Guest Column: Ombudsman program fails to meet the needs of students

By Jennifer Macek

My name is Jennifer Macek. I grew up in Rockford, I attended the Rockford Public Schools, and I did my senior research paper for my bachelor of science on the history of the Rockford Public Schools. Currently, I am a teacher, parent and resident of District 205. I am working on my doctorate in curriculum and instruction at Northern Illinois University, I am a certified instruction for CPI for this district, and I was previously employed by Ombudsman in Loves Park.

I am writing to ask you to listen to reason. For too long, this district has looked for the quick fix to many complex issues. For too long, we have tried to fix long-term problems with short-term solutions. For too long, the district has made cuts and changes to save money that resulted in waste, increased spending and a decrease in revenue. Examples of this include implementing programs, such as ENI that cost more than $5 million that the district scrapped after purchasing all the materials and training staff, and closing schools that resulted in the People who Care lawsuit, which cost the district millions of dollars. Now, we are looking at new programs and changes to existing programs that take this district one step forward and two steps back.

Along with several of my colleagues in the Alternative High School program, I am putting together a think tank to help make the board, the district and the community aware of the direction currently being offered and the consequences that will follow should the board implement the recommendations the district is making. We are also investigating alternatives that will be cost effective and economically efficient for the present and the long run, without jeopardizing academic integrity.

We will be looking at the Ombudsman program in depth. Already, we have found that the statistics presented to our staff by Matt Vosberg Feb. 15 are misleading. He stated that Ombudsman has an 85 percent graduation rate, when according to their website they have 85 percent who graduate, earn credits OR return to their home school. There are many other aspects of this program that fail to meet the needs of our students, and we will be sharing that information as soon as we compile all that is needed to ensure our information is valid.

We will also share the new initiatives Roosevelt has implemented to promote efficiency and success. These improvements began prior to the information we received regarding the proposed changes. Under new leadership, we have created an excellent system for promoting student accountability and academic progress.

In addition, our task force is brainstorming and researching alternatives, such as the following:

1. Ways to increase economic efficiency within an already well-established program (Roosevelt Model of Learning).

2. Creating a credit recovery program within each high school so students who fail first semester subjects are not set up to fail the second semester, etc.

3. Implementing an alternative program at the middle school level.

4. Changing the programming at Page Park to offer credit recovery, to enhance student buy-in and promote student success.

5. Implementing curriculum changes that boost test scores throughout the district.

6. Allowing elementary teachers the freedom to use the proposed extended day for enrichment and RTI, as needed, with the direct goal of decreasing the need for credit recovery in the future.

We will continue to brainstorm and complete research that will provide the board with the best options to implement money-saving strategies that truly promote the highest standards available. We are doing this because we love our school, our students, and our community; because our students love our school and have found success here. We want to have a world-class education for ALL students. We are not doing this because we are being paid $180,000 a year to do so. We are not doing this because we are trying to save our jobs (we’ve already been told we will have them), and not because we are trying to defy anyone. We are doing this because we care. We understand the current economy, and we want what is best for everyone involved. As a taxpayer, a parent and a teacher of this district, I urge you to listen to reason.

P.S. — The above was written prior to learning about the changes proposed for Roosevelt. I planned to read it at the next board meeting, but now feel we need to move quickly, before any damage is done to the community I care so much about.

From the Feb. 29-March 6, 2012, issue

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