D-64 Has Rodeo, Needs Goats


How many of you know about or remember Park Ridge-Niles School District 64’s current “five-year plan” – “A Journey of Excellence” – to accelerate the use of technology from 2010 to 2015? If you don’t, there’s no need to get your undies in a bunch, because it is expiring this year.

We’ve written about “A Journey of Excellence” and what appears to be its lack of meaningful academic achievement in the past, including in our 05.15.09, 09.16.09, 06.06.11, 09.08.14 and 09.18.14 posts.  We’ve noted how D-64 keeps getting away with spending hundreds of millions of our tax dollars doing what legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden always discouraged with the warning “Don’t mistake activity for achievement.”

But if you have a perverse fascination for trying to figure out how D-64 keeps getting away with it, you might actually enjoy D-64’s website history of the expiring “Journey” – starting with the “4-page PDF list including Action Plans” (with its page 2 commitment that “Student performance on the…(ISATs) will always compare favorably with other high-achieving districts”) and the colorful “Strategic Plan Implementation Schedule 2012-13”.

Not surprisingly, we couldn’t find any reports, presentations, news releases, or any other form of communication on that “Strategic Plan” webpage – the latest of which is dated April 22, 2013 – that actually shows, or even talks about, how D-64’s ISATs “compare favorably with other high-achieving districts.” In fact, we Googled for a solid 20 minutes and could not come up with one instance of D-64’s Board or administration providing any objective and/or numerical comparisons of D-64 ISATs that demonstrate favorable comparisons with other “high-achieving districts.”

That’s because D-64 has learned that dangling the carrot of increased achievement is a great marketing tool for convincing wishful parents and gullible taxpayers that there really are silver bullets for achieving academic excellence; and that D-64 has come up with them through its latest five-year plan. And once that convincing has occurred, making sure those parents and taxpayers don’t realize they’ve been snookered is the key to D-64’s ability to dangle another carrot in front of them five years later.

Which is what it’s doing with the announcement that it is forming a 30-35 member “Strategic Planning Steering Committee” to help the District create a new five-year plan that will “identify the most important challenges District 64 will need to address in the next five years, and how the District might go about planning for those challenges,” according to Supt. Laurie Heinz.

For those of you who have been through these goat rodeos before, you won’t be surprised to read such cliches as “community-driven strategic planning process” that will involve “a wide range of community stakeholders” and allow “all stakeholders…to contribute their ideas and vision” by…wait for it…”completing a survey or participating in a focus group.”

What would one of these rodeos be without stakeholders, surveys and focus groups?

And just for good measure, the committee “will be guided by a highly experienced, outside facilitator” who will be paid a sizable chunk of our tax dollars to make sure all the goats get herded in exactly the direction the D-64 administration and the Park Ridge Education Association (“PREA,” a/k/a the teachers union) want them to go.

It won’t be as impressive as John Wayne surveying a herd of steers and saying “Take ’em to Missouri, Matt,” but it’s likely to be as close as you’re going to get with goats and government.

At the risk (albeit a minute one) of taking away all the fun, expense and faux suspense of this strategic planning goat rodeo, however, we offer the following “challenges” D-64 will need to address within the next five years:

1.  Improving the quality of D-64 education so that student performance and other measurable values actually provide a formidable incentive to our higher-achieving and more demanding current residents to stay here rather than to emigrate to Glenview, Northbrook, Northfield, Wilmette, etc. for their better-scoring school districts; and a formidable incentive for such achieving/demanding non-residents to relocate to Park Ridge instead of to Glenview, Northbrook, et al.

2.  Negotiating a taxpayer-focused collective bargaining agreement with the PREA in 2016 that ends automatic annual raises to teachers for no improved student performance. During the five years of “A Journey of Excellence,” base teacher salaries have increased a total of 11% (not counting “step” and “lane” increases, or any “spikes” for soon-to-retire teachers in order to juice-up pensions) while student achievement based on ISATs appears to have been flat or declined in comparison to “high-achieving districts.”

3.  Convincing folks whose kids have finished using D-64 (and D-207) education that such education will continue to improve and provide an increasing cost-benefit value that will ensure continued appreciation of their home value, thereby discouraging the economic death spiral of current/imminent net-payers selling their homes to current/imminent net-users – the former of whom pay roughly $4,000 of RE taxes to D-64 while the latter of whom pay that same $4,000 but take out $14,000 per kid of “free” education.

But don’t hold your breath waiting for D-64’s Board, administration, or any “highly experienced outside facilitator” to focus on these kinds of “challenges.” They’ll be too busy trying to herd the goats into the pen they’ve already chosen for the next five years.

Just as soon as they declare the most recent five-year plan a shining success simply because it put an iPad or Chromebook in every kid’s hands.

To read or post comments, click on title.

12 comments so far

Thank you for holding local public officials to their promises. One of the insidious things about 5-year plans, whether in the public or private sector, is that the implementers are almost never around five years later, and the overseers (voters and the boards they elect) almost never remember.

As far as the challenges that lie ahead, your list is good but I’d like to add another: the coming pension bomb. Maybe this is part of your point #2, but it deserves deep discussion because the cost of pensions as a percentage of the operating budget is skyrocketing.

Our elected officials at the State and local levels haven’t taken meaningful action to control these costs. At some point, everyone is going to suffer: Pensioners will have to accept smaller payments, current employees will have to accept scaled-down promises and (this being Illinois) all taxpayers will be hit — hard.

D64 can protect its own community by having an adult discussion. That is, if the PREA doesn’t scream bloody murder, the PTO doesn’t kowtow to the PREA and the D64 board doesn’t shrink from the awful possibility that people might get upset.

Ultimately, people will get upset, so we may as well confront these issues more directly.

EDITOR’S NOTE: You’re welcome, Mr. Schildwachter.

Unfortunately, we’ve got a D-64 Board (no different from its predecessors) that has demonstrated time and again that it can’t even hold an “adult discussion” about the things that it has the ability to directly affect and control, like student performance compared to that of “other high-achieving districts,” teacher compensation, and tax levies. So, realistically, there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell that these Board members will hunker down and try to deal with a pension problem for which – thanks to those geniuses in Springfield a few decades ago who allowed all those teacher pensions to be rolled into a statewide TRS system that diffuses and dilutes accountability all across the state – they are not directly and solely accountable.

Perhaps the Strategic Planning Steering Committee can include Messrs. Kotowski, Moylan and McAuliffe, or people from their local staff?

(For those readers who have no idea why I picked those names: they are the Illinois state legislators who represent our area and will have to vote on any “reform” to the statewide pension system mentioned in the Editor’s Note above.)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Why make a bad situation worse?

A terribly accurate and witty post, but one thing occurs to me: Is D64 doing, buying and finagling all the same silver bullets as our North Shore neighbors? If so — and at these prices, I assume so — the difference may be in the percentage of parents who are way intense about their kids’ grades and test scores. Let’s face it, a lot of Park Ridge residents are not North Shore ambitious. How many D64 students are being sent to pricey tutors compared to their North Shore peers? How many go to intensive summer programs, not just the occasional remedial 3-Rs or ceramics class? How many go to (or go until 8th grade) to intensive, small-class, 24/7 personal development private schools? How much uber-striving is the community norm? In my experience, Tiger Moms and Pirhana Dads stick out like sore thumbs here, while they’re the norm there. We care more about education than most communities, but given a choice between academics and football, there’s no contest. Is that the teachers’ fault?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Could you be suggesting that most Park Ridge parents are satisfied, and even happy, that their kids aren’t “compar[ing] favorably with other high-achieving districts” – especially those on the North Shore? Might you be intimating that most of those parents are upper-middle class oafs who prefer a state champion football team over a higher academic ranking?

Hey, if that’s the case, then let D-64 come out and just say so – and stop blowing all that “compare favorably” smoke up everybody’s kilts and charging top shelf prices for teachers instead of coaches.

I wish we could take on just one claim school districts like D-64 are making: that the use of expensive technology (i.e., iPads and Chromebooks) actually benefits students. I’m the parent of a kindergartener, and while I can appreciate technology, I’m also trying to keep limits on screen time. I talk to parents of grammar school students on a regular basis, and they have all said the same thing: so far the use of these devices (especially for homework)is minimally beneficial at best, and a hindrance at worst. Their examples vary: some kids actually hate using the devices; others want to do nothing but play on them. I know the companies that manufacture these devices and their accompanying software are doing well these days, but I chafe at the idea that all this might just be one more reason why kids aren’t learning much in school.

Steve, the main impediment to local governments controlling pension costs is our elected officials in Springfield. Those knuckleheads foisted mandate after mandate upon us over the years. Now they cannot even try to undo the mandates because the Illinois Supreme Court says they are constitutionally protected. So the only remedy is a constitutional amendment. Good luck with that. Meanwhile, the only way we can affect our future pension obligations is to hold the line on union wages. However, the knuckleheads in Springfield stuck their schnozzes in there as well and force the municipalities to work with one hand tied behind their backs leaving one hand free to call our city attorneys to prepare for arbitration. INFURIATING.

Shouldn’t the title have been ‘D64 has Rodeo, lots of Bull to wade through’!


‘Tits on a bull are as useful as the 5 Year Education Plan’


‘Educators have no measurable 5 year improved test scores plan, and that ain’t Bull’


Or: “Soviet 5-year Plans Produced More Results”?

You make a good point about value. Move here a year or two bbefore your kids start school, pay your token $8K to D64, then enroll your first kid in D64 and and get back those first two years taxes and the current year’s taxes ($12K total) and $2K more with a $14K education. And then you get $10K of free education for every year after that your kid is enrolled. As you have said, the users make out great.

When I moved here 20 years ago I heard about how good “the schools” were. I planned for my kids to go to private schools, but the reputation of the schools and the location (convenient to my downtown office and to O’Hare, from which I flew once or twice per week) were what convinced me to move here.

I do recall that D64’s and D207’s rankings (based on the IGAP scores back then) were in the Top 25, with Maine South being Top 10. And to the point of several of your posts, Maine South is out of the Top 20 and D64 does not show up on any Top 50 list. So how can either school be providing the kind of value the taxpayers deserve, especially when they are now paying more than ever before?

Will ANYBODY on the D64 or D207 Boards please address that question?

EDITOR’S NOTE: No, they won’t – because they haven’t been able to come up with a plausible defense of the unfavorably-comparing test scores ever since the general public rejected their previous propaganda effort to explain away those scores: “we don’t teach to those tests.”

10:35 hits the nail on the head. The difference between us and higher achieving districts isn’t the school board or the administrators or the teachers or the technology, it’s the parents. Parents here just don’t demand the same levels of high achievement, they are content with status quo.

As for Maine South’s ranking dropping, I’d say the biggest factor is that in recent years a growing number of Chicago schools, all selective enrollment schools that admit only the city’s top students, have emerged to take over much of the top 20. Those schools’ success are a direct result of highly involved and engaged parents who are doing far more than park ridge parents are to ensure their kids’ academic success.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Fine, then let those school boards and administrators say that, publicly; and let’s stop paying top dollar to those teachers and adminstrators if they’re going to concede that they can’t make silk purses out of sow’s ears without more parental support than they can reasonably expect.


Your argument is buttressed by simply looking within d207. When you see the difference in scores between schools is that the teachers are so much better at maine sourh.

EDITOR’S NOTE: You might want to ask for a refund on your ESL instruction: are you trying to say that the difference in academic performance between Maine South, on one hand, and Maine East and West on the other, is that Maine South has better teachers?

Forgive the missing question mark. I was asking if the dramatic differences in scores was because the teachers are that much better at MS…….NO!

That fact supports the point that 4:54 is making.

I don’t think D207 teachers are overpaid.
I do think D207 administrators are.
I also think both D64 and D207 need to take much more responsibility for getting rid of actively awful teachers instead of blaming the union for their own lack of willingness to do their well-paid jobs and document what’s what.
And I think the school board should stop with setting “compare favorably” goals that we’ve already failed to achieve lately, and set “turn out well-rounded citizens capable of achieving and succeeding in tomorrow’s world” or some such.
They’re actually not doing too badly in the latter area.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We’re talking D-64 here, not D-207.

It’s not the job of our public schools to “turn out” kids who fit the description of some kind of mission statement. Their job is to EDUCATE in a way that is objectively measurable TODAY, not subjectively measurable a decade from now.

Finally, we’re thinking it’s the PARENTS, more than the schools, who are “not doing too badly” in turning out solid citizens.

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