D86 board is focused on curriculum

A new assistant superintendent of academics will work with a new academic committee in Hinsdale High School District 86, following board action at the May 25 meeting.

The board approved hiring Jason Markey as the new assistant superintendent of academics, effective July 1. He will replace Chris Covino, who is leaving to become superintendent in La Grange Elementary District 102.

Markey, who attended the meeting, told board members he has admired the district from afar for some time and acknowledged its proud tradition.

“I’m really enthusiastic about this opportunity — very excited to be here,” he said.

Markey has more than 20 years of experience in education, serving the past three years as principal of Glenbrook High school. He has a bachelor’s degree in social science education from the University of Northern Iowa, a master’s in school leadership from Concordia University and his superintendent licensure from Western Illinois University.

One of Markey’s responsibilities will be working with a new academic committee the board created Monday night. Board member Debbie Levinthal said she has wanted to see such a committee for some time.

“It has been discussed for years, beginning when I first started on the board, and it was most recently discussed at the last board meeting,” said Levinthal, who was appointed by board President Cat Greenspon to chair the committee.

Levinthal suggested the group would function similar to the finance committee, hearing presentations from administrators before bringing recommendations to the full board. Topics could include curriculum proposals, academic data, the process by which new curriculums and courses are adopted and analyzing special education data, she said. With more time for discussion and questions at committee meetings, presentations could be streamlined for board meetings, she added. And the meetings could provide an opportunity for more collaboration between board members and administrators.

“We’ve seen a lot of pushback on a lot of our curriculum and a lot of our curriculum initiatives,” she said.

Board member Terri Walker questioned whether the committee would be overseeing the new superintendent and micromanaging curriculum decisions.

“There’s no explicit implication of oversight other than oversight of academics, which the board is actually charged with overseeing,” Levinthal responded.

The committee could help the board and administration establish more trust with the community, board member Kay Gallo said.

“We had many in the community who felt things were being done to them,” she said. “I think this is a really good first step with the community with the new assistant superintendent.”

The board ultimately voted 5-1 to create the committee, with Terri Walker voting no. Asma Akhras was absent. In addition to Levinthal, Akhras and board President Cat Greenspon will serve on the committee.

Social studies revisited

The board also tackled another curriculum issue at the meeting — upcoming changes to the social studies curriculum that were approved in the fall of 2021 as part of the program of studies. Board members cited the decision to offer AP modern world history to sophomores instead of AP European history, which would be available to juniors and seniors, as one of their primary concerns.

During public comment, Hinsdale Central social studies teacher Chris Freiler said he came to support keeping AP European history as a sophomore class, as it introduces students to college-level analysis, interpretation and argumentation of history.

“In my view, the European history curriculum serves these higher purposes of history best not because of an European superiority but because it offers the strongest integration of themes, adroitly balances depth and breadth and introduces students to developments that are essential to their understanding of the world.”

Freiler, who also supported keeping honors philosophy in the curriculum, said he was not speaking for the department but knows some of his colleagues agree with him.

Covino confirmed some department members are not in favor of the changes.

“We’ve never hid that,” he said.

He pointed out that the program team spent significant time before making the recommendation and said the plan is to offer both AP Euro and AP modern world history in 2024-25 to sophomores before shifting to the new sequence. Making changes now at the sophomore level has other implications, he noted.

“I just want to caution the board, which I think is my old and potentially new role, that taking any action without addressing some of these very nuanced concerns that the teams have been working on for about three years now would be very rash and I do not think it would benefit the curriculum, the kids or the program.”

He also cautioned the board against saying one thing and doing another.

“Again, I want to be really clear. We cannot value the teachers’ work and then not value it when we don’t like the work that has come out of the committee,” Covino said.

Greenspon took issue with the inference that the board doesn’t value teachers.

“Absolutely we are here to support teachers, but our responsibility, our obligation is first to the education of students,” she said. “That is our charge. We do this through our teachers. I understand that. But if there is a possibility that we are taking away a demonstrated growth opportunity sophomore year to students, we do need to pause and think about it.

“I’m not saying that the work the social studies department has done is not valued, and I absolutely do not appreciate that every time the board has a question that it is automatically an attack or a repudiation for the work that has been done,” she added. “It is our duty to ask questions if we have them.”

Discussion of the changes and a possible action item are expected to be on the agenda for board’s next meeting Thursday, June 8.

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean