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As the Board Instructed: Student Growth and Engagement By Rev. Linda Butler

As the Board Instructed: Student Growth and Engagement

By Rev. Linda Butler, Vice-President, Peoria School Board

In 2010 when the majority of the Peoria School Board hired Dr. Grenita Lathan to be the Superintendent of Peoria Public Schools, it was a repeated request by the board that the new superintendent bring a change to the education program by improving instruction and curriculum. Because of the recent board election, budget cuts, and strategic planning for the next three to five years, our school district and its leaders need our community’s support now more than ever to sustain and continue its academic growth and student engagement.

Manual Black History month poetry(Butler)-480No board member can say that district leadership is not meeting the expectations of growth for students and staff. Dr. Lathan and the District’s leadership team is providing more training and resources to teachers and staff so that they can be more prepared to reach students of all cultures and academic levels, as well as raise the bar for learning. In addition to learning, our children, including those living in the poorest zip codes of our city and country, are increasingly engaged, being introduced and exposed to opportunities that very few in our neighborhoods previously even knew about at such young ages. Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) is allowing our students the chance to not only learn what opportunities are available to them after high school for college and career, but they are getting to visit and see those opportunities first hand. AVID is a college readiness program that provides support to students in preparation for their future. It is primarily aimed toward students who can be successful if given extra support. Students learn organizational skills such as note-taking, participate in career exploration activities and are provided support for embarking on a rigorous college preparatory path. “It’s a program for kids who may need that extra push in school. It’s a program that does all that it can to make sure a child is on the right path. As teenagers, we’re so impressionable and try so hard to make a good impression on everyone. So this is the best time to mold our hearts and brains into being the best individuals we can be. AVID helps accomplish that by allowing students to share their opinions with philosophical chairs, reading important articles…and bringing in fantastic, life-changing guest speakers…” an AVID student recently wrote to Board Members about her experiences.

Since 2011, the District received authorization for two new International Baccalaureate (IB) Middle Years Programmes and hope to receive authorization yet this spring for two Primary Years Programmes, including Trewyn K-8. It was Dr. Lathan with support of the Board of Education that saw the potential in all regions of our District to make available such a renowned world-wide program. These four programs will complement our high school IB Diploma Programme that has been in existence for more than 20 years at Richwoods High School.

motown PHS 2(butler)-480While our state assessment results, which the State removed in 2014, may not show significant student growth, the national assessments (DIBELS, NWEA, etc.) that we utilize in District 150 tell a different story. In District 150, students in grades K-4 take an assessment 3 times per year called, DIBELS (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills). This allows for our teachers and administrators to have multiple data points as evidence of student achievement and not just the ISAT or PSAE, which was given once per year. For three consecutive years, Peoria District 150 Kindergarten students have scored above the national norms in reading. At the end of the 2013-14 school year, three of the five grade level results show that Peoria students scored at and above the national norms. Six of our primary schools hit every national norm at every grade level. Four other schools hit 1-4 of the five national grade level targets. At the end of the 2013-14 school year, every District 150 primary school showed an increase in the number of students who scored at the “on grade level” performance level; these increases ranged from 2% to 15%. Glen Oak and Woodrow Wilson each saw a 16% increase in their students who scored at the level to indicate grade level performance. This performance progress can be attributed to the focus on differentiated instruction and the additional time allocated for reading instruction.

PHS step team(butler)-480At the high school level, access to Advanced Placement courses, which potentially allows a student to earn college credit upon successful completion of an end-of-course assessment, is building in all regions of the District. In 2012, Manual Academy had only 18 students even attempt the assessment. In 2014, that number grew to 76. Peoria High School has grown from 36 to 223, while Richwoods has grown from 321 to 763 AP students tested.

Dr. Lathan and her staff support activities that have included the interest of student

talent not only showcased in the traditional competition of academics and sports, but also culturally based activities. There is a growth in student participation in dance, step, and spoken word. Also there has been collaboration with black Greek organizations and black professional organizations to grow student engagement activities within the school district and community. An example is a monthly Engineered to be Best camp for sixth through eighth grade students facilitated by the Central Illinois Chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers. The camp introduces our young students to the world of engineering and the skills needed to become an engineer. Such a cultural inclusion for a district that has over 60% African-American students is significant to student engagement.

Lincoln choir(Butler)-480Even more exciting is the student care and activities for summer 2015. The District has partners with agencies in the community including churches, the public library, park district programs, Boys and Girls Club and others to provide free breakfasts and/or lunches to any child 18 years and younger. The District projects the number of meals provided to increase over last summer, serving 25,000 breakfasts and 50,000 lunches over the course of a couple of months. The District reached out to make this possible for our community through the USDA Summer Meal Program, which provides reimbursement to the District for each meal served. In addition to partnering with the community sites, the District will also open several schools this summer to invite students to continue learning through Compass Learning, an online resource available to every District student.

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With all the above, it doesn’t make sense for some to want to change district leadership because of strong emotions and opinions and disregard data and evidence that needed change has come to Peoria School District 150. Upon hearing an individual advocate to remove current administration, I point them to the board directives to this administration and their efforts to fulfill those directives. Yes, the gain has brought some pain, but the way things were, it could not remain.

Recently I’ve been asked a lot about the longevity of the current leadership. I must admit I am concerned. Not because the district is not progressing, but because the true purpose for the education program is devalued by personal and political agendas within the community.

I do not claim that all is perfect in the district. However, the things that need improvement are attainable without the disruption of current administration.

I hope our community, especially those who are tied into the needs and interests of the students will hold school board members accountable to the course set for Peoria Public Schools in 2010.