Lake Bluff School Board

Candidates Debate

Sunday, March 3, 2013

On March 3rd, the candidates for the Lake Bluff School Board met in the Park District building near the elementary school at 3:00. This webpage, including the graph below, was circulated to the candidates prior to the debate.

The April 9th election is important to the future of our schools because standardized test scores (shown by the blue arrows) have been plummeting for the last two years even as the school tax rate (shown by the bars) has been skyrocketing. Click on the graph for details:

The debate was yesterday. The election is in one month. This morning as I walked my grandson to the bus stop he mentioned that he will take the ISATs this week and next week.

The Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) is given to all 3rd through 8th graders across the state. It tests reading in each of those six years and it tests math in each of those six years; it test science in the 4th and 7th grades. The blue arrows track the performance of Lake Bluff combined 7th and 8th graders in combined reading and math tests over the last 8 years, the standard measure of school district performance and the best predictor of success in high school.

During the debate there was much discussion of our “science and math” curriculum and arts alternatives. Caucus-endorsed candidate Julie Gottshall expressed astonishment that our students, until recently, were exposed to math only two days of the week. Questions were posed by the debate audience about the district departure from the three Rs: Reading, (w)Riting and (a)Rithmetic.

In reaction the School Board President Mary Jane Brady said that, "Our math and science programs are quite strong in Lake Bluff schools."  By contrast, board member Eric Waggoner said, "Our math and science program is very strong in Lake Bluff schools."  Like right-hand Twix and left-hand Twix, the dispute between them may never be resolved.  But they have in common at least four other things:  (1) they did not seek caucus endorsement, (2) they did not receive caucus endorsement, (3) they have been seated at the board for the last four years and (4) they are willfully blind to the terrible ISAT math scores of the last two years.

"Smart choices"?  Hardly.  In fact, School Board President Brady said, "...we are very pleased with the scores that we see for our kids when they take the nationally standardized math scores. We are also pleased with their performance on our state tests."  I don’t know what national testing she could be talking about, but ISAT math scores put Lake Bluff in the 63rd percentile of Illinois middle schools, our lowest ranking in at least a decade.  Last year was our second-lowest ranking.

There are 1377 middle schools in Illinois that took math ISATs last year. We ranked number 510 in math. That is the 63rd percentile, according to this gold-standard test. More than one out of three Illinois middle schools scored better than Lake Bluff. Lake Forest, Libertyville, Mundelein – their middle-schoolers do math better than our middle-schoolers.  This is how they and some other neighboring middle schools ranked:

  Rank School District City  



Millburn West

Millburn Ccsd 24





The Joseph Sears School

Kenilworth School District 38





Marie Murphy School

Avoca School District 37





Maple School

Northbrook/Glenview School District 30





Daniel Wright Junior High School

Lincolnshire-Prairieview School District 103





Woodlawn Middle School

Kildeer Countryside Ccsd 96

Long Grove




Sunset Ridge Elementary School

Sunset Ridge School District 29





Wood Oaks Junior High School

Northbrook Education Service District 27





Wilmette Junior High School

Wilmette School District 39





Central School

Glencoe School District 35





Carleton W Washburne School

Winnetka School District 36





Pennoyer Elementary School

Pennoyer School District 79





Gurnee Grade School

Gurnee School District 56





Fremont Middle School

Fremont School District 79





Charles J Caruso Middle School

Deerfield School District 109





Alan B Shepard Middle School

Deerfield School District 109





Field School

West Northfield School District 31





Edgewood Middle School

North Shore School District 112

Highland Park




Attea Middle School

Glenview Ccsd 34





Deer Path Middle School West

Lake Forest School District 67

Lake Forest




Oak Grove Elementary School

Oak Grove School District 68





Elm Place School

North Shore School District 112

Highland Park




J Leigh Elementary School

Norridge School District 80





Park West School

Grayslake Ccsd 46

Round Lake




West Oak Middle School

Diamond Lake School District 76





Carl Sandburg Middle School

Mundelein Education Service District 75





Springman Middle School

Glenview Ccsd 34





Lake Bluff Middle School

Lake Bluff Education Service District 65

Lake Bluff



All of the first 600 are listed here.

510 is the current math rank for our 7th and 8th graders. Ten years ago we were a respectable 73rd in the state, which put us in the 94th percentile. The Lake Bluff trend over those years tells an undeniable story – remember that Brady and Waggoner took places on the school board four years ago:

 73   83   87   153   188   161   285   89   235   510

Does the School Board President simply not know that we are not adequately preparing our students for LFHS? Do she and Mr. Waggoner not realize that test scores have fallen during their incumbency of recent years? Are the three SmartChoices candidates sincere when they claim we are actually leading Deerpath Middle School? Or do they believe that school buildings and “the arts” trump boring old math? I don’t wish to be unfair about this – Mrs. Brady’s astounding assertion requires clarification. So I asked:

From: Don Russ
Sent: Sunday, March 03, 2013 6:12 PM
To: ''; ''
Subject: student performance in recent years

Dear School Board President,

I was glad to have the benefit of your participation in the District 65 Board Candidates Debate this afternoon because I was keenly interested in your response to the Middle School performance on Reading and Math. During the Debate you said that Math and Science are stressed in the district curriculum and that you are “pleased” with our national scores and also with our ISAT scores. I was wondering if you were confused or otherwise misspoke and wish, on reflection, to retract your comment.

Failing that, and in view of the pending election, I would appreciate any authority, evidence or basis for your comment that you are "pleased" with the trend of Middle School math testing results during your incumbency. Thank you.

-Don Russ

I have received an indirect response.

During the debate, Mary Jane Brady said she is “pleased” with these scores. The other incumbent Board Member Eric Waggoner said “our math and science is very strong” and the other SmartChoices candidate Kate Amaral said regarding math, and hinting that something needed to be turned-around, that we are “turning it around” and we are “leading”!

By contrast, all four Lake Bluff School Caucus candidates expressed dissatisfaction with our status in the 63rd percentile for math among Illinois middle schools. So do the all the parents and all the taxpayers. But when she was asked to explain her priorities, the School Board President could only say that she attended a performance of Les Misérables for which a Lake Bluff graduate is an understudy.  And she has started spending on the $2 million band/chorus room at the middle school.

Well, my grandson Kevin is engaged right now in the first of ten days of ISAT testing.  After school he will participate in band practice (trumpet) and in all his previous years at LBES he was in the chorus.  I am glad that he has had artistic opportunities.  But not at the expense of the three Rs.



Lake Bluff School District begins at 1:12



A  twelve-minute transcription follows which shows the fundamental difference of the four Caucus-endorsed candidates and the three unendorsed challengers who are indented.  The highlighted comments conflict with the evidence presented above:

moderator 1:47:18 How do you think teacher performance should be evaluated?

Julie Gottshall 1:47:24 One thing I always wondered about is why I as a parent am not asked at the end of every school year how the school year went and what I thought of the teacher that my child had. I know they’re saying it is part of the strategic planning process and there is finally some outreach to the families to get their feedback but it is always incredible to me so I have strong opinions, as do my children, at the end of every year about how things went, what worked, what didn’t. I think that a critical component of teacher evaluation and good feedback and good communication would be to solicit input more regularly from the parents. Certainly test scores are something that people look at quite a bit now and there is a lot of talk about whether that is effective or not. I think that is one tool that we should certainly use. I understand that there is a lot of limitation on what you can expect teachers to do to improve test scores, so I realize the limitations of that but I think that we ought to be taking a 360 degree view of teacher performance and evaluation and that would certainly include input from the families as well.

Mary Jane Brady 1:48:25 I think it’s interesting – I'm sure we all have theories and suggestions about how teachers should be evaluated. The bottom line is the State of Illinois, by and large, decides how we should evaluate teachers and actually currently, the new teacher evaluation mandated by the state is being rolled into all the districts in the state of Illinois. This means that they are going to prescribe for us how the evaluations will be done, when they will be done, and how much time will be spent on those evaluations. So a significant amount of time, regarding the teacher evaluations will actually be prescribed by the state. That being said, we have just hired a true educational leader who believes that teachers need to be evaluated regularly and in a constructive way and she has begun that process and is well on her way of working with both of our principals and spent – she herself has spent a significant amount of time in the classrooms evaluating herself.

Eric Waggoner 1:49:23 To echo the sentiment of MJ, Dr. Jean Sophie spends an inordinate amount of time in the classrooms now. She is a true educational leader having served in multiple posts. She is considered by many of her peers in this industry as a rock star. She connects with our teachers. She advocates for a very close monitoring relationship with the teachers, with the administration in each of the buildings. I would also like to point out though that in the context of the evaluation process, the state does have an increasingly more complex job set aside for districts in order to conduct evaluations. Those prescriptions are being rolled-out now. In the coming years we will see a much more comprehensive method of engaging teachers in that process and it is a function of performance.

Chris Letchinger 1:58:21 As a professor I am evaluated by the administration and I am also evaluated by my students. I think that we have to distinguish a difference. There is evaluation for the purpose of disciplining individuals and there are evaluations for the purpose of principal and administrator knowing what is going on in the schools. I think it is important to be said that we know what the students as well as the parents think of an instructor because I think that, in addition to observation, you can sit down with an instructor and say, “Oh, by the way, there is evidence that parents feel this way or that way about you.” Or, “This is a terrific initiative and go a lot of kudos from the parents.” I think that is part of the conversation. It may not be an official evaluation, but it is something that is relevant and I think that it is goes along way for establishing trust because the evaluation process doesn’t have to be punitive to has to be to build better results later.

Richard Hegg 1:51:32 I asked my children what they thought of evaluating teachers and they thought they could give a pretty clear idea of who their really good educators were – not necessarily the people who they liked the most, but the people they respected the most and they learned the most from. So I am very much a proponent of having some type of a feedback from the students. However, as a board member, I think that it is not our responsibility to tell the administration how to evaluate their teachers. They’re the experts, so I go with the administration and the principals to figure that one out.

John Marozsan 1:52:15 This is one of the great dilemmas in American education today. It was around when I was teaching – I have particularly strong views about it as a former teacher – it was part of my graduate program. There is no question that great teachers end up having great students, but the real question is how you determine what’s a great teacher. There are different modes of evaluating teachers. I do understand that the State of Illinois is implementing a new process this year which I’m sure very interested in understanding more about. It’s a difficult challenge, there is no question that it has to be approached.

Kate Amaral 1:53:01 Thank you. As MJ said already, the state decides how our teachers are evaluated. A big challenge for our district, upcoming, is to now take on and implement this new evaluation form. It’s going to require a lot of classroom evaluation and their performance results are tied to the students test scores. The challenge for our district is going to be having enough administrators that can adequately evaluate our teachers on their performance. I think that this is going to be great for educational instruction but it’s going to be a huge challenge for a district, particularly a small district like ours.

moderator 1:53:51 What are the plans to improve the math & science programs in the Lake Bluff schools?

Mary Jane Brady 1:53:56 Our math and science programs are quite strong in Lake Bluff Schools. The last several years we have used Joanne Trahanas as a consultant for our curriculum and we are very pleased with the scores that we see for our kids when they take the nationally standardized math scores. We are also pleased with their performance on our state tests, so again we have for the first time in a long time – perhaps ever – have a curriculum review cycle, which means that every several years our curriculum will be reviewed in light of student achievement, student success at the high school, student success in college, so we will have a feedback loop that will give us better information about our curriculum.

Eric Waggoner 1:54:39 One of the most important functions of a board of education is to identify trends to set in place policies that administrations can carry out and to monitor the performance in meeting those goals over time. Our math and science program is very strong in the Lake Buff schools. We do have, as MJ said, for the first time, a curriculum review cycle which creates that very feedback loop that is so critical in the board’s doing that job in monitoring the effective carrying out of curricular goals. And so we’re excited that, as we move forward, with the work that has already been done by Joanne Trahanas and all of the staff that we will continue to find ways to improve, not just the math and science curriculum, but all the curriculum of the district.

Chris Letchinger 1:55:39 I had a conversation with the superintendent of the school and that was one of the questions that we had. At least we keep track of the ranking of the school over the years. It fluctuates a good deal. She told us that they were putting in place a schedule whereby the math instruction would receive the same amount of time as the language arts and I think that is really important. I was told, and I am not sure about this, that our students are somewhat unprepared compared to Lake Forest when they get to the high school.

Richard Hegg 1:56:31 You know you can run through statistics and you can kind of make everything what you want to but I think the important this is to get on the same page with Lake Forest schools with the curriculum as well as what the plans are to prepare the kids for the high school and that’s where we are sharing information with them – there’s always going to be discussion as to whether we are up to snuff on our math and science going into the high school or whether they are ahead of us or we are ahead of them, but we certainly need to get on the same page.

John Marozsan 1:57:10 I’m a strong proponent of teaching math and science in the schools, obviously – I’m a product of that teaching myself. There’s no question from the statistics that I’ve seen that we don’t come up to the scores, especially form the 7th and 8th grades students in Lake Forest, in fact we’ve dropped off a little way in the last three years if you believe the statistics. The incumbents obviously have a better touch with what’s going on day-to-day in the school system today. I haven’t been there and don’t know what’s going on but I do advocate very strongly that we emphasize our math and science program.

Kate Amaral 1:57:52 Being a scientist I am obviously very passionate about our science curriculum and our math curriculum. As was already mentioned, one of the best things that, I think, has happened in our district over the last few years is the hiring of Joanne Trahanas as our curriculum director. We finally have a thorough view of all our curriculum and our curriculum evaluation calendar. The science is set to be evaluated in 2013 and 2014. We have already gone through the math evaluation and have implemented a new program including bringing in the Common Core standards which are raising the level of performance expectations. I actually, from speaking with Dr. Sophie, have heard that some of the Lake Forest teachers actually have been visiting the Lake Bluff Middle School to actually observe our math curriculum so I think the tide is turning and we are actually leading back in the math field.

Julie Gottshall 1:58:57 We do have good schools and we are being led by a very strong superintendent so I think we are absolutely headed in the right direction on this point. I was disturbed to learn that my middle-schooler had language arts every day and math only every other day under the current system we have. That was alarming to me because I do believe that math and science are so critical to the global future. I understand that that now is changing as we going to a system where they do have math class every day so I view that as very positive. I would like to see greater coordination with the Lake Forest High School. If we get different reports and get a different sense of whether our kids go in equally prepared well or not, but if there is even a suggestion that they don’t, I think that is something that we need to improve upon. I’m glad to hear that we are getting somebody who is a curriculum specialist. There have been fits and starts in getting someone to fill that position. So I am glad to hear that we have someone who we think is very good and that this is something we are focused on.





Update:  The district commissioned ECRA Group, Inc. to prepare a Strategic Plan for the district. A draft of their Strategic Plan Supporting Evidence dated February, 2013 was presented at the board meeting held two days after the debate.  The second paragraph of page 12 relates to Stakeholder Survey Analysis, Section D, Overall Quality, Findings. It echoes the comments of the four caucus-endorsed candidates and contradicts the three SmartChoices candidates:

"When asked to expand upon their opinions regarding the overall quality of education in the District, stakeholders across all groups express a desire to challenge students more at all levels, particularly gifted students. Parents and community members also desire a strong math and science curriculum, including more math instructional time at the middle school level. Many employees and parents comment positively on the high quality teachers and comprehensive education in the District; while many community members are concerned students are not adequately prepared for high school and that the District is not ranked as one of the highest performing districts in the state."




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