By Reggie Roberson
Early in Rockford Public School District 205 Superintendent Dr. LaVonne Sheffield’s time in Rockford, I was hearing the naysayers and the “voices” that always seem to fight change in this (at times) dysfunctional community. I was thinking she was protecting the kids she should not be protecting and she was ruffling the staff for the sake of protecting the minority children in the district. I, and many of her critics, were and/or are wrong.
I have now been enlightened by time and by hearing and seeing Dr. Sheffield in person. It seemed at first that she wasn’t doing much media, and it appeared to the community that she was hiding…something. She had to be, didn’t she? She wouldn’t talk, and she kept rescheduling media appearances, the public claimed.
My impression now is that this is a brilliant woman with a vision, a mission and compassion. After hearing her tell the story of why the police were reduced in the schools, combined with her reason and logic of re-assigning principals and teachers, as well as her reasoning for many other decisions she has made or for plans she has implemented, I’m convinced. Then, to hear the superintendent tell a story about a particular family that she is mentoring showed me a compassionate woman to match her professional talents.
Dr. Sheffield’s willingness to find loopholes in the teachers’ contract allowing her to have teachers reapply for their positions sounds simplistic enough, but no other superintendant in the past did it. Past administrations just told us the teachers’ union is too powerful and, at times, actually really is the core of the problem.
Dr. Sheffield knew what she needed to accomplish, read the contracts, and made the changes she needed to, within the contractual obligations. Brilliant!
Molly Phalen has been crying foul since Dr. Sheffield showed up. It’s time to decide if the union wants its teachers to be part of a real solution and come to the table with solutions rather than just financial rewards for the teachers.
I think the Rockford schools are in good hands and really hope Dr. Sheffield stays for at least five years to provide stability now that she has begun her transformation. Former superintendent Dr. Dennis Thompson came in and ripped everything apart, then left the district for greener pastures. If his goal all along was to go to Florida, then why disrupt our community like he did and then leave? Remember, the grass looks greener on the other side because we aren’t maintaining our grass!
With all that said, the local school districts and the communities that “receive” the young adults into the real world deserve better. The local state legislators need to get rid of the mandate that all kids have to be educated. That leaves kids in our systems and problems that we can’t get rid of. Also, in my opinion, we need to get rid of some mandates that are not helping kids in the real world.
There are two things that affect a young adult all the way to the grave: government and economics. Yet, in 12 1/2 or 13 years of curriculum, we mandate a semester of economics and a semester of government. I suggest we offer four full years of economics and four full years of government education. Can you imagine the knowledge of our young adults under this scenario?
In my curriculum, I would include personal banking, mortgages, 401k’s and investing, insurance education, mortgage law/contracts, major purchasing like vehicles, micro and macro economics.
On the government side, you can include semesters of local and county government, state government, the three branches of the federal government, taxes, the Founding Fathers and the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights, elections and so on.
As of now, we slam this down kids’ throats in a semester and usually make them learn for a test but have no real education or debate concerning the function of the government. Wouldn’t we produce better, more well-informed children about the world they are partially in but ready to step into for real?
Why do we bother with French, Spanish, gym and other classes that provide no real value to high-schoolers? The merits of PE classes have been well debated for years, but I’m not sure I’ve heard a debate with a replacement curriculum placed in the scenario. PE sacrificed for economics, absolutely. I have heard many adults tell me they had Spanish in high school but can’t speak it. What’s the point? You can learn Spanish for a few dollars in a few weeks if you really had a desire to learn. While we’re at it, let’s get rid of the four-semester requirement for algebra—isn’t two enough? Does anybody remember or use this stuff?
I’m all for tearing everything apart to rebuild it; as a matter of fact, I believe that it’s the only way to make real change. The problem is there are always obstacles in place to accomplish all of a superintendent’s goals, whether they are budgetary, unions, legislative or others.
The budgetary issues are going to be major in the school districts. The tsunami is coming, and Dr. Sheffield knows it and is planning for it. She has discussed no more full-time kindergarten, classrooms of 50 kids, no preschool funded by the district, and many other changes that the public will perceive as painful. But are they really painful, or are we just unwilling to change? We can’t have a high school class of 50 kids, but the next semester in college they can be in an auditorium of 400 kids? What changed?
The real issue here is that change is coming, and we need to embrace it. Let’s stand behind Dr. Sheffield and her desire to educate OUR children. Why would we continue to fight the issues with our public schools rather than wrap our arms around them and embrace them? These are the children who will be in our community soon. Would we rather get what we’ve gotten, or can we expect better?
Rockford resident Reggie Roberson can be reached by e-mail at Reggie@RobersonAgency.com.
From the May 19-25, 2010 issue