Guest Column: Letter to Board of Education and Dr. Sheffield

February 23, 2011

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

3 Comments

  1. John

    February 24, 2011 at 11:50 am

    As a taxpayer, I urge you to vote “yes”. I’m taxed out. That’s it, I can’t afford any more, I’m done.

    I don’t care what you have to cut, just make sure I don’t have to pay more in taxes that I don’t have.

  2. Jennifer

    February 25, 2011 at 11:26 pm

    It’s in our community’s best interest to keep what’s successful. Parents, property owners, business owners, unemployed – everyone – needs Rockford to grow and be prosperous. We can only do that with a viable school system. It’s the groundwork. We need to build on what works and Montessori Works.

    Board Members – We are pleading for you to listen to your community and do the right thing. Vote No to this proposal.

  3. VeryModest

    March 5, 2011 at 9:00 pm

    As Rachel pointed out, it is expensive to start up a Montessori program but once done the cost of the program actually are lower than most traditional school. It is also true that the staff at the Montessori school is expensive simply because of the extra training that is needed to work in such a program. Whether you keep the program intact or not, those teachers in the program will still be working in the district at some other capacity – thus you save nothing on salaries and have closed down a program that has been highly successful since it started and has made AYP repeatedly. Now does this make sense? Only in Dr. Sheffield’s mind, I guess. Then again, she is all for the children – just ask her … as she looks at other programs to cut, including all-day kindergarten throughout the district. That one program is helping all students starting school, but that is her way of then being able to lay the blame on the greedy teachers and force them to make concessions that she herself is not willing to make. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a complete and accurate list of just the administrators and other staff that work directly for the downtown building and not for the individual schools. I’d like to see a list and what job they are currently doing for the district along with the salaries and benefits packages that all of these people are making. I don’t want to see all of the “assistant” principals that are assigned to downtown hidden either. Those are the people that visit the classrooms to see if the teachers have up the required posters that they now have to cover up or remove for testing this coming week and then uncover and put back up next week when testing is over. No wonder why the school building staffs are so stressed out, it is something new each week to screw with their lives.

    Any side bets on just how many teachers Sheffield will lay-off just because she can and not necessarily because those are the numbers that are needed. I’d go as high as 15 years. I hope she proves me wrong and that the numbers are way lower but even at 15 years I may be being too conservative knowing what she did to the teachers last year after they agreed to HER contract with the promised that she would keep layoffs down to a minimum. Then again, she did keep layoffs down — she fired them all.

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