E-mails from District 205 administrators address communication

Superintendent cites The Godfather in e-mail

Teachers say e-mails add to ‘climate of fear’; administrators say e-mails intended to address character assassination and streamline communication

By Joe McGehee

Staff Writer

Two e-mails from Rockford Public School District 205 administrators to principals, assistant principals, members of the superintendent’s cabinet and executive directors/directors of schools address the flow of communication within the district.

The first e-mail was sent Friday, Aug. 28, by District 205 Superintendent LaVonne M. Sheffield, with the subject line “Going Forward.” The second e-mail was sent Thursday, Sept. 3, by District 205 Chief Communications Officer Mark Bonne, with the subject line “public speaking/interview requests.”

When first contacted for comment about the e-mails Monday, Nov. 30, Bonne would neither confirm nor deny sending his e-mail.

“I don’t want to confirm e-mails I may or may not have sent,” Bonne said. “I don’t want to get into the practice of confirming or denying e-mails that were not intended to be made public.”

After spending approximately 10 minutes on the phone, Bonne said he had “no more time to talk.” However, Bonne called back approximately five minutes later, along with Sheffield, on speaker phone. Sheffield confirmed Bonne sent his e-mail per her request.

“Yes, I asked him (Bonne) to send that e-mail,” Sheffield said. “You cannot speak contrary to board policy when you are on the executive level. Your opinion has to be distinct and made clear that it does not reflect the opinion of the board.”

The text of the e-mails follows, and images of the e-mails will be available here.

Sheffield’s message

Going Forward

Dr. LaVonne Sheffield

Sent: Friday, Aug. 28, 2009

To: Principals & Asst. Principals

Cc: Superintendent’s Cabinet; Executive Directors/Directors

Dear All:

I know some of you are on “pins and needles” and your discomfort prompts you to send emails to your colleagues with the latest rumor. Quite often the rumor or comment lands on my desk—generally with the person who made the comment or sent the email. This email is to request that you “cease and desist”!

If you haven’t noticed by now—I am forthright in my discussions with you. If I have a problem with any of you—I will deliver the message myself. So if someone has made a comment to you regarding your position—and it was not me—don’t believe them. Then, direct the person to me. If you recall, at our retreat on Aug. 3rd, I told you about my view on folks who “bring and take tales”. I used the movie “The Godfather” as an example. If you recall, Marlon Brando warned his son (Al Pacino) about the first person to bring the message. If you’ve not watched the movie—please do so.

For the record, no one has been fired nor do we have plans to fire anyone—but don’t push it! (smile) All reports to date have been positive—both from board members, community and business leaders. I applaud you for ensuring the first day of school was outstanding for our children. And guess what—today is better than yesterday—no lost children.

So you know, I was walking out the door to go home to change my clothes for the Guilford/East High football game. Because of the incessant emails to one of your colleagues—I was forced to come back to the office and pen this email. Have confidence in your work—I do!

I trust this too will pass—and we can move forward.

LaVonne M. Sheffield, Ph.D.


Rockford Public Schools

Sheffield’s comments about her e-mail

Sheffield confirmed sending her e-mail and also said the message was sent to address “character assassination” by others in the workplace.

“It was sent in the context of character assassination on each other, and I told them it was not OK,” Sheffield said. “I told them I wouldn’t respond to that kind of stuff.

“I make judgments based on my experiences with them, not what other people tell me,” Sheffield continued. “From my experience, most of the stories you hear aren’t true, and I’m always suspicious of someone trying to destroy another person. That’s why I referenced The Godfather.”

Teachers react to Sheffield’s e-mail

Two Rockford teachers, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprimand, said e-mails and communications such as Sheffield’s have contributed to a “climate of fear.”

“Her (Sheffield) communications are to be blamed for this climate of fear,” said one teacher. “It certainly seems as if she is out to get you if you are not on her side.

“People are afraid of losing their jobs,” the teacher added. “The superintendent manages the school district in a very unilateral manner. The problem being, that her decisions don’t always remain.

“She frequently changes her decisions,” the teacher continued. “If you’re not on board with her decisions, then you are in some very real trouble.”

A second teacher also alleged Sheffield changes her decisions frequently and that failure to align with her decisions can potentially carry dire consequences.

“She (Sheffield) changes her mind a lot,” said the second teacher. “And, if you fail to agree with her changing point of view, you could soon find yourself out of a job.

“So, if you don’t agree with or support her decisions, she is going to make your life miserable,” the second teacher continued. “There are a million reasons that could be used to fire any teacher. Most of the teachers I know are hunkered down, trying to ride out this storm.

“And, commenting publicly—on the record—to the media would instantly put you under her (Sheffield) watchful eye,” the second teacher added.

Bonne’s message

From: Mark Bonne

Sent: Thursday, September 03, 2009 6:08 PM

To: Executive Directors/Directors; Principals

Cc: Superintendent’s Cabinet

Subject: public speaking/interview requests

To all: Please be advised that administrators should not accept public speaking engagements or make comments in the media regarding Rockford Public Schools or anything that may be construed as official school business without obtaining approval from me as chief communications officer as far in advance as possible. As an administrator, even your personal opinion can be misinterpreted as “company policy.” Thank you in advance for your cooperation.

Mark Bonne

Chief Communications Officer

Rockford Public Schools

Bonne’s comments about his message

Bonne cited that providing communication guidelines to administrators is not an uncommon practice. He denied any allegations of trying to silence District 205 employees.

“It’s not an uncommon practice to give speaking directives to administrators,” Bonne said. “This guidance was provided to top-level administrators in order to accommodate incoming media requests to focus on education. We’re not trying to silence anyone.”

When asked to comment about what some have perceived as a “gag order,” Sheffield responded by saying: “We’re not silencing anyone. We have spoken to more people in the first six months than the previous administration.”

From the December 2-8, 2009 issue

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