E. HUSAR: Member's outspoken opinions liven up Curriculum Committee meetings

Posted: Mar. 21, 2014 8:15 am Updated: Jun. 13, 2014 9:14 am

Monthly meetings of the Quincy School Board's Curriculum Committee have become a lot more interesting since Lauren Kiest was appointed to the panel last summer.

Kiest, a 1950 graduate of Quincy High School, is now in his early 80s, and he's one of those people who isn't afraid to speak his mind.

And he's been speaking a lot lately.

His blunt, no-nonsense language collides at times with the scholarly lingo typical of curriculum-related meetings, where the air is often filled with jargon-rich terms such as "formative assessments," "rubrics," "teaching with fidelity" and "populating the data."

You can almost see Kiest flinch with annoyance every time one of those terms gets used.

When the committee heard a report last October about a new online system called "Rising Star" being used to help Illinois school districts keep track of their school-improvement efforts, Kiest could only take so much before he was compelled to express his views.

"I really find this whole thing repugnant," Kiest said after watching a 20-minute, jargon-filled webinar outlining the complicated steps schools and districts must follow to use the interactive tool on the Internet.

He blasted the state's Rising Star requirements as a bureaucratic waste of time that was needlessly causing school administrators to jump through a bunch of record-keeping hoops no one cared about except some pencil-pushers in Springfield.

"It would do Washington proud," Kiest said sarcastically. "We cannot achieve education by adding on a layer of bureaucracy. This is so clearly a highly bureaucratic thing with so much detail and so many reports that no one ever reads or cares about, because people really don't. No one has the time to read it.

"It's a complete waste of time. It's something you obviously have to do to keep from going to jail, but beyond that, I can't see any point to it."

Kiest was just as outspoken at the committee's March 10 meeting.

After about 10 minutes of listening to rather dry reports about student growth from fall to winter and how it relates to the district's "SMART goals," Kiest interrupted the proceedings. He asked that boring agenda items such as this be delayed so the committee members could bring up topics they deem more important and interesting.

Kiest said the purpose of this request was to "reset the direction" of the Curriculum Committee. He wants to put more emphasis on discussions that are truly worthwhile and to can the stuff that doesn't matter, including the endless reports on mundane subjects.

"Reports don't generate any kind of new solution," he said. "There's nothing we can do about them. We just sit here and listen to them. What possible good could come of that?"

He said the Curriculum Committee often becomes nothing more than a "rubber stamp" that hears reports and forwards them to the School Board.

"The committee doesn't do anything, per se," he said. "We're listening to reports that are basically dead stuff instead of getting in and duking it out like a legislative body, which is something that we should be."

Kiest believes Curriculum Committee members should play a more active role in generating and discussing ideas for education improvement. He even offered his fellow committee members a list of potential discussion topics to get things started.

"If you want to come here and listen to reports all day, that's fine. But I don't think you're learning anything, and I don't think you're doing anything," he said.

The committee's next meeting is April 14. It could feature a few lively discussions.

You might want to bring some popcorn.


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