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Quest Charter Academy makes case to Peoria school board for another 4-year agreement

Students, faculty, and the administration at Quest Charter Academy in Peoria made their case for renewing its agreement on Monday evening at Peoria Public Schools’ District 150 meeting.

The presentation is part of a review that would determine whether Quest Charter will continue operating under another four-year agreement with PPS. The charter school was previously under fire for failing to meet academic goals, as well as violating state and federal laws regarding special education.

Before the presentation began, Board President Mike Murphy outlined a preliminary performance report that showed Quest Charter’s performance had “areas of concern.”

During the meeting, Quest Charter held a presentation showcasing the school’s compliance with the requirements under the agreement and included remarks from faculty members as well as students.

One such student was Fernando Avalos, who shared his personal experience as a Mexican immigrant who was still adapting to the English language. He expressed how welcoming the school was and how they encouraged him, even after one of his siblings passed away.

“They were like a family to me. It just truly showed me that this school is like no other. They really care about the students, about their well-being, and they want to see them succeed to become great leaders in the world,” Avalos said.

Tim Haggis, the attorney representing Quest Charter in the matter, said the charter agreement requires the board to consider Quest's progress towards any goals it does not completely attain. He also noted the board is required to recognize that there may be circumstances that may cause the charter school to fail to achieve all its goals.

“In light of the challenges of the last four years wrought by the pandemic, this acknowledgment is vital to consider,” Haggis said.

Another consideration Haggis brought up is the impact non-renewal would have on current students. Haggis said Illinois law requires currently enrolled charter students to be placed in a school that is higher performing than the charter school if the charter is not renewed.

“This means that Quest students would be again moved to a different instructional environment after they have already endured remote instruction and a turbulent return to in-person learning,” Haggis continued. “Because of the placement requirement, many students would be transferred to a school other than their home school, which would exacerbate the trauma of a sudden change of schools.”

Sharon Samuels, a retired employee of the district, spoke on behalf of charter schools like Quest. She said to take a hard look at the school and see how it provides and supports programs for those in need.

“While any one of us in this room could argue the pros and cons of such a learning environment, empirical data leans on the side of continuing to provide choice schools, especially as it relates to providing choice for some of our low-income families,” Samuels said.

Following the presentation, board members had questions about the student population, specifically how many students are in high school, middle school, and each grade class, meaning 9th grade to 12th grade, as well as how many seniors were expected to graduate. They were also curious about the faculty-to-student ratio and some reasons behind a decline in enrollment at Quest.

PPS's agreement with the school expires on June 30, 2024. The board will announce its decision in January 2024 on whether it will renew the agreement.

Mike Smith is an correspondent with WCBU in Peoria. He joined the station in 2023.