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Peoria Public Schools fine arts coordinator works to grow music program

Mike Rundle

Peoria Public Schools is working to improve their arts programs with a new music production lab and new teachers.

During Monday’s school board meeting, district fine arts coordinator Chris Render said the district has added 7 new band and orchestra positions. The positions were filled by current teachers, as well as teachers from other districts.

Render is also the band director at Richwoods High School, and said he’s been meeting with other teachers to find areas to improve. He said understaffing was the main concern he's heard about.

“(The) first thing people really want to go to is money,” Render said. “But that's really not what it was. It was about time. We need time to be able to teach the students that we want to grow in the arts.”

Render said the district has also launched a team-teaching program, where high school band directors will spend time with the middle school bands.

He said this helps keep kids interested in band as they transition from middle school to high school. It also helps provide more support for students and middle school band directors.

“It is something that I was accustomed to or noticed from what some of the best quality programs in our country have,” Render said.

Band and orchestra enrollment has seen an overall growth since the 2014-15 school year, with middle school enrollment going from 405 students to 907. High school has seen a decline, going from 216 students enrolled to 176.

Render said the district is still working to fill two open middle school music teacher positions.

The district will also soon launch a class utilizing a new audio production lab at Peoria High School. The course will teach students entertainment career skills, including music production, sound engineering, songwriting and performance.

Jack Malin, a choir teacher with the district, will teach the course.

“This course will be a project based course,” Malin said. “Each project will build on top of the previous one in service of skill acquisition so that any student who takes this course will be able to build a large broad range of skills, marketable skills, vocational skills, that will help them enter the industry in whatever way they see fit.”

The course will also teach about the music business and how performers market themselves.

Render said his goals for the program are to grow participation in competitions, increase performance opportunities and partner with community groups. But his number one goal is to get students to stay enrolled.

“Retention only comes when a student feels like they're being successful,” Render said. “That success comes when they know they are achieving music at a level that is worthwhile not only for them, but their peers and for their community. We are on the right path to do that.”

Violence prevention grant

PPS Innovation and Grants Officer Susan Grzanich shared the district’s plan for using a $299,966 violence prevention grant from the city of Peoria.

The money will be channeled into three strategies: counseling, classroom resources and reading intervention.

The counseling services will be available for up to 50 primary students. Grzanich said that the district found that younger students exhibiting aggressive behavior benefited from counseling more than standard discipline. Counseling would be made available for the students and for families.

Grzanich said the classroom resources will be centered on bullying, gun safety and conflict resolutions. Director of Safety Demario Boone will work with teachers to create presentations and activities to educate students on the topics.

The new reading program will provide 25 days of extra reading intervention for 80 primary students. It received criticism from some council members who felt the money would be better spent somewhere else.

Grzanich said that the program will address problems early on an set students up for success.

“We found looking at discipline records that many of the students that were demonstrating high discipline behaviors, especially more on the violent side, were students that had struggled with reading,” Grzanich said. “ And so we thought, let's get in there early in the primary grades, let's get more kids reading at higher levels. And what we know is when a student is successful in school, they have more opportunities.”

Teacher Ready Program

The board approved a program to help substitute teachers get the necessary certification to become full time teachers.

The online program will be available for up to 40 candidates and will cost $5,750 per candidate. Superintendent Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat said teachers in the program will have a three year contract with the district.

The program is run by Huron Studer Education. The director of the program Sarah Miller said the goal is to help teachers already invested in the community to get their full credentials.

“Our program carries about a 92% completion rate as well as an 80% teacher retention rate, which is well above the industry average for traditional university based programs,” Miller said.

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Camryn Cutinello is a reporter at WCBU. You can reach Camryn at cncutin@ilstu.edu.