While on leave from Jefferson High School, Dr. Kenneth Jackson is working in Rockford schools' central office. He has to renew his expired Illinois principal's certification. But that's not the issue that landed him on paid administrative leave from Jefferson.
The district's external law firm Hinshaw and Culbertson is looking into grades Jackson authorized changing from fail to pass last year. He has maintained the changes were made to encourage parental involvement and that former superintendent Dennis Thompson supported him. Now a new source is coming forward to confirm that: Jefferson's former head counselor Kimberly Jackson (no relation). She left the district after last year for a job in Edwardsville, IL, but came back into town to look into the investigation. Kim Jackson says, "When he was hired for the job, Dr. Thompson told him you know we're failing seventy, eighty percent of kids in certain classes, we need to change that, we need to start having some accountability,"
That's when Principal Jackson started the policy that grades would change from pass to fail if teachers did not directly contact the parents of failing students. Many teachers said the changes took away their authority and lowered student standards.
Rockford Teachers' Union President Molly Phalen did not return calls for comment Sunday night. But in the past she has said some teachers made dozens of calls but failed to reach parents. Kimberly Jackson says in those situations student grades remained failing. She showed 23 News an e-mail Principal Jackson sent to all teachers telling them what to do if they wanted to contest grade changes.
"They were told to go to either the assistant principal or myself with their call list and we would look through that and if they explained something like, I called this number and it was disconnected or this student is chronically absent, those types of things, the F stood," says Kim Jackson. She adds the point was to engage and help kids who were on the bubble of passing, not those who simply didn't care about their education.
Rockford school leaders say the grade investigation is taking longer than they expected because they widened to check for grade changes at other district schools. It's unclear when it will be done.