Rockford — With a new elementary school opening in the fall and renovations coming at two other buildings, big things are afoot at Rockford Public Schools, and the district has opted to bump up its strategic planning process to capitalize on the current momentum.
The district’s last plan, dubbed RAMS XI, was initially set to be updated in December, but because of all the activity at the district, work for the RAMS XII plan is getting underway now, said Superintendent Steve Matthews.
“In the fall of 2023, we had a discussion among our administrative group and decided that it might be appropriate for us to push it up a little, and instead of December 2024, try to update the strategic plan by August of 2024,” Matthews said. “We have a lot of new things happening in the district.”
In addition to the opening of Edgerton Trails Elementary, there’s also work being done at North Rockford Middle School and Roguewood Elementary. The middle school is getting a new sixth-grade wing and a new orchestra room and parking lot by the end of the school year, while Roguewood is getting a new gym, which should be complete sometime this summer. The district is also reevaluating its elementary attendance boundaries to accommodate the opening of Edgerton Trails.
“Put all those things together and it seems like a good time for us to take stock of where we’re at and to open a new chapter in Rockford Public Schools,” Matthews said.
‘The important thing for our community to understand is that we really take seriously this idea that we’re trying to build something great. We’re trying to work together so that we have a community-wide vision.’— Rockford Superintendent Steve Matthews
Input From Students, Teachers
The district started thinking about its next three-year strategic plan in the fall, sending out surveys to parents, community leaders and students. The surveys kicked off the information-gathering phase of the planning process, which will continue through January with focus groups for community leaders and stakeholders.
“We’re asking some more in-depth questions that were generated from the survey,” Matthews said. “The intent is kind of to identify what our goals are for the district — ‘What do we hope our students will become?’”
The focus groups will lead to further discussion about the district’s goals and how best to meet them.
“That could include all kinds of things,” Matthews said. “It could include changes in curriculum; it could include a more intense focus in a particular area; it could involve new building projects in the district, depending on what we find. It could identify new opportunities for us to work with our community as well.”
The fall survey yielded some interesting results, he said, noting that students placed an emphasis on mental health and social-emotional support, as well as co- and extracurricular activities.
Parents and teachers emphasized the importance of teaching critical thinking, so one component of the planning process will be to identify exactly what that means for Rockford students, and how teachers might strengthen efforts to teach critical-thinking skills in the classroom.
Matthews said students’ opinions are crucial to the process, and they’ll continue to be included.
“(Students’) voices are really important to us because they’re the ones that come to school every day,” he said. “They’re the ones who, ultimately, we’re creating the district for. So we wanted to be very intentional about getting their voice involved in this.”
A first draft of the RAMS XII plan is set to be presented to the Board of Education in June. From there, more workshopping will take place with the hope of getting a final plan before the board sometime in August.
The general community will have a chance to provide input when the plans come up at board meetings in the summer.
“The important thing for our community to understand is that we really take seriously this idea that we’re trying to build something great. We’re trying to work together so that we have a community-wide vision,” Matthews said. “If we can clarify that, then we’ll be able to identify specific action steps we can take to help us get there.”
Matthews said the district is going full steam ahead with its work on the plan in an attempt to get it approved prior to the start of the 2024-25 school year.
“It’s an aggressive timeline, and the reason for that is that we believe that it’s important to have a clarity of vision of what we’re trying to accomplish in the district,” he said. “The goal really has been, and is, to identify who and what we want our students to become, and what the school district can do to help facilitate that.”
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