School Improvement Days
What's the deal with these random days off?
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If you're a District 65 parent, like me, you woke up this morning expecting winter break to be over, only to find today is a School Improvement Day. If you look at the District's schedule, today is School Improvement day #6. I can't even imagine how stressful these days must be for parents with inflexible schedules, especially when they happen on Wednesdays.
You’ll see today (January 9, 2023) on the schedule below.
Parents have expressed frustration regarding these days off; the District hasn't communicated the rationale for these days. What is being improved? Before living in Evanston, I'd never heard of monthly "School Improvement" days. What are these days, and why do they exist?
From Half Days to Full Days
School Improvement half days are not entirely new to the District. Prior years had regular 1/2 day Wednesday School Improvement Days. This year is the first year with two full days off. The School Board approved this change in a meeting on 12/13/2021. It is posted to their website but is missing a link to the meeting minutes (a violation of the Open Meetings Act - 5 ILCS 120/2.06; requiring 30 days for approval and posting)
There was a lot on the agenda for this meeting and a few angry parents, regarding the Thanksgiving Week 2021 surprise closure and lack of transparency. In this meeting they voted on adding two full school improvement days. There was no discussion on the purpose, need, or intended outcome for school improvement days. There were no public comments. It passed 7-0.
Sufficient notice was given for the change, although, as a parent and community member, I’m not sure I was exactly prepared for more no-school days. They did not authorize Right At School or any of the childcare options to operate on these days, although they do operate on the half days.
Professional Development Days
So what happens on School Improvement Days? If you look at the calendar above; you’ll see these days are for teacher professional development. This is the opportunity for teachers to collect professional development hours and the opportunity for the District Administration to present their content. In particular, the subject of today’s School Improvement day is Equity, which is perhaps no surprise given the equity curriculum is highlighted in February and March to students. All the public documents indicate the teachers login to a web portal (PowerSchool) and watch online videos.
Calendar year to date, District 65 has spent $187,723.46 on PowerSchool.
What types of videos do they watch? It’s hard to say - I haven’t FOIA’ed the catalog and don’t think I intend to. However, I have seen some snippets from prior contracts that I have FOIA’ed. One example is the Dr. Mapp Workshop series offered in a contract with Scholastic.1
The cost to the District? Approximately, $16,000.
I’ve FOIA’ed a few other professional development contracts and they mostly fall into this price range. For instance, at the last Board Meeting alone they voted on:
National Training Network for $45,000 for a similar type of program.
Courageous Conversations (Beyond Diversity Training) for $34,750 (Contract extension) - Pacific Education Group
Scholastic Contract mentioned above for $87,978
But some of these vendors have been voted on multiple months in a row (and passed); so it’s not even clear to me when this content is actually purchased2 or by whom or if it’s even used in the professional development days. You can go through my spreadsheet to search for other professional development expenses, such as:
TNTP - Math Education for Teachers - $35,979
University of IL - Champagn-Urbana - $35,000
Activate Learning - $30,537.55
The list goes on and on. It’s hard to identify exactly how much the District is spending on this kind of content since it is spread across many different budget categories and only sometimes do these contracts appear in front of the School Board (even though they are over $25,000).
Of course, I am making some assumptions; I’m neither an educator nor a professional development expert. I do think it is reasonable to wonder (as a parent) what types of professional continuing education the District is putting in front of teachers. However, it’s almost impossible to find documentation on this.
Please leave comments below if you have any thoughts or ways to provide more transparency into the content being put in front of District teachers (or FOIA requests I should file).
I have no specific evidence to suggest that Dr. Mapp’s video is part of today’s professional development; but I’m using this as an example of what seems like the type of content used.
Every month the Board votes on a list of >$25,000 contracts. This list regularly misses $25,000 contracts (unclear why) and some months shows the same contract over and over.