D86 board confirms it wants alignment

Some express hesitation, however, about adding new courses to the district’s offerings

Hinsdale High School District 86 Board members publicly stated their support of curriculum alignment last week, but some made it clear they still don’t approve of changes to the social studies curriculum.

Jason Markey, assistant superintendent for academics, explained his goal before addressing board members at their Jan. 25 meeting.

“We want to make sure everyone has a common understanding of when curriculum alignment was started and why we continue to believe that it’s important,” he said.

Markey highlighted the stakeholder engagement that took place before the district’s current strategic plan was adopted by the board in 2019 and research that shows how important teacher collaboration is to student achievement.

“Without that common framework for those core curricular areas, there’s a breakdown in the potential for that teacher collective efficacy,” he said.

He enumerated five areas that District 86 educators have in mind when they talk about alignment between Hinsdale Central and Hinsdale South high schools. They are looking for the same program of studies, textbook and course fees, learning objectives, grade weighting and retake opportunities, and end-of-term assessments.

All but two departments (special education and social studies) are 75 to 100 percent aligned in those five key areas.

“Social studies is in probably the need for the greatest amount of attention,” he said.

Board member Peggy James said she agrees with the definitions of alignment and believes the same courses should be offered at both campuses.

“Where my concern is is when we start adding new courses to replace others,” she said.

“I think with each (department) team they are going to have a different approach,” Markey said, noting that it depends in part on how closely aligned courses were when the teams began their work. The English department, for example, chose to develop new courses.

“We want those teachers to come together and determine, because they’re the ones that work closest with our students, how can they be most responsive to what our students need,” he added.

He also reminded board members that the district has a new protocol for adopting new courses.

“I think the key is in our process. We’ve really put in place those discussions to make sure there is consensus across the district, across those departments,” he said.

Board President Cat Greenspon said considering course offerings is a logical offshoot of alignment conversations.

“That is not the discussion tonight, but I hear you 100 percent,” she said, indicating board conversations on course offerings will take place in February.

Board member Terry Walker expressed her full support for curriculum alignment.

“From my perspective, we really should take the time to listen to the teachers (and) administrators who have worked so hard all of this over the last few years,” she said.

Board member Asma Akhras, chair of the board’s academic committee, pointed to research that indicates alignment is the best way to optimize student academic performance.

“This is exactly why I have been such a champion of the curriculum alignment piece, because I want every student in D86 to outperform their own selves, their own academic performance,” she said.

All five community members who spoke during public comment expressed their support of an aligned curriculum. Resident Nagla Fetouh pointed to the explicit direction in the strategic plan to align curriculum across all departments and both schools.

“The board signed off on it and the community applauded it,” she said.

The board also must approve curriculum updates to meet state standards and improve student learning, she said.

“I am here today imploring you to empower our district’s incredible team to have the ability to help all students grow, excel and achieve regardless of ZIP code or performance level at both high schools alike through a continued effort around curriculum alignment at District 86,” she said.

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean