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District 186's Image Problem
The fallout continues in the Springfield School District, and it could impact every aspect of the city--from business to growth and development. Following a police investigation on leaked student test scores two employees are resigning and a third may soon follow. We reached out to Sue Ruff who's resigning from the administrative center and to Deborah Sidener who worked at Washington Middle school. Neither they--- nor their attorneys-- returned our calls. Ruff's departure is effective June 5th. Neither of the two is eligible to be re-hired. Parents say that's not enough. After this debacle-- the latest in a series of missteps by the board it appears District 186 does have an image problem.
From Chatham to Rochester to Springfield and beyond-- people in our area or even those moving here have options.
"One of the great things about the Springfield greater area is that it is a greater area, and if one district has some troubles-- there is another district that can sort of pick up the pieces," said Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Steward Sandstrom.
After what's unfolded in the last several months alone Sandstrom, who works to recruit and sustain business in the area, agrees District 186 has troubles.
"186 has a rough patch and Chatham steps in and says we're great and they are," Sandstrom said of the abundance of options for parents with school-aged children.
Problems in District 186 read like a dirty laundry list put out in the open for everyone to see. Among the outgoing school board-- there are public fights and private ones, too. Issues with teacher qualification --even certification-- have plagued the district for years; though they're expecting to be resolved by the end of this school year. Still there are issues like the leaked Capital College Preparatory Academy (CCPA) student test scores that will not be forgotten quickly or easily resolved.
"Trust and integrity and a foundation to any organization and especially one that serves the community," CCPA parent Sherrie Gary said at Monday's (4/22/13) school board meeting.
The district's success stories are overshadowed by bad behavior, an ousted superintendent, and a lack of public trust.
"It's disheartening because there is a lot of great stuff that happens in the district, and you see it everyday-- but I think there's a lot of issues that the board has to deal with," Springfield High School senior Nathan Hoffman said of the facts that threaten the district's reputation.
"It's all about the students. If I am a parent or a potential recruit for a job in Springfield. I'm going to be looking at the district and see how we treat our children," Springfield NAACP President Teresa Haley said when asked about the current state of Springfield schools.
District 186 has spent decades falling short on the terms of a federal desegregation order. With eyes now laser focused on them, the incoming board must act swiftly.
"As a taxpayer, a citizen and an alumni of District 186-- yeah--it hurts to see what has gone on in the district. It's time to change things," said District 186 School Board member-elect Adam Lopez.
Lopez says he has talked with almost all of the oncoming board members, and they understand the challenges ahead.
Through e-mail and by phone, we had a number of conversations with Pete Sherman who was hired to do public relations for District 186. In the end-- he wouldn't agree to go on-camera for our interview. In addition, he said interim superintendent Bob Leming was unavailable to talk about District 186's image problem. Sherman sent over the following statement: "This has been a challenging year for Springfield Public Schools on many fronts. However, when you visit our schools, many of these challenges fade away. Teachers and students are hard at work, focused, and accomplishing great things across all grades and subjects. We will soon have a new board and a new superintendent, all of whom represent a collective opportunity for a fresh start. In many ways, we are more disciplined in our instruction and energized by our kids than ever. They are our 15,000 daily reminders of why we are here. We also are continually grateful for the profound support we do receive from many Springfield parents, residents, and community organizations."
With all of the recent happenings and even through the voices of parents speaking at these board meetings-- we know there is the threat of students leaving District 186. Neighboring communities are growing and also have successful classroom opportunities for students. Families drawn out of the district impacts tax revenue, enrollment, many things. There is the hope for a better public image through shedding light on District 186's successes like the students of places like Iles, Lincoln Magnet, CCPA, Vachel Lindsay--- even the improvements in places like Lanphier. On May 2nd the district is arranging a tour of some district schools, possibly even the new Matheny-Withrow construction to do that.