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Guest Column: Rockford schools: Civic discourse vs. civil disobedience

April 4, 2012

By Jane Hayes

Welcome to the Punch and Judy puppet show! The Education Committee of the Rockford Board of Education (BOE) met Monday, April 2, for three hours to discuss the Ombudsman program outsourcing Page Park and Roosevelt Alternative High School, except the rules for public speaking changed dramatically. Participants were given a card to write their questions on without any assurance of being able to address the committee. Apparently, they had checked with legal counsel to determine the format, but at what cost?

During negotiations, it was rumored the board attorney from Chicago was receiving approximately $500 per hour, so I guess the WEE (Watchdogs for Ethics in Education) women will have to FOIA legal expenses again.

Board member Jude Makulec appointed Matthew Johnson-Doyle as the facilitator of public comments, so he dominated and screened the questions before presenting them. First, comments and questions were directed to the Ombudsmen salesperson, Assistant Superintendent for Learning Martha Hayes and Assistant Superintendent for Schools Matt Vosberg. Then, the Rev. Johnson-Doyle promoted his views on civic discourse, with the following expectations:

1. Assume good intentions

2. Listen more than you speak; be specific

3. Stay to listen

4. Disagreement is not disenfranchisement

5. Anecdotes are not data

While people were called to the podium to address members of the committee, the facilitator hovered over the adults and students trying to redirect their comments. One speaker told him to move out of the way so she could see the committee.

Staff members had worked tirelessly to propose ways to improve Roosevelt and Page Park and submitted letters from students in support of alternative education. Staff members were rebuffed in attempts to elucidate concerns for their students and their alternative education program.

A slip of the tongue came from the Terminator, who has been promoting Ombudsman for the administration, “Ombudsman specializes in an alternative business.”

Well, isn’t that the problem? It is precisely that: a business scoping and scooping for financial gain, instead of student well-being and learning.

Ombudsman wants a three-year contract. Why not pilot the program first with 30 to 60 students instead of the 792 students the district wants educated in this manner?

At Roosevelt, we are a family, and for some of our students, the only one they can trust. If we had more technology at Roosevelt, we could teach our own students with engaging software programs. We are willing to work on grants or whatever it takes.

Why not promote Ombudsman to the gifted and Advanced Placement students? See how outraged and outspoken their parents would be if their children’s education were outsourced! After all, these students tend to be highly motivated and achievement-oriented, so they could learn independently with a computer and without a teacher.

I am tired of the puppet show from this administration and board. Favored programs and individuals, business interests, and elitism have reigned long enough.

Watchdogs for Ethics in Education has met with administrators from downtown on a monthly basis, addressing concerns regarding staff, schools and students. However, our concerns have fallen on deaf ears. Corrective measures to remedy leadership concerns at two elementary schools go unaddressed. Overcrowding at Auburn and Guilford impedes the learning process. Throughout the district, individual staff members have been on remediation at an alarming rate of one a week. Another costly legal expense! Nothing is being done to correct these concerns, so our efforts have been in vain and not that much different than the lack of transparency and responsiveness that we experienced under the last regime!

Unfortunately, I do not trust the people in authority! Approving the purchase of a bank building the day it became public, ENI, a costly $5.1 million program implemented for two years without teacher buy-in, Pearson and Title I discrepancies, are just the tip of the iceberg in our costly educational failures. Now, business interests prevail over basic educational concerns for our minority students. Stop playing with our minority students’ futures!

When the English textbook adoption was brought up at the last Education Committee meeting, guess which high school was not scheduled to receive new English textbooks? Why, of course, Roosevelt Alternative High School, leading me to believe this administration has already decided in favor of Ombudsman and against the staff and students at Roosevelt and Page Park.

Just as Henry David Thoreau, Mahatma Gandhi, and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I believe civil disobedience can make a difference in public opinion. As an educator, my views on civil disobedience include the following:

1. Powerful influences will not atrophy my conscience.

2. Money and capitalism will not prevail over wisdom and common sense.

3. As a citizen in a democratic society, I will not acquiesce to any power other than my own conscience.

4. Justice will prevail over corporate greed and Ombudsman.

5. Any injustice to one is an injustice to all.

Now, the proposal to use Ombudsman as the only option for alternative education in this district goes to the full board. Can you predict whether it will be approved?

Be guided by your conscience. Don’t outsource our own people and programs. Please let your board members know that displacing teachers and minority students is unacceptable in Rockford.

Jane Hayes is a Roosevelt Alternative High School teacher and a member of Watchdogs for Ethics in Education.

From the April 4-10, 2012, issue

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