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Guest Column: Letter to Board of Education and Dr. Sheffield
By Rachel Leon
To the Board of Education representatives and Dr. Sheffield:
I am writing as a concerned parent of three sons who attend two different schools in District 205, both of which have been proposed to close. I am well aware of the devastating financial situation facing the district and how we arrived here. I understand that because our budget crisis is so severe, many cuts need to be made. I do believe there is plenty of room to make these cuts at the administrative level, but as I understand it, that alone would not fix the deficit. There will be cuts that directly impact our children, cuts whose consequences will run deep within our community.
The cut I am most concerned about is the proposal to close the Maria Montessori Magnet. Yes, I am a parent of two children who attend the school, and so obviously, on a personal level, this proposed cut would have a direct effect on my family. However, I also believe this cut would have an impact on our community.
Our economy here in Rockford is obviously quite grim, and we as a city need to attract new businesses to the area to bring in new jobs. More people working will bring in tax revenue the city and district are currently not receiving, which is the only we can get out of the budget crises facing both these entities. Businesses looking to establish themselves in a community look closely at the city’s school district. They look to see how the schools are because the success or failures of a school district not only reveal the desirability of a community, they also are a reflection of the kind of quality of life a city offers. A large reason why Rockford is struggling to bring in new businesses is the unsettling statistics of our schools.
Take our elementary schools, for instance. Of the 36 elementary schools in Rockford, eight have met adequate yearly progress (AYP) set by No Child Left Behind.
Yet, Dr. Sheffield has proposed to close three of the eight schools that are actually meeting AYP and are successful.
Maria Montessori is among the three. Montessori also has met all five of Dr. Sheffield’s vision goals. Montessori has a high attendance rate and low discipline issues–between 96-98 percent and a low attrition rate, less than 4 percent of our students leave the school. The school has had only 18 discipline referrals, six of which were bus referrals. Montessori has a 98-100 percent attendance rate for Parent-Teacher Conferences, and the minimum attendance to their monthly Family Nights are 200 people. The Parent-Teacher Council won an honorable mention from PTO Today. Parents and teachers alike have written grants for Montessori from science education grants to a green technology grant that made it possible for the school to install solar panels, which now help to reduce the building expenses.
Some believe that Montessori programs are expensive, and it is true that it is costly to begin such a program because of the initial cost of materials. Montessori’s start-up funds were obtained through a grant, and the materials are already available. Montessori’s budget is moderate compared with other schools in the district, according to the budget available on the RPS 205 website. The school does have high salary costs due to all teachers having at least a master’s degree, most of whom have been with the district for many years. Montessori has a high retention of teachers, and the staff’s attendance rate is 96%. On top of all that, Sue Haney-Bauer, the principal of Montessori, won the 2011 Administrators Golden Apple Award.
I know the cries of Montessori parents to keep the school open can easily be brushed aside as the parents of children who got lucky in a lottery system and “won” a place in an amazing school whining when their luck ran out. However, this is another reason to keep Montessori open. It is the most requested elementary school in the district; people want to send their children to Montessori because they see that the school is working. Many parents would pull their children out of their neighborhood school tomorrow if it meant the children could attend Montessori. The desirability of Montessori prompted this lottery system and a lengthy waiting list, which is unique in this district.
The unfairness of not every family being able to attend Montessori is a reason to open another Montessori magnet school, not close the one our district currently has. A look at the Illinois School Report Card shows how well Montessori is doing, and closing a successful school that is actually working well would be reckless. Keeping Montessori is not just about the students the school currently serves, but the wider Rockford community. Maria Montessori Magnet School stands as a diverse, academically-successful school with strong family involvement, no truancy and low discipline problems with a low staff turnover rate, which is exactly what both Rockford citizens and prospective businesses want to find in our community’s schools.
I urge you to vote “no” on this proposal.
Rachel Leon is a mother of three children in the Rockford School District.
From the Feb. 23-March 1, 2011, issue