Mayor-elect announces Director of Education position

Morrissey discloses policy for education, life-long learning & solving truancy

Editor’s note: This article came from a press release from the Morrissey campaign in which he announced his education policy. It was received before Morrissey took office. More information will follow.

Mayor-elect Larry Morrissey has outlined his specific plans and priorities for the city’s education and life-long learning and how his administration will tackle the current truancy crisis.

“The Mayor’s Office must play a critical role in coordinating and improving this community’s educational resources and approach to life-long learning,” Morrissey said. “The residential and business marketplace needs to know that this city has taken responsibility and action for improving education in our community. As we improve our schools, we will see increased demand for living and working in Rockford. We must acknowledge as a community that, ‘as go our schools, so goes the City of Rockford.’”

Morrissey also stated that he would establish a position of “Director of Education and Life-long Learning” who will be responsible for working every day to coordinate Rockford’s education assets in the public and private sector and communicate City policy on issues like truancy, vocational training, and job training.

Education & Life-Long Learning Priorities

Morrissey’s administration would coordinate resources of local businesses and private and public schools, colleges and training programs. “Local businesses and individuals can provide mentoring, internship and apprenticeship opportunities to provide positive educational experiences and training for our people,” he said.

From trade unions to manufacturing companies to health care providers, both for-profit and non-profit private companies would be part of the solution, providing positive experiences for Rockford children.

“But education does not stop with District 205,” said Morrissey. “Rockford has numerous educational resources that must be appreciated and expanded where necessary.”

Rock Valley College, Rockford College, Northern Illinois University, the University of Illinois College of Medicine, St. Anthony School of Nursing, and Rockford Business College all provide certain levels of post-high school degrees. Morrissey’s administration would focus first on partnering and expanding degree opportunities to meet the needs of the local work force. In both the manufacturing field and health care field, Rockford has many education needs that go unmet.

Truancy crisis solutions

Currently, Rockford has a truancy rate of four times the state average, and due to that, District 205 loses out in more than $6.5 million in annual state aid. “Rockford cannot afford to lose those funds, and those children cannot afford to miss those classes,” he said. His administration through the Director of Education & Life-Long Learning will make the truancy issue a priority. “We will focus on working and coordinating with community resources to reduce the truancy rate in the community,” Morrissey said.

Morrissey outlined several parts of a comprehensive truancy solution, which include:

Private Accountability, Consistency and Action: Rockford has seen starts and stops in the past when it comes to improving the truancy rate, but unfortunately, the lack of accountability, consistency and action on the part of the City of Rockford when it comes to educating our children has meant that past community efforts could be dropped with little or no ramifications to elected officials.

Address Environmental Conditions at School: Children must be at school ready to learn. Uniforms and closed campuses should be explored as a way to create a positive and professional learning environment for our children. “We must maintain basic order in the environmental conditions at our schools so that an atmosphere conducive to learning is fostered,” said Morrissey.

Address Environmental Conditions at Home: More than 20 percent of Rockford children live in poverty. Rockford must reduce crime and increase incentives for home renovations and redevelopment in many of the older parts of the city. We must also ensure that police and the courts prosecute those who violate property standards and create disorder in our neighborhoods.

“The Department of Housing and Urban Development has cited the Rockford Housing Authority numerous times for the poor living conditions at many of the developments from which District 205 children come. These conditions must be improved,” Morrissey related.

Under the Scott administration, after spending more than $180,000 on consultants, the City and the RHA withdrew from a process that could have resulted in millions of dollars to help renovate the homes of public housing families. Winnebago County pursued such a program and received an $18 million grant to help renovate their public housing units.

“The administration must be held accountable for not pursuing these grant funds. A Morrissey administration will have the proper sense of urgency to pursue such funds to help the lives of our families and students living in public housing,” said Morrissey.

Address Self-Image of Students and the Community: “The affirmations program designed by Dr. Ed Sharp and Shep Blumenthal called ‘Solution Thinking for Excellence’ is a great place to start. As a community, we have spent millions over the years marketing our community through our Convention & Visitors Bureau. That organization sells this community under a title, ‘We Make Smiles.’ We need to tell the world that ‘We Educate Kids,’ and we provide long-term workforce training opportunities for our businesses. We must spend our marketing funds wisely to send the message that we take learning very seriously,” he said.

Seek Creative Enforcement Options: Explore a “Truancy Court” working with the County and State’s Attorney’s Office to provide positive reinforcement to Rockford families on how much our community values education. Funds from the Winnebago County Public Safety tax should be explored to help fund such an effort.

Coordinate Support Services to Help Families: Rockford has more than 800 children identified by the School District as “homeless” and do not have the ability to get to or from a school. “We can help support a network of individuals and organizations to help get rides to school. We can also use the truancy issue as a ‘hook’ to help focus efforts on parental responsibility and involvement in education,” Morrissey said. “We must bear the full weight of this community on this issue. Our children and our future are at stake.”

From the April 27- May 3, 2005, issue

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