It is difficult to sort through all of the information, misinformation, rumors and opinions about the Lake Forest High School principal search, but here is an attempt, written in Q&A format, to address the candidate search as well as questions about curriculum changes at the high school and at the elementary and middle schools.
The information that follows was culled from Daily North Shore’s notes from the District 115 Board’s May 26 Special Meeting; interviews with Lake Forest school staff; web posts by the candidate; letters to DNS; and emails from school administrators to parents.
When is the next D-115 Special Meeting?
At the May 26 Special School Board meeting, BOE President Reese Marcusson said another public meeting would be held between June 1 and June 9. Per state public meeting regulations, the board must provide 48 hours notice. No announcement was available as of 3:45 p.m. on Sunday, May 31. Daily North Shore will post the date as soon as it is made public.
Who is the candidate?
Daily North Shore heard on May 15 that the candidate is Chala Holland. She is an assistant principal at Oak Park & River Forest High School. Lake Forest School districts do not publicly discuss personnel issues so the district has not provided information about Dr. Holland.
The information that is going around comes from her consulting firm’s website and social media accounts, and from statements made by parents and residents of Lake Forest, Lake Bluff and Knollwood as well as by her colleagues, former colleagues and family friends at the District 115 Special Meeting and on this website.
When did DNS see her websites and when were they gone?
On May 15, Daily North Shore searched online and saw the website and social media accounts for an education consulting firm run by Dr. Holland, Holland Education Consulting Group (HECG). They were active on May 15 and gone the morning of May 16.
What’s Dr. Holland’s background?
According to the “About Us” page on the HECG website, she grew up in Ardmore, PA., a western suburb of Philadelphia. She also:
- attended Northwestern University on a full basketball scholarship
- earned a Bachelor’s of Science from Northwestern in secondary education with a concentration on history
- earned an M.A. in Social & Cultural Foundations in Education from DePaul University
- earned a doctorate in policy studies in education and urban education leadership from University of Illinois-Chicago
It further states that Holland “plans to use her doctoral work to contribute to national discourse that examines organizational change theory, leadership and systemic change focused on racial equity.”
Click here to read an archived web page of the Holland Education Consulting Group that can be found using internet cache services.
What is Holland Education Consulting Group?
HECG is an education consulting firm. Its website appears to have been created in 2013. The description on HECG’s home page is: “At HECG, we believe that educators and educational institutions have a responsibility to help students reach their full human potential.” The website and Facebook page for HECG are relatively old– they are dated January 2013 and February 2014, and they don’t appear to have much engagement on them. The Facebook page had 116 likes. The blog post outlined below had one reTweet and one Facebook share.
What was on the HECG website and FB page?
The HECG website had a blog post from January 2013 titled “Academic Tracking – The New (Educational) Jim Crow”
The academic tracks, ranging from self contained Special Education through AP/IB, have fallen along racial lines within many racial integrated schools with a disproportionate number of Black and Latino students in self-contained Special Education classes and a disproportionate number of White students in Honors and AP level courses. While the 1960’s boasted the physical segregation of spaces occupies by white and non-white students, the 2000’s boast integrated buildings yet segregated classrooms.
The racial integration of schools did not dismantle the systemic racism inherent in the schooling system. The work of Foucault indicates that once power is exposed, it goes into hiding and finds another system through which to operate until it is exposed again. In other words, it’s not a matter of “if racism” is operating in the schools, it’s a matter of knowing that it is there and working constantly uncover it and dismantle it. On the surface, many racially integrated schools seem like beacons of racial and economic diversity and integration. But, at their core are beacons of racial inequities disguised by a false notion of meritocracy and the reality of white privilege and internalized racism.
The HECG Facebook page’s top post was about Malcolm X and was dated February 22, 2014, the day after the anniversary of his assassination (which was February 21, 1965). The post included an image of Malcolm X, along with his statement “Don’t let your enemy be your teacher” and a comment from HECG stating “His words continue to resonate. His life will never be forgotten.”
Another post was about “culturally relevant word walls” and had an image of a dictionary definition of the word “hegemony:” 1) leadership or dominance, esp. by one country or social group over others. (example used in sentence:) “Germany was united under Prussian hegemony after 1871.” Synonyms: leadership, dominance, supremacy, authority, mastery, control, power, sway, rule, sovereignty …”
A post on February 23, 2013, said: “Position yourself as a learner of all people and situations and you will be a teacher of many.”
Is Dr. Holland the only candidate for principal of D-115?
Yes. Here is how Superintendent Michael Simek explained the search process for LFHS principal; he said this at the May 26 board meeting:
- ad posted on edweek.org for three weeks. Edweek has an international audience
- 20 people applied for the position of LFHS principal
- admin review team interviewed eight candidates
- a team of teachers, students and parent representatives interviewed the candidates and narrowed the pool down to three and then to one, their top choice being Dr. Holland
- Simek then had a one-on-one interview with the candidate and a team of students, parents, administrators, teachers and two board members conducted a site visit to her school district, speaking with students, parents, teachers, support personnel and others
- the D-115 board conducted a number of background checks, talked with current and former supervisors and others she worked with and received many unsolicited endorsements from people who are familiar and passionate about the candidate
- some board members then met the candidate informally in small groups
The process took about a month, which Simek said seems too fast for some people and too long for others.
What do Dr. Holland’s supporters say?
At the District 115 May 26 meeting, Dan Cohen, a colleague of Dr. Holland’s at Oak Park and River Forest High School, said she has pushed him to be a better teacher and leader. Lake Forest resident Charlotte Ahern said Dr. Holland 14 years ago began renting the garage apartment owned by Ahern’s brother and his wife in Evanston, and that since then she has become “a wonderful addition to our extended family” who is a strong guiding force and trusted mentor to Ahern’s teenage nieces and nephews, and encourages them to be responsible and accountable.
What do Dr. Holland’s detractors say?
That she has never been a principal and therefore lacks experience to lead a school like LFHS; and that she has controversial views on tracking and critical race theory. Click here to read a Letter to the Editor from Lake Forest resident Jennifer Neubauer, which Daily North Shore posted on May 26. Click here to read all of the Letters to the Editor that DNS has posted on this issue in the past two weeks.
What does the D-115 administration say?
On May 22, Superintendent Michael Simek sent an email to parents stating that they were taking information out of context.
It is not uncommon, particularly after a site visit, for information to become public about a candidate and for speculation to begin. At that point, it is very easy for people outside the process who have not met, seen, or do not know the candidate to begin to form opinions and even draw conclusions about the person. Extrapolating from isolated pieces of information, out of context, is easy to do; it’s also both imprudent and illegal to allow that speculation to determine a hiring decision. In each case, the process should identify which candidate rises to the top and whether that person meets the criteria set forth.
My responsibility is to look at the criteria and then make a recommendation. Those without a window into all of the information and conversations with the candidates are sometimes frustrated by things that appear to make little sense from their perspective. We have good people in place that take their work extremely seriously. I hope and trust that you will allow the process to evolve and the district to do its work to serve our students. As we have done in the past and will continue to do in the future, we take both time and care in ensuring we bring great people into a great organization.
As always, we will be very open about conversations after a hiring decision is made and until then it remains by necessity and law a personnel matter required to be confidential.
Is LFHS getting rid of Honors and AP classes?
Superintendent Simek refuted that in another email to parents, this one dated May 26:
In the course of the principal search, a rumor has spread that we want to eliminate honors or AP courses. … Let me be very clear – we are not, and have no intention, of eliminating AP or honors at Lake Forest High School. … I would not recommend a principal candidate or any school leader interested in eliminating these courses. In fact, in our principal interview process, we were looking for someone with experience and ability to make additions and enhancements to these programs.
What changes is LFHS making to its curriculum?
A board member at the May 12 regular D-115 meeting described the changes to curriculum as “a major culture shift at the school to remove prerequisites.”
The 2015-16 course guide indicates the removal of the “College Prep” level (which was the term that LFHS until now used to describe the level just below honors and AP.)
In his May 25 email, Superintendent Simek stated that since he came to Lake Forest three years ago, LFHS has increased the number of students in AP classes. For example, in the 2014-15 school year, AP participation in science rose 32%. He also said that in the 2015-16 year the school has added AP courses that are new to LFHS. He cited a 52% increase in the number of students enrolled in AP Calculus, and a 3% increase in participation in honors courses.
The statements in his May 25 email mirrored a presentation about “Equity and Access” that LFHS Assistant Principal Tom Meagher made to the D-115 Board of Education on May 12, 2015. Dr. Meagher said that because of changes being made to “equity and access,” student requests for AP courses increased 29% in 2015-16 compared to the current school year. He also said that between the spring of 2013 and 2015, the number of students taking algebra classes below their grade level declined 29%, the number of students taking geometry below their grade level declined 39%, and the number of students taking pre-calculus above their grade level grew 44%.
What about the Lake Forest elementary and middle schools? Are they getting rid of the gifted & talented programs? What happened to Quest and Explore classes?
In response to questions by Daily North Shore, Lauren Fagel, the current assistant superintendent of curriculum, instruction, technology, and assessment of Lake Forest School Districts 67 and 115, said in an email:
In District 67, we are committed to ensuring that all students grow academically, socially, and emotionally. This year, a group of math teachers and school/district administrators spent several months studying our middle school math curriculum scope and sequence. As a result of this work, we fully aligned our math courses, and we renamed our math courses to reflect the content of each course, rather than the level. This does not mean we have eliminated levels, and it does not mean we have eliminated any programming or services for students who are gifted.
We have been asked if will be doing the same process for our Language Arts curriculum. In January, 2015, the Board of Education voted to adopt a new reading and writing curriculum. Teachers and administrators are excited about the opportunities that this new curriculum offers for differentiation within the classroom. We will continue to explore the best service delivery model for a challenging and rigorous curriculum that meets all students’ needs.
Why has D-67 made these changes?
Fagel responded: The middle school teachers and administrators recognized the need for a more fully aligned math curriculum. We partnered with the Instructional Director for Math at Lake Forest High School to realign our middle school courses so they lead seamlessly into the high school math course sequence.
What does ‘fully align our math courses’ mean? Did the content change or just the way students are placed in each class?
Fagel said: Alignment means that each course builds on the previous course, with the content, skills, and concepts clearly articulated for each course. The content of our courses is not changing. Our courses address the Illinois Learning Standards incorporating the Common Core State Standards in Mathematics.
What are the new math classes called? For example, what math class will a former Quest student be in now? What class will a student who was in Explore be in now?
Fagel said this chart on the District 67 website provides answers to these questions (it’s also shown below:).
And click here for a letter that describes the changes, also from the D-67 website.
How does D-67 determine what class is the right fit for each child? Test scores? Teacher evaluation? Parent request? And how does that differ from how kids were placed previously?
Fagel said the placement process is described in the letter.
What do teachers at the D-67 schools think about the changes to curriculum and removal of the Quest and Explore programs?
Daily North Shore asked the Lake Forest Education Association for a response; we received two comments from teachers who asked not to be identified by name:
One teacher said “What is being done in District 67 is being done in order to open more difficult courses to more students. The idea is to give more students the chance to take more rigorous classes. The intention is not to dumb down the curriculum or lessen rigor.”
Another teacher said: “To the best of my understanding, we are gradually fading out the tiered program (we may never completely fade it out) and are trying to expose as many students as possible to a rigorous curriculum. By no means are the tiers gone as of this moment.”