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Lincoln K-8 Starts School Year On Better Footing

Cass Herrington
Peoria Public Radio

Students who returned to Lincoln K-8 School this month entered a drastically different environment, compared to last year.

Peoria District 150 allocated about $270,000 to implement the ELITE program at Lincoln last fall. That change, among others, is helping turn things around.

Credit Cass Herrington / Peoria Public Radio
Peoria Public Radio
ELITE compliance officers interact with students at lunch. Carl Cannon calls their yellow shirts "compliance shirts" that serve as a visual reminder to students that they're being held accountable for unacceptable behavior. They wear them the first few weeks of school, and if problems, like fights, break out over the weekends or on social media, Cannon said.

ELITE founder Carl Cannon says he and his colleagues were shocked by what they saw when they arrived at Lincoln last year. The scene was so chaotic, he called it a “Hollywood” School.

“Everything you could see in a bad movie, in a school existed in this building. From gangs, to violence to drugs, we had it all,” Cannon said.

But that’s changed. During this interview, students walked through the hallways single file, some greeted Cannon with a hug.

“A year ago, very little learning academically was occurring. Our kids were just marking time, they were moving but going nowhere," Cannon said. "This year, we can see movement, clear movement.”

Cannon says he aims to help make Lincoln one of the district’s top ten performing schools. More than 92 percent of Lincoln’s student population is considered low income. 

ELITE compliance officer Angel Cruz says their strategy has two components -- love and tough love.

“Showing these kids that one, we do care. We’re going to express the love, but we’re also going to build that foundation that’s based on rules,” Cruz said.

Cruz says they first focus on building one-on-one trust and respect with students, then they engage with their families.

“Now the family wants to be involved, where before they couldn’t, because there was just so much chaos,” Cruz.

Cruz says his work also involves engaging with the school’s Hispanic community because the majority of parents don’t speak English. Illinois Report Card data shows at least 18 percent of the Lincoln's student population is Hispanic. 

By the end of last school year, Lincoln saw an increased participation in after-school activities. Cannon says they’re starting new clubs, like chess and tennis. So, the definition “normal” at Lincoln will no longer be the stuff of movies -- Cannon says, it’ll increasingly look and feel the way school is supposed to. 

Another change that teachers say helped improve the environment was the school board's decision last Sept. to make Tom Blumer principal. He was previously principal at Woodruff and has worked in the district for more than 20 years.