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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