“It’s really dangerous” said district 90 board president Stacey Williams. She wasn’t talking about drugs, traffic, or sledding the depot hill on a garbage can lid in the dead of winter. She was talking about what residents might learn if student performance in River Forest was compared to districts D90 calls comparable and high performing. The academic report given during the November 20th, 2023 District 90 board meeting showed River Forest students outperforming paltry state averages – a tact splitting the board almost down the middle.
Kristine Mackey said, “I think there is a general sense that when we compare ourselves in the way this is compared, it makes us look better than we really are”. Mackey was referencing administrators use of state averages as a benchmark for River Forest student performance, averages the Illinois State Board of Education reports are based on a student group with 65% and 73% not proficient in English language arts and math, respectively. It was pointed out state and national averages are bad benchmarks, and the district already has named “Comparable High Performing” in its resident friendly financial report.
The failure of this administration to objectively and transparently report student growth and achievement following the 2016 policy is a criticism levied by E3, and the report given on Nov, 20th is another example.
Adopting unproven and poorer performing curricula, eliminating strategies to simultaneously teach students of different ability levels, and stripping teachers of autonomy in the name of “social justice equity” are some of the changes Asst. Superintendent of Instruction Alison Hawley implemented that coincide with academic decline, teacher dissatisfaction ,and widening of the achievement gap immediately following the 2016 policy.
Perhaps the only thing worse for students than a decision to change curricula, instructional practices, school-day schedule, and grading, all at once is a decision not to share the impact with residents. More recently, E3 reported Hawley’s history of similar behavior, overseeing poor performing curricula and withholding student performance data from parents, that eventually led to a forced resignation.
Hawley responded to why she hadn’t done what was asked, comparing performance of comparable districts, saying “I have done that in the past, and I have not presented that publicly”. She was adamant only an “apples to apples” comparison would be useful and ignored the “comparable high performing districts” already named by the district. Board members Avalos, Eckmann, Thompson, and Williams defended the position to withhold such comparisons from River Forest residents citing two general arguments.
The first argument, such comparisons would be invalid because no other district has the same “affluence, diversity and ethnicity, and school size”. These four seemed to be saying there is something so unique to River Forest that prevents any meaningful comparison to other nearby places families might choose to raise their children. Board member Nicole Thompson, education chair for D90, rejected the idea of comparing D90 to others saying, “we really would need to work to find that actual comparison”. Board member Cortese suggested “perfection” in the comparisons wasn’t necessary to gain useful information for residents. Isenberg responded saying “I absolutely don’t buy the argument that this can’t be done or that it’s somehow dangerous.”
A second argument of why comparisons among districts hadn’t been made was a suggestion the majority of the board (these four) didn’t believe comparisons had been “asked for clearly”. Mackey refuted the lack of clarity and asked Hawley to reference previous board meeting minutes.
Williams cautioned Mackey against expressing “community concerns” at the board table instead of just her own concerns. This statement by Williams overlooks the board member duty to connect with and represent the entire community clearly articulated by the Illinois Association of School Boards. The reality is, new board members Cortese, Isenberg and Mackey ran on improving the curriculum, especially reading, and were elected by the community over an incumbent in April 2023.
If it all sounds absurd, it really is – listen for yourself beginning at 1:39:40
One resignation. The board accepted Alison Hawley’s planned resignation at the end of the 2023-2024 school year during closed session. Superintendent Condon’s email to the school community on November 21, 2023, thanked Hawley for “eight years of excellent service to our schools”, ignoring the fact Hawley introduced poor performing math, reading and writing curricula coinciding with the some of the worst years of student growth and achievement in district history, some of the highest rates of teacher resignation, and a trend for declining student enrollment.
In a demonstration of compulsory commitment to a “journey” not clearly articulated, not objectively measured, and often obfuscated with emotion, Superintendent Ed Condon (and no doubt the majority of the board) will have Hawley stay on to help identify a reading and writing curriculum to replace Lucy Calkins. Avalos, Eckmann, Thompson and Williams voted against removing Lucy Calkins from consideration in the upcoming curriculum review.
“Yellow light” was how Finance Director Anthony Cozzi summed up the financial health of the district. Cozzi underscored the importance of reducing the extent of deficit spending. His resident friendly report, which describes trends in finances, enrollment, salaries and comparable districts, can be found here.