Guest Column: Rockford Public School District: ‘Then There Were None!’
By Jane Hayes
Two more stellar teachers, Donna Moeller, dean of secondary math curriculum throughout Rockford Public School District 205 (RPS 205), and the CAPA and Fine Arts director, LuAnn Widergren, have recently lost their jobs in District 205! These outstanding teachers/administrators wrote a noteworthy federal grant for the district, the RPS 205 Arts Infusion Grant. They submitted — and won — the $1,272,270 federal grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Innovation and Improvement, with District 205 being one of only eight districts nationwide to receive the grant. Perhaps someone should contact the U.S. Department of Education about this farce!
Communications coordinator from District 205 and former Rockford Register Star reporter Mary Kaull stated in a news release: “Loud applause to RPS Fine Arts Director LuAnn Widergren and curriculum expert Moeller, who worked together countless hours to 1) win the grant and 2) design how the integration will look at the classroom level.” (http://blogs.e-rockford.com/rockfordpublicschools/2013/12/10/arts-infusion-grant-to-begin-next-month-in-rps/#axzz3CivwRCMt)
How embarrassing is it that one loyal district employee, Mary Kaull, has praised these women, and now they have been dismissed under suspicious circumstances? How unusual is it for a Golden Apple Principal Award winner from 2012 such as Widergren to exit the district in September when she is highly respected?
So, who takes responsibility for the implementation of this prestigious grant now that the authors are gone? Did they refuse to have the funding for the arts siphoned off to other funds not earmarked in the grant? Currently, Title I funds have been diverted to the secondary academies, and of course, that is NOT what Title 1 funds are for — or did you know that?
Did these conscientious educators take the fall for someone else in the district, perhaps someone who wears a suit and knows more about the scandalous secrets of the district and is more pliable with questionable tactics and ethics regarding grants?
Or, does the district want to replace such conscientious staff members with more of their lackey friends? After all, we already have someone with the title of Talent Recruitment working for the district! Didn’t realize the district needed an agent! The district’s pattern has been to place people in positions they are unqualified for and send them back to school on the district’s dime. Then, a creative name is established that seems too obtuse to actually describe what they do. And did you know the district now has its own interior decorator, and I wonder at what cost? Well, of course, we know how important appearances are in this district! Educators know what a true education encompasses, and it certainly does not include an interior decorator or talent recruiter.
How much did it cost the district to silence Moeller and Widergren? We know of many people who have been silenced because they were told they must resign or be fired, otherwise they would risk losing their retirement. How unethical are these strong-arm tactics? Just wondering how active the local teachers’ union, the REA (Rockford Education Association), and the Legal Department of 205 have been in this costly travesty of justice? Think of all the students and staff denied access to the talents and dedication of Moeller and Widergren!
As a sophomore English teacher, I was responsible for teaching the war novels: All Quiet on the Western Front and Night. The first novel was about the tragedy of World War I; the second, more of a novella, was about the inhumanity of the Holocaust during World War II. Much of my time was spent in project-based learning so students could empathize with the plight of the times and the people. To initiate lessons, I distributed a noteworthy poem by Martin Niemoller, a Nazi resistor and Protestant pastor. He also spent seven years in concentration camps and knew the atrocities firsthand.
First, they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then, they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then, they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.
Then There Were None!
In speaking with a teacher friend still doing diligence as a District 205 employee, it was stated: “Now, I know how the Holocaust could happen. I see it every day in the fear of people afraid to speak up against district wrongdoings.” This crushes and demoralizes so many good people.
If District 205 is ever to justify your vote for a referendum, its leaders need to justify mistreatment of the people most directly responsible for impacting its students: the teachers. How can they? The leaders, who make triple a teacher’s salary, have no direct impact on a child, but still levy the decisions that restrict education. Instead, this leadership believes in bricks and mortar, concerned more about image and appearance than quality education. That’s why the district’s Legal Department blocks our Freedom of Information Act requests seeking truth and transparency. Such an outrage! That’s why the leaders hire their friends for jobs — so they don’t dare question them and their decisions. Another outrage!
This district’s practices harken to McCarthyism in its attacks against good people, and it has to stop! When I spoke up at a Board of Education meeting by reciting “Bricks and Mortar,” my poem published in The Rock River Times (http://rockrivertimes.com/2014/08/13/guest-column-education-activist-speaks-on-night-of-school-board-vote-on-facilities-plan/), one employee from the district’s Communications Department berated me for being so disrespectful and outrageous toward the district.
Well, as long as I have a voice, a vision of what good education looks like, a questioning mind, and a computer, I will speak against such unethical treatment of people and mindless and costly acts throughout Rockford District 205. This district does NOT deserve your trust. The REA has NOT earned your trust by advocating for their teachers. Do NOT vote for a referendum for a district that cannot be trusted.
And remember, if you don’t speak up when wrongdoing occurs,
Then There Will Be None!
Jane Hayes is a member of Watchdogs for Ethics in Education (WEE) and Rockford Educators Advocating Civil Treatment (REACT).
From the Sept. 17-23, 2014, issue