Two notable school stories in the Review today. One covers openly discussed shortfalls in meeting academic goals this year in the District 91 elementary schools. The other reports on dysfunction and incompetence in nailing down a cheating scandal at the District 209 Proviso high schools. 

The difference in approach and response from administrators and board leaders in these two districts speaks volumes about why one organization is trusted and one is not. 

D91s ‘difficult year’

Four principals, the superintendent and the school board sat at a board meeting last week and had a candid discussion of the district’s failure to meet its self-established goals for academic growth in math and reading in the just ended school year.

Explanations were offered on why goals were missed this year after a very notable success a year earlier. The goals, said Superintendent Louis Cavallo, were likely just too ambitious and the targets for the new school year will be more “realistic,” he said. Cavallo and the principals also said the launch of the new national Common Core curriculum this past year offered both challenges for teachers and more difficult standardized tests as the year progressed. 

To its great credit, D91 has embraced the challenges of Common Core which focuses on critical thinking rather than memorization. But principals were honest in saying the response of faculty to learning new ways of teaching basic subjects ranged from enthusiasm to trepidation.

Those are feelings we can all relate to and it speaks volumes about the trusting and collaborative relationship the school board has engendered with its staff that such a direct conversation can be held in a public setting without fear of points being scored.

With such attitudes we are confident that D91 will move steadily forward.

Cheating and accountability

Nine months ago, board members at the Proviso High School district brought up rumors some had heard that something hinky had gone on in the summer school’s “credit recovery” classes.

In the lightly supervised, computer-focused remedial program, board members said they had heard reports of students finishing a semester’s work in just a week’s time, that there was a flaw in the outside vendor’s software that allowed some students access to the system so they could ace quizzes and exams.

Last week, the school administrators finally coughed up a report that more than 50 students, about 10 percent of those enrolled, had cheated a flawed system. That it took so long to sort this out and report it publicly says nothing good about this district. It worked unsuccessfully with the vendor to settle on the problem’s cause, it was snowed by a worthless mound of data provided by the vendor, and it rebuffed the sincere offer of a board member who had quickly grasped the core of the issue.

We can debate the issues of whether the students should be punished. We’re more immediately concerned about what this says about the district’s self-governance.

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