The student newspaper of Vernon Hills High School

The Scratching Post

The student newspaper of Vernon Hills High School

The Scratching Post

The student newspaper of Vernon Hills High School

The Scratching Post

March 18: Community members express concerns to D128 Board of Education


On Monday, March 18, ten Vernon Hills and Libertyville community members addressed the Board of Education during the public comment portion of the monthly meeting to voice concerns regarding initiatives to be implemented by D128.

The community members voiced concerns over the Advanced Placement Act, heterogeneous classes, curriculum changes, finances and budgeting, staff reductions, D128’s administration, and a lack of transparency.

Placement Initiatives & Student Support

Community members shared their thoughts about several coinciding initiatives: heterogeneous classes, the Accelerated Placement Act (APA), and Equal Opportunity Schools (EOS). 

Heterogeneous classes are environments where students from multiple instructional levels work together. Next year, several striving learner classes will be eliminated, and students will be pushed into the on-level track. 

Before public comment began, the BOE clarified that advanced classes like honors and AP classes will not be dismantled, but instead, the number of students taking those classes will increase due to the state’s Accelerated Placement Act. 

Amy Frantz, a licensed special education teacher who does not work at D128, is in favor of inclusive education models, but is concerned about whether there will be enough support for diagonal movers. 

“The idea of a fully inclusive classroom is what I have strived for. That’s what I think all of us on the board and this community would like to see happen,” Frantz said. “How are we going to get these students, our most vulnerable students, where they need to be? Just implementing [heterogeneous classes] in the ninth grade this year is not going to solve this problem.”

Gwen Janzen, Vernon Hills community member and parent to a junior and an incoming freshman, expressed concern about the number of changes being implemented, as well as the lack of a Multi-Tiered System of Support. 

“The evaluation and assessment practices are changing at the very same time we’re capturing more kids into honors and AP than ever before, thanks to APA and EOS. We don’t have any way to measure the successes or failures of these initiatives because of the grading and assessment changes, and even more frighteningly, we have virtually no way to support these students,” Janzen said. “As students, like my kids, are being automatically recommended for honors and AP courses, they’re being told that they should expect not to be able to exit the course if it ends up being too demanding for them…kids will be stuck in the deep end with very little support and no escape.”

Marti Gorun, a retired D128 English teacher, raised her concerns regarding heterogeneous classrooms. Gorun is concerned that the district is implementing too many initiatives that Gorun believes will dilute the rigor of advanced classes. 

“The proposal to allow students to design their own tests, no more zeros or penalty for work not handed in on time, block scheduling… Rigor does not disappear with one decision, it is a death by a thousand cuts,” Gorun said. 

Marnie Navarro, a D128 alumna and parent to a D70 fifth grader, raised her concerns about the placement initiatives, as well as other changes that could impact rigor.

“Standardized test scores are declining, equidistant grading where there are no zeros, unlimited redos, and group grading leaves our students unprepared for the rigors and reality of college and beyond,” Navarro said. “Teachers are not ready for what is on the immediate horizon. They are overwhelmed, their expertise and valid concerns ignored.”

Certified Staffing Plan & Finances

Amy Christian, current English teacher at VHHS, spoke to the Board of Education, with twelve other D128 teachers who live in the community standing by her side. She voiced concerns about the staffing plan presented to the Board, which includes a reduction in force for the ‘24-’25 school year, and the impact the plan will have on students.

“During the board meeting [on Monday, March 11] we heard that thirty-seven courses will not be offered for next year,” Christian said. “What’s frustrating is that many of the classes that are getting cut are very special, niche classes that you don’t find in just any public school. They’re small, but they are classes that give kids unique opportunities and access to multiple pathways, which is prioritizing our strategic plan.”

Because public comments are limited to a three-minute timeframe, Samantha Phillips, another English teacher at VHHS, read the remainder of Christian’s statement to the board, which explained the concerns in more depth.

“Rather than hiring non-certified hourly employees to staff the lab for ninth graders only, why aren’t we retaining classified, AP-certified teachers who know our curriculum and standards to staff the lab?” Phillips read. “The district office has created multiple new six-figure salaried district office positions within the last few years. Research says that the factor with the highest impact on student achievement is high impact learning, not more district administrators.”

Business owner and Vernon Hills Village Trustee, Michael Schenk, raised some concerns over D128’s financial decisions. After some research, Schenk, who has a background in finance, learned that D128 funding is 72% above adequacy.

  “…How did we get here that we have to start laying teachers off?” questioned Schenk. “We have a lot of capital improvement projects, I get it, but we have to start taking responsibility for our financial decisions.”

Similarly, Navarro pinpointed in her speech that the quality of D128’s administration does not reflect the amount of money being invested in it. 

“D128 has tripled the number of administrators in the last 12 years, creating four new six figure positions in the past three years, at significant cost to taxpayers,” Navarro said. “Even with our top-heavy administrative bloat, D128 is spending significant money on outside consultants, hemorrhaging taxpayer dollars — all this while simultaneously firing FTEs.”

Julie Landgraf, a parent of an incoming D128 ninth-grader, questioned if the district’s finances reflect the plans to reduce staff. 

“Have we looked at every possible option to keep these valuable teachers and staff employed?” Landgraf asked. “The school board is the voice of our community, and I hope [the board] uses [their] position to address the concerns that the community members are so desperately trying to convey to you.”

Lack of Communication

The lack of communication and transparency between D128 and community members was brought up a few times during public comment by parents who are concerned and feel clueless about undergoing changes in the district. 

Landgraf shared that parents of rising freshmen are not being contacted about these new implementations.

“Incoming ninth grade parents have yet to be contacted in regards to these sweeping changes, when their children will be the first to be affected by them. I have not received an email from the district about the changes,” Landgraf said. 

John Hetzel, Vernon Hills community member, questioned a few administrator’s qualifications to direct these new educational changes in the district.

Hetzel also urged that the lack of communication between D128 and community members can lead to great loss in the community. 

“Other districts who have implemented [educational changes] have done them one at a time, and they have platforms on their website that are very clear and informative, yet you guys have been hiding it in the weeds,” Hetzel said. “[The lack of information] is not fair to the community, and it’s not fair to the students… [D128 is] going to lose some teachers and families in this community,” Hetzel said.