Rockford Hearings On School Closings Are Underway

May 6, 2014

Rockford needs fewer, larger elementary schools. More modern classrooms. One early education center for each quadrant of the city. It’s all part of a $250 million plan to improve  every elementary school, except for the 7 to 9 targeted for closing. 

Credit Susan Stephens / WNIJ

  These are some of the points the public is being asked to consider, and report back to the school district about, before the school board chooses one of three restructuring proposals.

Ehren Jarrett is superintendent of Rockford Public Schools. He led one of the first public hearings on the plans, at Welsh Elementary:

“So this is really about changing the footprint and making it better for students. Better buildings and more staff support, not reducing the footprint just to save money.”

Todd Schmidt is the district’s Chief Operations Officer. He says it has taken almost a year to put together the three plans, with the help of administrators, some teachers, some parents, and a consulting firm.

“We looked at these buildings and a lot of these buildings we recommended for closure are either old or small. And then we’re looking at the money we’d have to put itno that, like 5-million dollars, to bring it up to speed, does it make more sense to put it into another building or build some new schools?”

Under plan A, seven of the district’s 35 elementary schools would be demolished. Plan B? Eight schools close, and one new one is built. And Plan C closes nine and builds two. The schools on the chopping block are Cherry Valley, Dennis, King, Kishwaukee, Thompson, Walker, and West View.  Plan B adds Nelson School and plan C adds White Swan. Schmidt says public input is key, and is being gathered on-line and at nearly 40 meetings.

“We want to make sure the money is spent wisely. We want a good comprehensive plan. We want feedback on the plan. If this is what the community wants, and it makes sense, go ahead and do it.”

Credit Susan Stephens / WNIJ

  Monday’s crowd at Welsh was small, and it is NOT on the closing list. But like every school in the district, it WILL be affected. Welsh Principal Maurice Davis says his school will change drastically under the plans…and he’s excited about it. Welsh would get a long-needed expansion and be able to house more students from its northwest side neighborhood.

“The classrooms are very traditional. They’re set up like we used to learn. We learn differently now. So being able to have rooms that are accessible for digital learning, a kind of one to one blended learning for students. Those are all really important to learning today.”

Sandra Glaspie is a retired school district administrator. She showed up for the meeting at Welsh because she had some big questions. Top of the list was how shuttered schools would affect neighborhoods: Superintendent Jarrett eased her concerns about the schools becoming dangerous, crumbling eyesores.

“The smallest elementaries, in the worst condition and we’re taking those off-line. We’re going to turn those into parks or some community use. And then we’re going to give everybody a significant learning experience.”

Glaspie urges the public to make it out to one of the meetings: although most of them take place during typical 9 to 5 work hours, four of the meetings will be held in the evening.

Glenda Shaver says staff and parents in the schools targeted for closing need to be heard in this process. She should know:

I certainly can relate to that. I am not over the closing of West High by any means. I think they should come to meetings and inform themselves. And if they DO  perceive unfairness, they should speak up!

Shaver was involved in the People Who Care lawsuit 25 years ago: it was set off when the Rockford School Board closed a number of schools, including West High.  Several families sued the district in federal court for “decades of discrimination.” Shaver says it’s different this time…and she’s relieved. She says she didn’t detect any bias or unfairness in the presentation from the superintendent or in the process.

 I believe their asking for input is sincere because they are sharing it on line once they get it. They’re really reaching out to evolve.

It’s a ten year plan. Even if the school board approves a version of it at its late –June meeting,  nothing will change in the next school year. Meetings continue almost daily at different schools through May 22nd.