Superintendent refutes claims of wrongdoing, board mulls school zoning plans
By Jim Hagerty
Calling the Tuesday, Nov. 9, Rockford Board of Education meeting “Rumor Tuesday,” Superintendent Dr. LaVonne M. Sheffield read a prepared response to what she insists are unsubstantiated claims that she’s mishandled leadership of District 205.
Sheffield’s rebuttal was largely in response to a guest column published in The Rock River Times, in which two retired educators claimed Sheffield’s administration is littered with improprieties.
Sheffield, however, used time allotted for her weekly superintendent’s report to read a four-page statement, charging that Jane Hayes and Mary Jo Powers of Watchdogs for Ethics in Education (WEE) were wrong in most of their claims against her.
“The rumors that I have refuted and misleading comments that I have clarified this evening represent a fraction of what populates cyberspace,” Sheffield said. “Going forward, I will not remain silent while a vocal minority tries to cripple progress with poisonous pens and odious e-mails.”
Hayes and Powers claimed in the Nov. 3-9 issue of The Rock River Times that some District 205 employees are not properly educated to fulfill duties of their positions. Sheffield said the charge is false.
“The truth is, that every member of my administration has the proper credentials to carry out his or her duties as prescribed by the state of Illinois,” Sheffield read. “If you don’t believe me, ask the Regional Office of Education, which monitors these things.”
Superintendent Sheffield also addressed claims that district executive Ceasar Mickens’ past professional relationship with Scholastic Library Publishing led to a questionable transaction between District 205 and the well-known book publisher. Mickens served as a district consultant from 2008 to 2010 while serving as a consultant to Scholastic Library Division.
Powers and Hayes claim Mickens’ associations with the district and publisher represented a conflict of interest, leading them to question an approximate $500,000 purchase of books from Scholastic.
“Yes, we purchased books from Scholastic,” the superintendent said, “so that our children–eight of 10 of them from low-income families–might spend more time reading over the summer and might now experience a regression in their reading skills. But the purchase of summer reading materials had nothing whatsoever to do with (an) administrator’s past association with Scholastic. The truth is, Scholastic has been in Rockford Public Schools for years.”
After addressing other issues such as budgetary questions and those surrounding her work schedule, Sheffield challenged those with questions about her administration to offer proof that she’s guilty of wrongdoing.
“Be clear,” Sheffield concluded. “People who want to obstruct progress persist in tying together disparate pieces of information to create an illusion of wrongdoing when none exists. I defy anyone to substantiate these ridiculous claims. More importantly, if people really want to know what’s going on, why don’t they ask?”
Read Dr. LaVonne Sheffield’s four-page statement here.
School board wrestles with elementary school zoning plans
Three student assignment plans regarding where elementary students will attend school were presented to the school board Tuesday, Nov. 9.
One plan involves establishing geographic zones for elementary schools, which would remove the current system that allows parents to choose from several within the city.
The district could decide to switch to a hybrid zoning model, which would blend the current school of choice system with neighborhood school zoning.
However, according to surveys and community open houses, a hybrid model is not favored by parents. The board will likely choose between keeping the current system in place, or re-zone for a neighborhood school model.
Surveys and focus group results indicate some west-side residents are satisfied with the current elementary school system, while others, namely those who live in the eastern part of Rockford, prefer neighborhood schools. Meantime, it will be up to the school board to vote on which system will best serve the district’s needs.
Some board members questioned the possible zoning change, citing undue travel and the need for children to switch schools when their parents move within the district.
Board member Jeanne Westholder challenged the need to change the current system.
“I’m not sure I see a benefit,” Westholder said, “especially when taking away a choice from a family.”
The school board is scheduled to vote on the issue Tuesday, Nov. 23.
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