It's been a busy year for the Rockford school district, marked by several violent incidents in schools and the controversial transition from school choice to attendance zones. But Superintendent Linda Hernandez focused on the positive in her State of the Schools address Thursday.
Linda Hernandez's tenure as superintendent of Rockford schools began somewhat abruptly just weeks before the start of this school year, when her predecessor Dr. Dennis Thompson left for another district. In her time at the top, Hernandez has already seen many changes.
She says, "The zones for 6th and 9th grade began this year."
Hernandez believes moving from school choice to attendance zones provides stability for students that can improve student behavior and achievement.
The district recently chose to delay moving elementary schools to zones for another year to study the impact on special programs.
Another change this year is the start of Freshman Foundations that separate 9th graders at each of the high schools and provide specialized instruction, giving kids extra help to grasp key concepts.
"Students who successfully complete their first year have a much greater likelihood of graduating in four years," says Hernandez.
Hernandez adds the Foundations, along with anti-truancy efforts and hiring extra staff like reading coaches, are all driving the district toward meeting Federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) standards.
She says, "The key issue in my book is closing the gap of achievement between minority and majority and getting all of our students to 62.5" Meaning 62.5% of students meeting or exceeding NCLB standards.
But it's not all good news. Hernandez says, "We have our days of celebration and our days of concern."
Hernandez did not address concerns like fighting between students that have hit Rockford high schools this year during her speech. But afterward she said she does not believe gang fighting is worse than last year, still the district is adding more police and security officers.
"By January we will have another security person in every building so we have one that sits at every entrance and then another one that will be in the hallway making sure doors are shut, kids aren't escaping."
Hernandez adds the district's vastly improved financial standing will help keep schools on the right track.
Hernandez also talked about the importance of connecting with the community. The district will open a career high school next fall to link with local businesses and teach kids a trade.
Rockford business leader Robert Trojn says, "A career curriculum is desperately needed by us manufacturers because there's over 30,000 of us still working in this area, in this community and as you can tell, people are getting older, they're going to be retiring and so there's a tremendous work opportunity for young students."
Hernandez says the career high school will also help students value their education by giving them a goal to work toward.