Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Rockford’s politics of disaster

Vallas brings in Sheffield to run the schools

With an unemployment rate of 13.7%, the highest in the state, economically depressed and desperate Rockford, Illinois has basically turned its public school system over to Paul Vallas.

Technically, Vallas is still the boss of New Orleans’ Recovery District, which he turned into a Mecca for school privatization following the Katrina disaster. Rockford’s disaster is man-made but where some see disaster, Vallas sees opportunity. He nailed down a huge contract for his consulting company, engineered the acceptance of Chicago-based, privately-run charter schools, and now he’s brought in his New Orleans deputy, Lavonne Sheffield, over the objections of several board members, to be Rockford’s new superintendent. Rockford’s business honchos are hoping that Sheffield’s ties to Vallas and Vallas’ ties to Arne Duncan, will turn on the federal tap.

This observation comes from Rockford Star Editor Chuck Sweeny:

With Sheffield’s connection to Vallas, and his connection to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and President Obama’s financial and political commitment to improving public schools, Rockford’s could, indeed, be “poised for greatness.”


  1. Mike, you can choose to look for conspiracies if you want, but when it comes to charter public schools in Rockford, Vallas had nothing to do with it. It was a grassroots parent/citizen effort based on a desperate need to improve District 205's dismal performance over many years. You clearly have a bias against charters, but our bias is toward our kids' education. I suppose you would rather we wait patiently for 205 to miraculously pull out of its doldrums while our kids pay the price and the minority achievement gap is canyon-wide. We picked the best Chicago operators to bring their success and innovation to the community, offer an alternative to parents, and spread some competitive innovation across the entire public school system to help raise the tide. You should be praising their efforts instead of criticizing them.

  2. Sorry Anon,but I am not "anti-charter." If you read my book, "Small Schools: Public School Reform Meets the Ownership Society," you will learn that I have been a big and early supporter of charter schools--as they were originally intended. I still work with several of them, helping them to improve teaching and learning for urban kids. Despite your good intentions, you didn't import the best charter schools. You imported a chain of privately managed schools that has a poor to mediocre track record here in Chicago and was used to circumvent (probably illegally, the state's charter school law. And please don't tell us that Paul Vallas "had nothing to do with it." I'm not looking for conspiracies. You don't have to look very far. Why else would a school district in Illinois hire someone with no urban supe experience, override the search committee's picks, who just happens to be Vallas assistant in both Philly and New Orleans, especially when "Vallas has nothing to do with it"? If I was looking for conspiracies, I would have brought up the cover-up of Sheffield's scandal-ridden tour of duty in Detroit where she was forced to pay back thousands of misspent dollars after being caught red-handed. See: http://educationweak.blogspot.com/2002/12/wheres-money-part-ii-via-mackinacs.html#links


Agree? Disagree? Let me hear from you.