By BETH ALTENA
Rockford Public Schools is no place for concealed weapons, said Dr. Michael Shibler Superintendent of Rockford Public Schools, speaking to Rockford Rotary on Tuesday, April 23.
Shibler spoke about several aspects of education during the luncheon meeting, but said he took action after the national news of shootings of children and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Shibler said the school violence, with some people calling for armed staff at public schools, caused him to contact several branches of law enforcement. He said he presented the results of his research to the Board of Education advising against concealed weapons. Shibler said school safety has long been an important element in education and the district is second only to Grand Rapids Public Schools on number of budgeted security staff.
“We used to have twelve retired law enforcement officers on staff, but because of cuts we now have eight,” he stated. He said law enforcement men and women train hundreds of hours compared to qualifying for a concealed carry license, which only requires one day of training. He strongly disagrees with those who say allowing staff to carry concealed weapons in schools would be added safety.
Shibler said he believes in-place safety practices at Rockford are much wiser solutions. The schools have cameras at the entrances linked to screens in the office, so staff can see who comes in the front door. Other doors are locked from entrance.
“Rockford was the first district in the state to go to Code Red drills in classrooms,” Shibler said. He described that kids and staff are trained to go into classrooms, lock doors, turn off lights, put heavy furniture in front of doors.
Shibler’s statements against allowing concealed weapons in the district’s schools were not met with agreement in all cases. He said a complaint about his stance was called in to the bus garage and the anonymous phone call was traced to the number calling.
Shibler said he called the person up to talk with him about his opinion and found out the guy was a resident of Wayland. He said the caller was surprised that the school was able to identify his number and did talk about his opinion, although there was no agreement reached.
Another person put a sign on one of the school doors that said, “This is an unsafe school.” In that case Shibler turned the incident over the local police who identified the individual from the school’s cameras. They went to the individual’s home and had a discussion with him.
Shibler continued his comments with praise for the district’s talented students, noting the Board of Education had recognized the previous evening three National Merit Finalists and three students who have been accepted to military academies. “Those are both high numbers,” he said.
He praised the television studio kids, who, this year, took their sixth TV Studio of the Year award, which he called “flat out incredible.” He said that success came from another issue that had the community divided when it was proposed.
“When I came in 1989 we had to pass a millage to build a new high school. The second thing I wanted to do was build a television studio designed into the building. People didn’t like it. They thought it was fluff. Now we have kids all over the U.S. in television and studio careers.”
Shibler said he is also so proud of the Odyssey of the Mind students, who take a problem and solve it with dramatic and academic skill. Nine teams this year are going on to world competition.
Shibler said he is also proud of the student athletes, who have taken 40 state championships in 17 different sports.
Shibler ended on the district’s relationship with Ferris State University and said he hoped everyone has heard of the dual classes, which allow students to receive not only high school credit but also university credit. He said Ferris State is beginning a program where students here can take General Education classes starting this fall, and also receive college credit that will transfer to any college or university. Students will be able to leave Rockford High School with 30 credits from Ferris State University. “They can also do this as summer school and save their parents money,” he noted.
Shibler said he had to work directly with the president of Ferris to make this a reality. “My goal is to offer it to as many students as possible.” In addition to saving money, students will better understand the rigors of college coursework.
Teachers for the concurrent high school/college courses will be trained by Ferris. He said this may prompt kids who might not think they are college material to see that they are good enough to extend their education.
Answering questions, Shibler said he is still optimistic about the future of education as a career as many educators will be retiring. He also shared that his greatest concern about the future of education is the influence of texting all of the time. He said he believes in blended technology in education, but still sees the importance of face-to-face interaction between students and teachers.
He also said the school does still teach cursive writing, another skill that seems to be going away in the texting age.
Finally, one Rotarian pointed out that in college at Ball State University, Shibler’s roommate next door was David Letterman.