Board members and administrators in Proviso Township High School District 209 had little to say following a presentation Monday night highlighting the district’s dismal standing in student performance, financial stability, professional development and a host of other areas.
Scott Schroeder, executive director of Technivista, a consulting firm hired to evaluate Dist. 209, told the board that of the 90 school districts in the seven counties surrounding Chicago, Dist. 209 students are dead last in academic performance. This assessment is based on information compiled by the Illinois State Board of Education.
But the bad news didn’t stop there.
Using three different methods for evaluating the district’s management practices, culture, long-term planning, finances and staff development, Schroeder painted a very bleak picture. According to his Nov. 20 presentation, the special education department does not comply with state and federal mandates, staff competency levels are not known, computer technology at Proviso East and West is “obsolete,” the district suffers from a “history of patronage jobs,” and the school board is overly politicized and adversarial.
Perhaps punctuating this final point, Board President Chris Welch and board member Theresa Kelly launched verbal assaults at one another as Schroeder attempted to thank those who helped with the study.
An overriding theme among the district’s problems, Schroeder said, is the lack of communication at all levels. For example, the district’s mission statement is simply unknown to many employees. When administrators attempted to improve the curriculum using the Professional Learning Communities program, teachers were not adequately trained, and no measuring sticks were put in place, Schroeder said.
A school improvement plan that aimed at bolstering student performance and graduation rates over three years beginning in 2005 was also not communicated, Schroeder said.
“The plans weren’t given to principals until July of this year,” Schroeder said. “So they were unaware.”
Welch was the only board member to ask any questions of Schroeder when his presentation was complete, and he drew attention to what could only be explained as false information.
According to a chart tracking the district’s attendance history, a sharp spike in the average daily attendance reported by administrators beginning in 2003 is simply not accurate, Schroeder said. He offered no explanation for the discrepancy and Welch asked whether it’s plausible that administrators deliberately overstated the attendance numbers.
“It does not appear there is any truthful information here,” Welch said.
Supt. Stan Fields said the state does allocate aid money based on attendance records. If, for example, 93 percent or 94 percent of the student body regularly attends class, a district stands to receive an extra $5,000 per student than if 80 percent of the students regularly attend, Fields said.
Fields did not conclude whether Dist. 209 falsified these reports to receive additional state funding.
According to Schroeder’s findings, the district exaggerated its attendance records by as much as 20 percent between 2003 and 2006.
To remedy the district’s all-around lackluster performance, Fields said he will spend the next three months determining what the community’s goals are and how they might be achieved. Though Schroeder’s report may have been tough to swallow, Fields said the board and the district needed to hear it.
“The first step toward improvement is taking stock of where you are,” Fields said. “Our next step then is a visible direction and vision.”