Left Justified: Education, educators and the educated

The Rockford School District has gone through some rough times. Most of it was self-inflicted. Our school board, who for a long time ignored the poorer side of town, was finally forced to spend money west of the Rock River.

When I was hired back in 1985 as the director of Rockford Urban Ministries, one of the first issues that the churches wanted to work on was the desegregation of our schools. Now, I was naive. I thought that segregated schools only existed in the South. But I soon learned that, as Rockford expanded east, all the schools on the west side of town grew older and more decrepit, and the schools on the east side of town were newer, got the better teachers and the better textbooks.

All of that had been fought out back in the 1970s when Rockford Urban Ministries had led a fight for the schools to be more equal. They hired an attorney, but had to pay him out of their own pockets. The school board cunningly dragged the case out in court and cost our group money as well as energy. (We nonprofit church groups can be worn down pretty easily.)

The school board signed an agreement in the late ’70s that would have cost them around a million dollars had it been followed. But they knew we were pooped, and ignored the dictates.

If they’d been fairer, they might have prevented the People Who Care lawsuit in the late 1980s. Anyway, after another lawsuit and expenditures of millions on lawyers and new construction, are the schools better?

And looming in the future is the contract between the schoolteachers and the school board. Will there be a strike? Will there be a lockout? Or will the two sides sit down and talk to each other? The preliminaries don’t look good. Wrestlemania looms on the horizon, the coming negotiations for teachers’ contracts look tough. Personally, I think a fair arrangement can be given to the teachers without busting the bank.

Rockford Urban Ministries has invited the new school superintendent, Dr. Dennis Thompson, to introduce himself to the community on Thursday, Sept. 23, 7 p.m. at Centennial United Methodist Church, 219 S. Second St., one block south of City Hall.

This will be an informal discussion with Dr. Thompson, who was hired on May 11 of this year and is just getting his feet wet. He hails from Nashville, Tenn. Dr. Thompson has a military background. He graduated from West Point in 1976 and served in the U.S. Army for more than 21 years. He has a master’s degree in educational philosophy from the University of Texas and a doctorate in educational administration from Texas State University.

You are welcome to join us for a discussion of the state of Rockford’s schools.

The Rockford Urban Ministries Council will also encourage the churches of Rockford to do even more for the schools of Rockford. For example, Brooke Road United Methodist Church has been donating school supplies to Haskell and Riverdahl schools. They have a drive for hats and mittens in the winter. Other churches encourage mentors and tutors.

To have good schools for everyone, we should have good input from everyone. But oftentimes, the poorer side of town has little time and expertise in pushing school administrators to be fairer. That’s where the church should come in, and that’s why I’m encouraging all fair-minded people to meet the new school superintendent.

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

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