A Year Later

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He knew taking the position that the Rockford School District would be a challenge. A year later it hasn't gotten any easier. Tuesday, May 11, 2005 Rockford Superintendent Dr. Dennis Thompson celebrates his year anniversary.

In an interview a year ago Dr. Thompson said, "The only reason anyone in this district has a job is to help promote student achievement and development. That'll be the focal point of everything I do."

Dr. Thompson started May 11, 2004. At that time Thompson intended to re-staff the district office and each school. A few months later the restructuring and remodeling process was underway in the schools and the district headquarters.

Thompson now says, "We still are understaffed at the central office in terms of all the functions that we have. This is the leanest central office I've seen by far."

With one check mark on his to-do list, Thompson moved on to the deficit, a $28 million deficit. Outsourcing the district's 190 maintenance workers he says was trying but very cost effective.

Thompson stated, "As difficult as outsourcing was it allowed us a huge amount of breathing room. In face, we don't have to divert funds."

Financially, replacing custodian saved the district $3 million. It's too early to know how and if this will disturb the schools next year, but many new complications have already surfaced. The state is still watching us. The district will have to stay on the state's financial watch list for one to two years.

We now have 17 schools on the watch list, 12 schools on the warning list, and 15 are not meeting federal standards under the no child left behind act. The district negotiated Carlson's attendance rate to get them off the watch list.

Dr. Thompson only has two more years left on his contract. In that time he has to tackle truancy, an alternative school, 300 teachers retiring, and returning teachers reaching a deal. But one major problem is not going to be a quick fix. A negative image about the district is deeply rooted.

Rockford Area Economic Development Council Interim President Fadden tells 23 News, "The statistics for 205 are unfavorable and therefore they turn away and say I don't want to come because I don't like the school district."

Fadden says area companies surveyed say the district's performance is a major barrier to bringing in new businesses.

Fadden says, "We had a company we were working with last year and when we got to the school issue and quality of life their management team was unwilling to relocate to this area."

So Thompson has his work cut out for him, not only to save the district's reputation but to potentially be known as the man who resurrected the Rockford School District.