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Plenty of updates at Peoria Public Schools, from a Golden Apple award to a new grading system

Mike Rundle

Peoria Public Schools hosted a busy board of education meeting Monday night, with multiple awards and presentations from district representatives.

Charter Oak Primary School Principal Kathy Rodriguez was honored as a recipient of a Golden Apple Excellence in Leadership award — a “highly competitive” distinction, said Executive Director of Primary Education Dr. Nicole Couri-Malson.

“Mrs. Rodriguez is a servant-leader, and if you visit her building, you will not find her in the office,” said Couri-Malson. “She typically will be running around the school, she will usually be wearing an apron loaded with all sorts of things she needs…she’s out in classrooms, she’s working with students, she’s running the morning celebratory culture assembly, and anything else that needs to be done.”

Rodriguez was grateful for the recognition, but emphasized that operating Charter Oak is a group effort.

“It truly is aligned vision,” said Rodriguez. “None of this celebration would have happened had it not been for each and every one in our school community…and there is truly a love that we all share, I believe, in our community.”

Also at Monday’s meeting, Carl Cannon presented data from the Game Changers program, the newly-adopted alternative schooling solution in District 150.

Cannon shared data collected on students served in the program this school year, and highlighted statistics, including a 72% improvement in attendance and a 95% reduction in disciplinary referrals.

“I’ve been working with young people in and around Peoria for 20-plus years,” said Cannon. “However, what we are doing today through the Elite Game Changers safe school is one of the most important initiatives I’ve ever endeavored to undertake.”

Board member Paris McConnell voiced her support for the program, specifically calling on the relationships Game Changers is seeking to foster.

“I like the fact that you are building village support to the children and their families, and you’re building partnerships, but what I like most is the trusted circle that these kids feel,” said McConnell. “I think sometimes when a kid is struggling with learning and some other issues, if they feel like they have a trusted partner, it takes away some of their issue and that shield they put up.”

Closing out the presentations was Dr. Sandra Wilson, assistant superintendent of curriculum/instruction and executive director of high schools, who shared an update on the new standards-based grading system coming to District 150.

After a small pilot program in the 2022-23 school year, the new grading method that focuses on “student mastery of grade-level standards” is set to be formally implemented for kindergarten through fourth grade for the 2023-24 school year.

Rather than the traditional letter scale, the new system evaluates students using a rubric formulated by teachers on a scale, ranging from “below” to “exceptional” regarding their performance around predetermined standards.

Wilson said guidelines for implementation in grades five through eight will be created during the 2023-24 school year with the hope of expanding the system to middle school in 2024-25. High schools are excluded from the grading change, and will only be seeing the introduction of common final exams.

Board members expressed concerns about how translatable the standards-based system would be, but Wilson said the new guidelines would outline everything from athletic eligibility to the transition to high school courses.

“I think there’s going to be a lot of discussions with the (fifth through eighth grade) that we did not have with (kindergarten through fourth grade),” said Wilson. “We’re using our teachers and our administrators to be on these committees, and nobody knows it better than them in the classroom…and it may look different than it did for K-4, and that is perfectly fine.”

Superintendent Dr. Sharon Kherat said that the new system will make for better evaluations of students’ abilities and help parents understand what capabilities their child is retaining.

“It’s based on skills,” said Kherat. “Parents will know exactly what their kids know.”

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Mike Rundle is a correspondent at WCBU. He joined the station in 2020.