Guest Column: Celebrating the progress made in Rockford Public Schools

By Dr. Ehren Jarrett
Superintendent, Rockford Public Schools

We’ve spent the past several weeks celebrating in Rockford Public Schools. We’ve hosted six open houses to see how taxpayer dollars have afforded us to upgrade six elementary schools with new cafeterias and kitchens, secure entrances, resource rooms, much-needed storage space and a new gymnasium. Principals hosted stellar events with student-led tours and performances to show off just how excited they are to have this new space, and how these upgrades have given some new life to our buildings.

And that’s not all. There is more excitement on the way with our field houses at Auburn, Guilford and East high schools. We’ve already celebrated the upgrades at Jefferson High School — thank you to Rockford Sharefest for again supporting RPS.

But this is only the beginning. We’re evaluating our facilities, looking at the positives and negatives, and considering our needs and wants. We’re working with DLR Group, which has already held focus group meetings with parents, students, staff, board members and the Community Input Committee to discern their “wants” — what our schools should look like in the future. We also are finding out what our teachers and staff need to give students the best possible learning experience. Think learning labs, places where students build their knowledge and prepare for college, a career and a productive life.

We’re also evaluating our needs in other areas. Which sites are energy efficient? Which schools are in heavily populated areas of Rockford? Which schools have enough green space and building capacity to accommodate our students? What does the RPS footprint look like?

We’ll decide how to take what we have and what we want, and evaluate what it’ll take to get us there. There will be no shortage of ways for people to weigh in and help us create a plan the community will support and will serve us well for generations of RPS students. Decisions won’t all be easy, but we’ll make them together. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity. We want to make sure we get it right.

We don’t have a preset plan. The school board and administration are set on giving our staff the best environments possible to teach and our students the best environments possible to learn. But what that looks like is, in part, up to you. We hope to have a plan in the late spring and work with the Facilities Input Committee — which includes members of the school board and the community — to pitch ideas to the public. There will be no shortage of ways to weigh in on the plans to help shape the future of our school buildings.

It’ll be so much more than deferred maintenance. Staff will have the flexible space to teach and innovate, and utilize technology without feeling limited by our facilities.

Whatever plans are laid out in the spring — and what the school board finally approves in the summer — will be modeled after the advice of the people who will use our facilities every day. There will be no surprises. We’re taking your ideas and doing what’s best for the students in Rockford Public Schools today, with the flexibility to continue doing what’s best for Rockford Public Schools students in 10, 20, 50 years.

Thank you for your support so far, and I’m looking forward to continuing this process together.

Dr. Ehren Jarrett has served as superintendent of Rockford Public Schools since July 1, 2013.

From the Feb. 12-18, 2014, issue

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