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The real power behind high school academies

There was a bigger plot line in the story of the “Big Town, Little City That Could” (win a top prize from Ford Motor Company). But you had to listen carefully to hear it.

Rockford this week was named the nation’s third Ford Next Generation Learning Model Community for developing and implementing high school career academies. The honor came only two years after all high school students in the Rockford Public Schools were in academies, and only a year after Ford honored Rockford with the lesser title of Learning Community.

The contributions of teachers, students and staff have been immeasurable, but the academies have accomplished so much, so fast only because of the community.

“We absolutely would not be standing here without the drive of our community to renew the relationship with the public schools,” RPS 205 Superintendent Ehren Jarrett said at the news conference Oct. 20 to announce the Model Community status.

The Rev. K. Edward Copeland speaks at a news conference announcing Rockford becoming the nation's third Model Community for the Ford Next Generation Learning network.

The Rev. K. Edward Copeland speaks at a news conference announcing Rockford becoming the nation’s third Model Community for the Ford Next Generation Learning network.

The Rev. K. Edward Copeland, the chairman of the Governing Board of Alignment Rockford, said building the high school academies changed the tone of the conversation in Rockford.

Which doesn’t mean everything was perfect. Or is perfect.

No one is trying to hide the scars, he said, which makes the effort even more meaningful. “We’re still in recovery. But we’re sobering up to the fact that we are better together,” Copeland said.

“Better” can be defined by the data.  As Superintendent Jarrett said, “The outcomes are certainly coming along. We’ve increased ACT scores, graduation rates, attendance rates.” It’s more than data, though.

Pat Cunningham’s 2001 book, “Rockford: Big Town, Little City,” tells the story of a city that has struggled to overcome division– natural (the Rock River) and man-made (a tendency toward isolation). But Rockford is telling a new story. It didn’t become a Model Community by people staying to themselves.

They stepped up for the kids—and the kids’ futures.

“The most important thing I see,” Jarrett said at the news conference, “is that the relationship – which was once on the verge of being broken — has been renewed as a source of great strength for us as we move forward on the next step of our journey.”

Mary Kaull is communications coordinator for the Rockford Public Schools. Click here to subscribe to this blog. Also, please like RPS 205 on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram.

 

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