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Q&A: Keisha Alexander outlines her reasons for running for the Peoria school board, and what she'll do if elected

Keisha Alexander
Keisha Alexander for D150 Board
Keisha Alexander

Keisha Alexander is a 27-year resident of Peoria. She met her husband, raised five children, and helps run a construction business. Now she's running for the Peoria Public Schools board of education District 1.

She was removed from the ballot by the Peoria Election Commission after a petition challenge from school board president Martha Ross, but later restored by a Peoria County judge. A challenge to Ross' petitions by Chama St. Louis, Alexander's daughter and campaign manager, wasn't heard because St. Louis doesn't live in District 1.

For full disclosure, St. Louis is a member of the WCBU Community Advisory Board, which is not involved in day-to-day editorial decisions.

Alexander recently sat down with WCBU's Tim Shelley to explain why she's running. This interview is edited and condensed for length and clarity.

So what made you decide you want to run for school board?

Well, the experience that I had in school, I got pregnant in eighth grade. And so I spent my four years of high school struggling to finish high school. And then when I did finish high school, I was excited because I wanted to go to college. And I couldn't test into any college level classes. And so that was concerned for me. But then as I am older, and now I'm experiencing more with children, some people are still falling into the same cracks that I fell through, because they did not have the support that they needed.

Growing up living in poverty and a crime-ridden area, it made it hard for me to be successful in high school, and then be able to go on to college. And so that's one of my biggest concerns is to help not just the children, but also the mothers that are struggling, that have the children, and they're struggling to be successful also. So, you know, that's kind of the big one, one of the big things.

How do we help those mothers and the children be successful, making sure that people have the supports, they need to be able to finish school, move on to a career?

I think mostly, that there are resources out there, sometimes, but we don't know where they are, or how to get to them. I went and searched for the resources, but if people knew that they had help over here for this situation and help over there for that situation, they will probably be more likely to get it, but not knowing that resources are there. And also, because I think because people would not use the resources, those resources went away.

But we need those to come back. Childcare resources and helping people with being able to finish high school like me. If I didn't have my mother, I wouldn't have been able to finish high school either. And so all of that is because of a decision that I made, but also we're still people and we still grow up and become a part of society. And we want those people that grow up and become a part of this society to be productive citizens of our society and not just a product of their environment.

When you say resources, I guess I want to elaborate a little bit on that. Because I know there's things like the Wraparound Center at Trewyn School and other resources available. Are you talking more things like that, or helping get the word out more about those?

To get the word out more about those and to start other programs that will help. So for me, going through high school, I was finishing my classes and getting (the) grades that I was supposed to get, but I wasn't seeing a counselor. Like nobody was counseling me and telling me 'oh, you need to do this so that you can so that you can go to college.' My family members didn't have the information needed for me. And so I would expect that the school, the guidance counselors and whatnot, to show me how I can go to college because I had absolutely no idea. I didn't know where to start.

And so that that's something that's lacking, to know that this opportunity is for you also. And I was always told, if you don't have good grades, and you ain't got the money, you're not going to college. And so for some people, it's just forget it, I'm not gonna even try. But I think that we can provide things for people so that they can know, like, in the summertime, you know, reaching out to people and giving them classes and resources during the summer when school is out for the kids so that, you know they can up their skills and maybe decide what it is that they really want to do and know that that is possible, because there's programs out there that's going to help them make that happen.

Something I've talked with a lot people about, and it's kind of these cycles of trauma that happen in Peoria and elsewhere. Almost multi generational trauma that's going to pass down. It's really hard to wrap your arms around it. But obviously, the school's got to play a major role in doing that. Where would you see the school playing a role and addressing some of the trauma and, you know, other things that go along with that?

I feel like there should be some type of weekly, or even biweekly program that addresses that. So, let's say, you know, schools used to have counselors, but I don't know what the counselors do today. But when I was in school, they had counselors, but the counselors were not necessarily there to address trauma. So if the counselors were there for the purpose of conflict resolution, anger management and trauma, well, then, you know, that child can be taken out and put placed into that into the care of that counselor, or whatever that program to address his or her problem with whatever it is to trauma or, you know, whatever the situation may be. They can talk to someone about it, or someone can talk to them about it that may understand. I think that a lot of kids don't feel like people understand what they're going through. And so you can't help me, because you don't understand.

And also another thing, too, is that the curriculum in every one of our schools, it's not where it could be. Some of our schools can be at the same level with some of the other schools, but it's not. And so it's mostly in the schools that are in the poverty-ridden areas. And so kids that live in those areas are not going to get the same education as they would if they lived up north or somewhere else, or in Dunlap. And I think that's really unfair for the families that live in that in that area.

One other thing that gets a lot of discussion is teacher shortages. I know the district has tried bringing in international teachers to fill some of those gaps. They've also got what they call the Grow Your Own program, where they're trying to guide people into a teaching career, hopefully within the district. So there are some efforts happening to address this. But still you see a lot of gaps in staffing, and you see a lot of staff turnover. How do you begin to address some of those things?

I believe that overall, all schools are suffering with funding, and we need to figure out how to get more money, more funding for our programs that we know will work. But really, it's a lot of making sure that the money goes to the right place. So we have to figure out how we can go, maybe to Springfield, and maybe find some legislation that will help cover some of the programs that we want to start, or even look for something new that may be coming out that we can use to help fund the programs that we need, so that we can get more teachers.

And also the Grow Your Own program, I really do think that's a great program, if, you know, we can get some people to be successful in the program and come out and be teachers in Peoria. And I don't know how successful the program has been thus far. But I like the idea.

This is a question I ask every candidate I have in here, but as a school board member, if elected, you would be one person on the school board. So obviously, collaboration with your other board members would be really key. Talk a little bit about how you how you work with others to get things done.

I do play well with others. That's one of my big deals is coming together. You know, my husband and I run a construction company. And that was one of the things that was a hard thing to do, was (to) get other (minority-owned) construction companies to come together so that we can do something big. And that's important. I think that we need to bring our organizations together. And if another one needs to be started, whatever programs they have, whatever ideas they have, you know, we can come together and make it happen.

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Updated: March 14, 2023 at 1:15 PM CDT
WCBU has scheduled an interview with Martha Ross.
Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.