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updated: 4/26/2011 5:35 PM

Time to cut ties to schools consultant

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Daily Herald Editorial Board

It's not the topics that bother us. Data-driven instruction and technology integration sound OK as subject matter for educators, if a little heavy on the jargon.

It's not even the money, as far as anyone can tell. Whether Grayslake Elementary District 46 takes a profit or loss from a two-day conference it's hosting Thursday and Friday won't be known until the event ends, says Superintendent Ellen Correll. That sounds a little imprecise, but at least there's no airfare to Disney World this time.

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Our objection to the conference stems from District 46's continued symbiotic relationship with the private Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence Inc., which basks in the limelight of a similarly named federal recognition program and gives prestigious-sounding awards to some school districts that hire the South Carolina company as a consultant.

District 46 is one of those, having spent more than $76,000 for Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence consulting and conventions in the past three years, during which the company gave awards to Prairieview, Meadowview and Woodview schools.

Those Blue Ribbon Lighthouse awards, touted on signs and flags at the schools and in news releases, have nothing but the name in common with the Blue Ribbon School awards given for free to high-performing schools by the U.S. Department of Education.

Truly excellent schools don't need this kind of duplicitous setup.

We're pleased that the Grayslake school district is sharing expertise locally at this week's conference. In fact, we previously challenged administrators to do that rather than send dozens of staffers to expensive conferences, as they did in the past four years when employees traveled to North Charleston, S.C., Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Orlando, Fla., to pick up the Lighthouse awards.

Now, it's time for the school district to stand on its own feet, seeking recognition without financial strings and planning professional development in a way that students and staff don't have to share the profit with Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence Inc.

Grayslake schools' tight finances make that step all the more crucial.

It's not the only school district to have an arrangement that enriches a private educational consultant.

Yet at a time when transparency is the watchword and schools frequently are perceived -- sometimes unfairly -- as spendthrifts, no school district can afford to keep up such a relationship.

It needn't mean the end of awards. If Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence Inc. truly propelled Grayslake schools forward during their five-year link, recognition should be arriving from other well-known sources -- sources with no financial relationship to muddy the water.

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