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Curriculum and food service improvements on the horizon for Peoria Public Schools

Mike Rundle

As the 2022-2023 school year winds down, Peoria Public Schools is seeking improvements to multiple district-wide programs from the classroom to the cafeteria.

At Monday night’s board of Education meeting, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum/Instruction Dr. Sandra Wilson led a presentation on the implementation of the Black History 365 program within District 150. Thus far, reviews from students have been positive, but teachers have been hitting some roadblocks.

Richwoods High School Social Studies Department Chair Alex Robinson addressed the board on behalf of the Black History 365 teachers there, and mentioned issues focusing on the textbooks, primarily around faulty QR codes and unreliable sourcing. Wilson later informed the board that the program's Black History 3 implementation will be paused for 2023 to build a curriculum guide to establish standards and ensure uniformity across the district. Black History 1 and 2 will continue.

“We’re on a journey to make sure that this is implemented with fidelity, and making sure that our students have opportunities to be exposed to culturally relevant conversations, topics, and curriculum,” said Wilson. “That’s one of the main reasons why we’re just pausing it because (a curriculum guide) wasn’t developed when we purchased the resource.”

Board president Martha Ross, who serves on the Black History 365 Advisory Committee that helped to bring the program to District 150, pushed back against the implementation pause, asserting the provided material was sufficient for teaching.

In response, Superintendent Dr. Sharon Kherat highlighted the importance of a curriculum guide, particularly because its creation would be by teachers, for teachers.

“We’re getting there…it’s going to only get better, but we need to get that important document that the teachers have to create so that there is that buy-in,” said Kherat.

Later in the meeting, Math and Science Coordinator Tracy Donath presented an update on The New Teacher Project (TNTP), a program that seeks to improve performance in middle school math classes.

TNTP is currently engaged with 18 district teachers, and according to Sarah Adams of TNTP, each instructor has responded positively to the program and has successfully introduced new teaching strategies that will lead to greater student success.

“We’re excited because we’ll be coming back in May to do a final data collection, and we’re expecting to see those numbers grow even more,” said Adams.

Adams said curriculum maps will soon be established to better observe growth in the classroom, along with a data-driven feedback process to support instructors.

Closing out the slate of presentations at Monday’s meeting was Justin Rolls, CEO of OrganicLife, a Chicago-based food service provider.

Following a number of complaints regarding the district’s current food service provider Sodexo, administrators sought bids from new vendors, and OrganicLife turned up as the favorite.

“It ran like clockwork,” said district chief financial officer Mick Willis regarding a site visit to a school currently contracted with OrganicLife. “I’ve been in the business over 30 years, I’m pretty hard to impress and I have a pretty good crap detector — this operation was the best I've ever seen.”

Rolls said the company focuses on making food from scratch on-site, and that quality is of the utmost importance.

“We’re a chef-driven company, we look at the students as customers (in a restaurant),” said Rolls. “Our philosophy is that if there’s something wrong on Monday, we want it fixed on Tuesday because you don’t really get a second chance.”

As a final test in quality, board member Gregory Wilson motioned to table approving the contract until board members can taste the food themselves. The motion passed unanimously, and the vote to approve the partnership with OrganicLife is set to take place at the next meeting on May 8.

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Updated: April 26, 2023 at 8:28 AM CDT
This article was clarified to note that implementation of Black History 3 is on pause. Black History 1 and 2 remain available for high school students.
Mike Rundle is a correspondent at WCBU. He joined the station in 2020.