Guest Column: Rockford schools: Can you hear me now?

By Jane Hayes

Finally, transparency lives in Rockford Public School District 205! Laura Powers is one brave school board member, whose courageous voice rang out clearly at the Tuesday, April 30, board meeting! Previous to that meeting, Powers had sent e-mails to her colleagues requesting a temporary board president be in place until new and old members had an opportunity to discuss and agree on the responsibilities of each position. According to Powers, who had no personal objections to individual officers chosen that night, she did object to her e-mails being ignored or overlooked, so she abstained from casting her votes. Can you hear her now?

Also at issue was the lack of a job review of board attorney Lori Hoadley, a long-overdue evaluation to those who really know what goes on in this district. The lack of a timely evaluation of someone with so much power over board politics is a gross miscarriage of justice, in my opinion. Our school board is the titular boss over the board attorney and superintendent, not the other way around. It was believed that the last time Hoadley was evaluated was under former Superintendent Dr. LaVonne M. Sheffield, when the attorney did her own evaluation. Where are the checks and balances in this lack of process and accountability? Clearly, such inadequacy of leadership has to stop if the citizenry is to respect the board and administration because of its distortion and misuse of power. Get with the program, and demand a comprehensive process so power doesn’t continue to corrupt this district. Can you hear me now?

While board member Tim Rollins listed various accomplishments by the board over the past two years, there has been a reluctance to meet the needs of about 20 percent of the fringe students near the bottom who are in dire need of interventions before expulsions. Instead, we release them from our schools to the streets. Intervention means more programs to meet the diverse needs of those left behind, irrevocably lost to expulsion. Unfortunately, those lost to the schools often face incarceration because of neglect by family, school and society. We can do better, and we must! Aren’t our neighborhoods crime-riddled enough? Can you hear their needs now?

Not to mention, we have had many experienced, exceptional teachers who have been exited from their buildings! One teacher has become a para at her teacher’s salary. Who protects their civil liberties and guarantees them due process? How about the paraprofessional requests for a contract that will give them competitive living wages? How can we look aside at the bullying principals and administrators who are blacklisting and terminating dedicated staff throughout the district? Can you hear them now?

In the past election, campaigning done by two elected board candidates revealed to them approximately 47 percent of their constituents believed District 205 was on the wrong track and had made ineffective, counterproductive decisions. Can you hear the taxpayers now?

Powers admonished the leadership, saying: “You can’t fire me now because I have been elected for four more years. I will be ready to work together with you, but if you ignore me, I will just have to air the dirty laundry publicly.” Clearly, do you hear her now?

Those who believe in standing up for ethical treatment, individual human rights and offering the best education to even the neediest among the students also believe in the power of one human voice. We applaud our board member Laura Powers, who is transparent and accountable to us.

Yes, we have heard her now and respect her immensely for her openness to the public and students she serves. If only we had more representatives like Laura, our schools, staff and students could really thrive and be world-class.

Jane Hayes is a member of Watchdogs for Ethics in Education and Rockford Educators Advocating Civil Treatment.

From the May 8-14, 2013, issue

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