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Superintendent LaVonne Sheffield addresses honors class cuts, student segregation
Posted By Jim Hagerty On December 9, 2010 @ 4:03 pm In Happening Now | No Comments
To read a full copy of Rockford Public School District 205 Superintendent Dr. LaVonne M. Sheffield’s Dec. 9 State of the Schools address, click here .
By Jim Hagerty
Rockford Public School District 205 Superintendent Dr. LaVonne M. Sheffield addressed several subjects about the future of the district Thursday, Dec. 9, during the Rockford Chamber of Commerce Education Outlook luncheon at Cliffbreakers.
In her State of the Schools address, Sheffield said Rockford public schools are in a financial crisis, one she says may not be fairly compared to budget crunches felt in the past.
“Our schools have faced dire financial straits before,” Sheffield said. “But we are heading into a budget storm the likes of which we have never seen.”
The superintendent also said that since arriving in Rockford, she’s been subject to a rash of assaulting distractions.
“I have sat quietly for nearly 18 months as people with adult-oriented agendas resort to lies and personal attacks,” said Sheffield. “I will no longer remain silent. If you are a friend of public education, you won’t remain silent, either.”
After quoting the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and President John F. Kennedy, Sheffield gave long-awaited answers to questions raised by parents, students and taxpayers about the administration’s reported plan to eliminate honors classes for the 2011-2012 school year.
“I know what you heard on TV and read in the papers,” she said. “But here’s what really happened. For as far back as anyone can remember, the high school planning guides have been reviewed, revised and distributed to students, to their principals and guidance counselors as an administrative function without the involvement of either the (school) board or the community.
“We had a logical plan for conveying the changes to staff and, in turn, to students, that was undermined when partial and tentative information was leaked to teachers, who then used class time to spread rumors to students, which inflamed parents, who engaged the media.”
At an emergency school board meeting Tuesday, Dec. 7, Board of Education President David Kelley said the district has received numerous calls from parents who claimed their children were being forced to choose from course catalogs that did not include Advanced Placement (AP) or gifted classes.
“As you know by now, nobody is eliminating Advanced Placement courses,” Dr. Sheffield said Thursday. “And there are valid reasons for doing away with honors courses as they currently exist.”
According to Sheffield, District 205 will face a budget deficit that exceeds $50 million next year, at least $10 million more than recently reported.
“We cannot close a $50 million gap on a $400 million budget through minor nips and tucks,” Sheffield said.
The superintendent said the difference between honors courses and general education classes is negligible. By consolidating unnecessary honors courses with similar general education classes, the curriculum can be managed more efficiently.
“Our honors courses are not particularly challenging,” Sheffield said. “If you don’t believe me, ask students. They will tell you the truth. Students who want to keep honors courses are not shy about telling me why.”
Sheffield said some honors courses will remain for students who don’t want the additional rigor of AP placement, but wish to be in more challenging classes. Some students want to be placed in honors classes to be separated from students they feel “don’t want to learn,” which prompted the district head to broach the subject of educational and racial segregation.
“The ugly truth is that honors classes are not rigorous, but serve as a contemporary form of segregation,” Sheffield said.
Sheffield noted that District 205 has spent more than $1 million in fines for suspending and expelling students in disproportionate numbers over the last four years. Black males represent the highest percentage of students being disciplined.
Many of those students, Sheffield noted, were being deemed unteachable and suspended and expelled for minor offenses such as tardiness.
According to district statistics, one-third of the high school population is composed of white students. White students comprise of more than half of the enrollment in honors courses.
“The higher the grade level, the more racially disproportionate enrollments become,” Sheffield said. “At the high school level, we cling to a lecture-based, one-size-fits all teaching model that hasn’t changed in a hundred years, instead of differentiating instruction, which is the educational best-practice. We have done what is easy for adults rather than what is best for children.”
Which courses the administration plans to eliminate will be heard by the school board’s Education Committee Friday, Dec. 10.
The board’s weekly open meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 14.
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