Rockford, IL – Dear Friends,
Change. In 2009, after Barack Obama had ridden the change-we-can-believe-in slogan to the White House, Time magazine ranked "change" as the nation's No. 1 buzzword. "Change," according to Time, had become synonymous with "candidacy" and the first opportunity in 20 years to have a president not named Bush or Clinton.
When a word becomes a buzzword, the word tends to lose its meaning in all the buzz.
Change. To make something different; to alter, shift or switch; to transform.
Most of us like change if the change has little or no consequence: Changing the TV channel, our hair style or brand of toothpaste.
Big changes? Not so much.
Small changes offer variety, the spice of life. Big changes bring about anxiety and sometimes second thoughts. Are we sure we want the change we said we wanted? Maybe we want different change? Or maybe less change or slower change?
I was hired as superintendent of Rockford Public Schools to be a change agent, and I'm proud of the change I've achieved. We have shifted the course of things and begun to make a difference, but we have not yet transformed into a world-class education system. We have not yet made Rockford schools the schools of first choice.
While I still believe in the potential of Rockford and its schools, I also believe that change, by definition, means continuous forward motion. I cannot subscribe to hitting the pause button on change, much less going backward or "rewinding." So, unfortunately, I must end my tenure as superintendent.
I leave proud of the significant advancements we have made in our schools over the past two years, and they are many. Chief among them is that we have refocused our schools on teaching and learning by building from the ground up a rigorous, relevant and coherent instructional framework.
The top of the list also includes changing the culture of our schools from one of punitive discipline to one of positive behavior supports. We developed a robust professional development program, implemented a state-of-the-art technology system and gave authority to principals to hire the teams they deem appropriate to improve student achievement. Through a process that engaged the entire community, we crafted a meaningful, five-year strategic plan, Visualize 2015.
Alignment Rockford is the premiere example of a host of partnerships we have formed to benefit children. The level of communication has increased exponentially through regular parent and community mailings, e-blasts, automated telephone calls and other means of keeping the public informed.
As I depart, we are beginning the process of transitioning our elementary schools to a geography-based enrollment system, which offers families greater predictability and saves money through reduced busing. Months of thorough study and difficult decision-making put us in a position to close a $50 million shortfall and balance the budget.
A more exhaustive review of the accomplishments of the last two years only would distract from the message I want to impart as I exit. Every change we made was in line with national best practice and in the best interest of all children.
The challenges before Rockford remain the same whether I am part of the equation or not. What are those challenges?
A gap still exists in student achievement, even in schools where test scores are rising among students of all races. The racial imbalance in the number of student discipline cases also lingers, even though the number of students who are being suspended or expelled has declined dramatically.
A stark financial uncertainly still confronts our schools. You can quibble over whether the looming deficit is $50 million or some other very large figure with several zeroes, but the depressed national economy and Illinois' near insolvency are real. As a matter of fact, the state's budget is a gathering storm that has yet to break loose with full force.
We must live with less, and that will be a struggle for whoever occupies the superintendent's office. The bold steps we have already taken, while painful, positions Rockford Public Schools to weather the storm. Closing schools, filling classrooms to capacity and reducing the size of our workforce is courageous business, and the Board of Education deserves every bit of credit for having the foresight and fortitude to make these heartbreaking decisions.
Despite the challenges that face Rockford Public Schools, there are plenty of reasons to rejoice. Talented, skilled teachers are engaging students in classrooms in every school every day, and they are supported by hundreds of caring and dedicated nurses, counselors, bus drivers, cafeteria workers and other personnel. We have strong principals who know how to improve student achievement because they understand leadership and instruction. The administrators on my senior team are as good as any I've worked with during a career that has taken me many places.
In two years time, I have also met a long line of parents and citizens who want the best for their children and their town. I believe with all my heart that they represent the majority, though too often the majority is silent.
Our recent climate survey, however, gives voices to this silent majority. Without question, the survey demonstrates that our students are engaged by their teachers and feel safe in their classrooms, and our parents are happy with the quality of education their children are receiving. Conducted by the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Rockford, the survey further reveals that faculty are using the instructional framework we built, employing data to focus their instruction and taking advantage of professional development to enhance their skill sets.
If I have shined a light on the need for change, then I'm content to have fulfilled an important purpose in Rockford.
To those who have supported me in my efforts, don't frown because my time here is over. Smile because it happened. One way or another, change will come.