A Letter to the Editor of the Telegraph

As the threat of a teacher’s strikes looms; I feel compelled to respond to the impending crisis facing the students and families of the Dixon Public School (DPS) system and so I write this letter to the editor.  I’ll get straight to my point. Here’s what we know. There are two sides, the Board (including the Administration of the DPS) and the teachers. We also know there is money designated for the purposes of educating EVERY child in the DPS. We also know that sports are not mandated; but, free and appropriate public education is. So, it’s safe to assume that educating the children of this community is our number one priority, correct?  On this we can all agree, right?

So, the real issue at the heart of this disagreement is money.  We’ve already agreed our priority is the students of the DPS; obviously the disagreement before us as a community is HOW the money will be spent!  We’re not disagreeing money is VERY tight! We live in the state of Illinois! Seems like there are differing opinions as to HOW MUCH money there really is and in what funds the money exists; but, the bottom line is our priority. HOW will be the money be spent educating the students of DPS? How we spend money speaks our priorities.  If we look at our personal finances; we’d see where our personal priorities lie. How we spend our district’s money speaks our district’s priorities!

Let’s look at what appear to be the Board and Administration’s priorities for the students of DPS.  The Board prioritizes spending money on 4.78% raises for district administrators (including a 4 year, 6% raise each year for the Superintendent). The Board prioritizes buying land (after ignoring the Marshall’s land donation). The Board prioritizes building a sports complex as well as a new K-12 campus.

Now, let’s look at what appears to be the teacher’s union’s priorities. The Union prioritizes spending money on the staff who teaches our students. The reduction of 25 staff has resulted in significantly increased class sizes.  The teacher’s union prioritizes meeting the needs of all students including student with special needs who need more and not less individualized and specialized instruction and/or support.  The teacher’s union prioritizes having adequate and appropriate teaching tools including textbooks and supplies; and, up-to-date technology for the district’s students. The teacher’s union prioritizes adequate supervision for DPS student’s safety. The teacher’s union prioritizes being insured so they are healthy to teach. And, the teacher’s union prioritizes fair compensation for their efforts which led them to previously agree to a soft-salary freeze. The teacher’s prioritized the financial needs of the district.

What does this all say? I believe we need to question our Board’s priorities.  I’ll admit to a biased perspective. June, 2012 I retired as a 32 veteran Speech/Language Pathologist for Lee County Special Education Association (LCSEA). DPS is the primary consumer of LCSEA’s services.  I served the majority of my teaching career meeting the communication needs of Dixon preschoolers with special needs. You should also know; I retired three years early at a significant cost to my lifetime earnings and retirement benefits. I sought and paid for the early retirement option because I questioned the priorities of the Dixon Board of Education and its impact on the programs and services of LCSEA.

When I became a Speech/Language Pathologist; I chose to work in the public schools because I wanted to make a difference in the lives of children with communication challenges. For the first 29 years of my career; I believe I did that. Up until that time, I taught approximately 40 students each year.  My 30th year of teaching I went from teaching around 40 students to teaching around 60 students. (A Speech/Language Pathologist retired that year; she was one of the 25 teachers not replaced. Her students were divided between me and another Speech/Language Pathologist, Kathy Mayer who no longer works for the DPS).  That same year, Mr. Juenger became the Superintendent of DPS.

I spoke my concern to the administration at that time. I spoke my priorities. I spoke about meeting the needs of the children with special needs that I served. I was told; “you will teach 60 children” and I did; but I did so at a cost to my students and their families. There was simply no way I could do what I’d done for 40 students when I had 60 students.  I believed the students suffered; hence, my decision to retire early. I could no longer be a part of a system that was not prioritizing its students!

I know my teaching circumstances have not been the only teaching circumstances that have changed in the last 4 years and those changes have negatively impacted our students.  As a result; I have serious concern for all of the students of our community. I’m not the only teacher whose teaching and supervision responsibilities increased dramatically in these last four years. I’m not the only certified educator who was expected to do considerably more with considerably less staff, assistance, materials, and support.  Simply put; our teachers are being asked to do much more with much less!  So, I ask you, Dixon community. What are your priorities?  Highly paid administrators and a sports complex or our student’s education? How we spend our money speaks our priorities!

Cheri Stewart,

Former LCSEA Speech/Language Pathologist & Speech/Language Supervisor (1980-2012) and current Pastor of Prophetstown United Methodist Church

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3 Responses to A Letter to the Editor of the Telegraph

  1. Kim Zera says:

    Thank you Mrs. Stewart for “saying it all”. I am the mother of a special needs student. Because of the larger class sizes it makes it even more difficult for inclusion. My son’s regular ed class now has 27 students. The classroom is barely large enough to hold these students. They have no area for movement and no area for circle time. 27 students with one teacher!!! We need more teachers to teach. I went through this time with Mrs. Stewart that she is talking about when her load increased substantially, I felt her struggle and I also felt the struggle of my non-verbal son even though she made sure no child was left behind. Cheri Stewart changed the world for my child as I know every teacher wants to make an impact on our children. Please listen to our educators, they are the future for where our children are headed. Thank you again Mrs. Stewart for getting the word out. You are so missed!!!!

  2. Sophroana L Chambers says:

    Well said Cheri, you served our system well. Thank you for really putting it out there,I so agree. Sophroana Chambers

  3. Stacy Long says:

    Thank you Cheri for voicing your opinion. It’s good to hear from those who are or have been IN the system. Another thing that I’d like to address is the accelerated classroom sizes. A few years ago, my child was invited to be in the accelerated classroom of which contained nearly 20 students. The administration was happy to state that the classroom sizes were smaller in that room in order to accommodate the teacher assisting the students with the tougher homework regimen. I do understand the principle of a smaller class size for this reason and it is a great thought –> should we live in an ideal world. But since the regular classroom sizes are increasing to over 25 to nearly 30 students, don’t we think we could allow for the accelerated classroom sizes to increase as well? The year after my child was invited into the accelerated program, she did not have the opportunity to be in it again due to the fact that they were making the accelerated classroom size even smaller (I believe it was 15-16 students). In all fairness, I do not know what the numbers of the accelerated programs are now – maybe they’ve balanced them out.
    It IS great, on some levels, to mainstream the students who need extra assistance into the regular classrooms. Yet without the proper supportive staff in those regular classrooms to assist the students who have been mainstreamed, the teachers are now academically teaching MANY different levels in the regular classrooms while the accelerated classrooms teachers and students do not have as many stressors that are caused by the many different academic levels in one classroom. Teaching the SAME level is difficult enough let alone many different levels. I’ve also been made aware that there truly are “acting out” issues that the teachers and students are subject to in the regular classrooms.
    I am saddened that it comes to money. Seems like many things always come down that. Yes, look at the state we live in – in the red. Look at the country we live in – horribly in debt as well. I surely understand the desire for the 6% increase every year for 5 years. However, I do hope that is a bargaining chip for the union and they are willing to settle for less. 30% increase in 5 years ? Seeing the financial issues of the schools in our community – both from the teachers aspect of “a worker is worth his/her wages” as well as the administration’s side of “the money is not there” … as a parent, my desire is to have more staff (teachers and aides) so that the class sizes can be smaller and the teachers can have the appropriate support for the students who are in need of a little extra assistance or who disrupt classes with misbehavior. In speaking of misbehavior, if there are policies in place to handle the students who misbehave – maybe we should follow those policies instead of not following through with those policies for the sake of the students who are there to learn. Don’t get me wrong, giving grace and mercy is surely commendable, but are we setting the precedent that discipline for repeated behavior will not ensue?
    “Fairness” is what DPS seems to have as an unspoken motto on many levels of the students’ career (be it academics or athletics or clubs). An agreement that would be fair for the teachers, workable for the budget, and FAIR FOR THE STUDENTS whether they are special needs, average, or above average should be something that can be obtained.

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