Guest Column: District 205—Getting the right image

By Paula Coulahan
Laid-off Rockford Teacher

Good quotes have a way of being passed down through history, and they apply so many times throughout our lives. One of my favorites is American author and poet Alice Walker’s, “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”

We live in a free society, and as citizens we have not only the right, but the responsibility to use our power to shape events and to shape the future for those who come after us. Currently, local citizens have a responsibility to be informed about what is taking place at the administrative level in the Rockford Public Schools. Taxpayers should pay attention to details and ask themselves why the administration suddenly seems to be on the defensive.

Abbie Hoffman said, “Once you get the right image, the details aren’t that important.” When Superintendent Dr. LaVonne Sheffield addressed “rumors” about her administration at the Tuesday, Nov. 9 School Board Meeting, I was reminded of Hoffman’s quote.

The “right image” for her, in this case, would have been that everyone walked away from “Rumor Tuesday,” as Sheffield called it, thinking that Sheffield and her entire administration have been wronged by a few rabid taxpayers and the evil media. The details, however, speak otherwise.

Jane Hayes and Mary Jo Powers, of Watchdogs for Ethics in Education, presented thorough research regarding the district’s spending of our taxpayer dollars, not “rumors” when their guest column appeared in the Nov. 3-9 issue of The Rock River Times. They filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to obtain their information. Dr. Sheffield called the pens of her challengers “poisonous.” Perhaps she is afraid that by exercising their First Amendment rights, Hayes’ and Powers’ pens will, in reality, end up providing an antidote to what appears to be a taxing body out of control.

It is not a “rumor” that District 205 now finds itself in a lawsuit with The Rock River Times and the Illinois Press Association, for which taxpayers are footing the bill. This, of course, is because the administration has refused to release what has been called an “unflattering” letter written by Dr. Patrick Hardy, even after multiple FOIA requests have been filed.

Dr. Hardy left the district and took his new principalship in Freeport by choice, despite the district’s own rumor that maybe there was a disciplinary matter. I subbed in Dr. Hardy’s building when he was principal of Ellis Arts Academy. Hardy is a fine administrator and an intelligent, dignified man who cares about his students and sets a good example.

He mediated the “Truth Talk” debates for the district high schools when my eldest son was on one of the debate teams. The students revered Dr. Hardy, and he gave many hours over and above the school day to train students in debate skills and to make the debates happen in a very professional forum at Heartland Church. Hardy’s departure was a huge loss to the Rockford Public Schools and to the Rockford community as a whole. Too bad Dr. Hardy is gone, because he would have made a stellar superintendent for Rockford.

Questions exist that we as community members should ask as we approach the potential re-election of School Board members in the spring. Why do we as a community allow the Board of Education to directly or indirectly run dedicated administrators out of the district? Why do we bring in outside candidates for superintendent when we have local candidates with a vested interest in Rockford? Linda Hernandez, for example, was an excellent superintendent in the interim after Dr. Dennis Thompson. Hernandez wanted to remain as superintendent, and she had a long and respected career history in the district. How does the Board arrive at their hiring decisions? Can they support their decision-making and the results by citing their research? Certainly, that is what they expect of teachers and principals at every turn. Are they happy with their decision in the case of Dr. Sheffield?

They must be, because they have “rubber- stamped” almost everything she has instituted. As a resident and taxpayer, don’t forget about the “image” we are showing to potential businesses and residents. Oh, and don’t forget about your power.

From the Nov. 24-30, 2010 issue

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