By Paula Coulahan
I think John Lennon said it best, “Power to the people.” The power of the people in the Rockford Public Schools is being systematically taken away. It has been taken away from employees, the Board of Education, and taxpayers.
Now, worst of all, the power of enjoying a better learning environment is being taken away from the children, as 10 classroom aides have been dismissed from their jobs.
And how do we know that this will be the end of the cuts? These cuts are taking place a month into a new school year. Children like predictability, and they flourish better with it. By now, they have become used to classroom aides who are in place, and they are becoming accustomed to the routine. Nothing is more important than establishing the routine, and sticking to it. Yet, some children now face another personnel cut that will directly impact the quality of their education. Power is being taken away by an administration that claims to care about the children and hopes to make the Rockford Public Schools the “schools of choice” in our community.
If anyone believes Cedric Lewis’ recent dismissive sound bite that districts make cuts like this all the time, then they are not paying enough attention to the current needs in public education.
I spent four years as a classroom teacher in the Rockford Public Schools. Prior to teaching, I volunteered in the schools for many years and then gained a master’s degree, teaching experience, and some valuable insight into public education in America, especially in Rockford.
Principals, teachers, and classroom aides in the Rockford Public Schools are dedicated. They care about the children. They spend long hours making things better for students, in both character-building and academics. I have never seen a classroom aide who was not needed. The truth is, the schools need more classroom aides. These hard-working individuals are scheduled for every minute of the day from the time the children step safely off the bus until they are safely on the bus, heading home. What happens in between is equally important, as aides assist children with special needs in all classroom subjects and in “specials”: Music, Art, and P.E. Perhaps the Board needs to more closely police fiscal responsibility so that funds are there for crucial “people power.”
Any classroom teacher will tell you that the presence and assistance of classroom aides allows them to carry out better instruction. That presence helps not only special needs students with learning disabilities, physical disabilities and special emotional and behavioral needs, but all of the students.
Take some time to visit the National Institute of Mental Health website and look at the statistics for mental illnesses among children in America. Do this remembering that the classroom is a microcosm of society. It always has been and always will be. Considering children’s behavioral disorders and many other issues that teachers already face, a reduction in people power should not be added to their list.
This leaves me with only one unanswered question: How long will our Board of Education continue to allow the current administration to negatively impact the children of our community, while masquerading as the great saviors of public education in Rockford?
As Congressman and American education reformer Horace Mann said, “Education…beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men—the balance-wheel of the social machinery.”
In Rockford, our balance wheel is off.
Paula Coulahan is a local resident and a former Rockford teacher.
From the Sept. 29-Oct. 5, 2010 issue