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First, the school board and the superintendent have embraced an outdated and detrimental philosophy of education that is hurting our children and our community.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 unwilling 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.