School District 202 administrators issued a sharp response to a memo presented by District 65 administrators to the District 65 School Board on April 5.

The District 65 report, presented by Curriculum Coordinator Suzanne Farrand, assessed the District’s middle-school math program and suggested that some parents were pushing too early to accelerate their children into Honors Algebra at seventh grade. When asked, she said that she thought the geometry program for eighth-graders belonged at District 65 long-term and she saw no reason that it could not be taught exclusively in the middle schools. She said, though, “I have no grand plan.”

ETH has traditionally offered honors geometry at the high school to some District 65 students.

The District 202 response, by Assistant Superintendent Laura Cooper and Math Department Chair Gena Brelias, stated that it “outlines concerns about specific decisions [referred to in the District 65 memo] and “counter[s] some statements made about students who have been choosing to take Honors Geometry at the high school.” It concludes with recommendations for collaboration about textbooks, curriculum and reviewing or revising and formalizing agreements about making joint decisions about issues such as those.At Issue

Dr. Cooper and Ms. Brelias said they were “concerned about the lack of consistency in middle school math preparation.” District 65, they said, uses different texts in different middle schools and has provided “no data about outcomes … and does not include a common assessment … of pre-algebra learning. … Further, we are concerned that District 65 has not included high-school placement and success in high school courses as a critical measure.”

Their greatest concern, though, they said, is “the degree to which decisions about mathematics curriculum K-12 are being made and planned without ETHS input.”

At the May 10 District 202 Board meeting, Dr. Cooper explained her position more fully.

Dr. Cooper said she “cannot speak for District 65” but that the high school had “reached out to them” but the information was “incomplete.” She said, though, that the high school’s concerns were about process and policy.

On policy, she said she believed the high school and District 65 differ in that District 65 appears to see accelerated math as a way to fulfill the high school math requirement sooner but the high school sees math as an integral part of its curriculum. “It [the study of math] starts in seventh grade,” Dr. Cooper said, “and is a very important element in our math and science programs and our [many] Advanced Placement courses. … It’s part of our bridge-building (ETHS has the national bridge-building champion, Fiona West), the chem.-phys program, the math and science Olympiads.”

Board member Gretchen Livingston said ETHS has been named by the Intel company as one of the top three high schools in the country for math – and the only non-magnet (that is non-selective) public school.

‘The focus on math and science in this community is remarkable,” Dr. Cooper said, adding that students who complete all the math classes at ETHS can take classes from Northwestern University. The Cooper-Brelias memo also offered data showing that District 65 eighth-graders who take honors geometry at ETHS tend to get higher grades than those who take geometry at District 65.

On process, Dr. Cooper said, “It is important that we collaborate. … Timeliness and transparency are part of this. We need to make staffing decisions [about how many District 65 students will take geometry honors at ETHS, as well as about the placement of incoming freshmen]. Parents should take the opportunity to talk to ETHS as well as to the middle schools [about where their children will take geometry].”Concerns About Collaboratio

Martha Burns said, “We [the two school boards] just had a meeting in January and we patted ourselves on the back about how we love each other. … There is something very wrong with this picture.”

Superintendent Dr. Eric Witherspoon said District 65’s math proposal “did take us by surprise, because District 202 has been [offering geometry] for a long time. We feel a lot of ownership. Our bias is that students in the program have been well served.”

Deborah Graham said, “We all need to understand this is the second time District 65 has done this in two years. … I suggest that [District 202 administrators] contact the District 65 Board and get something done. … There is a lack of uniformity there, a lack of systemic collaboration.”

Mark Metz said, “We need to look at the way this was handled – it was completely outside the norms of how we said we were going to get along. … We have demonstrated success over a period of time. [I don’t know] why we are talking about fixing something that isn’t broken instead of pushing more kids into the system.”

Dr. Witherspoon also said, “There is a breakdown, and the two districts need to be working in concert.”

Board President Rachel Hayman asked Dr. Cooper whether there had been a meeting between the two districts. Dr. Cooper, who will retire at the end of the semester, said no meeting has been scheduled but her successor, Dr. Ngoc-Diep Nguyen, would likely schedule one.Back to District 65

Meanwhile, at the District 65 May 10 Finance Committee meeting, Ms. Farrand circulated her memo, responding to the Cooper-Brelias memo.

That memo accuses Dr. Cooper and Ms. Brelias’s memo of “making statements that are not completely accurate and/or are inconsistent with the context in which they were initially presented.” Specifically, Ms. Farrand’s May 10 memo denies the lack of consistency in middle school math preparation and asserts that “District 202 has been routinely updated on the text [book] adoption and implementation process” since 2007.

Ms. Farrand’s memo also denies that District 65 questions the value of accelerated math programs and says, “The issue is not if there will be collaboration with D202 but how that collaboration will proceed.”

While Ms. Farrand’s memo was not discussed at the committee meeting, District 65 Superintendent Hardy Murphy said that, in addition to offering geometry as an option at the middle schools, “We are having geometry at the high school next year.”

As it stands, the school districts may discuss a way to even out the math curriculum, but they remain at odds.