By David Stocker
Dear Parents across Rockford, Students, Teachers, Citizens, Friends, Watchdogs and Stakeholders,
You cannot be thanked enough for:
Your research and restlessness…
Your encouragement of each other and of self…
Your willingness to show up and speak up, time after time…
Your intuitions, patience and inner guides…
Your fearlessness in the face of the odds…
Your love of children and of this community.
All this helped awaken and support each of us on this journey. Your attendance has made our community a better, truer place. We are still at the beginning, but we know more about who we are.
The national debate about the destruction of public education is shifting to reveal the effects of collective amnesia. The erasure of collective memory is a means to an end. It was effective in Europe leading up to World War II. It is going on today in Palestine. It has been a useful tool for the insatiable billionaires in their theft of Congress.
Do we remember enough of the past to recall that non-democratic putsches throughout history began with dismissing the intellectuals and academics, the persecution of teachers, librarians, social and community workers, unionists, silencing the opposition, supplanting elections and control of the media? Beginning to sound a lot like Rockford?
A community that loses the memory of where it has been can be led anywhere by any agenda. Power and money are behind the move to transform our public schools from becoming places of learning and thinking into places of sorting potential workers into their appropriate roles in the global economy from serf to soldaten (meaning soldiers in German).
Education and freedom of thought will be replaced by achieving the meager ability to select a lifestyle from a menu of choices decided by the powerful. People without knowledge of history will accept this, and even embrace it. Once we’ve forgotten, it’s over. The goal is a populace who show up for work and who don’t ask questions.1
A retrospective on electoral Rhubarb-ocracy
Rockford’s school board election week was nothing short of amazing. Curiously-timed rumors of the superintendent’s departure swirled across the Distract-ocracy, challenging the election itself for top news story. Voters were further distracted as a Shift-ocratic junta at the airport, delivered by an eerily-familiar name-brand, narrowed the window into the public sector machinery of Rockford. The quasi became more quasi.
To the end of the campaign trail, several school board candidates refused comment on hot-button subjects like charters or teacher contract issues, a Mute-ocractic platform. We should vote based on nice sweaters and fresh breath. Tim Rollins rolled easily into Jeanne Westholder’s preheated chair. Jane Hayes’ and Alice Saudargas’ failure to cooperate neatly parted the waters, guaranteeing Ken Scrivano’s installation.
Rockford Education Association (REA) contributions averaging $10 per teacher were overshadowed by the growing influence of aspiring billionaire Sunil Puri.
For $400,000, you, too, could own a nice collection of politicians from the national to the local scene.2 Three local school board races were substantially backed, hacked or stacked with enough influence money to hire a room full of 205 librarians.
In this buy one-get-one-free game, campaigns were confounded, potential opponents warned off and outcomes skewed in our own local Intimid-ocracy. Laura Powers did manage to overpower the reformed pugilist, foreclosing a Neo-Neblock-racy. The subsequently-ousted Superintendent Dr. LaVonne M. Sheffield blamed low turnout on the negativity of her opponents. My theory: most folks stayed home to watch American Idol. USA’s Couch Potat-o-cracy.
Dr. Sheffield is leaving, and the story will cease to be so much about her. I recall her saying she’d stay until the lawsuits came. Her $150,000 golden parachute exceeds sevenfold the support any fired teacher will get.
The whitewash is applied immediately, with diligent assistance from Board of Education President David Kelley and the pastors of several churches. The only apology our community will get is her apology to self that she had to endure the stress of public dissatisfaction.
To divert accountability away from the board, the distorted Sheffield-Kelley line blames the community, taking parting jabs at everyone from retired teachers to concerned citizens, fired principals and the REA, pumping up the very agenda that has been soundly rejected. All but their selves are to blame.
Last week’s board session evoked the pathos of poorly-directed community theater, including disturbing allusions to the crucifixion. It is increasingly apparent that the supreme leader’s evacuation, while premature, was anticipated, and the community was played. Dr. Sheffield had nothing at stake here in Rockford.
Sheffield may return to Cleveland, where she is known, or may emerge as a D.C. lobbyist at the new Students First PAC, with other dethroned deformer superintendents helping the Billionaires Club buy congress and sell off public education.3 It is the Broad Superintendents Academy that has an investment in Rockford outcomes. Perhaps we’ll see consultant Sheffield dispatched to haunt 205, safeguarding the continuity of Eli Broad’s policies, practices and personnel.4 She’s gone…she’s not… gone… not… gone? It was a good April Fool’s, on one and all!
Let’s clean up and move on
People concerned with damage control are already saying “what’s done is done.” Defending our right to know our own history can be a challenging task. The fireballs and sleight-of-hand have been relentless.
This chapter will surely be added to the infamous case study of Rockford’s desegregation lawsuit. Is it possible that our weaknesses identified in the lawsuit actually attracted the controversial Broad Academy graduate to Rockford in the first place? As George Anne Duckett always told me, “Rockford never had a civil rights movement,” and the rest of us are certainly not organized enough to prevent the plunder of the public treasury.
Dr. Sheffield’s handlers, associates, informants and partners are still in place in and around 205. For their sake and ours, people at the board level and within the administration must be held accountable while we defend and reconstruct our schools. For trust to grow, the shadow governance, coersion, lies and distortions need to be exposed, and a thorough accounting made.
May we at least now remove the jesters from the court? Let us start with Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Cedric Lewis and his Fantastic Elastic Numbers Show. Does CFO mean “certifications flew off”…to Phoenix? Anybody notice the chastened Lewis now singing the praises of Baker Tilly? Can we pipe off the Pied Piper Shannon Bingham, of Western Demographics, now that we have paid for the map, the revised map, the flip-flop map, the revision to the revision of the flip- flop map…all to arrive at what?…the map we had in 1980? Can we cut with Evans Newton, Inc. and maybe even attempt to recover some of the $5 million for default of contract?
In a new era of transparency, we can eliminate Mark Bonne’s $100,000 position of Director of Mis-Information and Spin. No need to replace the man who brought us a year of gag orders and the unforgettable policy of your PTO is banned from your kid’s campus. Did this guy train under Pinochet? (Hint: It’s not a wine.) Can we dismiss all those without real job descriptions, holding top administrators accountable for their deep genuflection to the misdirected policies and practices of the former superintendent?
The real deal
Local propaganda machinery, led by Rockford Register Star political columnist Chuck Sweeny, Next Rockford (its subsidiary blog) and Context is churning it out thick and fast, trying to restore credibility to the district-generated strategic plan Visualize 2015 and to grease the skids for the harmonic Alignment of the private interests. Even most kids are smart enough to see through all the bull about getting prepared for non-existent jobs that left this economy years ago, an economy run by people who don’t give a fig about their poverty, crappy housing, lack of health care, poor nutrition, and struggling unemployed parents.
Developers and investors get rich, politicians get rich, ministers get rich, administrators get rich, global consultants and bankers make sure they get rich, while the underlying causes of poverty in Rockford remain intact. And in the cruelest of turns, leaders lay blame at the wrong feet, knowing none among the marginalized will ever be given the keys to the franchise.
I just received another glossy mailing extolling the recent successes in 205. Really? Talk to any principal. We should take a closer look at the strategic plan before we follow the next brass band hired by the Chamber and cleave unto its faux success, ensuring another four years of this. We should ask why, if 2015 was the guide, the board let its superintendent diverge massively from its goals.5 Look closely. See if you can guess which four of the five goals have been utterly compromised.
1. Enhance learning opportunities for all children—We are committed to ensuring that our community’s diverse student body receives the highest quality academic instruction tailored to their talents, abilities and strengths.
2. Ensure parents and community members are partners in the education process—We will fully engage the community and parents to assist us in making sure our schools are the best they can be for our children.
3. Provide clean and safe schools—We understand that clean, safe schools create optimum learning environments for our children.
4. Hold adults accountable—We will ask all adults in this process to be responsible for their performance.
5. Run an efficient business operation—We will ensure a professional, efficient operation so that all who interact with our schools are well served and that we are excellent stewards of the public’s money.
Of course, they all still work if you start with the words: “Create the perception that we…” Rockford’s indicators of trust will be the selection of the interim superintendent and the review of “2015.”
David Stocker is a local songwriter and founder of the medicine band One Drum, www.onedrum.net. He was director of RNR, a church-based housing nonprofit on Rockford’s west side for nine years.
From the April 20-26, 2011, issue