Guest Column: Ombudsman rep responds: An open letter to the citizens of Rockford

Editor’s note: The following open letter was submitted on behalf of the author by Rockford Public School District 205 Executive Director of Communications and Community Empowerment Earl Dotson Jr.

Rockford Public School District 205 is considering outsourcing teaching staff at both Roosevelt Alternative High and Page Park schools and hiring Educational Services of America, based in Nashville, Tenn., for its Ombudsman Educational Services program. The program would also be implemented in a lesser capacity at four high schools (Auburn, Jefferson, Guilford and East), two middle schools and two elementary schools.

The Ombudsman program is expected to be discussed at the Rockford Board of Education’s Education Committee meeting at 5 p.m., Monday, April 2. A vote by the full board on the Ombudsman program is not expected until at least the April 10 or April 24 Board of Education meeting.

By Allison O’Neill
Chief Operating Officer, Ombudsman Educational Services

I am the chief operating officer of Ombudsman Educational Services. I live in northern Illinois and I work in Libertyville, where Ombudsman’s main office has been located since Ombudsman was founded in 1975, and I’m writing to clear up some misunderstandings about our program.

Ombudsman teachers teach. They are certified educators who provide differentiated instruction, lead small group activities, guide students as they collaborate on projects and work with them one-on-one.

Ombudsman teachers in Rockford will work with each student to a develop a personalized academic plan, and graduates will earn a Rockford Public Schools diploma.

The Ombudsman program is a blended learning model; it is not a virtual school or online program.

Ombudsman students will participate in teacher-led instruction and use computers we provide to complete some, not all, coursework during class sessions. Our curriculum is aligned to Common Core and Illinois Learning Standards and includes focused, dedicated preparation for national and state tests.

Roosevelt and Page Park students will continue to participate in art, physical education and other elective classes and will have continued access to district-provided counseling services and Roosevelt’s licensed day care.

In addition to alternative education, the district has asked us to provide transition services to help middle and high school students improve their academic skills in core subjects and/or make up credits they need to be on track for graduation.

Our parent organization, Educational Services of America, was formed with a strong social mission to help kids. Its for-profit status means we have access to funding to develop and provide quality programs without being distracted by fund-raising or affected by decreasing budgets.

Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) discontinued our program when a new superintendent assumed leadership of the district, not because of academic performance. Ninety percent of eligible students — 39 of 43 — graduated with an MNPS diploma. One year later, MNPS engaged our special education division to create and operate a program for students with emotional disturbance. That program continues today.

Many of our district partners don’t share data regarding free/reduced lunch with us. However, we do know that we work with 40 districts where more than half the students qualify for free/reduced lunch. Of those 40, seven districts have a free/reduced lunch rate of 75 percent or more, and, in at least three districts, more than 99 percent of students qualify for free/reduced lunch.

Ombudsman educators believe all students have value, can learn and can develop their inherent talents to become contributing members of society. The people of Rockford want to ensure students have every chance to succeed. We share that goal, and I welcome the community to learn more about our program.

Allison O’Neill is chief operating officer of Ombudsman Educational Services in Libertyville, Ill.

From the March 14-20, 2012, issue

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