Guest Column: Rockford schools: Slick or sticky business?

By Jane Hayes

Slick! That’s what I call the presentation done by Alignment Rockford and Rockford Public School District 205 Tuesday, April 17, at Auburn High School.

The PowerPoint and video presentation by Dr. Ehren Jarrett was professional and slick, and suggested the financial backing of businesses throughout the Rockford community, in particular Alignment Rockford.

In the presentation, Dr. Jarrett introduced the public to the academy approach, which creates small learning environments with a career focus. Interviews of Jefferson High staff members, who were sent to Nashville, Tenn., by our district to observe the Alignment Nashville model, were glowing. Local interviews of community movers and shakers stressing the importance of an educated workforce from Rockford were pertinent. Also, interviews of members from Alignment Nashville itself and staff from Glencliff and McGavock high schools in Nashville were positive.

Praising small learning academies for their “Rigor, Relevance, Relationships and Readiness” was established early and often. Slick and professionally-printed cards were given to attendees to write questions, concerns and feedback.

This just sounds so good, right? Think about it … schools supported by our community, important businesses and professional people throughout Rockford. What, if anything, is wrong with this picture? Well, first, the questions posed by many WEE (Watchdogs for Ethics in Education) members were not answered. Our group wonders how many unanswered or edited questions went unanswered by the panel of school and community members, which lacked diversity and transparency, in my estimation. Were our questions too sticky to address?

So, WEE will ask them rhetorically. First, how do you compare Rockford to Nashville, Tenn., which was awarded a major part of a $500 million federal grant, Race to the Top, to implement their academy structure? Second, what about all our current students? Why can’t we challenge them to think about careers, colleges and/or future goals? Why doesn’t our district promote the current small learning environments instead of outsourcing them? What will be done for students who choose not to be a part of the academy structure? Or is that not an option?

Good grief! Don’t think for one minute that the professional educators of WEE are not in favor of better schools. Most of us have lived in Rockford all our adult lives, earned our livelihoods here, sent our own children to public schools in Rockford, and still pay outrageous property taxes here.

We want to see public education thrive and have seen so many fads in education come and go. Actually, we have already had successful academies throughout Rockford. Think about CAPA, the Creative and Performing Arts Program, the Academy of Gifted Learners at Auburn, and ROTC. Think about the small learning environments already established here whose survival is threatened, such as Roosevelt Alternative High School and Page Park. Last year, ACE High School was eliminated.

We want to see more career and college readiness and improvement of academic and social skills throughout our district. We want to see more interdisciplinary and project-based learning. We want to solve our truancy problems and ameliorate crime problems in our community. Finally, we want to see our students succeed in college or their career choices so they can live productive lives.

However, recognize our backgrounds as professional educators by giving us a seat at the decision-making table. When Dr. JoAnn Shaheen and Barbara Oehlke, both honorable and lifelong educators, were denied access in the selection process at the committee level of Alignment Rockford, I knew something was amiss. (They were told they could attend meetings, but they could not ask questions.)

Another long-tenured teacher thought perhaps she had too much experience, and that’s why she was excluded from the committee structure of Alignment Rockford. Too much experience and expertise! Really? By excluding teachers, I continue to be suspicious of Alignment Rockford. They need teacher input and buy-in for this concept to survive and thrive.

Most teachers I know are creative and critical thinkers. If our students and parents value us, why doesn’t Alignment Rockford?

Sticky! I much prefer sticky to slick because a true test of any proposal or program is whether it can be challenged successfully. Answer our questions openly in a public forum and listen to our concerns. Are we that threatening? Something is so wrong in the Forest City because of the exclusion of educators in planning for the future, and a lack of transparency continues.

Educate yourself by reading some of the controversy regarding academies in Nashville in the hyperlink below:

Do Metro’s public school ‘academies’ live up to promise?” by Joey Garrison,

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

From the April 25-May 1, 2012, issue

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