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D181 Board Approves Long-term Curriculum Overhaul

All six board members in attendance Monday night voted to approve the District 181 advanced learning plan, though two presented plenty of criticism.

After more than a year of discussion, a long-term plan aiming to increase rigor and inclusivity across District 181 has been approved.

The District 181 Board of Education approved by a 6-0 vote Monday night an advanced learning plan 13 months after gifted consultant Tonya Moon pointed out problems she saw with District 181’s approach to advanced learning and six months into a curriculum transition year during which an advanced learning task force has developed the long-term plan.

While all six board members in attendance voted to approve the plan (Glenn Yaeger was absent), Brendan Heneghan and Yvonne Mayer delivered a prepared joint statement before the vote that pointed out what they see as problems with the plan and the process by which it was developed and approved.

The plan, which has been the primary focus of the last three board meetings, would eliminate exclusive ACE programs in the district’s elementary and middle schools while standardizing ACE principles and increasing rigor in math and English language arts for all students.

READ: End of D181's Pullout ACE Program Proposed for Elementary Schools; Exclusive Middle School ACE Program Phased Out Under D181 Proposal

Beginning in 2016-17, the administration's executive summary of the plan reads, the district wants students to enter sixth grade already having mastered sixth-grade math curriculum according to the new Illinois Common Core standards and, beginning in 2018-19, to graduate eighth grade with the ability to place into high school geometry.

In language arts, the district wants all students entering sixth grade to meet current enriched language arts standards beginning in 2016-17, and all eighth-grade graduates to qualify for District 86’s honors English program beginning in 2019-20.

READ: D181 Curriculum Overhaul: How Much Will It Cost?

Board President Michael Nelson said he does not believe he cast a vote Monday night for a “rigid” multi-year plan, but one that can evolve if need be.

“We’ve asked this group … to go out, review all the research that’s been done, come back with best practices, lay out a roadmap, and engage with people throughout the professional education community to help guide us in a vision, and then show us what year one, two, three, four and five would look like,” Nelson said. “They’ve done that.”

But Heneghan and Mayer said in their joint statement that they believe the plan “is not faithful” to Moon’s recommendations, is not fully explained in one document, was approved after the administration and task force avoided tough questions from board members, and is not well understood by the community as something that will affect all students, not just those previously identified as “gifted.”

Heneghan asked, “Is it fair to parents and community members to vote on the plan before there’s a public hearing to hear concerns?”

Mayer said she questioned whether acceleration across the district will benefit all students.

“It is ridiculous to conclude that this will have a positive impact on all learners,” Mayer said. “In fact, it will mostly likely increase the number of struggling learners who will need remedial and support services in order to keep up.”

In the end, however, both board members voted yes because it was clear the plan would be approved with or without their support.

Heneghan said “the only way to continue to help implement change is to support [the plan],” while Mayer voted yes “with the expectation that the administration will come to this board on a regular basis and report what’s been done, what is and isn’t working, and back it up with data.”

Along with Nelson, Sarah Lewensohn, Russell Rhoads and Marty Turek spoke positively of the plan.

“I am from the notion that we can’t afford not to do this at this point,” Turek said. “We must expect more from our kids in this highly competitive, dynamic world that we’re catapulting them into.”

Rhoads, who along with Mayer will be leaving the board after this spring’s election, had strong words before casting the final vote Monday night.

“I do think this is the best thing we’ve done since I’ve been on the board,” he said. 

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DD Campbell February 26, 2013 at 11:27 PM
Why aren't we teaching foreign language from the beginning? What a perfect opportunity to apply 'no ceiling' assignments for gifted learners. Example: learn 5 greetings in the target language. 'Gifted' kids learn 20. Learn 10 regular 'ar' verbs. 'Gifted' kids learn 50. What a perfect vehicle to show your sparkle! And what happened to all-day kindergarten? That would be a good start for acceleration.
Brozowski February 28, 2013 at 07:15 PM
The only positive result of the passage of the ALP: Schuster and Nelson were exposed for the conspiring cohorts they are and will continue to be until the board changes and Nelson is no longer President. The fact they worked together behind the scenes to limit facts and information from emerging tells us we are in for one disappointment after another for the next two years as this so-called plan is rolled out. Hey,Turek; where was your accountability of Schuster and her enabling administrators this year during this admitted disastrous "transition plan?" Are you kidding? Ask your children if they are happy with a thrown together, non-research based, stressed out teacher-led programming this year, while Schuster and her administrators dance their way to a four-day work week this summer. And don't forget come next year, the children will have 8 days of less instructional time courtesy of Nelson, Turek, Rhoads, and Lewensohn, aka the rubber stampers who just can't seem to find a reason to vote for the well being of our kids.
Joe O'Donnell February 28, 2013 at 07:39 PM
Thanks for the comment "Brozowksi." Point of clarification, however: The board approved a calendar for 2013-14 with 8 late starts throughout the year, which are two hours each. So it's not 8 days less of instructional time, but rather the equivalent of 2 to 3 days, if my math serves me.
Suzanne March 04, 2013 at 02:11 AM
The Board should have demanded that the Administration rename this plan and the Task force behind it to reflect what it actually is, a total curriculum and philosophy overhaul. The vast majority of the community wasn't even paying attention to this plan becuase they assumed that it was, as it was labeled for a year, an "Advanced Learning Plan" for gifted students. To continue to label it and vote on it as a plan for gifted students was deceptive, misleading and unethical as well as a huge disservice to the members of the community who were unaware of it and were prevented from educating themselves and providing input about the plan. Not to mention the teachers who voiced so many significant concerns in a recent survey conducted by the administration. An amazing display of arrogance by the Board members who supported this plan. Most of whom, it was obvious, had not even read most of the materials and research behind it. There were so many thoughtful and important questions asked about the plan, it's a shame that the Board didn't pursue legitimate answers to them. Like the plan or not, our children deserved at least this. Time for a new Board.
Carrie March 04, 2013 at 07:52 PM
http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/03/03/us-education-database-idUSBRE92204W20130303 Candidates for the board need to ask parents opinions on the ISBE's proposal to lift the limits on class sizes for special ed students. Also, they need to hear what parents have to say about the state's agreement to provide highly detailed student data to a Gates Foundation funded non-profit, for use by any edu-tech company. Ask how the candidates will prevent ed "reformers" initiatives and RttT policies from hurting district students?

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