Social studies still simmering in D86

Tensions remain over district course alignment, even after a cooling off period

The Hinsdale High School District 86 Board lifted the pause on social studies curriculum work last week. But the hiatus clearly hasn’t healed board divisions over how and what courses are implemented.

By unanimous vote, the board voted to allow staff to resume crafting a social studies program for both Hinsdale Central and Hinsdale South campuses to follow in pursuit of the goal to align offerings at the schools.

“The social studies department has not worked on curricular alignment work” since June 8, said board President Cat Greenspon.

That’s the date the board voted to suspend the process after voting 5-2 against a recommendation to revamp the program with four new courses for the 2024-25 school year. Greenspon said the district had received considerable feedback on the issue from various stakeholders in the interim and suggested the time to move forward had come.

“In order for the social studies department and Jason (Markey, assistant superintendent for academics) to consider the feedback and take a look at where social studies is, we need to lift the pause,” she said.

Board member Jeff Waters lobbied for world history honors, which is taught to freshmen at Central only to be added as an option at South.

“Is it possible to do that, as it relates to lifting this pause?” Waters asked.

Markey responded that because students have already selected their courses for next school year, adding a new class at this stage would be “very challenging” and “cause a great deal of confusion.”

Waters pressed the matter in his board comments.

“This is an alignment piece, and I’m just trying to find a way to make it work,” he said.

Board member Terri Walker urged her colleagues to respect the administration’s recommendations on curriculum, which included replacing freshman world history with human geography at both campuses before the pause.

“Our role is to operate at a high level. Most of us are not curriculum experts,” Walker said.

Greenspon proposed that the administration apprise the board at its March 7 meeting of the extent to which adding World History honors so late in the process would disrupt scheduling and staffing considerations. On a separate front, she requested communication from any student or family who felt dissuaded from taking a class after a Hinsdale South parent claimed his child had been steered away from taking biology as a freshmen in favor of following the physics-first pathway.

Walker, during her board comments, expressed concern about a possible revision of district’s new course piloting policy that would require three years of piloting before acceptance.

“I see this as simply another way for this board to micromanage the administration,” she said. “So while we have agreed to alignment, this policy change, if implemented, will just delay our opportunity to align our core courses at both campuses.”

The district does not have an official policy or procedure to test out new courses, according to Alex Mayster, director of communications.

Waters indicated he supported piloting as part of the course vetting process.

“I, for one, am not interested in unpiloted courses to replace existing curriculum,” he said.

Board member Peggy James, chair of the policy committee, said the committee will be “considering changes” to how courses are piloted at its next meeting and that stakeholder feedback will be part of the deliberations.

“We will continue to work through (the issue) until we come up with the appropriate policy,” James said.

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean