Two weeks ago I attended a lunch in Joliet, where I heard Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey* speak to the issue of school reform and his focus was on competition, accountabilty and the horrors of fighting in-bred complacency. Public Schools devolved and once vital Catholic Schools disappeared.
Rockford was once a powerful industrial town, like Peoria, Decatur and Kankakee. Its public schools needed a shot in the arm. Charter Schools offered that possibility.
Charter schools are publicly-funded schools that trade greater accountability for autonomy. They are often founded by groups of master teachers who enter into a charter, or contract, with a school district for five to 10 years.
Performance goals are established in the charter and they are reviewed periodically by the authorizing school district. Of the 43 charter schools established between 1996 when state law authorized charter schools in Illinois and 2007, 21 percent folded.
Once vital Catholic schools like St. Patrick's were reorganized as Charter Schools. Rockford Star Register's Chuck Sweeney reports:
When I was a kid my parents sent me to St. Patrick’s School, back when that school had 972 students, and was the largest school in the Rockford Diocese. We had two sites in those days — the early 1960s — the “new building” on School Street and the old school on Royal Avenue, which housed 7th and 8th grades.
As the Catholics left the area, the school gradually dwindled to no more than a couple hundred students when the church pulled the plug in the ’90s.
It’s been sad to see the sturdy School Street building, constructed in 1953-54 with another wing added in 1958, empty of school kids all these years. The church has kept it up and running, and has used it for various purposes. So it it hasn’t been allowed to fall apart and is still in good shape.
Tonight I drove by the old school — and it was lighted like a Christmas tree. There were people inside, turning it into — a school! Ah yes, the same green chalkboards were there. Green boards? Yes. It’s St. PATRICK’s School, after all.
The old St. Pat’s will become the Galapagos Charter School later this month.
Does my heart good to see my old school back on line again. I hope the new kids enjoy the building. I know I did.
Reform can happen. Leaders Like Mayor Larry Morrissey make Reform happen.
*Lawrence J. "Larry" Morrissey (Born in 1969 in Rockford, IL) is the Mayor of Rockford, IL. As an independent, Morrissey defeated Democrat incumbent Doug Scott in the 2005 mayoral elections after trying in his first run in 2001 with a populist campaign promising road improvements, education reforms, lower property taxes and a revitalized downtown. In an attempt to reduce the city's reliance on property taxes to fund road projects, Morrissey proposed an increase to the city's sales tax. A sales tax increase referendum was defeated in the March 2006 primary but passed in the April 2007 election