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Quest Charter Academy Asks For Continued Peoria 150 Funding

Peoria Public Schools board members heard Quest Charter Academy's arguments for five more years of funding at a public hearing Monday night. The board grilled Quest Executive Director Dr. Tauyna Jenkins over low teacher retention rates, high student turnover, and a lack of qualified special education personnel. Jenkins said she's working on those issues, but noted several times throughout the two-hour meeting that she only recently came aboard. District 150 Board President Dan Adler said it's hard for him to see the proof Quest is better than an average public school when comparing its scores to similar schools on the Illinois State Report Card.

"My fundamental question at the end of the day, in terms of the bang for the buck investment in the institution that is Quest, how do you make that case to the board that it's producing?" he asked.

Jenkins said most students Quest receives from District 150 aren't performing at grade level when they first arrive - but over time, they catch them up and help them become successful.

"Students are not like a product. You can't measure it by how long it's been on the shelf. You have to measure it by where they are. Where a student is. Where their learning capacity is. It takes a minute for us to start where they are and move them forward," she said.

The Illinois State Board of Education rates Quest "commendable," its second-highest rating.

A perceived lack of a sense of "partnership" between Quest's appointed board of directors and the elected school board was noted by several people at the meeting. The rechartering application submitted by Quest to the district on Oct. 1 includes an option for one of the elected members to also join Quest's board.

A copy of that rechartering application was not immediately available upon request. But Quest's attorney, Josh Herman of Peoria law firm Miller, Hall and Triggs, said the district requested a "tremendous volume" of information in the application, and claimed the charter school has received more scruitiny from the district in the past year than in the previous four.

It was first chartered in 2010. The charter school currently teaches grades 5 through 12, and selects up to students to enroll every year through a lottery. The school has a maximum allotment of 600 students in its current charter, but is asking for that to increase to 660 in the new application, despite never hitting capacity.

The school board is set to vote on the funding next Monday. Quest currently receives about $6.5 million  a year from the district.

Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.