Rocky an educational innovator
The district has churned out more National Merit scholars in its history than any other school in the Quad-Cities area.
Its athletic teams have captured plenty of the spotlight too. The Rock Island High School football team was a state semifinalist last year, capturing second place in its division. The school's basketball, baseball, softball, track, wrestling, swimming, bowling, golf and tennis teams also have been represented at state tournaments.
The school district has pioneered several programs and policies before other schools. For example, Rock Island's Horace Mann school was one of the area's first year-round schools and prompted the creation of a second such school in the district -- Grant Intensive Basic.
The district adopted policies requiring athletes to keep at least a 2.0 grade-point average to participate in extracurricular events, and all students to show competence in subjects before going to the next grade, all before Illinois called for such actions when approving a school-finance reform package last December.
Rock Island-Milan taxpayers also overwhelmingly approved a bond-referendum last November, perhaps setting a record for the largest margin of victory. District voters have had a long tradition of supporting school-referendum issues.
Financially, the district has an investment-grade rating, making it easier to sell bonds.
The district regularly sponsors an education conference that draws thousands of educators from across the bi-state area. A related medals-of-honor banquet gives selected students special recognition.
Yet, despite its many accomplishments, the Rock Island-Milan school district still gets an unfair share of bad publicity, officials believe. In an attempt to better convey the benefits of being in the school district, officials joined forces with the city and the Development Association of Rock Island to hire a community marketing director two years ago.
``The overall goal of the job is to attract people to Rock Island,'' according to Jill Miklas, the first marketing director.
A ``subhead'' of that overall goal was to raise people's perception of Rock Island, she said in an earlier interview.
Current marketing director Beverly Murray took over the job last year and spends two days a week promoting Rock Island-Milan schools and three days publicizing other aspects of the city.
Having a marketing or public-relations person is not all that unusual, superintendent Bill Mitchell said.
``The part that is rare is having a single individual working for three different public-sector entities,'' he said. ``It has helped give the school and community an opportunity to begin to convey a more accurate picture of Rock Island.''
In additon, a ``Rocky Pride Council'' was created at the high school two years ago to work on improving the school's image and reputation. The council consists of student, staff and parent groups.
Such improved marketing efforts will benefit all parties, Mr. Mitchell said. It ultimately will help encourage more people and businesses to move into the area.
There is no shortage of events and achievements to publicize.
In addition to being rated one of the top nine schools by Ohio-based research company School-Match, in a 1994 issue of ``American Demographics'' magazine, and having top scholars and athletes, Rock Island-Milan schools also can boast award-winning bands, choirs, orchestras, speech teams, theater groups and cheerleading squads.
Rocky is the only school in the Quad-Cities with an Air Force Junior ROTC program and a day-care center operating on school grounds to help teen parents stay in school.
More Rock Island-Milan teachers have been recognized in The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus Master Teacher program than any other area school district, and traditionally have garnered a lion's share of grants from a variety of foundations and organizations.
Other signs of intense Rocky Pride can be seen by the number of people who responded to attempts to compile an alumni directory. Printers of the book reported they had never received such a large response from any other school, Mr. Mitchell said.
Support of booster clubs and consistent large turnouts of parents and community members to school-related events are uncommonly strong signs of loyalty to Rocky, he said.
``It was easy to see as a newcomer to the area four years ago that Rock Island High School is the centerpiece of the community in many peoples' eyes,'' Mr. Mitchell said. ``I feel the Quad-Cities, overall, is one of the best-kept secrets around, but we're not always our own best emissaries.''
-- By Leon Lagerstam (February 2, 1998)
Copyright © 1998 Moline Dispatch Publishing Company, L.L.C.