Superintendent’s Response 5-29-12 What happens when decades of “Educational Malpractice” have been allowed to permeate the foundation of an educational system? Across the board failure and completely unacceptable results from staff and students! At the time of my appointment as Superintendent of Peoria Public Schools, the state had declared the district a failing district. Over 50% of the schools were designated as low performing by the state definition. The district was in its seventh year of academic failure. More than 80% of our graduating seniors entering Illinois Central College via an initiative by Mayor Ardis called Peoria Promise entered as remedial students. Simply put, the district was failing: Failing children, parents, teachers and our community. This failure did not occur because of happenstance. Nor is it related to the low income levels of our parents, or the color of our student’s skin, or even our district finances. Rather, failure occurred because we allowed it to happen. We did not demand excellence from our students, our teachers, or our administrators. For example, rather than dismissing poorly performing non-tenured teachers, our administration passed them off to other buildings year after year, until they received tenure. This pattern of failure will no longer be allowed to continue. Without a doubt, during the
last two years the bar has been raised. District administration, principals and teachers are working together to meet expectations of improvement and success. Change takes only a moment, but transformation takes a lifetime! Working together, we have made some progress. It is anticipated that our high school graduation rate will improve this year. This is not by accident, but via intentional planning and accountability for all. Home School Facilitators, counselors and attendance clerks have sought out students that were missing in action and successfully gotten them to attend and actively participate in school. Being present is the first prerequisite for learning. Our credit recovery program allowed students that had failed core course work to make up this work and be on track for graduation. It is my job and responsibility as superintendent to ensure that all students learn and grow through focused instructional practices. As mandated by the state, the district’s focus has been on instruction and student learning. These basic tenets of education drive the conditions to school improvement. School leadership is a keystone to school improvement. To empower our principals, we focused principal professional development on the roles and responsibilities of instructional leaders. We expect that our principal’s
daily duties include those of an instructional leader, who sets high goals for teaching and learning and monitors these expectations. We expect for principals to collaborate with teachers, inspect classroom instruction, and provide timely and purposeful feedback to teachers about their teaching practices. School leaders are expected to coach and support teachers through the accountability-oriented district environment. The "Walk Through," a frequent and focused visit to schools, has been our strategy for observing instruction, understanding the curriculum needs of staff, and developing professional development. To give support to principals we conducted a curriculum walk through to every school. This approach was different from previous central office support. Our focused and frequent visits allowed central office staff to engage principals in reflective practices allowing them to be more knowledgeable about curriculum and instructional delivery in their classrooms. This support gave immediate attention to the challenges principals faced with curriculum and instructional leadership and demonstrated a model for how principals were expected to conduct their own school walk throughs. This strategy will continue to help our principals implement the district strategic plan and establish professional dialogue that facilitates improvements in teaching practices and student learning.
My administration has embraced the union, parents and the community as partners in our efforts to make Peoria Promise a reality. While we are only in the infancy of the Parent University, the Peoria Council for Continuous Improvement, and a transparent system of operation, we are committed to seeing these projects through to their maturity. We do not intend to leave any child or teacher behind as we soar to academic success. In line with this goal, we have provided teachers and staff high quality professional development throughout the year during instructional time and at a rate of $26 per hour outside of the work day. Our programs have focused on a student-centered learning climate that supports the whole child. We are in the process of upgrading the curriculum to support rigor and high-quality engagement for both children and teachers. Collaboration with the union and other stakeholders has been ongoing since April of 2010. We collaborated to write a school improvement grant for Manual and Peoria High School for which we were awarded a total of $6 million for each school over a three year period, we collaborated to create a new teacher evaluation instrument that will be implemented district wide beginning in August of 2012. The majority of the evaluation committee members were teachers and two union officers have
collaborated with administration to complete the final document that has been presented to teachers across the district for the past month. We also collaborated to submit the scope of work for the Race to the Top state grant in March. Finally, I meet with the union on a monthly basis through the areas of consultations and answer questions that teachers have about district initiatives, operations or other issues that might come up on a monthly basis. The public can view those questions and responses on our district’s website. Many in Peoria’s educational system have demanded change. Indeed, that is the overall charge I was given when I was hired. However, a vocal few are intent on remaining on the same path…one that leads backwards. A culture of failure has been allowed to exist for too long. For example, prior to my arrival, many students attended District 150 high schools for three or four years yet still had not earned the credits necessary to be considered as having completed their freshman year. It is unacceptable for a school system to allow a student to attend high school for four years while only earning nine credit hours. Do these kinds of facts reflect the culture of excellence our school system must demand of itself? How many children have to suffer before we accept responsibility and embrace the necessary changes to rise to
academic excellence? Someone has to speak for the children here who are suffering. Our strategic plan, curriculum staff, parental and student expectations will reflect a belief that all children can succeed. Our efforts and expectations will demonstrate to students that they are not limited by their circumstances. A belief to the contrary should not be tolerated. The country mandates federal educational improvement and I agree that the mission of public schools is to educate our children to become productive and successful citizens. The failure of Peoria Public Schools will not be resolved in two years but by working collaboratively. But, collaboration does not mean capitulation. Students, parents, teachers, community, the unions and the administration must be driven by a single purpose and not allow failure to be an option. Accountability and data are here to stay if our children are to perform and compete with children who have already mastered 21st century skills. Change is usually hard, painful, and uncomfortable, especially for adults, but the present changes are not only needed but mandated by state and federal guidelines. Educating children is our mission, productive citizenship is our goal. We cannot continue to crawl. We must not only walk, but run to the finish line. Our children and community deserve it. The Board and I still stand ready to
partner with those willing to make a difference for the children in Peoria Public Schools.