Grass roots approach is the right choice

Staff Writer
Woodford Times

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

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

The same message was delivered to the Peoria City Council recently.

Kyle Ham, COO of Peoria Next and a charter school proponent, said District 150 is seeing a marked decline in student performance.

He said the district sees 80 percent of students meeting or exceeding standards in grade school. The number, he said, drops to 60 percent in middle school and 40 percent in high school.

Ham said it is unacceptable to allow this to continue without efforts to stem the tide.

Ham is right. 

A charter school in Peoria is still just a dream, but it is getting closer to becoming a reality, thanks to those working behind the scenes.

There is a lot of public education to be done about charter schools for a lot of misconceptions abound. There is a belief that a charter school will become a home to elite students. There is a belief that it will be staffed primarily by non-certified educators.

The truth is a charter school is a public school with district-employed teachers and open enrollment. It receives most of its funding through what the district receives for a student.

At the conclusion of Ham’s presentation to the city council, 3rd District councilman Tim Riggenbach said he wants to be sure the charter school is marketed to all District 150 students. Riggenbach’s request is right on track.

“This is something Peoria desperately needs,” Mayor Jim Ardis added.

Ardis said offering opportunities for choice in education is a step in the right direction. 

What the charter school concept in Peoria needs desperately is a strong marketing effort.

Ham said proponents of the charter school plan to start speaking at neighborhood association meetings soon. That is exactly what this effort needs.

A grassroots approach, rather than updates before the city council or visits to www.peoriacharterschools.com, is the way to win the public’s hearts and minds.