JANUARY 27, 2012 -- Calling on the community to come together and build a support system that will help children achieve their dreams, Interim Superintendent Robert Willis outlined plans last week to take learning in Rockford Public Schools to the next level.
The success of the district’s “Readiness Rocks!” initiatives will require people from all walks of life to buy-in to the idea that reforming schools and boosting student performance is what this community needs to move forward.
“We are becoming better listeners. We are helping kids be able to dream. We are helping kids be able to learn more, do more with that learning and hopefully we can help them become more than they ever hoped they could become,” Dr. Willis said, while addressing nearly 700 people at the annual Chamber of Commerce dinner.
“But we can’t do it alone. We need everybody in this community to step up and say, ‘Yes, I’m in.’ Together, we can make this happen for our community.”
The Readiness Rocks focus on college and career readiness, the seven periods to success, 21st century learning environments, and preschool and college for all.
- As part of an effort to push college and career readiness, the district will create benchmarks for success that track the academic progress of students at each grade level. Support systems will be in place to help struggling students, and outreach opportunities, such as career shadowing and dual-credit college programs, will allow students to prepare for life after high school.
- Beginning next year, secondary students will be introduced to seven-period school days that expose them to the arts, foreign language classes and advanced courses that will give students a more well-rounded experience. The longer school day will also provide additional time for educators to reach struggling learners.
- The district is making a commitment to create a 21st century learning environment for students and staff. Board members recently approved the transfer of $10 million to start the district's capital fund. In the fall, voters could be asked to approve a bond sale that would allow the district to improve schools and potentially build new ones. Any improvements would be made without a tax increase for homeowners.
- In the future, all children would have access to the district’s early childhood program, a move that would allow students to begin developing essential learning skills at an earlier age. Dennis Early Childhood Center will re-open next year, creating additional slots for students to participate in a preschool program that has been identified as one of the best in the state.
- The College for All Fund would become a resource that students could use, regardless of their economic situation, to pursue higher education. This effort received a significant boost when Judson University made a $1 million commitment to the fund, and Rockford College agreed to contribute $2 million.
To begin the transformation, Dr. Willis said, the community must see the vision and start slaying the negativity that comes with unemployment, violence, poverty, and feelings of hopelessness and despair. Then, those dream killers must be replaced with hope, respect and aspirations to attend college, embark on careers and rebuild the region.
As the initiatives move forward, the district is forming committees to further develop each of the five Readiness Rocks.
Many community leaders have already expressed excitement about the district’s plan and are looking forward to creating partnerships that place students in a world-class learning environment.
(A video that features business, government, religious, arts and other leaders talking about the Readiness Rocks can be viewed here. Complete footage of Dr. Willis' speech is available here.)