- RELATED ARTICLES FROM THE REGISTER STAR: Judy Emerson's column, "Thompson skedaddled before situation got ugly" (9/17/07)
- Register Star article on Kenneth Jackson (9/17/07)
A column by Rockford Register Star (Ill.) columnist Judy Emerson criticizes Collier Schools Superintendent Dennis Thompson's track record running Rockford schools, citing his handling of a situation regarding a school principal who wasn't certified be be an education administrator in Illinois.
A story in the Registar Star today said "Kenneth Jackson failed one test required to maintain his credentials as principal of Jefferson High."
In the column, headlined "Thompson skedaddled before situation got ugly," posted to the Register star's Web site, www.rrstar.com on Monday, the same principal is accused by Emerson of changing students' grades from failing to passing in situations she says where students didn't earn those grades.
Emerson accuses Thompson of "supporting Jackson’s grade shenanigans."
She says she asked Thompson about the grading in an editorial board meeting with him, and that his response, "We're checking on that," was Thompson's way of "stalling while he finalized his Florida deal."
Some administrators refuted that claim.
"[Thompson] told Jackson that it didn't fit in with district policy, and he should change [the grades] back," said Dr. Richard Fairgrieves, Regional Superintendent of Schools for the Boone-Winnebago region in Illinois.
Officials from District 205 in Rockford, Thompson's former district, criticized the timing of Emerson's column.
"It's one thing to speculate about that now, after the developments in the media that weren't on the radar screen when Dr. Thompson left," said Mark Bonne, a spokesman for the district and a former columnist for the Register Star. "If you turn back the clock, the community was taken by surprise, and I don't think anyone would have envisioned a column like the one Judy just wrote, being in our future."
Bonne described Thompson as a "popular superintendent," especially amongst the business community, during his tenure in Rockford.
About Kenneth Jackson, Bonne said the new superintendent and administration was "doing what's right and legal, despite what's being said in the media." He said he couldn't comment on Jackson because it was a personnel issue.
Fairgrieves said that Jackson's certification was current until Aug. 27, which means he was certified under Thompson's tenure.
Jackson's certification was revoked because he didn't pass or take all of the necessary tests to update his provisional certification he received when he came from Michigan. He had been suspended with pay by the school district shortly before then while the grade-changing incident is investigated, according to Fairgrieves.
Thompson said when he hired Jackson to the district, he told him that he wanted to improve student behavior and student achievement at Jefferson High School.
"There are many good teachers at Jefferson. But many teachers were grading students on attitude and behavior," he said. "Grades should be based on academic achievement. I had teachers who, a week after school started, told me they could tell me who the A students were, who the D students were. After a week?"
Thompson said the Rockford School District did some research and found that 12 of Jefferson's teachers had failure rates of more than 70 percent. He said he supported an initiative from Jackson to change the grades of students from Fs to Ds if the teachers did not call parents of failing students.
"If the teacher could show that they had called the parents, we would change the grade back," he said. "I wanted to ensure we were grading kids on what they could do and not what their behavior is."
Thompson said he received complaints from the Rockford Education Association, which represents the teachers, that Jackson was not changing the grades back once they had shown him proof they had called students' parents.
"I met with Jackson and asked if the grades had been changed. We were going to meet with the counselors and look at the grades before the start of school, but then I was placed on administrative leave," he said.
The Rockford School Board placed Thompson on administrative leave while he interviewed for the superintendent's position in Naples, which he accepted last month.
"I left three weeks before school started and the counselors weren't back at school," he said. "I don't know what happened after I left."
Thompson said he stands behind his decision to support Jackson about the grades.
"It should be about academic achievement," he said.
Daily News staff contributed to this report