Guest Column: School District 205 in shambles under Dr. Sheffield

April 14, 2010

Editor’s note: Sara Bowers sent a letter to District 205 Superintendent Dr. LaVonne Sheffield on March 27, 2010, that also appeared in the April 7-13, 2010, issue. Following is a guest column she submitted for publication.

By Sara Bowers

I guess that the majority of you all have no idea exactly what has been going on behind the scenes since Dr. Lavonne Sheffield has taken over Rockford Public School District 205. Do you all really know these teachers have been putting their lives on the line on a daily basis to teach your children as well as mine? Can’t write them up for fear that you will lose your job. Don’t speak up, don’t do what’s right because Dr. Sheffield will call you down and make you explain, and then you get a permanent letter of reprimand placed in your file. Kids throwing chairs, threatening teachers that they will kill them. Bringing pellet guns, BB guns or real guns in and threatening other students and staff. You didn’t hear about that, did you? Or the fact that there was almost no reprimand for the student? How about being beaten by a student, and now the cops can’t be called, and you better not press charges. If you do, your job is on the line! Bullying tactics, threats and lies are what this administration operates in. There has not been one transparent day in this entire administration.

She outright fired all first- and second-year teachers. Anyone who had been in the district less than 3.0 years was terminated. Yep, some of you can apply again, but your years of service do you no good. You are on the same playing field as a new grad. 2.98 years of service? Sorry, you’re gone! Beware, folks. Wait for the test scores. If we go up, Dr. Sheffield will bask in the glory of “look what I HAVE DONE! I have made so many positive changes.” Guess what if the scores go down… Principals, don’t get comfy. She is going to THROW YOU UNDER THE BUS! You are now going to be responsible for everything. We may not think she is very smart, but she is conniving and cagey. She will make this work for her benefit only.

I agree wholeheartedly that if a teacher is not making the mark, then, yes, they should be let go. Every year but this year, the union has been involved in the decision-making process, as well as the principals. There has never been so much deceit, trickery or secrecy as there has been in this administration. Dr. Sheffield strong-armed this in, and she did it in a manner that is deceitful and wrong. She pushed through a new union contract on the premise that layoffs will be minimal. Get the teachers to vote on it, and push it through so they can’t strike. Then, BLINDSIDE THEM with more than 500 terminations and layoffs! That’s not who I want to run my school district, and that is not who I want making decisions for my child’s education. Shame on you, Rockford School Board! Shame on you for being mindless puppets who do Dr. Sheffield’s work with no regard for the real consequences that will follow. What about our kids? What about their home away from home? You are turning my child’s educational career upside down, and you do it with little or no regard for me or my child. Parents, you need to know what is going on in your schools! We need a no-confidence vote in our superintendent and our school board. It may not get them out, but it will show everyone in this community what’s what. No more smoke and mirrors. We elect these people, and I plan to talk until I can’t talk anymore so that come election time, this board is OUT!

Sara Bowers is a CT/MRI technologist at Rockford Memorial Hospital and a PTO secretary at Jackson Elementary School.

From the April 14-20, 2010 issue

9 Comments

  1. sean

    April 14, 2010 at 6:38 pm

    Thank you, Sara, from all of the staff of RPS205.

    There is a last minute addition, though. As of Tuesday night, April 13, 2010, nontenured teachers with up through 4 years of service were changed from a RIF status to a dismissed/terminated status. This will allow the district to eliminate the RIF’d teachers’ rights to keep their seniority if rehired and their right to first refusal if offered their present position.

    The nontenured teachers have already undergone two multi-part evaluations per school year. So a teacher with 4 years in has been evaluated 8 times. What other profession requires 8 personnel reviews in 4 years?

    The teachers who were cut have put their hearts and souls into perfecting their craft. Their colleagues are also invested in their progress – this wasn’t accomplished by them alone.

    Now, the schools have lost many valued employees. The good part of being a new teacher is that you now have the experience and are still attractive (and cheap enough…) to a different school district (one that values its employees). We will lose much of our young talent to other districts. They have been left with a sense of betrayal and a very bitter taste in their mouths. They will do what is necessary to not put themselves at risk again in the malevolent environment which has been created by Dr. Sheffield.

    The schools who have lost these teachers will suffer as well. Dr. Sheffield saved the positions of those teachers considered to be in hard to staff positions. Since when were math and science removed from the hard to staff list? We have entire schools in this district that are considered hard to staff (didn’t teachers in those schools receive a little extra in one paycheck back in the fall?). With the loss of the nontenured teachers, chaos will reign in these schools in August. You don’t just walk into these schools as a new teacher and have things go smoothly. Oh, well, that was before this year – now, this fall will be incredibly difficult for everyone – but especially for the new teachers. Experienced teachers who change buildings within RPS205 encounter difficulties during their first year.

    We keep hearing about all of the “bad” teachers. This is so demoralizing and depressing to those of us who put pieces of ourselves into our lessons everyday, every hour. We act as surrogate parents to many students. How many times have I been called “Mom” or in recent years “Grandma” (and these children aren’t always the same race as I am)? A child who doesn’t love in return to the love freely given by their teacher doesn’t make that mistake. It is a sign of true affection between student and teacher.

    But if you listen to Dr. Sheffield, we don’t exist. I’m just glad this isn’t North Korea or Cambodian under the Khmer Rouge or some other equally repressive society because she would have banished every teacher in the district to a re-education camp.

    When all of this is said and done and Dr. Sheffield has moved on to her next mark (oops, school district), we will all still be here, putting our hearts and souls into the education of Rockford’s children.

  2. Gary

    April 14, 2010 at 6:59 pm

    Sara, you are dynamic and insightful. I truly appreciate what you have said in this guest column and also your letter to Dr. Sheffield. The morale in District 205 is going down the tubes and the do nothing school board is allowing it to happen. The only solution I see is a “grassroots” community movement to vote “no confidence” in both the board and the superintendent. I agree with you on that point. The money that is being spent for administrators upon administrators is horrendous but the public is not aware of this because our papers don’t print the hiring of these people. I’d like to know when the taxpayers of this community are going to wake up and smell the coffee?

  3. Ann

    April 15, 2010 at 4:55 pm

    Yep, like Cedric Lewis. He’s the CFO, yet RPS205 also has an Executive Director of Finance. That sounds like the same job. It’s my understanding that Mr. Lewis doesn’t have his CPA which is why RPS205 has to have an Executive Director of Finance. Why not just hire a CFO with a CPA for one salary?

    From what I understand, there are two sets of rules in the district. The rules for the 4th floor of the Admin. Bldg. and the rules for everybody else.

    Also, what’s with Dr. Sheffield having body guards? From the Nation of Islam?

  4. Sara

    April 15, 2010 at 8:40 pm

    Thank you all for the positive comments. I wrote these letters because I care about my kids future and the future of our district. As I expected Dr Sheffield has ignored my letter. To date she has not responded at all, which I am not surprised about. I am a parent, and she can not intimidate or threaten me like she can the staff and students. She will only meet with them because she has them scared that she holds their futures in her hands. All I know is that this is out of hand, especially now that she has taken away the recall rights of the 3rd and 4th year teachers. She has her agenda and that scares me. It scares me for my childs future and for the staff that I am sure we will loose. If morale wasn’t low before it is now! Folks take an extra minute and write a note, send a card give a hug to your kids teachers and staff! These people are hurting right now and are totally shell shocked. Show them you appreciate them even though the superintendant and obviously the board do not! Remember over half the board is up for re-election in 2011! At lease we do have a say in who we vote into the board.

  5. Rodney

    April 16, 2010 at 11:15 am

    Rockford community — wake up to this, we need to raise more awareness! This article is a true portrayal of what in fact is happening in our schools, some of which is not publicly known, as Sara carefully explained.

    Also what is known and completely clear to anyone with some business sense, is that a component of an excellent organization (a first choice organization) is to maintain excellent employees. You do that in part by creating an environment that values people. Certainly NOT by this adversarial and intimidating envrionment. This is NOT the right direction for RPS205!

    I’m struggling with what we as community members can do about this? Certainly making it clear that the school board will be voted out @ election time, but also maybe more public demostrations? Something like that. Any other ideas?

  6. Chris

    April 16, 2010 at 11:18 pm

    Thank you Sara for letting people know what is really happening in district 205. No one will ever read the true story in the Rockford Register Star. That newspaper will just print the continual rhetoric fed to them by Dr. Sheffield and Co. Everything that comes from her administration regarding the teachers and the REA is so untrue, but RRStar will print it without checking out the facts. I am tired of Cedric Lewis spouting off about how we need to hire the most qualified teachers. We have excellent, highly qualified teachers in this District, and always have. Our school board seems to have given Dr. Sheffield a blank check to do whatever she wants. They need to be removed as soon as possible. We need to return to electing school board members at large. Maybe then we will have some choices in who we elect. Why isn’t anyone questioning Dr. Sheffield’s actions?
    The newly formed “Alignment Rockford” steering committee even signed an agreement not to question or critize any decisions made by the superintendent or her administration. The RRStar proudly printed that on their editorial page a few weeks ago. It is our right and our responsibility to question our leaders, and get genuine, honest answers in return. That will never happen with this administration. I hope you keep it up, Sara,and I hope more parents are willing to get involved and stand up for all the good that is in this district before it is too late and she destroys us all.

  7. Gary

    April 17, 2010 at 8:33 am

    The only way that something can be done is to keep this information out in the public’s eye. One way is to make sure that the Rock River Times keeps printing what is ACTUALLY happening in our district and not the misinformation given by the other Rockford newspaper. The Register Star does not tell everything and that’s because Mark Bonne once worked for them and so they only tell half the story. The Rock River Times has never been afraid to tell it like it is and so if we want to keep this problem in the minds of the community, we need to ask the Times to stay on the story and dig deeper into why this is all happening. We cannot let the children or the district fail. The things described are not only happening to teachers, but to the other employees of the district as well. Everyone is walking on eggshells – that is – everyone not working on the fourth floor!

  8. An employee

    April 17, 2010 at 10:43 pm

    I want to thank everyone who is standing behind the teachers. We need all the support we can get. Just wanted to add another fact. The teachers that held the reading and math specialist positions are now required to take a test to be determined by Lavonne in order to APPLY for their job. Even if they take this unknown test and pass, they are not guaranteed their position back. The people that hold these positions are the best of the best. Why are they being made to take a test to prove that they are worthy?

  9. Ann

    April 21, 2010 at 9:18 pm

    Every time you turn around, Sheffield has added a new condition. Just when you think all ducks are in a row, she throws curve balls. Could she please think all of this through, get her own ducks in a row, and then tell the teachers what she wants? Stop practicing on us, stop telling our students they can’t be disciplined, stop telling our students they can only learn from teachers who look like them. TELL US WHAT YOU WANT – that is, Dr. Sheffield, once you figure out what you do want.

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