Parents seek neighborhood schools

Parents seek neighborhood schools

By Shellie Berg

By Shellie Berg

Staff Reporter

People expressed their desires to choose schools close to their homes on June 4 at the first-ever school board forum, “Plan to Plan for Unitary Status,” held at Roosevelt Alternative School, 978 Haskell Ave.

The forum is the first of several that the school board will hold to obtain input for decisions in regard to the recent unitary status ruling.

The board has yet to determine where and when the next forums will take place. Fourteen parents and organization representatives questioned a panel consisting of school board members, Superintendent Alan Brown and board members-elect.

Although all district parents received notices, school board member Ted Biondo expressed disappointment because merely five of the speakers were parents, and others represented organizations.

“I want to hear from the parents,” he said. “Parents are the ones that are going to be the most affected.”

At the forum, Biondo announced his idea for a survey to be sent out. He said that parents or those responsible for an individual’s education can provide input for what they want to see.

Ron Sodko, a parent of three children in Cherry Valley, asked the board to implore the district to allow his children to attend schools closer to his home.

Sodko and his wife, Michelle, noted their two youngest children attend Rolling Green School, 3615 Louisiana Ave. (near Broadway and Alpine Road). “Rolling Green is a very nice school,” Michelle Sodko said. But she said it would be more convenient to be closer to a school. The Sodkos indicated to the district several times that they wanted a closer school.

The Sodkos weren’t able to choose White Swan or Thompson for their youngest children because it’s not within a mile and a half, which is specified by the school district’s controlled choice rules.

“As far as I know, our kids are the only ones in the neighborhood who don’t go to White Swan. It’s just frustrating since we live here. We pay a lot of taxes. It was really a big downer. There’s no way our kids could ever be part of the schools. There goes our tax dollars down the drain.”

Their oldest daughter attends RESA, 1800 Ogilby Road (near Klehm Arboretum) at Auburn. But because she is involved in activities at RESA, the Sodkos want her to remain there for another year.

In addition to picking her daughter up at RESA about three days a week for after-school activities, Michelle Sodko picks up her children at Rolling Green, each day. “I put on a lot of miles,” she said. When all her kids ride the bus, they are on the bus for more than an hour during a one-way ride.

Board member Mike Williams said, “We have assigned students based on proximity as far back as I can remember. Proximity isn’t a new issue. They want to be assigned to their neighborhood schools … It’s not possible for some parents because the school is a magnet school, or the school is located greater than a mile and a half from their residence.”

But building 10 more schools to accommodate desires of utilizing a nearby school is obviously unfeasible, he said. But Williams said the board won’t veer away from its commitment of assigning individuals to the nearest schools.

“It’s going to require that we close some magnet schools if the priorities given is a neighborhood preference,” Williams stated. “We have siblings’ preference under controlled choice.” He also noted the issue of proximity is primarily an elementary school issue.

Ted Biondo affirmed that it’s important to live near schools. “Obviously, I don’t think there’s any educational value during a two-hour bus ride,” he noted. “It obviously subtracts from the educational focus that we should be having. I think maybe we need to take a new look at the district.”

He said that by Nov. 1, the board will invoke some plan to accomodate desires. “‘What if I don’t like the school that I’m in?’ I would say probably if there is available space at the other schools—if there is, probably you can transfer,” he said.

“We have unitary status on that. It’s up to the people of Rockford to pick the kind of system they want. Now, if people choose freely to go to a school like a magnet on the west side, they should be able to choose. The ‘controlled’ part of controlled choice is no longer there.”

The Futterman & Howard Chicago firm was denied a rehearing in May after refiling the People Who Care lawsuit for controlled choice.

Venita Hervey, a lawyer for the firm who works out of the Rockford office, said that “everybody has a different view on what they want. I still think, for the most people, quality and closeness aren’t equated. People want quality schools for their kids.”

She said that a school could be a “burnt-out, dilapidated piece of junk” or be a failing school across the street. “I don’t think I want my child to go to that school,” Hervey indicated.

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