D86 meeting highlights growing division

A discussion of the program of studies for the 2022-23 school year at the Oct. 28 Hinsdale High School District 86 Board meeting highlighted the tensions surrounding grading practices, the physics-first science sequence, alignment between the two high schools and divisions on the board.

As the meeting opened, board member Peggy James asked to table the agenda item regarding the program of studies. She also called for the district to schedule a special meeting dedicated to discussion of the program of studies. Her suggestion gained the support of only two board members, Debbie Levinthal and Jeff Waters.

James reiterated her objections during the “board comments” portion of the agenda, noting again that the board had received 1,103 pages of the document only 48 hours before the meeting.

“How can you expect a board member to be prepared?” she asked. “Or is that your intent?”

Terri Walker, board president, and Chris Covino, assistant superintendent for academics, noted the approval process includes a second read of the program of studies, which is slated for the Nov. 18 board meeting.

“The process is designed to have space and time to consider the document,” Covino said.

Waters reiterated his objections to a sequence that does not offer honors biology before AP biology, questioning whether students will be prepared. He also said he believes earth science should remain a separate course rather than being woven into biology, chemistry and physics.

“B-C-P, plain vanilla, with no swirl of earth science,” he indicated as his preference.

After an hour, despite board member Debbie Levinthal’s attempt to continue to ask questions, board President Terri Walker ended the discussion.

But the conversation wasn’t over.

During a look at potential future agenda items, Levinthal requested the board consider forming a special committee to discuss curriculum issues, which she offered to chair. Walker agreed to put it on the agenda in December or January.

Meeta Patel, who spoke during the first public comment portion of the meeting, noted that she had chaired such a committee — the Academic Success Committee — in District 181. She criticized the administration for not presenting enough data and the board majority for not allowing meaningful discussion.

“Decisions are being made regarding curriculum instruction and grading under the guise of the strategic plan goal of alignment,” she said. “They are being made behind the shield of teacher teams with little data.”

Alignment should happen up, not down, she said.

“What we are seeing in D86 is they are not offering students more, they are offering the entire district less,” she said.

Other audience members spoke about the stress the new grading system is causing students, decreased rigor in science classes and the need for pilot programs before changes are made.

Similar themes were present in pointed comments made by the four audience members still in attendance near the end of the meeting, which lasted until 11:19 p.m.

Kim Notaro said kids are suffering because of the change in grading practices, despite what administrators say. She said too many discrepancies in grading remain and offered harsh criticism of Cynthia Hanson, Erik Held and Kathleen Hirsman.

“The three of you sit there and you don’t listen to us,” Notaro remarked. “Our kids are suffering.

“Listen and care about somebody, care about somebody other than yourself,” she added.

Linda Burke called for equal class offerings at both campuses and a summer biology class for freshmen who took Physics in the Universe. She also said the program of studies should have been placed earlier on the agenda.

“Finally, to willfully postpone discussion of curriculum — the most important thing we do — until 10 p.m. is a giant middle finger raised in the face of the concerned taxpayer,” she said.

John Czierwiec said he is incredibly frustrated that there are people on the board unqualified to make comments about changes to the science program, noting he is a former high school science teacher.

He also said parents want to see expansion of available paths to all students.

“Instead, some genius decided we’re going to eliminate those paths,” he said, practically screaming. “That’s ridiculous. That’s why I’m upset.”

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean