Latest RAMS Report Provides Blueprint for Improvement

When Michael Shibler arrived as Rockford’s superintendent in July 1989, he thought it would be presumptuous to tell residents what they should value in their children’s education. So he sent out a survey and asked them.

“I was shocked,” Shibler said 25 years later in recalling the strong community response. “I had people attaching narratives to their surveys, thanking me and saying, ‘This is the first time anyone’s ever asked my opinion.’”

Thus began the first Rockford Action Model for Success – better known as RAMS – a strategic plan to determine directions and priorities for the nearly 8,000-student school system. Compiled every three years since then, the RAMS documents guide the district in everything from teaching and learning goals to finances, community services and public relations.

Now comes RAMS IX, the ninth volume of the series, which took effect Jan. 1. Its nearly 100 goals grew out of extensive surveys of staff, students and parents, hours of committee meetings and detailed reviews by administrators. The Board of Education approved the document in December and stamped it with its own statement of support.

Published in glossy magazine format as well as on the district website, the report’s student-designed cover shows a blueprint with a Rockford Ram in the middle. The symbolism is important, Shibler said.

“It’s a direct blueprint,” he said. “I can say to the community that we’re going to be better this year than we were last. And that we’re going to be better next year than we are this year. I can prove it.”

‘A Living Document’

RAMS IX represents months of preparation resulting in a wide range of specific goals in eight categories. Far from sitting on a shelf gathering dust, it will be a “living document” whose implementation will be monitored over the next three years, Shibler said, adding almost all RAMS goals to date have been met.

He points to previous plans that have produced changes. For instance, RAMS VIII called for collaboration with higher education, a goal realized with the Early College Program for high school students with Ferris State University. This year’s new orchestra program also was a RAMS VIII goal.

Other goals are ongoing. For example, the district’s high schoolcompetency test required to earn a diploma grew out of a question Shibler first asked the community in 1989. Ninety-six percent of respondents supported the test. He has repeated the question on every RAMS survey since then.

The latest survey was taken last spring with the aid of the Gartner & Associates marketing firm. Nearly 2,000 people responded, including community residents, high school students and staff members. They answered dozens of questions on everything from how satisfied they are with instruction and services to how safe students felt from bullying. Ninety-two percent of current parents gave Rockford schools an overall A or B grade, while 79 percent of students gave the same grades.  

Committees of school leaders and board members reviewed the surveys to set rough goals, which were further refined by Shibler and administrators before being approved in two readings by the school board. Committees of administrators and teachers will work to ensure goals are accomplished over the next three years.

The final document is handsomely designed and illustrated with photos. It is also deliberately devoid of jargon and “educationese” so that it is clear to the parents, business owners and civic leaders who will receive it, Shibler said: “My goal is that a person on the street in downtown Rockford could take these goals and understand what they are.”

Honors such as being a national Blue Ribbon District of Excellence attest to the RAMS plans’ effectiveness, Shibler added. As the longest-serving superintendent in Kent County, he wants it to continue well into the future to ensure it remains “part of the culture.”

“I know today the RAMS model would stand long after I’m gone,” Shibler said, “because people feel it works.”

Note: The report will be available from the Rockford Public Schools website Jan. 27th

Charles Honey
Charles Honey is a freelance writer and former columnist for The Grand Rapids Press/ MLive.com. As a reporter for The Press from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today magazine and the Aquinas College alumni magazine. Read Charles' full bio.

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