People-pleasing can be dangerous motive for board

In the span of six weeks, the Hinsdale High School District 86 Board voted to dismantle plans that had been in the works for months or even years.

Board members voted in June to halt the shift to an integrated math curriculum and then in July rejected “physics first” as the appropriate science sequence for all students.

We wonder what they will tackle next.

The board majority, which consists of four newcomers who beat out three incumbents in the April election, has been operating under the rallying cry that it is doing the will of the people who elected them.

Board members and their supporters have made implicit and explicit references to a “mandate” to reverse the previous board’s decision on the math and science curriculums.

The winners in the April election, who received anywhere from 3,565 to 4,501 votes, certainly outpaced the incumbents, whose totals ranged from 1,773 to 3,097. But even the highest vote count represents less than 60 percent of district parents and a significantly smaller portion of district residents as a whole. Keep in mind voter turnout in April was less than 17 percent.

Of course, supporters of the new board majority have been very vocal about their opposition to both curriculum changes. But do those supporters speak for the entire district? If 100 or even 200 people offer public comment in support of a particular decision, does that mean the position is supported by the majority of district residents? If the same number of people had come out in favor of integrated math and physics first, would the board have voted differently?

Many seem to have lost sight of the fact that these changes were set in motion by a desire to align instruction at Hinsdale Central and Hinsdale South high schools. Instead of focusing on that goal and a desire to make science and math more accessible to all students, those who support the status quo seem to be prioritizing an elite group of students who excel in those subjects and plan to pursue a STEM career.

None of this would be an issue if the professionals hired to run District 86 agreed. But both revamps had the support of the district’s assistant superintendent for curriculum and the teams who developed them. These individuals — who have dedicated their careers to educating students — seem better qualified to evaluate how effective the curriculums would be than district residents, even if they are STEM professionals. An individual who works in science, technology, engineering or math isn’t automatically qualified to determine the best way to teach those subjects to teenagers.

One of the quickest ways to dishearten teachers and administrators is to display a fundamental lack of trust in their abilities. That’s also one of the quickest ways to lose people to other districts.

Maybe that’s the goal here.

Moving forward, we offer the new board members a word of caution. Be careful about giving too much weight to public opinion. Otherwise you might find yourself reinstating the buffer zone, approving a zero levy, abandoning Future Ready Facilities projects or voting to disregard the mask mandate.