|Meet Our Superintendent|
Special Announcements and Resources:
This weekend, 685 Peoria Public Schools students will graduate from our three high schools at ceremonies held at Bradley University’s Renaissance Coliseum. To date, Peoria Public Schools’ class of 2017 has accumulated nearly six million dollars in grants and scholarships. We have one National Merit Scholarship finalist and 44 State Scholars. Please help me in congratulating the class of 2017!
In recent weeks I have written about Equal Opportunity Schools (EOS), our effort to encourage under-represented high school students to enroll in Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses; Early College or dual credit courses and the Peoria Public Schools/ICC Strong Start program, in which students attend early college courses on the Illinois Central College (ICC) campus.
The principles of another Peoria Public Schools college-readiness program – Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) – have been a growing piece for many Peoria Public Schools for the last several years. At the middle and high school level, AVID is an elective course which teaches study-skills methods. AVID is specifically designed to address the needs of students who will be the first in their families to attend college.
In the AVID elective, students learn organizational skills, study skills and critical-thinking skills. They also learn soft skills required for academic success in high school and college. For example, many students struggle simply to ask for help if they do not understand a concept. In AVID, students work with peers and college tutors to overcome the hesitancy to ask for assistance and guidance.
I recently had a chance to speak with AVID teachers from Peoria High School, Richwoods High School and Manual Academy. Below are some of their comments about the AVID program.
True leaders go on journeys and take others with them.
“The biggest improvements I have seen is the willingness of AVID students to collaborate and take on leadership roles in other areas of the school. The tutorials and collaboration strategies students learn in the AVID elective are used in courses schoolwide, and AVID students have confidence in their own ability to use those strategies. Through this increase in confidence, they are willing to share and take on roles within the school that are often uncommon in high schoolers. For example, our seniors led the AVID 8th-grade recruitment, led Preparatory School for the Arts (PSA) events, were elected student council officers, wrote for the school newspaper and were athletic leaders. They are more likely to join clubs, activities and athletics.
The AVID students’ willingness to contribute and the self-confidence they display is particularly exceptional because these are not students that necessarily started at the top academically. Most of these students fall in the middle, and some might have been labeled as difficult. They may have needed extra support academically, socially or emotionally. AVID presents a family atmosphere that is unique. We aren’t racing to the top against each other but with each other.
Our AVID seniors achieved their goals by overcoming obstacles. They found their way from the middle to the elite. That achievement is extraordinary. Often students are not able to overcome the fear of failure or find a place of comfort within a large group to move into elite status. Our 2017 AVID seniors were able to move into the elite.”
Adam O’Neill, Peoria High School
Manual Academy’s ten graduating AVID seniors are attending Illinois Central College, Illinois Wesleyan University, Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville and Western Illinois University, studying business, nursing, business law and political science. At Manual Academy, many AVID students begin the program in the 8th grade. In their senior year, AVID students learn how to complete FAFSA, college and scholarship applications and to understand the financial aide and college loan system. They also go on college visits.
“Over the years, I have observed the AVID students inquiry techniques and study habits develop. They know the right questions to ask, they know what to study and how. The primary change I have noticed is the improvement in their organizational skills. The students monitor their grades regularly and proactively seek ways to improve their GPA. Students tell me that the AVID program helps them stay focused.”
Mary Newman-Evans, Manual Academy
“Of the 21 seniors at Richwoods High School who are graduating from AVID, 100 percent of them have been accepted to at least one four-year college or university. Our students have been accepted to Illinois State University, Kentucky, Alabama, Jackson State University and the list goes on.
I am so proud of them and their hard work and determination. These students have taken the AVID elective for four years and I have watched them mature and grow into outstanding young adults. Not all of them have chosen to attend at four-year college, but they all know now that they have the potential to achieve great things in their futures, and I couldn’t be more proud to help them reach their academic goals. I am grateful to the Peoria Public Schools leadership and their belief in the AVID program. Without it, many of these kids may have fallen through the cracks.”
Phil Earhart, Richwoods High School
AVID provides another step toward realizing the Peoria Public Schools’ Vision -- educating and graduating each student prepared and inspired to contribute to the world.
I always enjoy hearing from parents and getting feedback on their experiences. I especially enjoyed receiving this kind note today!
I would just like to say thank-you for the amazing education you and your staff have provided for my children. My daughter is a Senior at Richwoods and doing very well. Thank you!
Also, I would like to express thanks to Brett Elliot. He has done just an amazing job this year at Richwoods. (My daughter) has been excited and had the most fun this year with him at Richwoods. We are lucky!
She is leaving 150, but I have one more at Washington, then looking forward to her time at Richwoods. Washington has also been amazing! Thanks to Mr. Poels as well.
This has been an exciting and busy week at the Peoria Public Schools. I was truly gratified to present the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce the Annual State of the Schools address on Wednesday morning. It was a chance to update stakeholders on the amazing progress the Peoria Public Schools is making toward the five pillars of our strategic plan.
There is much good news to share and I will start with this week’s highlights. Last week, we learned that Richwoods High School is ranked 59th in Illinois and 1,881 in the U.S. in the most recent U.S. News and World Report ranking of U.S. high schools. The ratings are based on state assessments and on how well students are prepared for college. U.S. News and World Report awards schools Gold, Silver and Bronze ratings. Only three central Illinois high schools attained a Silver Rating: RHS, Dunlap High School and Tri-Valley High School. This is particularly impressive considering that RHS has low-income and minority student populations significantly higher than the other school districts.
On Tuesday, we showcased new machines donated by Caterpillar Inc. for Manual Academy’s Industrial Technology program that will give students the skills needed to find well-paying manufacturing jobs when they graduate from high school. Equipment rarely available to high school students, like the high-tech hydraulic tube bender and welding stations, represent just one-sixth of the $300,000 three-year investment that Caterpillar has pledged to the Peoria Public Schools.
Let me briefly highlight some of the other accomplishments I shared on Wednesday. Details, including the State of the Schools address and accompanying slides are available to download here.
As we raise the standard of academic rigor for our students, PPS teachers are meeting the challenge. The District currently has 73 National Board Certified Teachers and another 25 are enrolled in training.
We also, however, have 30 openings for teachers. This coming Wednesday, May 10, we will host a Hiring Fair at Woodruff Career and Technical Center (WCTC) from 2 to 6 p.m. Principals from each of our schools will be available to interview certified teachers or May graduates with certification pending. We also will be interviewing for school nurses, teacher aides and bus drivers. The teacher shortage is a national problem which is why PPS is starting a new career pathway for students interested in becoming educators. We can grow our own teachers and keep our students in Peoria as they become productive citizens. I have asked our most recent Illinois Teacher of the Year, Kim Thomas, to help with this effort.
I am confident this progress will continue and grow exponentially, particularly now that Alignment Peoria is up and running, with dedicated Governing and Operating Boards and a highly-skilled Executive Director, Catherine Coyle. If you would like to learn more about Alignment Peoria, I recommend taking the time to read the article in the May issue of InterBusiness Issues (www.peoriamagazines.com). Alignment Peoria’s next step in creating systemic change within the Peoria Public Schools will depend on community stakeholders willing to serve on action teams to address specific obstacles to our success. I invite you to become part of the solution.
Last week, 389 Illinois school superintendents, including myself, representing approximately 1.3 million students, stepped up our efforts to urge Illinois lawmakers to pass a budget and to fix the school funding formula. Here are important points to consider regarding both issues:
Please join me by contacting your state legislators to urge them to pass a budget and fix the school funding formula.
Starting kindergarten is an exciting rite of passage for children and parents. The Peoria Public Schools Kindergarten Transition Fair, Saturday, April 22, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Woodruff Career and Technical Center (WCTC), 1800 N.E. Perry Ave., gives parents and children a great introduction to this important step. By finishing many registration details now, parents can be sure that the transition to school will be smooth in August.
Between late April and early August, each Peoria Public School with kindergarten classrooms will host a Kindergarten Open House to give parents and children a chance to visit the school, see their child’s classroom and meet teachers and other school staff. The dates and times of each school’s Kindergarten Open House are listed on each school’s website calendar or you can download the complete schedule here. Go to www.peoriapublicschools.org and use the pull-down Our Schools menu to find each school’s webpage, then click on the calendar icon for that school to find a calendar of events for each month.
Please help us spread the word that Kindergarten registration is open for all new students starting April 22nd!
To support its vision of “taking pride in educating and graduating each student prepared and inspired to contribute to the world,” Peoria Public Schools is preparing to reimagine high school by developing a Competency-Based Education (CBE) Pilot program.
As announced by Illinois State Superintendent of Education Tony Smith, Ph.D. this week at Manual Academy, ten school districts, including the Peoria Public Schools, were selected to participate in the first cohort of Illinois’ Competency-Based High School Graduation Requirements Pilot Program.
Through structures already in place and outlined in the District strategic plan, we anticipate that the CBE Pilot will open a vast array of opportunities for students to be successful and complete their high school graduation requirements while also pursuing the pathway toward their college and career goals.
CBE is a new and evolving way of viewing secondary education and we are very excited to begin the process. In preparing the proposal to the ISBE to become a CBE Pilot, we used the expertise of our own teaching staff, including Mike Rhodes, Project Lead the Way (PLTW) career program coordinator at Richwoods High School, Manual Academy Industrial Technology teacher Andrew Rice and WCTC Construction Trades teacher Michael Brix, among others.
CBE redefines high school graduation requirements in the form of competencies and performance-based assessments tailored to various career pathways. The competencies for the courses will be culled from Common Core State Standards.
The goal of Phase 1 of the CBE Pilot is to identify the math, English, and science competencies related to the pathway capstone courses for the District’s high school manufacturing, culinary, cosmetology, construction and PLTW career programs, integrate them into the curriculum for those courses and develop the assessment measures to determine mastery of the competencies. Students then can earn credit for the math, English, and/or science required for graduation as part of their career-related courses rather than requiring separate subject-focused courses. Integrated projects, combining academic instruction in math, English, and/or science and demonstration of the competencies will require flexibility. The certified content area specialist will work with a career-based course instructor to define the competencies of mastery, but the course could be taught by either teacher.
Peoria Public Schools is also reimagining the students’ school day. Having flexibility with clock hours will allow students to participate in blended project-based experiences, work offsite in a professional setting and work directly with experts.
The CBE Pilot initiative is expected to engage students who might otherwise drop out or find school irrelevant.
Redefining Ready! is a national initiative launched by the AASA (The School Superintendents Association) to introduce new research-based metrics to more appropriately assess that students are college ready, career ready and life ready. Their website makes the powerful statement that students cannot be reduced to a test score. This assertion is reinforced by Peoria Public School district data that approximately 40 percent of students go directly to the workforce. We must equip those students with immediately employable skills while reducing the six percent dropout rate.
The work of Alignment Peoria and Pathways to Prosperity support these goals and are based on feedback from community stakeholders including businesses and trade unions.
Our immediate course of action will be to identify teachers and a CBE leader for the District and developing a plan for professional development. We anticipate rolling out the first CBE courses for the 2018-2019 school year.
With the CBE Pilot, the Peoria Public Schools are in the vanguard of a paradigm shift for secondary education that is taking place in public school districts nationwide. I am excited and confident that this direction will bring lifelong success to our students and to our region.
This week, we experienced an incident in our district that generated local media coverage and a large public following with help from social media and cell phone video. The spotlight on the district was not the publicity that represents the high majority of our students and staff. In fact, one of the things that an incident like this week overshadows and that doesn’t get reported is the number of incidents that get prevented through the diligence, care and personal relationships developed by our staff members. That happens on a daily basis in Peoria Public Schools.
Our schools are a reflection of our society. As a district, we know and take seriously the role our staff plays in developing relationships with students and parents, so that issues outside of our school buildings, fights and even weapons are not brought into our doors. Providing a safe and supportive learning environment for all students and staff is our top priority. At Peoria High School, “Pride Time” or advisory is one time during each school day that each of the 150+ staff members meets with their assigned group of students, usually 15 or less for each staff member. They check in with each other, utilize curriculum to teach students behavior interventions, coping skills, self-confidence building, triage and conflict resolution. Staff at all 27 of our schools regularly participates in professional development around de-escalation techniques, conflict resolution and behavior interventions. When safety is compromised, our staff are trained for that, too. Our District’s School Safety Officers and School Administrators quickly stopped Monday morning’s fight involving five girls and dispersed them from the altercation. When one student grabbed her backpack and removed a knife to publicly display, threaten harm and refuse the commands of a Peoria Police Department Officer (housed at PHS full-time), the officer took action to protect the students and staff that surrounded the armed student.
While our investigation is ongoing, we have not found that this situation was linked to bullying. In fact, everything in our investigation has led us to believe the young lady that was tased was the aggressor. However, all students involved in the initial altercation face school discipline and/or arrest.
We have a process to address bullying that we believe works very well when followed. It’s a policy adopted by our Board of Education in 2013 and our administrators are re-trained each year in how to handle bullying complaints and situations. The process is available on our website (www.peoriapublicschools.org/nobullyzone), in our student handbooks and paperwork is available in each of our school offices. At PHS, daily and weekly announcements are made and sent home sharing with students that any staff member is available should they be experiencing bullying, a personal conflict or other personal situation. The school has a strong team that also works to build personal relationships with students, including four counselors, two social workers, one psychologist and five administrators. Student conversations happen daily and often lead to action plans being developed by the student and staff member so that both can play a part in resolving situations.
We define bullying as intentional, repeated harmful physical acts, words, or other behavior such as name calling, threatening, and/or shunning committed by one or more persons against another.
When a student or parent, or a staff member on behalf of a student, reports a potential bullying situation, we ask that they document details of the situation on a form. That form is reviewed by the school administrator. Our School Safety Department, Office of Social and Emotional Learning, Student Affairs Department and/or the Peoria Police Department is involved, as needed. Staff members work to address the situation as quickly as possible, whether that means bringing all parties together or working through a plan to assist the student so that they feel safe.
This year, through our new Office of Social and Emotional Support, we are focused on increasing supports through five researched-based competencies identified by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning or CASEL. 1) Self-Awareness; 2) Social-Awareness; 3) Relationship Skills; 4) De-escalation; and 5) Problem Solving. We have worked to identify ways we can better inject curriculum targeted to these areas into our learning day so that we can work with students more on the soft skills that they will need throughout the rest of their life.
In addition, over the last month, we have been planning a merger of our SAFE Schools and Day Treatment programs. Both have elements of social and emotional support for students, but starting next school year, we are looking forward to a full menu of supports for students in either program. Both programs will be housed at Trewyn School and a portion of the building will be dedicated to what we are calling the Trewyn Therapeutic Program. We anticipate serving up to 80 students total and providing access to a full-time counselor, social workers, Children’s Home Therapist, certified teachers, school safety officers, in-school health clinic and community partners. We want to partner with the outstanding medical and mental health facilities that are in our community to make this a full service program.
We are providing more resources to our students around social and emotional learning than ever before. We know that students must be ready to learn in order to see success in the classroom. We are committed, and hope that our community will join us, in providing whatever support is necessary to overcome obstacles a student may be facing. We are also committed to providing a safe learning environment for all students. While the spotlight might not always follow this important work, I am confident by keeping our focus, we can help more of our students find the spotlight shining on their successes.
The Peoria Public School Board of Education is considering significant changes to our students’ high school experience designed to achieve the first Pillar of the District Strategic Plan, Our Path to 2020.
Pillar 1 of Our Path to 2020:
High Standards, Rigorous College and Career Curricula, and Engaged and Relevant Experiences
The Philosophy of the Peoria Public Schools High School Graduation Plan, a proposal presented at the March 20th Board of Education meeting, is to provide each student with educational and career options that will allow them to graduate and pursue their future endeavors without the pressure of performing relative to peers.
We hope to achieve this goal by offering educational and career options according to each student’s interests; rigorous educational experiences; providing interventions; reducing graduation credits, and providing flexibility in scheduling and awarding of credits.
Dr. Thom Simpson and Mrs. Cheryl Sanfilip, retired Peoria Public School administrators who last year volunteered to spearhead the District’s campaign to increase attendance rates, have led a committee of principals, counselors, district staff and community volunteers over the course of the last two years conducting research on high school graduation rates. The committee reviewed the district’s graduation rate as it relates to class rank, credits required to graduate and flexibility options. The recommendations presented for consideration by the school board are anticipated to be voted on at the April 3rd meeting and are the result of the committee’s research.
Eliminating class rank as a measurement of academic success is the first recommendation. High schools throughout the country are increasingly dropping the use of class rank in favor of the Latin system: cum laude, magna cum laude and summa cum laude. In central Illinois, school district including Morton High School and McLean County Unit 5 have eliminated the use of class rank. The trend is even stronger in the Chicago area, with schools districts including New Trier, Hinsdale and Evanston Township High School converting to the Latin system.
Using class rank as a gauge sorts students on performance relative to peers, often creating unnecessary stress for students and parents and more importantly, steering them off course from selecting classes that align with their interests and future goals. Students may choose classes simply to pursue a weighted grade rather than pursue personal interests and aspirations.
Research shows that students who take Advanced Placement (AP) classes are more likely to be successful in college, regardless of the grade earned in the class, so using class rank may actually be a barrier to success for some students. Students who are capable of rigorous or weighted classes may avoid taking them for fear of damaging their class rank.
Finally, over the past two decades, college admissions officers have moved to considering grades, SAT/ACT scores, application essays and interest over class rank in admission decisions. These criteria are better aligned with how the student is expected to perform at the college level more so than comparing them to a group of peers that attend their high school.
The school board also will consider expanding the range of graduation credits required from a minimum of 26, to a range of 24 - 28. Required graduation credits were increased in 2011 from 22 to 26. The increase eliminated the option of a study hall during a seven-period day and reduced the ability of high school staff to provide interventions during the school day. From 2010 to 2016, the District’s graduation rate fell from 90 percent to 69 percent.
Reducing the number of required credits can provide students an extra period during the day for tutoring, enrichment opportunities, interventions, electives or even internship opportunities.
In Illinois, school districts have the option to increase the number of credits required for core and elective courses once minimum Illinois State Board of Education requirements are met. Among Illinois high school districts that the committee reviewed, most required credits ranging from 20 to 24.
The third recommendation the board will consider involves providing more flexibility in educational and career options for high school students. Some ways to provide flexibility might include flexible start times; options for early graduation; waivers for physical education requirements; advanced placement opportunity labs; increased intervention options, and tutoring.
While these changes may seem dramatic, they are backed by solid and persuasive data, and reflect trends that high schools throughout the country are following to meet the needs of students in coming decades. I believe these changes will help the Peoria Public Schools increase its graduation rate and help our students graduate with tools and skills required to be successful and productive citizens.
For more information, go to www.peoriapublicschools/registration
In 2015, Anne Wheaton, CDC epidemiologist said in a statement, “Getting enough sleep is important for students’ health, safety, and academic performance. Early school start times, however, are preventing many adolescents from getting the sleep they need.”
I encourage you to read about the proposed change and take the survey. Visit our website to find the link and participate in our current opportunity for feedback! The survey closes at 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, March 26th.
Like many Peoria citizens, I have been following the Most Beautiful City Hall national competition and hoping that as of Friday, March 10, The Peoria City Hall will be voted the winner.
Among its many beautiful and aesthetically pleasing attributes, the Peoria City Hall regularly houses rotating displays of the artwork of Peoria Public School student artists. This month, display cases on the third and fourth floors feature artwork by Von Steuben Middle School and Lincoln K-8 students and watercolor and acrylic paintings by Richwoods High School students hang in the third floor hallway. Please take the time to visit city hall and view the work of these talented young people.
The creative artistry of Peoria Public School students also is on display this month just two blocks from City Hall at the Peoria Public Library Main Street location. The second floor gallery in the library currently houses the Peoria Public Schools Budding Artists exhibition, featuring works by students from every Peoria Public School, from pre-kindergarten through high school. The Budding Artist exhibition opened on March 2 and will continue through March 28.
Fine arts also will be the focus of next week’s Parent University, on Thursday, March 16, 5 to 8 p.m. at the Peoria Public Library Main branch. This month’s Parent University is hosted by Roosevelt Magnet School and Peoria High School and highlights the Peoria Public Schools’ exemplary and expanding fine arts programming. Each floor of the library will feature performances by choral groups, dance troupes, orchestras, bands and drama performances.
As you may recall, in spring 2016 our District began a focused effort to strengthen fine arts programming at all grade levels. This effort included recruiting additional students for arts programs at Roosevelt Magnet School and for the Preparatory School for the Arts (PSA) at Peoria High School and a successful drive for donations of gently-used musical instruments. The results of our renewed focus on music, drama, dance and the visual arts will be on display at Parent University on March 16. Please join us!
In other news, I am excited to announce that Richwoods High School alum and Chicago Bears cornerback and special teams player Sherrick McManis will be presenting the Peoria Public Schools with a $25,000 grant on Friday, March 10 at 2:10 p.m. at Richwoods High School.
The former RHS football player and state champion long jumper will present the grant on behalf of the NFL Foundation to the athletic directors, coaches and players of all three Peoria Public Schools’ high school football programs. Each football program will receive $8,333 to be used for athletic training services, including concussion equipment and prevention training.
The NFL Foundation’s Club Matching Certified Athletic Trainer Grant matches dollars donated by the Chicago Bears organization for athletic training services provided by Athletico. The Peoria Public Schools has partnered with Athletico for four years.
The state-of-the-art equipment and training provided by NFL Foundation, the Chicago Bears and Athletico is vital for keeping Peoria Public Schools student-athletes injury-free.