Want to know more about the concerns I listed on the home page? You’re in the right place.
Build a culture of transparency and oversight.
The existing school board consists of seven members of a single slate, the Friends of District 214/Supporters of District 214. When one member steps down, they hand-pick a new member. In the two years that I have been following the school board closely, I have not seen any dissention in the school board meetings, or even any open discussion on decisions — with the sole exception of former board member Todd Younger’s “no” vote on the decision to keep schools closed in the fall of 2020. (He broke with the slate and did not run for reelection.)
In part, this is because they make decisions behind closed doors. In part this is because they do not exercise sufficient oversight over the district administration. Neither is acceptable. And while I wish to be clear that I am not a lawyer and I am not claiming that the Board is violating any laws, to act ethically and with integrity is a higher standard than merely following the letter of the law.
For a deeper dive, click here to read more. . .
Move from a “school district with three destination schools” to a district in which all schools work together to meet the needs of at-risk students and provide balanced opportunities for all students at all schools.
The current board likes to describe District 214 as a “destination district” but the reality is that there are two, maybe three schools which are destinations, that is, catchment districts which parents make the deliberate choice to move into, and others where families, for the most part, end up for other reasons, or even move away from. In fact, according to district projections, Hersey and Prospect are predicted to have stable or growing enrollment, but Elk Grove and Wheeling are forecast to lose 12 and 13% of their enrollment in just the next 5 years. What’s more, although the district has no control over the overall number of students living in poverty or in other at-risk circumstances, those numbers are growing and it is incumbent on the board to ensure that their needs are being met. It is already the case that the schools with more at-risk students get additional state and federal funds. That’s a start but it is time to discuss whether each school receives the right level of funding or if additional funds should be shifted to meet at-risk students’ needs.
Special mention should also be made of families with children with special needs, some of whom are satisfied and others dissatisfied with the district. Although I don’t have the resources to know whether we are doing right by these children, it is important to me to ensure that we are.
In addition, District 214 operates as a “school district with three destination schools” in another way as well: very little coordination occurs between the schools. Each school decides upon its course offerings, and students are out of luck if a desired course is only available at another school, with only a handful of district-wide programs (e.g., robotics, ROTC). The number of pre-engineering classes, of advanced math classes, of science and social science electives, of world languages, all vary by school. It’s time to think about coordination and providing more district-wide opportunities for students.
Increase the responsiveness of the school board and the schools themselves to concerns of families and the community.
Many parents believe that the current board does not respond to their concerns — that they either reject them as unreasonable concerns or they do not respond to community members’ attempts to reach out to them, providing responses which do not address the concern or no response at all. By no means should the school board or school district cater to the wishes of every member of the community, if for no other reason than that it is not possible when there are differences of opinion within the community on controversial issues, but all members of the community should be listened to and treated with respect, and reasonable efforts should be made to address their concerns.
Other issues of concern include:
Increasing community involvement and information-sharing, both in serving the community and reaching out to the community with volunteer opportunities.
What’s going on in the district? Families express frustration with needing to follow multiple twitter accounts and with having to join parents’ Facebook groups to share information, both in the form of actual knowledge and rumors where no information has been shared.
How can community members help the schools? The district is reaching out to companies within the district and nearby to provide apprenticeship and internship opportunities, but not to individual community members who may be employed in a career of interest or have skills they can share. I have also not seen other coordinated efforts to engage the community with requests for involvement beyond parent help for individual activities.
Maintaining honors classes at all schools and preserving level-appropriate rigor in instruction/grading, and
Keeping politics and ideology out of the classroom, and ensuring students believe they can share any concerns without retaliation.
In the spring of 2022, the district released an Equity Audit which was completed in spring 2022, which reveals changes underway in the district through comments made in teacher and student focus groups. For example, this report cited teachers who expected/hoped that the current “earned honors” classes (honors class elimination) would expand. Teachers also reported implementing “Grading for Equity” — a range of grading practices which can mean different things at different schools — without any specifics about what is happening in our district. In addition, according to this report, some schools/teachers, to an unknown degree, are implementing “Culturally Responsive Teaching” and having discussions with their students on racial and gender identities. Separately, other parents report that their children are given politicized lessons/assignments, but that they are afraid of speaking out. It is wholly unclear to what extent this is a serious concern in this district, so I want to avoid making generalizations, but no student should be afraid of retaliation and the district should provide a means of addressing concerns.