Editorial: Sheffield’s credibility shot, Rockford schools deserve better
By Jim Hagerty
When Dr. Lavonne Sheffield assumed her superintendent post this year, the biggest news surrounding her arrival swirled around whether her certification would come through by the time the school year began. Meantime, Sheffield toured Rockford schools and did what any new head of a sizable school district should. She used the press to introduce herself to the community.
Sheffield expressed excitement, and immediately set out to meet teachers, board members and Rockford citizens–a more comprehensive and proactive public relations campaign there could not have been. Seemingly, Rockford was going to hire a superintendent who would actively help make our public schools better places to learn, which, in turn, would make them institutions parents would be proud to send their children to. After all, District 205 has been wiping egg off its face for nearly 20 years–another story entirely.
Fast-forward to the halfway point of the 2009-2010 school year. Many things have changed. Sheffield’s presence is known. Teachers certainly know she’s here. District employees have been personally made aware of that and that she’s in charge. She’s demanded teachers cease and desist voicing their concerns regarding their livelihoods.
Sheffield also ambushed veteran Rockford educator Molly Phalen, president of the Rockford Education Association, in a letter she released to the media instructing Phalen to stop talking to reporters about events–violence–that has recently occurred in at least three Rockford schools.
In the letter, which Phalen was oblivious to until it was distributed to media, Sheffield stated no gang activity, riots or unsafe conditions were being experienced in our schools, in particular East High, where a recent series of chaos resulted student arrests.
Sheffield also stated a reported stabbing at Guilford High this week was an isolated incident and related activity is rare in Rockford schools.
Despite Sheffield’s orders to keep violent activity quiet, Phalen countered by releasing new information about yet another incident at West Middle School where a teacher was beaten by at least one student when the teacher attempted to break up a fight. While The Rock River Times remains the only news source to report on the incident, WNTA’s Ken Decoster spoke of the fracas in length today on the air.
While several callers chimed in with their solutions to the problems regarding violence and gang activity in Rockford schools, most only scratched the surface and came close to outing the current problem.
Sure, parents need to be more aware of what their kids are into. Discipline needs to start in the home. Schools can only take on so much of the responsibility. It’s an age-old argument that not only misses the point entirely, but it could be debated for the next 100 years.
Anyone who has spent more than a few years in Rockford has heard the horror stories about what goes on in our public schools, especially in the last 20 years. Today, upon the arrival of Dr. Sheffield, we are supposed to believe that we’ve all been imagining these problems. According to the superintendent, our schools are safe learning environments. Kids are just being kids.
According to Mark Bonne, chief communications officer for District 205, the incident at East High School was a figment of the collective imagination of the community.
It is quite obvious, at this point, who is giving District 205 marching orders and why Bonne is suddenly tight-lipped, calling certain allegations about school violence “anonymous” and not worthy of discussion. The stifle obviously comes from the top of the 205 chain of command.
Dr. Sheffield is likely aware Illinois has the highest unemployment rate since in the early ’80s. You can bet each employee of the district is equally privy. It’s fairly certain none wishes to join those ranks.
So, people of Rockford, it’s your call. Is it worth retaining a superintendent who, seemingly, thinks we are all stupid? Should you, as taxpayers, settle for further hoodwinking?
Keep in mind, there are thousands in Rockford who don’t have children in public schools, but still pay to keep them funded. Most of them know very well what goes on in the public schools here. That’s what Sheffield has failed to see. Her recent actions indicate that. According to Sheffield, there is nothing to see here. Your children are safe. The police officers, teachers, students and parents who come forward with stories of school violence are all mistaken. Dr. Sheffield, we aren’t stupid.
Let’s face it, the Rockford public school system is littered with violence and gang activity. According to a 2007 study conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University that looked at retention rates–or the number of freshmen who make it to their senior year at the same school–the average retention rate is 53 percent at Jefferson and 45 percent at both Auburn and East. Students have been arrested often. Teachers have been assaulted. There are even Rockford public school students who use YouTube to distribute videos of on-campus fights. Rockford schools need help.
What’s the solution? Again, a possible solution to the violence is not the debate.
It’s time to call Dr. Sheffield to the carpet. Her credibility is nothing short of destroyed. The school board made a monumental mistake with the hire. It’s time to bring in a leader who will at least acknowledge the problem, something Sheffield has chosen to conceal, especially when given the opportunity to shine. She blew it and brought other district employees with her down the trail.
Print This Article