School Beat — January 21, 2010

Recognize good things

Rockford School Board Trustee

During the past year, school board members, teachers, staff and administrators have spent a significant amount of time planning and responding to budget cuts from the state. We have asked for your help to get the message across to our legislators and you have responded. Thanks to the efforts of our community, teachers, staff and administrators, our district is a leader in advocating for adequate and fair funding not only for Rockford Public Schools but for all public schools. We are blessed with two legislators, Senator Mark Jansen and Representative Tom Pearce, who understand the importance of stable and consistent funding for public education and are willing to advocate for it.

Recent board meetings have focused on significant and painful budget cuts. Declining state revenues and depressed property values have taken their toll on our funding. Because so much of our budget is devoted to the people who provide the quality education in the district, there is little way to make cuts without impacting our people. I have been impressed by the number of teachers and staff who have approached me to relate that they understand the position the board and administration are in and expressed their support of the tough and painful decisions we have had to make. Unfortunately, it does not appear that we are out of the woods yet, and 2010 will likely bring additional budget challenges.

Rockford is justifiably proud and supportive of its quality schools, but there are some areas where it has become sport to blame public employees for the current economic conditions. Clearly, there are opportunities for some reform in the way schools are funded and the way costs are managed across the state. Reading newspaper accounts about the status of the state’s budget and the comments that follow online and in print from some readers leads me to believe that blaming teachers, staff and administrators for the current budget crisis is a little like blaming the individual line worker at the local automobile plant for the demise of the domestic automobile industry.

In the midst of the budget climate and lengthy recession, it is easy to fall into the trap of focusing solely on the problems and what needs to improve. I want to leave these thoughts behind for a moment. You know that our staff, teachers and administrators have spent the last couple of years adopting a program called “Capturing Kids’ Hearts.” While it seems simple, a key piece of the program is the recognition and discussion of “good news or good things.” This time of year is a good time to reflect on the “good things.” In other words, it’s a good time to count our blessings.

Our superintendent, Dr. Shibler, has said at least 100 times during my tenure on the school board, “Our people make the difference.” This is true. We are fortunate in Rockford to have dedicated staff, teachers and administrators. Walk into any of our schools and you will see the thriving learning environment that exists in each one. As I visit schools in the district, I am always reminded of the exemplary work done by our teachers, staff and administrators with our young students. While I am not surprised that parents with children in our district support and volunteer in our schools, I am always amazed at the level of support that we receive from those who do not currently have children in our schools and the pride they have in our schools.

Rockford continues to offer a quality education with a broad array of co-curricular activities of all kinds, including outstanding fine arts and athletic programs that are the pride of our collective community. A tough budget climate will never serve as an excuse to set the bar low for our collective expectations. We are fortunate to have dedicated teachers, staff and administrators who continue to perform at a high level, and we enjoy the uncompromising support and engagement of our community. These are good things.

With the holidays behind us and one year closing and a new one beginning, I want to extend our thanks and appreciation for the work and efforts of our teachers, staff and administrators, our volunteers, and for the support of our community. This has been a challenging year and challenges are likely ahead. Despite the challenges, we will work together to continue to provide the opportunity for a high-quality education.

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