Why We’re Leaving PSD 150

This past year has been a difficult one for my family and for many other families I know. It has driven us to make the very tough decision of taking our boys out of public school for the upcoming year and moving them to private school (Peoria Christian). There are a few reasons for this decision…

First, the school board and the superintendent have embraced an outdated and detrimental philosophy of education that is hurting our children and our community. This philosophy includes a heavy-handed, top-down model of leadership that intimidates and controls. In a world becoming more decentralized and empowering, this administration is centralizing more decisions and trying to make every school as similar as possible. This cookie-cutter mentality waters down what’s working and takes every school down to the lowest common denominator. Every child in PSD 150 deserves to have an equal opportunity and access to quality education, and a decentralized, site-based model would be more effective in providing the best possible educational opportunities for everyone.

A consequence of the administration’s current philosophy is the rampant turnover in principals. Over the past couple of years, dozens of principals have been released, forced into retirement, or required to change schools. When people raised concerns about these chaotic changes, rather than address those concerns, the superintendent stated publicly that she thinks more changes are needed. This response is simply beyond comprehension. Healthy schools require more than just well-considered curriculum choices; they also require good working relationships between principals, teachers, parents, and students. Having such a rapid turnover in principals is relationally unsettling. No data anywhere suggests that turmoil and instability improve education, yet the leadership of PSD 150 continues to move principals as though they are managing widgets, with no regard for the relational and emotional consequences of such chaos.

A majority of PSD 150’s school board members and upper level administrators are out-of-touch with the community, and they have been calloused and disingenuous in their communication with parents and the general public. They have been defensive and hesitant to take responsibility for any problems or failed decisions. Parents have not felt heard or respected, and the leadership has attempted to justify its positions by cherry picking data and spinning information. For example, the superintendent stated that discipline issues are down in the district, but I have spoken with teachers and security personnel who report that discipline issues are the worst they’ve ever been. The difference is that staff members feel pressured to refrain from writing up student infractions so that the number of reported discipline issues appears smaller than it is. In addition, the leadership has manipulated data from NWEA in order to make the case that test scores are up, when, in fact, those who have looked at the ISAT numbers report that there is a clear decline in scores. Also, without elaborating, the administration loves to tout the IB program. We are fans of IB, but unfortunately, it is not being fully implemented in the elementary and middle schools. Because teachers and schools have not been empowered to implement the IB philosophy fully and completely, IB has become nothing more than window-dressing, yet board members and upper level administrators rave about its success and pat themselves on the back. Finally, when the leadership announced they were purchasing property around Central High School, they gave impressive numbers relating the low cost they had to pay for the property, yet they never bothered to communicate the hidden cost of relocating the families who lived there. In order to motivate those families to sell their homes to the district, staff members had to remodel new homes for them with roofing, windows, carpeting, etc. The original numbers presented were not just a half-truth of the actual expense; they were downright deceptive.

The leadership issues of PSD 150 are troubling, but ultimately, it is the consistent stress that has proven to be the final straw. My wife had an encounter with the superintendent that got her kicked off school property, in what we feel was an abuse of power. My oldest son witnessed this encounter and was troubled by the incident. It caused him to lose confidence in certain leaders at his school, leaving him anxious and afraid much of the year. My youngest son had his inclusion teacher moved midway through the year, and he grieved the loss of his principal. He questioned why the administration thought his school cheated and came home with stories of problems and discipline issues that had never occurred before. These experiences and countless others left our family frustrated, angry, sad, and on edge.

We have become convinced that this emotional weight is not simply going to lift with the start of a new school year. And while we have been pleased overall with the individual teachers our children have had, we were troubled to learn that the school our boys would attend next year is ranked 1124 out of 1389 middle schools in the state. When my wife tried to talk with the principal about ways to improve the culture of the school from a parental perspective, she was dismissed and ignored. Other engaged families have expressed the same frustration.

Our family has always desired to be present in our community, and we’ve felt the need to be part of the solution, not just complain about the problems. Therefore, we have supported public education every year in the past. However, the above issues, along with several others, have left us pursuing other options in the interest of our children. That’s why we’ll be moving our boys to private school next year. In an upcoming post I will describe what we’re moving to and explain my decision to stay engaged with Change150 even though our boys will no longer be attending Peoria public schools.

 

Jim Powell,
President, Change150

Dan Adler: Why I Champion Change

There’s nothing more important to our community’s future than the education of our children.  Plainly put, that is why I champion change in Peoria’s public schools.  My wife, Jen, and I want our two children to have the best possible educational experience.  That’s why we give our time and energy to Kellar Primary School, where our children attend now.  But we realize that building a better community means a better education for every school and every student.  When Change150 successfully forced a board member out through the ballot box, I saw the opportunity to give back more.

I was honored when Change 150 chose to endorse me as their candidate for this open seat.  I have met and spoken with so many people who simultaneously want the best education for all of our kids, but are also very frustrated with what they see as a system that is not accountable to the community.  I have applied to fill the vacancy created in the last election because I believe that the role of re-establishing the public’s trust in our schools and decision-makers is one that I can uniquely fill.  First of all, I am a parent with two current students early in their education, so I have two of the best incentives to increase the success of our schools.  I am also a proven organizational leader – demonstrated through my project leadership at Caterpillar, the increased engagement within the Tanglewood Hawthorne Hills Homeowners Association during my presidency, and the building of the Kellar Community Garden.

But perhaps what qualifies me most is the energy and new ideas I would bring to the school board.  I am a firm believer that it is not only what decisions we make but how we make them that determines the success of a public body.  Our school district has big challenges ahead, including but not limited to how we address long-term funding shortfalls, an increasingly more competitive global workforce, rapidly evolving technologies and questions about the adequacy of a less than 12 month calendar.  But no matter what plans we put into place to address these issues, we cannot be successful without the engagement of the entire community.  Certainly, we must have buy-in from our parents, teachers, staff and administrators.  We must also recognize the stake that others have in our success – including the business community, city government and local non-profit organizations – and listen to their input.  Only working together as a community can our schools realize their full potential. Regaining the trust and engagement of all these constituencies will require significant effort, but based on the following principles of transparency and accountability, I believe they represent the best path forward.

  • All parents should feel comfortable providing respectful feedback on school/district performance without fear of retribution for their students,
  • All teachers and staff should feel comfortable providing respectful feedback on school/district performance without fear of retribution relative to their employment,
  • All community stakeholders should feel that their voices will be heard and responded to in a professional and timely manner,
  • All of our community stakeholders have gifts/skills to offer our schools, and we should leverage those assets as much as possible to enhance student learning,
  • All supporting documentation for decisions to be made at school board meetings that can be made public, should be made public,
  • Opportunities to watch the public meetings of the school board, through television and electronic media, should be made as accessible as other public bodies (e.g., city council),
  • As much deliberative dialogue as possible should be shared in public between board members and the administration,
  • Change management aspects including the effects of transition to the classroom and the school environment shall be considered and heavily weighted for personnel decisions, and
  • Should public meetings of the school board not provide a sufficient forum for public input, alternative, town hall venues and publicity should be provided to help engage the public in a two-way dialogue with board members & administrators.

If given the opportunity to represent the 3rd District on the District 150 school board, these are the principles I would champion as the first in a series of actions to improve the community engagement in our schools.  As engaged community members in Peoria’s public schools, I thank you for your time and energy, and hope to be your champion of change from inside the horseshoe shortly.

 

Dan Adler
Change150 Endorsed Candidate for Open School Board Seat
Kellar Parent & PTO Volunteer
Caterpillar Employee

 

What I Love about PSD 150

As the President of Change150, I believe there are deep, systematic issues within the leadership of PSD 150 that need to be addressed. Yet, at the same time, I want to be clear that there are many good things about PSD 150 that need to be celebrated…

First, we have a large school district that offers parents and children choices that smaller districts cannot always provide, including Peoria Promise, International Baccalaureate, Quest, the STAR program, Washington Gifted, the Career and Technical Center at Woodruff, and even Edison in previous years. The size of our district provides resources and opportunities that not many school systems can match. It is my hope that the leadership of PSD 150 will leverage and expand these options because they comprise a strength that benefits students and keeps families engaged—families who may be tempted to leave otherwise.

Second, PSD 150’s ethnic and religious diversity allows people from various backgrounds, cultures, and preferences to feel welcome and connected. Both of my children attended schools where they were in the minority, which is a healthy experience for a middle-class white family. My boys have been introduced to the languages of Chinese and Spanish; they have interacted with children from India, Vietnam, Nigeria, etc., and they have spent time with children from Christian, Hindu, Islamic, and even atheist worldviews, which opens their eyes and personalizes a world that is rapidly changing and steadily becoming smaller.

Third, I believe PSD 150 offers incredible support services for special needs children. Whether it’s transportation, aids, or specialists, such as speech pathologists, physical or occupational therapists, inclusion teachers, translators, interpreters, etc., I have seen firsthand the incredible services PSD 150 offers. These services are even more impressive when one considers the large number of IEPs served. So, I cannot say enough good about the way PSD 150 serves special needs children with commitment, passion, and results.

Fourth, I have met a countless number of dedicated teachers, principals, and support staff. Most people do not go into education, especially into a large, urban school district, because of the pay. Rather, they do so because they love kids and want to make a difference. I am doubly impressed by the fact that over the past couple of years—in the midst of a culture of fear, intimidation, and heavy-handed leadership—a majority of the employees have continued to show up and give their best. Furthermore, they have sheltered our children from the micromanaged, often oppressive work environment they have had to endure. There are always a few bad apples, but by and large, the teachers and staff of PSD 150 have amazed me with the compassion and commitment they have displayed to my family.

When we moved to Peoria several years back, we were not too keen on PSD 150, but when our oldest son attended the STAR program at Charter Oak and then later at Northmoor, we began to see that this district had much more to offer than we ever expected. When it came time for us to move, we intentionally choose to stay within the boundaries of PSD 150. And up until this past year, we have had no regrets. Overall, it’s been a great experience, but unfortunately, the events of the past year have forced us to make the difficult decision of putting our children into private school for the upcoming year. I’ll address the reasons for that in my next post.

Jim Powell,
President, Change150

This Is What Democracy Looks Like

This isn’t the movies where the martyr rides valiantly to their own death. Our democracy is often messy, filled with twists and turns, and inevitably takes longer than change-makers would like, but that’s the process that Change150 is using to affect change in our community.

To be very clear, Change150′s goals, values, and core issues haven’t changed at all. In alignment with our core values of “Building a culture of collaboration” and “Building a coalition with community organizations and groups”, we assembled an independent vetting committee comprised of members from the NAACP, teachers and staff unions, former district administrators, a former board member and a parent. Since I was going through the process, we opted to not have a Change150 representative on the vetting committee. We built the process and we trusted the process to produce the best candidate to represent the people; the voters who gave us their trust in April. Our team couldn’t be more pleased with the committee’s recommendation of Dan Adler for the seat. He is no one’s minion, but his values and beliefs regarding how the district should be run are in close alignment with what we’ve heard from our supporters and what we’ve publicly stated as our values. The committee’s recommendation and our endorsement represents what is best for our schools and by extension, what is best for Peoria. That’s the real goal.

We still believe that one of the core issues, the root cause of many of the district’s problems, continues to be the model of leadership that Dr. Grenita Lathan has brought to the organization. We continue to seek a leadership team that provides “Organizational flexibility which gives principals, teachers, support staff and parents more control over decision making for their unique schools, rather than a top-down, arbitrary model of leadership and control.” It’s true that we, I in particular, have called repeatedly for Lathan’s resignation. I’ve called for her resignation because based on what I’ve seen from her and this board of education, they have no appetite for the kinds of changes the community is demanding. I think that she has destroyed any credibility she might have once had to lead this district in the right direction. But we’ve been clear all along that turning over the board isn’t the primary goal – it’s a means to an end that, if necessary, we will pursue. We aren’t bluffing. We’ve already influenced one landslide election to remove a board member, and we are prepared to take the issue to the voters again and again if the Board somehow didn’t get the message the first time. Over the next two years, a majority of Board seats (4) are up for re-election.

Between elections, we are prepared to work to improve transparency to gain clarity of issues – another of our values. We’ll do it through better communication and collaboration with the district if possible or through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) as necessary.

Make no mistake however, this is a battle. Change150 is publicly challenging an entrenched administration and Board who have far more resources than we do. They have us out-funded, out-lawyered, have a full time staff to direct, and a Chicago based PR firm working overtime on damage-control and spin. Despite all of this however, a group of dedicated citizens and a growing coalition of supporters and volunteers have managed to seize control of the conversation and maintain the focus on making positive changes in how our schools are managed.

Dan Dugal
Change150 Vice President

Change150 Announces Press Conference to Endorse School Board Candidate

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Media Contact: Sea Stipe
Change150 Spokesperson
sea.stipe@change150.org

June 4, 2014

CHANGE150 ANNOUNCES PRESS CONFERENCE ABOUT VETTING COMMITTEE AND SCHOOL BOARD CANDIDATE RECOMMENDATION

 

PEORIA, IL June 4, 2014 – Change150 would like to invite members of the Peoria press to a press conference this Thursday, June 5, 2014 at 4:30 pm in the North Gate Room at the Landmark Banquet Center in Peoria.

 

Who:               Members of Change150, several members of the independent vetting committee, their recommended candidate(s) and candidate-elect, Sue Wolstenholm will issue statements regarding the school board seat, the ideas candidate and our quest for change in District 150.

What:              Topics will include an overview of the vetting procedures, the outcome of the vetting process and the announcement of the vetting committee’s recommended School Board candidate. A short question and answer period will follow.

Where:            North Gate Room – Landmark Banquet Facility, Peoria, IL

When:                         Thursday, June 5, 2014 at 4:30 p.m.

 

For more information on Change150, our initiatives and our mission, please go to www.CHANGE150.org.

Change150 Responds to ISBE Findings

Below is the press release sent to the media today in response to the recent ISBE findings that found no tampering or manipulation of Charter Oak’s ISAT testing.

 

ISBE FINDINGS THROWS D150 BIGGER ISSUE INTO SPOTLIGHT

Charter Oak vindication highlights District 150 School Board and

Superintendent Lathan’s unnecessary spending and personal agendas

 

Peoria, IL  May 15, 2014 – Change150 is not surprised that the former principal, students and teachers at Charter Oak Primary School have been cleared of ISAT cheating.  The tight-knit Charter Oak community never wavered in their commitment and support of the school and their vow to find the truth.  It is obvious that with the release of the ISBE’s findings, the truth about the excellence of Charter Oak Primary School has finally been told.

Change150 is aghast at the careless spending of almost $130,000 of taxpayer’s money during a 4 month investigation.  That investigation has proven to be a waste of time, money, resources and has created heartache for everyone involved.

The results of the Charter Oak investigation spotlight the lengths the District 150 school board, under Superintendent Grenita Lathan, will go to in furthering her personal agenda.  The Peoria community demands answers as to why this autocratic, authoritarian atmosphere is allowed to continue and calls on the District 150 school board to explain their part in the Charter Oak cheating debacle.

It is obvious to everyone in Peoria what is happening in our schools and to our community, except to the District 150 school board.  Change 150 calls on the Board to wake up and begin working with Change 150 and the other organizations within our coalition to address our Core Values and take back our District.  Our children, our dedicated teachers, support staff and administrators deserve nothing less.

# # #

Vindicated!

After five months of managerial and legal assault by Superintendent Grenita Lathan and the Board of Education, the Charter Oak community, including our former Principal, Mr. John Wetterauer, school secretary, two teachers, our janitor and hundreds of students and their families finally get confirmed from the ISBE what we knew all along.

“there is no evidence that the answer documents of these students have been manipulated in any way.”

After spending nearly $130,000.00 of taxpayer’s money according to FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) responses from the district, the districts attorneys concluded Mr. Wetterauer provided 35 minutes of training rather than the state mandated 45 minutes. The ISBE finds no evidence of cheating. Yet Lathan saw fit to transfer or force out of the district the principal, secretary, two teachers and the janitor. But she continues to insist that she didn’t target him, or the school?

This whole affair has exposed the administration and Board’s managerial and fiscal malfeasance. The report from the ISBE is just the latest proof. The full letter from the ISBE can be read here.

Updated:

Read the Peoria Journal Star article State board releases findings on Charter Oak testing problems

Read the 1470 WMBD article District 150 Hears From ISBE

Next Steps and Candidate Instructions

After a little R&R following the election, here are some of the things that the leadership team of Change150 are currently working on. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to share them directly with Jim, Theresa or Dan.  We are so much more effective when we work together.

What’s ahead:

1. Laura Petelle has her seat until June 30th so we don’t think the board is going to do much, if anything until then.

2. In the meantime, an independent committee is being formed to vet candidates who want to be endorsed by Change150 and our partners. The committee is on its way to being formed and should be finalized in the next week. It is our understanding that the committee includes a few retired administrators, a representative from the NAACP, some from the union and a parent or two. This is an independent group who does not answer to Change150 or to any other group. Change150.org is only acting as a clearinghouse for candidates and forwarding their names to the committee.

3. As a clearinghouse, our website has a dedicated email address that directly forwards emails to the committee. To keep things fair, nobody from Change150 will see candidates’ applications or essays. They go straight to the committee.

4. Anyone who wants to be vetted and possibly endorsed by Change150, the application process includes: name, contact info, resume and answer to these three questions:

  1. What is the reason(s) that you would want to be a school board member?
  2. What qualifications or skills do you possess that would make you a good board member?
  3. What issues would you want to see addressed to improve the school district?

NOTE: All applicants must apply with the school board individually to be considered by the Board. This application is for endorsement by Change150 and others.

5. Once a candidate has his/her information & essays together, they should email it to apply@change150.org Again, this email goes straight to the committee.

6. The independent committee has set an application deadline of Sunday, April 6th. Anyone may apply.

7. If a candidate does not want to be vetted by the independent committee, they are free to apply directly to the board and forgo the Change150 application and vetting process.

8. While the vetting process is going on, the leadership of Change150 will continue to work with members of the community in order to advance the mission of change through promoting the 5 Core Issues and Value Statement and to answer any questions they may have.

9. Everyone is encouraged to continue to speak at board meetings and in letters to the editor. Terry Knapp, Sharon Crews and their PSD150 Watch Group have a lot of experience researching school-related issues. Terry has said they are more than happy to help and provide direction.

Peoria Votes for Change

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Media Contact: Sea Stipe
Change150 Spokesperson
sea.stipe@change150.org

March 18, 2014

PEORIA VOICES UNITE AND VOTE FOR CHANGE

Peoria, IL  March 18, 2014 — The leadership of Change150 would like to offer their thanks to Laura Petelle for her five years of service to Peoria School District 150.

That being said, Change150 is incredibly humbled by the outpouring of support for the Vote for Sue campaign and our mission for change.  We would like to offer our sincerest thanks to all of our supporters, our volunteers, and most importantly, to everyone who cast a vote for Sue to help enact change.

Today’s election is a testament to the democratic process; when people come together and vote, they are a force to be reckoned with.  As of today, there is no question as to whether Peoria wants its schools, and its children, to succeed.  We, the voters, have spoken; we think the leadership of our school district is going in the wrong direction and we are willing to vote for the idea of change rather than vote for the status quo.  Our message is loud and clear.

Change150 has always been and always will be about providing the best education possible for the children of the city of Peoria. We can never lose sight of the fact that this is ultimately about our children, the future leaders of America.  And they deserve better.

Looking forward, we hope that Peoria School District 150 will listen to all the people who have spoken today.  It is our hope that today is the beginning of a new era in District 150, one in which the School Board listens to the people.

# # #

Election Night

To all of you who have helped us – thanks for a GREAT, fast & furious couple of weeks! We’ve done our best and have shown that our community is AWESOME!

A bunch of us will be watching the election in the Dugout room at the Landmark Recreation Center tomorrow night from 6:15 to 11. The Dugout can be accessed through the health club part or through the Bullpen if you don’t mind walking through the bar & grill. There are plenty of TV’s and free Wi-Fi.

If anyone wants to stop by and hang out & watch the results with us, we would love to have you!!! We have all worked hard and deserve a night to relax! FYI – it’s not a festive party or election celebration – just a low-key gathering of like-minded folks.

Just an FYI: we’ve arranged for the press to interview our spokesperson several times throughout the night. We’ll try to manage the media to avoid group shots, but we can’t guarantee that your picture won’t end up on TV