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State Board of Education denies Quest Charter Academy's appeal to remain open

Students and parents from Quest watch the appeal hearing at the Illinois State Board of Education office in Springfield.
Camryn Cutinello
Students and parents from Quest watch the appeal hearing at the Illinois State Board of Education office in Springfield March 18.

The Illinois State Board of Education voted against an appeal to keep Quest Charter Academy open.

The move aligns with a recommendation from State Superintendent Tony Sanders, who cited that Quest was not in compliance with state charter law. He also said that Quest had failed to reach requirements established in the charter agreement with District 150.

Six members voted against the appeal during the meeting Wednesday. Board member Patricia Nugent abstained.

Elizabeth Wagman, an independent hearing officer, had earlier recommended that Quest remain open. In her recommendation to Sanders, she noted that many of the issues existed at the time of previous renewals.

State law requires that 75% of teachers at the school be certified. Quest has not reached that threshold since 2017. The school had also not met eight out of 11 performance goals established during the last renewal.

The Peoria Public Schools Board of Education cited these reasons when they voted to close the charter in January.

Board Vice President Anni Reinking defended this decision during public comment.

“Based on the facts presented, I can assure you that my board's decision to non renew Quest Charter Academy was not made lightly,” she said. “As an educator, I have always been a proponent of choice. Quest at one time filled that place in our community. But after 14 years, that is no longer the case.”

Peoria Public Schools Superintendent Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat said that Quest students will still get a quality education in Peoria Public Schools.

“Quest was initially chartered 14 years ago to provide our community with choice and the ability to offer an innovative curriculum free from the normal constraints of public schools,” she said. “But as the data shows, Quest is not innovative and is merely a shadow of what their public school has to offer.”

Under charter law, students will be able to attend a school at the same or greater academic level as Quest. They will also have the option to go to their own school.

Kherat pointed towards career pathway programs, partnerships with local employers and technical programs as examples of how Quest students can succeed in District 150.

Vernon Johnson is the parent of a Quest student. He questioned the decision to move students into District 150 when only four of 13 middle schools perform at the same or greater academic level.

“An old man told me when I was young, don't throw stones if you live in a glass house,” he said. “Quest has performed commendable at the middle and high school levels. The middle school had some minor issues, but it may have been due to the primary schools feeding, yet both the middle and high school have a commendable level.”

That sentiment was shared by other parents, who expressed concerns that their students would not get a quality education in District 150.

During discussion, board members said that this decision did not discredit positive experiences had by Quest students and parents.

“So today in the meeting, leading up to today, we have heard significant, compelling stories about the transformative impact that Quest has had on the lives of young people and families,” said board member Sherly Chavarria. “And today's decision is not about questioning the validity and the experience that you've had…today's decision, as a board member, we have to comply with the law. The law is narrow and explicit about what we must consider in this matter.”

Quest would close at the end of the 2023-24 school year under the decision. District 150 and Quest have been preparing for the closure since January.

Quest has the option to pursue judicial review of the decision.

WCBU has reached out to Peoria Public Schools and Quest Charter Academy officials for additional comment.

Camryn Cutinello is a reporter and digital content director at WCBU. You can reach Camryn at cncutin@illinoisstate.edu.