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D181 Board OKs Philosophy Emphasizing Differentiation, Opportunity

The school board voted in favor of a statement that is intended to address all District 181 students; several board members seemed concerned about the statement being overly broad.

Another long-discussed item in the District 181 curriculum discussion was finalized Tuesday night.

One week after , the District 181 Board of Education voted 6-1 to approve a Philosophy of Teaching and Learning about six months after gifted program consultant Dr. Tonya Moon said such a statement was an important first step toward improving the district's differentiation and advanced-learning programs.

Board President Michael Nelson voted in favor of the statement along with board members Brendan Heneghan, Sarah Lewensohn, Russell Rhoads, Marty Turek and Glenn Yaeger. Yvonne Mayer was the only board member who voted against approving the statement.

Tuesday’s vote during a business meeting at came after the philosophy statement was in April. Superintendent Dr. Renée Schuster said there was only one public comment on the statement and it was related to its availability at one of the local libraries, not its content or wording.

The philosophy statement, which can be read in its entirety here on the district's website, says that all students deserve high-quality curriculum and instruction while emphasizing differentiation within all classrooms, something Moon’s report said was lacking in District 181.

“All learning environments include students who vary greatly in their experiences, readiness, motivation, and learning profiles,” the statement reads. “These differences are assets to student learning and to developing productive, empathetic, and ethical citizens who can thrive in an ever-changing global society.”

While it begins by addressing all students, the statement does single out advanced learning.

According to the statement, students “for whom the general education program may not consistently support the development of their academic performance,” whether that’s because of high performance or high potential, need “tasks, instructional activities, and assessments that develop more advanced understanding, knowledge, and/or skills within a discipline.”

Ways to do that, it says, include digging deeper into content, considering more ambiguous or abstract problems, and working more independently.

Turek said the approved statement is probably not perfect, but he approved of it because it was the result of proper vetting and all stakeholders had the opportunity to give their input.

“I think it encompasses every child and learner, and personally I’m OK with it,” Turek said.

Lewensohn said the statement drafting process has engaged the District 181 in a philosophical conversation it has needed to have for some time.

“[The statement] is serving its purpose, which is to have that conversation and begin moving forward,” Lewensohn said.

Mayer, the lone “no” vote, said she thought the philosophy statement was “far broader” than what Moon recommended as a gifted program consultant and did not like that the drafters of the statement, in the final line, tasked a different committee with developing program and assessment.

"I can’t support it in its current form," Mayer said, maintaining that the entire curriculum discussion is still "a work in progress."

Heneghan and Rhoads, both “yes” votes, said they too felt the statement was broad. Rhoads said he had read through it several times and thought it “a bit overwhelming”; Heneghan said it was too long and likened it to a hologram.

“If you look at it one way, it looks like this; if you look at it another way it looks like something else,” Heneghan said.

Nelson agreed it’s a broad statement, but said it address the important goal of giving more access to advanced learning opportunities. The board president said that's something the district has not excelled at in the past.

“In my view, this sets the framework,” Nelson said.

The next step in the District 181 curriculum saga is a vote on an elementary ACE program transition plan for the 2012-13 school year. Schuster said Tuesday that the committee working on the plan has a draft but still need more time to finalize it for a board vote.

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