CHARTER SCHOOLS: People will stay, come back - Empty boast or fact?

DeWayne Bartels

In July, Glen Barton said he believes a charter school could help stem the tide of people moving out of, or avoiding living in, Peoria.

“I think the district (District 150) will be a net winner. We believe this will attract back some of the students who left,” Barton, former chairman and CEO of Caterpillar Inc., said.

“It’s as simple as choice. The hospitals say it is hard for them to recruit people and get them to stay in Peoria because of the schools.”

Mayor Jim Ardis agreed with Barton.

“People have been voting about the schools here with their feet,” Ardis said. “Lack of school choice has been a big part of that.”

The idea of a charter school causing people to stay in Peoria or come back has been a recurring theme among supporters. Kyle Ham, COO of Peoria Next, and treasurer of the committee pushing for a charter school, said it again at a recent city council meeting.

But, is it realistic?

Diana Deatherage Pearson, a Richwoods High School graduate, and principal of the Dimensions of Learning Academy in Kenosha Wis., a charter school, said she is in agreement with Barton, Ardis and Ham.

“It is absolutely realistic to believe that. They have the opportunity to start from scratch,” Pearson said.

“You can attract really top-notch educators with a charter school. I can see people choosing to stay in Peoria or even coming back. It would take some time though.”

Last week, about 100 people, made up of supporters, skeptics and those undecided about a charter school in Peoria, assembled at the Peoria Civic Center to hear from students, teachers and parents from the Chicago Math and Science Academy.

The idea of keeping people here and bringing them back did not arise during the meeting. But, Vicky Stewart, an Illinois Central College vice president and board member of the Peoria Charter School Initiative, offered her insights on this topic following the meeting.

“People are shopping for places to live right now. If they don't find the educational options they want they’ll go elsewhere to live,” Stewart said.

Stewart said that parents are satisfied with Peoria schools generally until their students hit middle school.   

“People are leaving our schools around the fifth grade level. We know that,” she said. “We’ve got to stop the bleeding.”

Stewart said she has no problem believing a charter school will help stop the departure of people from Peoria.

But, on the topic of a charter school b

]luring people back to District 150 who left for Dunlap, Morton or Metamora schools she wavered a bit.

“That’s hard for me to judge,” Stewart said. “But, I do believe it will stop the bleeding.”

Terry Knapp, a retired District 150 teacher and former president of the Peoria Federation of Teachers, conceded another aspect of educational choice in the form of a charter school could keep some parents here. 

But, Knapp was skeptical about the claim that a charter school will bring parents back to Peoria schools.

“Please,” he said.