Editor’s note: The following letter from Rockford Public School District 205 Superintendent Dr. LaVonne M. Sheffield is addressed to Mary Beth Mickelson, president, Educational Office Personnel Association, IEA-NEA. Sheffield’s letter, which was sent to Mickelson Dec. 1, 2009, is in response to a letter sent to Sheffield Nov. 25, 2009, signed by Mary Beth Mickelson/Unity 205, AFSCME Locals, 262 paraprofessionals, 1,275 school bus drivers, 3,210 Food Service Workers IEA/NEA Locals, Educational Office Personnel Association, Educational Interpreters Association, Rockford Education Association and Rockford Building Maintenance Association. Mickelson’s letter was printed in the Dec. 2-8, 2009, issue of The Rock River Times as a letter to the editor under the headline “Letter to Dr. LaVonne Sheffield.” Sheffield’s letter is presented here as a response to Mickelson’s letter to the editor submission.
December 1, 2009
Dear Ms. Mickelson:
I am in receipt of your letter of November 25 and must say that I am troubled by its content. In many respects, I am confounded.
You seem to call into question the efforts to improve the appearance and functionality of the Administration Building. I’m quite surprised that, as the president of an employee bargaining unit, you would oppose measures to create a more vibrant, customer friendly and inviting work environment. The improvements being made to our District headquarters are modest in scale and cost, but they send a strong message—that we are a professional organization that cares about its public appearance.
Surely, it has not escaped your attention that we also are setting the same tone in all of our schools. The concept that clean and safe schools are a precursor to learning is well-established. I know you are not suggesting that our students should be in dirty buildings with uncut grass and overgrown shrubs? I want our students, parents and the community to have pride in our schools. That won’t happen if we don’t dress for success.
As well, your assertion that building a leadership team to advance instruction represents spending that is “far removed from the classroom” couldn’t be farther removed from the truth. If we are serious about providing quality education and moving student achievement, we must establish the administrative structure necessary to deliver resources and support teachers. I have said before and will say again that having 52 principals reporting to a single administrator is a recipe for failure. My focus is and will continue to be teaching and learning.
Finally, I do not understand the logic that equates a student art contest and the sending of holiday greeting cards to parents and staff with a lack of collaboration or good-faith bargaining. More importantly, I am disappointed in the mischaracterization. You call me with requests that I evaluate and honor when reasonable. We negotiated in good faith today with the paraprofessionals union and the District is committed to a good faith process with all of its bargaining unions. We are in the process of scheduling two sessions with your union, EOPA, on December 8 and 11, 2009.
And finally, I appreciate your thoughts about student art in the Administration building lobby. I am in total agreement. That is why we have developed a plan to refresh the student art on a regular basis. As you know, the art on display in the Administration lobby and Board room had been there for well over six months. The new plan will provide an opportunity for more of our children to display their work.
We have important work ahead of us, and I ask that you focus on what is in the best interest of children. Know that I do value and respect the work you and members of your union perform every day in our schools. I look forward to positive interactions going forward.
On behalf of our children, thank you for your letter.
LaVonne M. Sheffield, Ph.D.
C: Board of Education
From the Dec. 23-29, 2009 issue