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Guest Column: Rockford Public Schools: Whom would you trust?
By Jane Hayes
Trust! The Rockford School District asks us to trust their decisions to do better for our at-risk students at Page Park and Roosevelt Alternative High School. How often have they done what’s best for students and staff over the past seven years?
Over that time, the district has outsourced employees, humiliated staff members with premature lay-offs and pink slips, overspent public monies, increased the number of administrators downtown with costly benefits and salaries, retained a member of the cabinet charged with a felony that was later reduced to a misdemeanor charge while firing many teachers for minor infractions, closed schools and programs, bought a new board office building, held board and committee meetings in cramped and an unsafe environment that limits the populace, evaded the truth requiring costly and time-consuming Freedom of Information Act requests, and now have forced teachers to reach an impasse with contract negotiations!
The district’s words are hollow because the truth has been twisted, evaded or never revealed at all.
The common welfare of people throughout the district has not been safeguarded by our decision-makers, and it’s time to speak up.
According to John Adams, “The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty.”
According to Matt Vosberg, assistant superintendent of the Rockford School District, in last Sunday’s (Feb. 26) Rockford Register Star, the district wants to outsource Roosevelt and Page Park to the Ombudsman Model of delivering an education to our at-risk students. It’s all about dollars and sense (common, that is), too often missing from decisions made by people in power and imposed on our students and staff.
Why should we trust this district after their track record? Last year, speech pathologists were laid off, which left us searching frantically for qualified teachers to service our students properly for their mandated minutes. How short-sighted! These teachers have valuable skills that were appreciated elsewhere, so who could blame them for leaving Rockford? How cost-effective was that decision?
Yet, Mr. Vosberg swears not one teaching job will be lost by using Ombudsman, which brings their own staff with them. Believe him? I don’t.
After the record of teacher lay-offs and poor faith negotiations, embattled teachers are weary and mistrustful. That’s why many retire rather than deal with the ineptitude and unethical treatment by detached administrators. So, Rockford is losing valued teachers as mentors for new staff, who offer stability with classroom management experience, curriculum skills and common sense.
Another point we wish to debate with Mr. Vosberg is that he says many of the demographics serviced by Ombudsman schools are similar to Rockford’s. While this business serves 120 school districts, very few are comparable to Rockford in enrollment numbers and poverty rates. According to the Ombudsman brochure, they service the following:
40 percent in Illinois
20 percent in Georgia
40 percent in 18 other states
8 percent have FRL (free or reduced lunch) rates greater than 75 percent (we are somewhere in the upper 70s)
70 percent have FRL rates less than 50 percent
75 percent of the Illinois districts have FRL less than 20 percent
4 percent of the districts are 28,000 students or more (we are somewhere around 28,500)
80 percent of the districts are 10,000 students or fewer
62 percent are 5,000 or fewer
In Naperville, the poverty rate is 5 percent and Rockford’s is 78 percent. Clearly, Ombudsman of Naperville does not service many school districts as large or impoverished as Rockford’s. There really wasn’t any district that mirrored Rockford because most districts in the 20,000- to 40,000-student size had much lower FRL rate than we do.
Bibb County in Georgia has 25,000 students with 70 percent FRL, which was the closest to ours.
When Interim Superintendent Robert Willis was interviewed by Elizabeth Fay (Channel 13), he stated this regarding the Ombudsman program: “They (the students) get reinforcement constantly from a teacher in the room. There’s a teacher who works with them, not teaching them, but supporting them.”
Oh, that’s right! They don’t need to teach the student; let the computer do that work. Anyone can do what a teacher does: support, nurse, counsel, patrol, protect, encourage, grade, direct, listen and finally, teach when there’s time!
A positive note for our students from Roosevelt: they won the Truth Talk debate last weekend, and two of our students have won Scholastic art awards. What is the district public relations department doing to promote such positive stories about Roosevelt? So much for our at-risk students … and any limitations the district believes about them or our program at Roosevelt.
“I have a perfect horror of words that are not backed up by deeds,” according to our namesake Teddy Roosevelt. So, as a teacher at Page Park or Roosevelt, whom would you trust?
Jane Hayes is a teacher at Roosevelt and a member of WEE, Watchdogs for Ethics in Education.
Article by Matt Vosberg, Sunday, Feb. 26, Rockford Register Star: www.rrstar.com/news/schools/x1771577894/Rockford-school-official-No-layoffs-in-alternative-education-proposal
From the Feb. 29-March 6, 2012, issue