when their D181 journeys end, their children have not been irreparably harmed. The onus now falls on current and future parents to assume the reigns of transparency in D181. As taxpayers, we will speak with our votes. Fiscally irresponsible decisions and tax referenda proposed by the Administration and BOE will be greeted with a celebratory NO vote by us at our local polling place or a vote to unseat board members who are not looking out for the taxpayers' best interests.
As we exit, we will first express our thanks to the following individuals:
1. Our children. Without them, the joy they bring to our lives and our obligation to ensure that they are provided the best public education available, there would be no need for this blog.
2. All the blog writers and contributors. Yes, we are thanking ourselves and everyone who has written posts or comments. Collectively, we have invested thousands of hours in gathering information (either through attendance at meetings, listening to podcasts, reading all documentation available on board docs, the D181 website, the FOIA log), investigating issues, fact checking, and listening and speaking to parents, teachers and administrators who have raised concerns. Freedom of speech is a cornerstone of our nation, and so we include in this list all contributors, even those who expressed negative comments about us.
3. The D181 Teachers. Over the more than 21 year span that we, the bloggers, have lived in D181, our children have benefited from many outstanding teachers. We have witnessed brand new teachers join the D181 teacher ranks, young teachers mature, older teachers grow wiser and retiring teachers end their careers after spending 30+ years dedicating themselves to the districts' children. Almost without exception, these teachers have worked tirelessly to address our children's needs. They have done their best in the face of curriculum initiatives that were not based in best practices and were unsupported by research. Some teachers have bucked the system and refused to implement the inappropriate curriculum changes that the administration tried to force upon them. Many have stood bravely together to call out inequities, unfairness, and alleged wrong-doings by administrators. With even fewer exceptions, these teachers' focus has been on our children, rather than on self-promotion.
4. Brave board members who have refused to stand down. Over the last five years, the following board members (present and past) have turned on the spotlight of transparency when an issue was being buried, or was not receiving the full attention needed. As a result they were often subjected to scorn and ridicule by fellow board members, D181 administrators and community members, rather than receiving gratitude for doing the right thing. While we have not agreed with everything these individuals have said or done, today, we are thanking them without reservation. They deserve all of our thanks because they have refused to be silenced when they have felt there were issues and wrongdoings that needed to be exposed and fully discussed. So, thank you to Mridu Garg, Leslie Gray, Richard Giltner, Jennifer Burns, Brendan Heneghan, Yvonne Mayer and Ann Mueller.
In our opinion, it is important to remind our readers of some of the wrongs that we witnessed over the last five years. It is critical that parents -- past, present and future -- not forget what has happened to D181.
1. Student Performance continues to decline steadily. D181 is no longer a district known for it's academic excellence. Instead, it has become a laughing stock amongst other districts and fodder for bad jokes at cocktail parties. We are not making this up. Ask administrators and teachers in other districts. Ask superintendents in other districts. Ask people who work at the Regional Office of Education. Ask parents who are active on the Hinsdale/Clarendon Hills social circuit. Many will not be afraid to tell you that they cannot believe the craziness that they have watched take over D181.
2. Less than 6 years ago, D181 students were educated within a research based curriculum -- one that included gifted and advanced learning tiers AND inclusive classrooms for SPED students when ever possible. Rather than fix the flawed identification process for placement into appropriate academic tiers -- with a goal of allowing entry for all students into the highest tier they could succeed in -- no attempt was made to fix the identification model. Instead, over the last five years, the district spent over $60,000 in consultants whose reports and recommendations were not followed. Instead, relying
on "best practice" representations of newly hired administrators who had never worked in a district of D181's caliber and had no training or experience in running a Department of Learning, the district turned "gifted" into a bad word, dismantled the elementary gifted programs, opened up the middle school programs to any student who wanted in and worse yet, unsuccessfully forced next year's 7th graders to all be accelerated one full year in math starting in 3rd grade. All of these destructive actions were taken in the name of "social justice." And now, as we have discovered, all this was done without any real research or data to back up the promises of a better curriculum and education for all D181 students. Our students were treated as lab rats, and as everyone knows, lab rats don't usually fare well in the experiments mad scientists conduct. The end result in D181 has been that not only did many grade level and below grade level students suffer social and emotional harm when forced to do work that was simply too difficult, students on the high end were also harmed as a result of the watering down of course work, as teachers realized that the all-inclusive, learning for all model wasn't working and they could not effectively teach to every single level in one classroom.
3. At no time during the roll-out of the new-fangled, socially just programs was performance data properly collected or analyzed. Nor was there any meaningful data analysis of the countless test scores collected over the last 5 years as students were over-tested in the form of 3 MAP tests/year, the ISATs, Inview, PARRC, Writing Samples, Pre-chaper and end of Chapter tests, End of Grade level tests -- the list goes on and on. Instead, administrative excuses have run amok in D181with the release of each set of declining scores. Administrators have been quick to engage in psycho-babble and double talk, pointing fingers every which way except at the root cause of the problem -- their incompetence and the radical changes they rammed down every one's throats.
4. On the rare occasion when one or two schools had pockets of higher test scores, the administration proved incapable of conducting the much needed analysis to determine why those pockets were successful and what could be implemented district wide. Even this year, after a director with a real statistical background was hired, her surface level data analysis did not go deep enough and her conclusions remain in question. The implications of her most recent MAP analysis has led BOE members to question whether MAP data presentations from the four preceding years were flat out wrong. There has been administrative push back to board member requests that the assessment director now go back and analyze past year's MAP data. So, who should we believe? A new administrator and a relatively new Superintendent who refuse to dig deep, ask questions and come up with answers? Who, if anyone, can we trust?
5. Even now, with the May 2015 BOE directive to reinstate tiered math programs, the Department of Learning has failed to establish a research based, data driven identification process that will lead to consistent and FAIR placement decisions and that would pass muster in any other high achieving school district.
6. As we write this blog post, the district finds itself right back where it started 6 years ago, except now, performance scores are dismal.
7. The destruction (as we are calling it) of D181's excellence in education can all be traced to past and present superintendents' hiring decisions and the BOE's approval of the Advanced Learning Plan, which then morphed into the Learning For All Plan. Although the BOE approved the Advanced Learning plan unanimously, a couple of board members expressed reservations, saying that the plan was a nuclear option, rather than a limited strike to fix identifiable problems within the existing system. Sadly, the Administrators who crafted the "missiles of educational destruction" proudly proclaimed that their socially just programs would put the District into the national spotlight. They were quite clear that it was not enough for D181 to be ranked as one of the top school districts in Illinois. No -- the goal had to be that D181 would achieve national acclaim and be ranked amongst the top school districts nation wide. Well - we think it is safe to say that their missile strikes didn't end with the glory they had promised!
1. D181 used to be a district where only accomplished, proven, experienced administrators would be hired. Over the last six years we have witnessed D181 transform into a training ground for building level and Central Office administrators. Upon the departure of some administrators, they -- along with certain board members and remaining administrators -- have whined that there has been great turnover because D181's personnel can't stand working in such a critical and nasty environment where parents are mean and hateful to them.
2. We obviously have a different perspective and it is a simple one. Nearly all of the administrators the last two superintendents hired or promoted were inexperienced and unqualified to lead critically important Central Office departments. These administrators did not know what they were doing and spent their tenure "faking it," or worse yet, trying to implement initiatives that were not ground in best practice, research or data. Instead, they attempted to implement programs that they had (for lack of a better word) simply made up under the ludicrous belief that the programs would bring them national fame and future promotions. But those who don't know, can't do, and those who can't do, will fail. And these administrators failed the district miserably!
3. It took a while for community members and some board members to take their blinders off to the Emperor's New Clothes syndrome that infected D181, but once their vision began returning, these administrators were kicked to the curb or allowed to gracefully exit.
4. Sadly, in the midst of the bad seeds, there were a couple of administrators who were, in our opinion, mistreated by their fellow administrators, forced out or smartly chose to leave for districts that would allow them to return to an environment where the priority was education of the children, not self-promotion. We were deeply saddened when the former Lane Principal chose to leave. He has settled nicely into his new district and the parents there love him as much as the D181 families he left behind. Similarly, we found it abhorrent to watch as Gary Frisch (the former Assistant Superintendent of Business) was conveniently pushed out the door to make room for Dr White to promote one of his cronies from his last district.
5. As far as we are concerned, every single permanent and full time Central Office administrator who was hired, promoted and subsequently resigned since the 2011 departure of the Assistant Superintendent of PPS who preceded Dr. Schneider, should NEVER have been hired or promoted. In our opinion, they were simply unqualified, untrained and too inexperienced to do their Central Office jobs. And in our opinion, the same is true for some of the remaining Central Office and Building Level Administrators who were hired or promoted by Schuster or White.
6. Dr. Schuster -- No words are needed to remind everyone the damage caused by the "sensitive-nose" expert who in our opinion not only turned a blind eye to the educational needs of D181's students, but also refused to consider the possibility that HMS had mold. We may not be grateful for many things that have happened in D181 in the last five years, and certainly are not happy that HMS was found to be infested with mold, but we believe that but for MOLDGATE, Dr. Schuster would not have left D181 at the end of the first year of her two year contract extension. At least one positive thing came from the Polar Vortex and pipes bursting at HMS!
7. Dr. White -- We had high hopes. They have been dashed. The last two years could have seen a rapid clean-up of the Department of Learning mess. Instead, in all too typical fashion, upon his hiring, the administration circled the wagons. Despite clear and convincing evidence to support the firing of most of the DOL administrators, instead Dr. White had the audacity to promote Dr. Schneider to run the entire Department of Learning after Kevin Russell left to become a superintendent in another district. Sometimes it only takes one action to show a leader's true character, and this promotion told us all we needed to know about Dr. White. Subsequent promotions of his old district's administrative buddies sealed the deal for us. In our opinion, this year --Year 3 of Dr. White's three year contract -- should be his last!
8. Drs. Schneider and Benaitis -- We have been beating the bushes to learn why and how Drs. Schneider and Benaitis disappeared from the D181 radar. Neither of them have been seen at the Central office in weeks. Neither of them resigned or were fired with earlier effective resignation dates than the June 30, 2016 dates the BOE approved earlier this Spring -- Benaitis without a future job identified and Schneider who managed to land a promotion as a Superintendent in a North Shore Special Education district to start on July 1. While there will be no love lost come July 1 when their departures are official, thanks to a D181 staff member, yesterday we learned that the Code of Silence runs deep in D181. (See: http://www.hold181accountable.com/2016/06/comment-of-day-is-exiting-administrator.html)
9. To use a phrase we have used in the past, "we smell a rat." If Dr. Schneider is continuing to receive his salary while "missing in action," or if he will be allowed to use paid vacation days in the next few weeks, rather than be required by Dr. White to report to work and generate some kind of exit memo or something tangible that can be used by the new Assistant Superintendent of PPS, then Dr. White should be fired.
10. And let's not forget that taxpayer dollars were used to pay the tuition for Dr. Benaitis' doctorate program. Administrators who leave D181 within two or three years of receiving their doctorate are contractually required to pay the district back for some or all of their tuition. Has Dr. Benaitis done so? If not, why not? She was not fired. She resigned. And nothing on Board Docs reflects a BOE decision to let her off the hook from this financial obligation.
11. The taxpaying community is entitled to answers to all these questions. Will we ever get them? Probably not, unless perhaps one day, a state or federal agency gets wise and decides to do a full blown investigation of the behind the scenes Central Office shenanigans in D181!
1. Years of circular talk, delayed information and lack of recommendations by the Administration at Facilities Committee and Board of Education meetings have resulted in indecision and D181 not having a BOE approved Facilities Master Plan. Without such a plan, to serve as a guide for all of the capital projects that are needed at all NINE schools, individual decisions are irresponsible. Yet despite a facilities committee that was created at least two years ago, there is still no final or approved Master Plan. That is simply unacceptable.
2. It is true that Hinsdale Middle School is in desperate need of either a renovation and addition OR must be rebuilt. But a decision on one school cannot supersede approval of a plan that will address all nine schools' needs. And a decision on the scope of the HMS project and price tag must be supported unanimously by a united Board of Education -- the public officials who we elected to look out for the interests of ALL D181 taxpayers. To date, there hasn't been unanimity. In order to achieve it, the BOE members must first learn to respect each others' opinions. They must be willing to have meaningful public discussions as a group of seven. Individual board members must not be ostracized for not agreeing with the board majority. And at the end of the day, all seven board members must thoughtfully consider what the community is telling them during elections and in surveys.
3. The March 2016 HMS referendum FAILED. Plain and simple. The survey results were clear that the $65 million price tag was too expensive, bells and whistles needed to be stripped from the project, the "winning" architect should be fired and the process should start over. At the round tables held a couple of weeks ago, participants concurred. The price tag that was floated as POSSIBLY being one the community could accept was $50 million. The idea of a renovation and addition, rather than a new building was also brought up. In the June 2, 2016 online Doings Newspaper, an article appeared in which Asst. Superintendent Ken Surma stated that a renovation remains an option. (Source: http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/hinsdale/news/ct-dhd-middle-school-renovation-tl-0609-20160602-story.html) So what has happened?
4. Yesterday, the Facilities Committee met. Recall that Cordogan Clark was the architecture firm that won the "design contest," representing that a new HMS would cost $46 million, then raised the price to $73 million before the BOE lowered it to the $65 million that failed at referendum. At yesterday's meeting, Cordogan Clark presented yet another revised proposal. The proposal is available on Board Docs and can be accessed at: http://www.boarddocs.com/il/hccsdil/Board.nsf/files/AAQHVB492D10/$file/2016-06_07_HMS%20Design%20Concept.pdf.
5. You should all take the time to look at it. We were glad to see that it no longer has an auditorium or running track. The classes are smaller. There are fewer classes. There is a handy chart accompanying it that shows a comparison between the existing CHMS and HMS and the new proposal. We were quite disturbed when we closely analyzed the chart to discover that while educational spaces are smaller and in at least one case, the new proposed GYM is even smaller than the existing HMS gym, the administrative spaces are LARGER. As far as we are concerned, sacrifice should not have come from classroom numbers and space BEFORE coming from the ADMINISTRATIVE SPACES! Such modifications prove YET AGAIN, that the administration will protect its interests and comforts OVER AND ABOVE those of the students!
6. And what about the proposed new price tag? Buried deep within this document is the statement that the project cost will go down by $8 and $10 million dollars. In other words, the $65 million price tag will ONLY go down to between $55 and $57 million. And that is if you want to believe Cordogan's latest projection. There has been no cost analysis done by a construction firm. Why then should anyone believe their latest numbers? We certainly do not, especially since they are millions higher than the price tag the community said it would support.
7. So what will the BOE decide? Will it start by approving a Facilities Master Plan? Will it go to referendum a second time? If so, when? The community and some board members have been clear that November 2016 is too soon, but will the Administration rush the process a second time? What will the maximum cost of a new building be? Will the BOE actually participate in meaningful discussion on whether to fire Cordogan and start over? Will it go out to bid for a new architecture firm? Will it select a new referendum date that will allow time to make responsible decisions about not just HMS needs but those at the other 8 schools? This blog is ending before the BOE will meet to make these decisions, so we can only hold our breath and hope that a majority of the BOE will act in a responsible manner and not let the taxpayers down a second time.
Board of Education:
1. Over the last three years, we exposed board members who failed to live up to their responsibilities as D181's elected officials. Amongst their failures, we called out former Board Member Nelson for missing way too many meetings. Board Members Nelson and Turek were called out for insisting that they were going to seek legislative restrictions on Open Governance laws to limit community members' ability to access public documents as allowed under the Freedom of Information Act. Former Board Member Yaeger was called out for his rudeness to community members who made public comments at meetings. As a spouse of a D181 teacher and his work in the construction industry, Board Member Clarin was called out for (in our opinion) having conflicts of interest in his role as the BOE negotiator during past teacher contract negotiations and his over-involvement in construction related issues at D181.
2. During his bid for reelection, this blog highlighted 22 reasons why Marty Turek should not be elected to a second four year term. Despite this list, which he publicly mocked during the debates, the Hinsdale Caucus endorsed his candidacy on "continuity grounds" and he was, in fact, reelected. Since his reelection, he has been unengaged during most board discussions and his silence has also been accompanied by a lack of participation on board committees. As far as we are concerned, his actions have proven that he should not have won a second term in office.
3. We point all these past criticisms out because next Spring, three board seats will be up for election. Jill Vorobiev, Gary Clarin and Mridu Garg's terms will be ending. Will they run again? None have stated publicly what their plans are. But there are many issues that remain unresolved in D181 and new fiscal issues most likely lie ahead should the Illinois legislature finally get its act together and approve any one of the many school financing proposals that it is considering. The community must elect 3 new board members who will make a real commitment to do the hard work needed to turn this district around.
SO, IT IS NOW TIME TO END THIS LONG POST.
What does tomorrow hold? We are excited for the next chapter in our lives. Hopefully we won't have to start a blog about D86 or any of the private high schools our children will be attending. We will continue to stay informed on D181 issues, in order that we can vote in an educated manner in future board and referendum elections.
And we hope that you all do too. We hope that parents of current and future students do not put their blinders back on and pretend that all is roses and sunshine in D181. Because sadly, it is not. It is now YOUR TURN to step up to the plate and demand transparency and accountability. Please do it because it it the RIGHT THING to do for your children and for your pocket books. If you don't you will have no one to blame but yourselves if your children are hurt emotionally or academically in D181.
So good luck. Be well and BE BRAVE! Peace Out!
Post-script: While we will not be publishing any new comments, readers can still submit them for us to read. If anyone starts a new D181 Parent Blog or Teacher Blog, we will publish a link to that blog.