Friday, December 18, 2009

A warning regarding caller ID....

Realtor members recently recieved an e-mail from the Peoria Association of Realtors. Apparently, there have been multiple reports of "Caller ID spoofing" within the Peoria area.

Caller ID spoofing is a service that allows a caller to masquerade as someone else by falsifying the number that appears on the recipient's caller ID display. Just as e-mail spoofing can make it appear that a message came from any e-mail address the sender chooses, caller ID spoofing can make a call appear to come from any phone number the caller wishes.

Folks, this can pose a significant security risk. Please be careful and make sure the person you are talking to is who they say they are. If necessary, call the person back at the number you have for them. Only give out confidential information if you are absolutely certain of the identity of the person on the other line. If you have any questions please call me at 309-645-8608 or Brian Carroll at the Peoria Area Association of Realtors at 688-8591. As always, be careful out there!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Legislating parental involvement

Here is a great article highlighted by a local blogger about how one school district is thinking "outside the box" and requiring greater participation from parents of students who are struggling academically. The key to reaching some children is by modifying the behaviors of the parent. It would be interesting to follow this school district and observe what kind of changes in student achievement they observe from this program.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

NAR lays out the new home buyers tax credit rules

If you have been in the real estate market recently, you are most likely aware that Congress just passed an extension of the First Time Home Buyers Tax Credit. This time, however, the credit extends to all buyers of homes under $800,000, and not just first time home buyers. The credit to non-first time home buyers is $6,500. Here is how the credit works. You find a home and close on it as usual. You then request the tax credit on your end of year tax return. This time, the IRS requires the buyer submit proof of the purchase with your return. The chart below, published by the NAR, does a good job laying out the details and restrictions of the credit.

Mortgage rates are low, inventory is high, and now there are big buyer incentives to boot. If you've ever thought about moving, this is the time. Call me today at 645-8608 for a no cost or obligation home buying consultation and a free buyer pre-approval.

National Assoc. of Realtors explains the new tax credit

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

D150: Rules? We don't need no stinkin rules

A phone call to District 150 Spokesperson Stacy Shangraw confirmed today that Administrator Mary Davis continues to be on Paid leave following allegations of theft and misconduct from fired Lindbergh Middle School principal Julie McArdle. This leave comes at such a time that we are also paying current Superintendent Ken Hinton-soon to be on medical leave, and Norm Durflinger, interim Superintendent. What Hershel Hannah's role is at this point is yet one more D150 mystery.

With this kind of payroll musical chairs, is it any wonder there is no money left to keep our schools open?

According to Ms. Shangraw, MD will remain on the payroll until the outcome of an investigation by the States Attorney's office. Ms. Davis has been on paid leave since September 8, with no end in sight.

This position by the District violates their own written board policy.

Apparently, the Mary Davis situation is not unique. Other administrators in other districts have faced similar allegations, and how a school district should respond has long been established. The written policy of our Board of Education cites case law and defines the official protocol that the district should follow in these exact circumstances:

Here are the provisions that apply:


All District employees are expected to maintain high standards in their school relationships, to demonstrate integrity and honesty, to be considerate and cooperative, and to maintain professional relationships with students, parents, staff members, and others. The following employees must file a "Statement of Economic Interests" as required by the Illinois


Suspension With Pay
The Board of Education or Superintendent or designee may suspend a professional employee with pay (1) during an investigation into allegations of disobedience or misconduct whenever the employee's continued presence in his or her position would not be in the School District’s best interests, (2) as a disciplinary measure for misconduct that is detrimental to the School District as defined above, or (3) pending a Board hearing to suspend a teacher without pay. The Superintendent shall meet with the professional employee to present the allegations and give the professional employee an opportunity to refute the charges. The professional employee will be told the dates and times the suspension will begin and end. No suspension with pay shall exceed 10 school or working days in length.

In short, the district should have notified MD that she was being suspended and given her a specific start and end date, with the paid leave not to exceed ten days. MD would have then been entitled to a hearing. The District would put up the evidence that has already been provided compliments of McArdles lawyer and offered Ms. Davis the opportunity to refute it.

The evidence consists of (among other things) 1. documents with falsified student addresses 2. Statements showing the existance of a credit card, issued to Charles Lindbergh Middle School and used by MD for clearly personal expenses. Payments made to that credit card that are clearly shown coming from the student activity fund, an e-mail to Julie McArdle from MD stating incorrectly that the account no longer existed, and a statement by Ken Hinton saying it was not an authorized credit card.

My 8 year old can sit on the panel as he has a pretty good head for these things. She either followed our rules, or she didn't. Short of blaming it on an evil twin sister, the facts look pretty irrefutable. Do we really need the States Attorney to define right and wrong for us? Sad. If there was cause, cut her loose. It's the responsible thing to do. Follow the rules that each board member swore to uphold.

The District argues that they don't want the liability of MD suing them. If that is the case, why did they not feel the same way about the time Mr. Walvoord opened a letter stating If-you-fire-Julie-McArdle-we-will-sue-you? Where was the fear of liability then? Well the opportunity to avoid legal exposure to the district has come and gone as McArdles legal team looms in the distance, preparing subpoenas like party invitations. Thank you to whoever made THAT decision for being such a wise custodian of District assetts. [end sarcasm]

Why is the District afraid of Mary Davis but they weren't afraid of Julie McArdle? Very strange indeed. I am asking this board of Education to simply follow our written board policy. A policy position that was written to protect the interests of the children and taxpayers over the coddling of yet another administrator. What a novel idea!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Peoria Times Observer now delivered with PJStar in 61614 area code

This morning as usual I opened up my daily PJStar, and lo and behold, there was a Times Observer inside! I tried to figure out if this had happened somehow by chance, or if it was a new method of delivery.

So I e-mailed my Facebook buddy and Time Observer editor DeWayne Bartels and asked him to shine a little light on this phenomenon.

DeWayne replied that the Times Observor is now being delivered inside the 61614 area code. It is an experiment, for now, he said.

I like it! You know the idea of 2 newspapers working together in cooperation to face a tough economic environment kind of warms the cockles of my heart.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Peoria Honors its Neighborhood Do-ers

A good friend of mine used to say there are two kinds of people in the world - Givers, and Takers. Well tonight was a night for givers as Peoria honored those among us who work double time to make our neighborhoods cleaner and safer.

The 13th Annual Neighborhood Leadership Awards took place this evening at the Civic Center. The evening was well planned and moved quickly.

The stories were uplifting and abundant. Neighbors helping neighbors, families giving up their weekends, local businesses providing advice and financial resources, individuals standing up to crime and drug houses, city leaders responding to needs for stop lights, signage and other neighborhood concerns.

It was a showcase of resourcefulness, hard work and commitment- a very uplifting message. We do not have to surrender our neighborhoods to crime and neglect. The nominees tonight are an outstanding example of the alternative to flight!

Congrats to all the award winners, and also to those who don't win awards but work everyday to help and improve their community!

For more photos and details of the award winners please visit my Facebook page.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Roger Monroe "grades" District 150 at The Community Word

Roger Monroe of recent "Royce and Roger" fame demonstrates he's still "got it" as he fires off his opinion regarding the closing of Woodruff High School by the Peoria District 150 School Board several weeks ago.

The entire article can be read here at The Community Word, where he "grades" the Board of Education members and their vote.

An interesting nugget of information contained in the article is that Woodruff's closure is not necessarily a "done deal" and hopefully Mr. Hinton isn't down at the barnyard counting fowl yet.

I've heard rumblings that Woodruff Alum will be fighting the decision and Roger lay-ed out a fairly compelling legal premise. Full disclosure: I'm no a lawyer but sleep at Holiday Inn Express on occasion.

One thing is for sure... I won't be joining Mr. Hinton in the barnyard until I hear melodious tunes emanating from a portly female.

Hat tip: Billy Dennis

Monday, September 28, 2009

Now THAT is impressive!

Aaron Schock is on the national news scene almost everyday it seems. Have to say, though, that the GQ spread didn't impress me that much. Nor did the Air Force One junkett with President Obama to tour the Caterpillar Plant.

THIS, though, impresses me! Schock to throw out the first pitch at a CUBS game! THAT ROCKS!!

Hat tip: Debbie Adlof

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

This one is for Joni!

Joni is getting tired of the seeing the same picture at the top of my blog. That is code for "update your blog you lazy *insert word of choice here*". For Joni, I am updating with a new pic. I'll work on new content ASAP. In the meantime, I am doing most of my blogging here. Yes, my husband is running for judge. Political campaigning is exhausting and all consuming. It has its exhilarating moments as well. I will leave you with this thought.... it is impossible to fully comprehend all aspects of human existence until you have experienced and lived through a campaign in the family.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

New meth disclosure required from Illinois home sellers

Hopefully, this will not affect any PeoriaRocks! readers, but sadly, it will affect some residential properties in Illinois. There is legislation pending right now, expected to be approved today and affective immediately, that Sellers must disclose to a buyer if they have any knowledge of the manufacture of methamphetamine on the premises being sold.

The manufacture of meth in a home creates a build up of toxicity in the home that leads to long term adverse health consequences for the inhabitants.

According to the site

Exposure to chemicals used to make meth include the inhalation or ingestion of brake cleaners, engine starting fluid, drain cleaners,paint thinners, ammonia, rock salt/iodine, road flares, batteries, gas additives, gun cleaners, lye, and lantern or camp stove fuel.

People who are risk of chronic toxicity include not only meth cooks and those who are in the house when they’re making it, but also those who live in the home long after the meth lab has been shut down. Children living in a former meth lab are especially vulnerable to the effect of toxins on their body. Others at risk for chronic toxicity include police, firefighters, and child protection agents

The specific language on the Residential Real Property Disclosure Report will be as follows:

23. I am/am not (check one) aware that this property has been used for the manufacture of methamphetamine as defined in Section 10 of the Methamphetamine Control and Community Protection Act.

Your buyers agent should be aware of this requirement and make sure that the seller has complied with this new disclosure law. If you are looking for a new home, consider hiring me as your buyers agent.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Attention Tazewell County Homeowners

According to the website:

The 2009 deadline for Board of Review appeals is August 10 for all townships in the County, with the exceptions of Groveland which is August 31, and Morton which is yet to be determined.

In other words, if you feel your property is assessed at more than it is worth, you have only until August 10, 2009 to do something about it.

Contact your Realtor for assistance in gathering comparable sales data that will support your argument for a lower fair market value.

The appeal forms can be downloaded here.

It is the homeowners responsibility to keep your property assessment fair and reasonable.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Astronaut Scott Altman talks space travel at Lakeview Museum

I've often said that anyone who complains there is not enough to do in the Peoria vicinity just isn't looking hard enough. Case in point - this evening at Lakeview Museum, Scott Altman, Pekin native and space traveler, shared his adventures with a large gathering on the front lawn of the Lakeview Museum.

For about 45 minutes prior to his talk, he signed autographs and posed for photo-ops with the crowd.

It was entertaining listening to the crowd share their impressions of him with him. OK I admit I was eaves-dropping.

Here is a bit of trivia. In the movie "Top Gun" there is a scene where Tom Cruises' character buzzes "the tower". Scott was the real pilot that flew the plane during that scene. He said it took 11 takes. How cool is that!

Scott used an overhead projector and shared some of his private video footage with the crowd. He explained the complicated nature of their latest mission in May, where they upgraded and repaired the Hubble Space Telescope. Scott was the Commanding Officer of that mission and he said his greatest thrill was landing the shuttle. Here is NASA's description of Scott's last mission:

STS-125 Atlantis (May 11-24, 2009) was the fifth and final Hubble servicing mission. The 19 year old telescope spent seven days in the Shuttle’s cargo bay undergoing an overhaul conducted over five back to back spacewalks. The crew overcame frozen bolts, stripped screws, and stuck handrails to complete all mission objectives. The refurbished Hubble Telescope now has four new or rejuvenated scientific instruments, new batteries, new gyroscopes, and a new Command and Data Handling computer. The STS-125 mission traveled over 5.3 million miles in 197 Earth orbits, and ended with a day landing at Edwards AFB following two days of wave offs due to poor weather in Florida.

He also shared the daily activities of the crew and the Q&A session with the crowd made for some hilarious fodder.

It was a really cool event and I'd like to thank Lakeview Museum for their cahuna's in getting him here. My understanding is that he spent almost the entire day with kids from the summer camp. What a great event! What a hero! What an experience!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Well heres a novel idea...

A District 150 board member actually engaging *gasp* the community! Get this - she wants to hear your *ideas* and solicit your *input*. OMG - some of the other board members are going to need their smelling salts!

Way to go Laura Petelle. Show them how its done.

Psst, Laura - D150 needs your pic. That gray outline just doesn't do you justice.

Debbie Wolfmeyers campaign promises

Update - I may be wrong about Wolfmeyers vote on the Edison project. I'm checking into this...

District 150 Board member Debbie Wolfmeyer is vying to become the President of the School Board tonight, after a 3 - 3 tie at the last board meeting. She was absent at that meeting, and will presumably vote for herself this evening, giving her the win unless one of the original three board members that voted for her changes their vote.

Our District 150 Watch group strongly supports Martha Ross for President, because we feel she is the most qualified in both education and experience. We also feel that through her actions, she has demonstrated a high regard for the needs of the community and the students. She consistantly votes on the side of the students over the nepotistic, self preserving, money squandering policies of the Central Administration that has left us virtually bankrupt.

Debbie Wolfmeyers performance on the school board has been, to be polite, disappointing. Most feel that she has not even remotely lived up to the promises she made to her constituency during her campaign for school board.

A quick check of the PJStar archives confirms we have good reason to be disappointed. On March 17, 2006, the Peoria Journal star issued the following endorsement of Ms. Wolfmeyer:

Wolfmeyer, 54, retired from District 150 in 2004 following 27 years as an administrative secretary in special education. For a decade she headed the district's clerical union. She says School Board members don't ask enough questions of administrators, that generally the district and board do a poor job of communicating with both staff and public, that she'd be a notable change on both counts.

Oh really?? That was what she said. Here is the reality:

From an e-mail:
Mrs. Vespa - I must respectfully decline your invitation to meet with you. It is not my role as a Board member to meet with individuals or groups. None of us as an individual Board member has any authority. Our authority comes as we work as a body. Also, I am not an educator. Therefore, it is important that any ideas, solutions, etc that are presented go through the administration so that they can assess them and report to us.

Another example of her disregard for the community she serves - At a recent board meeting, Ms. Wolfmeyer voted to decrease public input sessions from 2 sessions to 1, thereby reducing public input time from 40 minutes to 20 minutes - unless an extension is agreed to by the majority of the board.

PJStar writes:

She'd terminate the Edison contract on the basis that "I have a hard time catering to the 30 percent at the expense of the 70 percent." She wants a real alternative school for chronic discipline problems and believes vocational education must return to the high schools. She'd downsize central administration. She wants local schools to emulate best classroom practices.
Page: A4
Record Number: 0000727930
Copyright (c) 2006 The Peoria Journal Star, Inc.

The reality: She has voted to extend the Edison contract at least twice. Of course we still have NO alternative school, and Central Administration has grown like a toxic fungus under her watch.

Here is more:

From the PJStar, March 25, 2006

Wolfmeyer has said money is being wasted on administrative salaries, and she'd like to see the elimination of some positions. I don't know if we need four people with the word superintendent in their names. A lot of times School Board members don't ask enojugh questions of the administraiton, and I think it's sometimes because they don't know what to ask.

It's one thing to have a hunch that someone isn't walking the walk. It's another when it is right before your eyes! Ms. Wolfmeyer was elected by her district based on promises to do exactly the opposite of what she has been doing. For all the board members who vote FOR Debbie Wolfmeyer for President, I have to ask - What can you possibly be thinking? Her election as the representative of your body will be a bizarre tribute to everything that is wrong with you.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Peoria Rocks Hero of the Year-to-date!

The winner is... Kirk Wessler, sports writer for the Peoria Journal Star. This guy hit a home run with this article. It is so on-point and comprehensive I can't think of a single comment to improve upon it.

of the Journal Star
Posted Jun 18, 2009 @ 10:30 PM
Last update Jun 19, 2009 @ 01:45 PM

PEORIA — When the District 150 school board finally votes on which of its four high schools to close, the choice should be a no-brainer.

Say good-bye to Manual.

It won’t be that easy, of course. For some reason, Manual seems to be surrounded by a magic force field that has made the school untouchable in this debate. That needs to change. Right now.

Much as I hate to see any school close, I believe it’s a financial necessity. Reasonable people disagree and present compelling data about the “right size” for urban high schools, to support keeping all schools open. If they can find a way to do that without drowning us in debt, more power to them.

The board, however, voted in April to close a high school but deferred specifics. The vote on which school to close will come whenever it shows up on the agenda. Could be any week now.

Closing Richwoods, the only city high school north of War Memorial Drive, is out of the question. All the talk to date has focused on Peoria High, a.k.a. Central, and Woodruff.

But why has Manual been off the table? I know one board member who wonders the same thing, and I suspect there are others. It’s way past time for them to open their mouths in public and in a loud, clear voice demand rational, substantive answers before they endorse one more lame proposal from an administration that has zero credibility with the taxpaying public.

Manual’s location alone should make it the No. 1 candidate for closure. The campus is pinned into the far-southwest corner of the city, a mere three blocks from the Limestone Community school district. The growth potential is non-existent. Residents of West Peoria and the Peoria West Bluff, a sizable slice of which falls within Manual’s attendance boundaries, abandoned the school years ago.

Manual’s future as a viable high school is a lost cause.

That’s painful to say, because the negative perception of the neighborhood is overblown and unfair. I’ll grant it can be a rough area, but not once have I ever felt unsafe there. I attend church on the South Side, three blocks south of the school. I visit Manual. I’m in the neighborhood several times a week, day and night. I’m watchful, but never worried.

Perceptions are real, though, even if they’re wrong. So, parents of kids in suburban schools don’t want to schedule sports contests at Manual, and city dwellers don’t want to attend events there. Almost nobody with a choice wants their kids to go to school there. So they don’t do any of those things.

Those are facts. Here are more.

Other than basketball, Manual’s programs have become perennial failures. We’re not talking about dismal won-lost records, which have led to ownership of last place in the conference all-sports standings for most of this decade. After all, extracurricular activities are about more than winning percentages. No, Manual’s problem is that most of its sports programs lack the participation necessary to offer reasonable opportunity to compete.

It’s one thing to play and get beat. It’s quite another to have to forfeit, or to concede victory before the starter’s gun fires, or to reschedule — over and over — because there aren’t enough kids to field a varsity team, let alone freshman or sophomore development squads.

Peoria High and Woodruff fight some of the same battles, but not nearly to the degree Manual does. They remain salvageable.

First, the boundaries for Central and Woodruff still encompass thriving residential neighborhoods that have not given up on themselves, or on their high schools.

Plus, there are other factors in play.

Closing Peoria High as an institution would be crazy. It was founded in 1856 and remains the oldest continuing high school west of the Allegheny Mountains; 17th oldest in the entire country, according to the school Web site.

My best friend, a former Richwoods basketball player, is a high school administrator in Michigan now. He was back for a visit last weekend and wanted to know more about what he’d been reading in regard to Peoria school closures.

“You know,” he said, “I never had any use at all for Central. But closing that school would be nuts. You just don’t throw away history like that.”

When the Peoria Diocese merged Academy of Our Lady/Spalding Institute with Bergan to form Peoria Notre Dame in 1988, the Catholic community here lost a lot more than two old school buildings. A part of its soul was needlessly, stupidly ripped out and flushed away, never to be recovered.

If you don’t believe me, ask an old Spalding or Academy alum.

Another thing about Peoria High, the building. Opened in 1916, it’s the oldest in the district. It’s also the largest. And it’s a fortress. What sense does it make to increase enrollment — and crowding — at the remaining schools and shut down the biggest one?

As for Woodruff, I’ve seen more overall improvement there over the past decade than at any of the other high schools, Richwoods included. The community spirit, in an area of the city that’s too easily written off, is palpable. What Tim Thornton and his staff have done to restore the football program — on the field and in the classroom — borders on miraculous. Wrestling remains strong and won the conference championship last winter. Its teams are not all doormats.

Closing Manual would be sad. From a sports standpoint, closing it barely a decade after the Rams won a record four consecutive boys basketball state titles also would be stunning.

But closing Central or Woodruff would be wrong.


Full disclosure here. Four generations of my family attended Peoria High. My wife works there, and I’m a member of the school’s alumni board. Also, my brother, who is a Manual graduate, teaches at Woodruff. And I still live on the West Bluff.

Take that however you wish.

KIRK WESSLER is Journal Star executive sports editor/columnist. He can be reached at, or 686-3216.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Top school reformer Paul Vallas addresses Peoria education leaders

UPDATE - Please see this excellent article by Dave Haney in the PJStar for some points that he grasped that I did not.

Paul Vallas drove through the night from New Orleans to Peoria as he rushed to keep a commitment made to his friend, Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis. The two friends greeted each other warmly as he breathlessly arrived at Weaver Ridge country club to address local education leaders about school reform.

Mr. Vallas has a diverse and proven career reforming troubled school districts around the nation. Currently he is the Superintendent of the Louisiana Recovery School district which includes schools in New Orleans rebuilding from the devastating consequences of Katrina. He has also successfully reformed, among others, Chicago Public Schools and Philadelphia Public Schools - districts that have demographics, poverty rates and academic challenges similar to Peoria. In short, it seems that Vallas has never met a district that he couldn't improve, and he is widely accepted as the "go to guy" for all the tough cases.

Mr. Vallas shared his insights with an audience of approximately 50 people including leaders, legislators, Board of education members and administrators. I was most likely invited as the token complainer, haha.

Vallas is very familiar with Peoria. He has often wondered why when wealthier suburban school districts perform well, nobody seems to notice. But when poorer, inner city school districts do well people are incredulous. "Poor school districts suffer from a racism of lower expectations", Vallas said. In other words, a community develops a complacent attitude towards poorer children and begins to believe and accept that poor children can't learn.

Mr. Vallas very much disagrees with that assessment, and has dedicated his career to demonstrating otherwise. "Sometimes you have to deconstruct before you can reconstruct", Vallas said. "Sometimes the reforms needed are so drastic that the only way to succeed is to dismantle, and then start from the ground up."

He feels that a big part of the systemic problem in the declining effectiveness of public education is the security blanket that surrounds public schools in the form of government funding. "A privately owned business that is failing must respond and change or go out of business". Public Schools on the other hand continue to be funded no matter what. There is no urgent need to change. "When you have repeated failures you must re-think your strategy."

Vallas attributes a large degree of his success in New Orleans to the fact that he was able to start "from scratch". "I had some buildings, the kids, the teachers, and the money that followed the kids, and that was it". I was able to leave behind the bureaucracy, the contracts and the establishment. Many of his early efforts in New Orleans simply focused on figuring out where he would put everyone. To his critics who have suggested that Mr. Vallas' success was due largely to an influx of federal disaster funds into the district he simply states that a majority of his funding went towards capital improvements. He feels that the dollar amount of educational funding available for each child is not the driving force behind the child's prognosis for academic success.

Mr. Vallas recommended six reforms that could be implemented immediately by any school district that would virtually guarantee positive results. They are:

1. Establish a superior comprehensive data driven curriculum that aligns with the next grade level. Provide a continuum of instruction from Kindergarten through 12th grade.

2. We must extend the school day and the school year. "The U.S. competitive advantage is deteriorating and we are getting our butts kicked abroad. We must restructure and lengthen our school day and school year to mirror the schedule of working men and women."

3. Parents must be given school choices. Poor families don't have the choices that affluent families have, and wealthier parents tend to vote with their feet. All parents should have acceptable choices so that they remain in their homes and keep their neighborhoods stable. School choice also creates competition and an entrepreneurial environment. School choice empowers parents, promotes innovation and naturally allows the school to attract a larger pool of talent.

4. Allow choice for schools. Allowing some schools to pick the best and the brightest students creates an environment of high expectations for everyone.

5. Every school must have a human resources strategy. The biggest struggle for public education is attracting the best and the brightest educators. The community should not fear alternative certified teachers. Many have extraordinary talent. They work like there is no tomorrow because they are used to a regular work day and work year. Many have unlimited energy, optimism and high expectations. Non certified teachers expand the talent pool and can be your top performing teachers. Put your best and brightest in superior instructional systems - just like the military. The better you perform, the more you get paid. He recommends Teacher Alternative Preparation Programs, or TAPP. The top performers also become your leadership team. HELLO SANITY!! According to Vallas, first teachers resist and fear these changes. They soon learn to welcome and embrace them as they see the benefits they deliver to students, the district, and consequently themselves!

6. Classroom modernization - In addition to reasonable class sizes, every classroom should be equipped with the latest in technology. At the very least the classroom of the inner city school should be equivalent to the classroom of the school in the suburbs. Smart boards, laptops - whatever it takes. I asked a question during the Q and A portion of the lecture about air conditioning in classrooms. Mr. Vallas feels that central air in our classrooms is indeed a necessity to expect peak performance from students.

If you think that these changes will cost exorbitant amounts of money, think again. Mr. Vallas says that it is entirely possible to implement reforms and cut spending at the same time. He said that as school choice emerges through the development of charter and choice schools, the schools become highly autonomous and the need for a central administration and the obstructions associated with it decrease. The central administration becomes lithe and effective, whose only purpose is to support the charter schools. No more micromanagement! He has seen districts that have central offices that are only 2% of their overall operating costs. Many districts could easily achieve a 60% reduction in their Administrative costs.

Finally, Mr Vallas noted that all of his recommendations were in line with the new directives of the Obama Administration. All of the reforms he noted would put the district in an ideal situation to qualify for the new stimulus funds. "I don't like to leave any federal money on the table when it comes to public education", Vallas said.

A lengthy Q&A session followed which was almost more revealing than the lecture itself. In addition, Mr. Vallas lingered behind after the program and addressed individual concerns. I was amazed at not only the depth of his knowlege, but also how willing he was to openly share his expertise. He told Board member Racheal Parker after the event that if the district needed anything or had any questions they should feel free to call him. What an amazing resource available to our community.

The only thing that bothers me about the whole thing is he makes it appear so easy. He speaks with such ease and confidance - oozing the common sense we have all dreamt about. Much of what he says falls into the "no-brainer" category. My neck hurts from my head bobbing up and down like a bobble head. As we look back over the past few years though, my heart sinks. How do you get this administration and this board of education to even begin making these changes? Personally, I vote for the do-over.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A new relationship...

I'm in a new relationship. It is still relatively early, so I'm not sure that I can or will commit fully, but all indications are that this will be a lasting and worthwhile relationship.

Last Saturday for example, I greeted the day with great anticipation. We were going on our first road trip together. It was a little nervewracking given that the relationship was still new and somewhat tentative, but in my heart of hearts, I felt it would go well. I yielded to the excitement, threw caution to the wind and away we went!

At some point during the day we had our first moment of reckoning. We started turning down a frontage road, and off the familiar beaten path. I hesitated, and then decided that if were ever going to make it to the "next step", I would have to impart some blind trust. Without protest I acquiesed, and felt pure elation upon noticing some familiar landmarks close to our destination. Not only had our relationship advanced to a deeper, more trusting level, but I now knew a more meandering, scenic route to some of my favorite destinations.

Like old sneakers, it's hard to let go of established relationships. Yahoo! Maps has served me well. But the paper and printing had become cumbersome... and it was so unyielding if I changed plans. My new Garmin Nuvi GPS is fresh and exciting, has all the bells and whistles and I can mold it to what I want it to be. His name is Andrew. If he gets on my nerves I can turn him into a woman. He is very patient most of the time, but does get a little short if I pull rank on him and ignore his directions. Sometimes just for fun I try extra hard to rattle him. RECALCULATING! RECALCULATING, he shouts. It's kind of sinister to intentionally challenge him for my own amusement but what the heck. He never seems to hold a grudge.

The beauty of this relationship is that Andrew has an "off" switch. What a dream date. I love the new millenium!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Civility - 1, Thug Punks - 0

That's the score so far for the Summer '09 Event Season.

Yesterday's PJStar reported that Holy Family Heritage Days was held without incident following the execution of a collaborative community effort to reduce teen violence. Last year unexpected random teen violence caused the same event to end sooner than planned. It's a great article and is some welcome good news for the city of Peoria.
PEORIA — If you plan to attend summer festivals this year, expect to be greeted with a list of rules: No baggy pants, no plain T-shirts, and no cursing.

Because of fights breaking out among crowds of teenagers during 2008 summer festivals, more than two dozen certified volunteers through Carl Cannon's ELITE Youth program are being called to action.

Their first stop was Holy Family Church's Heritage Days during the last weekend in May.

"We went incident free, knock on wood," Cannon said. "We raised the bar and put it on the youth to live up to the standards that we expect."

No arrests were made at the event, according to Capt. Lisa Snow of the Peoria Police Department.

Before entrance to the event, youths had to agree with a code of conduct and dress code, which were posted on signs at the entrance.

We are all quick to criticise our city leaders for their perceived shortcomings, but we tend to fall short when it comes to offering the appropriate accolades for a job well done. According to the article, the services and counsel of Carl Cannon will continue to be retained throughout the summer at Riverfront and city sponsored events. Thank you to the Peoria Police Department, Mayor Ardis and the City of Peoria, and particularly Carl Cannon and his Elite Youth Program and volunteers for their collaborative efforts, their innovative problem solving, and a willingness to continue to serve our community.

I found this point in the PJStar article to be the most revealing:
While some thought event attendance may be lowered because of these stricter guidelines, the last two days of Heritage Days saw an increase in attendance, according to Sollberger.

If people feel safe, attendance and participation will be enhanced - basic common sense we can apply to all city and school district business. The efforts undertaken to stop teen violence sends a strong message that we will not surrender our community or our schools to thugs!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Lindbergh Teachers Sound Off about Principal Firing

Nearly a dozen Lindbergh Middle School Faculty and Staffers met privately with me as a group to set the record straight on some of the on-going turmoil within LMS following the unexplained firing of their new principal, Julie McArdle. A half dozen more have spoken with me on the telephone. This group considers themselves the silent majority, very concerned about possible ramifications for speaking out against D150 Administration, but also appalled at the unjust firing of McArdle who they feel has been a source of hope and strength in improving a toxic and divisive environment at LMS.

It should be noted that at NO time prior to her firing had any board member or Central Admin member contacted McArdle to intervene in any real or perceived conflict between McArdle and staff or parents. This same group who spoke to me reached out to both Hinton and the Board of Education through letters, unsigned at the time, but accompanied with a cover letter stating they would be willing to disclose their identities in a personal meeting, which could be arranged through school staff. They wanted the Administration to understand that the story they were getting from a select few was highly subjective and one-sided. No one responded.

The case against McArdle was shrouded in secrecy due to the confidential nature of personnel matters, but many teachers on the inside are calling FOUL and speaking out. Their stories and concerns all share a common theme.

According to them, the conflicts revolve around a core group of 4 teachers, a staff member, and a few easily influenced "fence sitters". They are friends and operatives of Mary Davis, the former Lindbergh principal who sits at the right hand of the Superintendent, Ken Hinton. Amazingly, McArdle ended up reporting to Davis, a situation that anyone with average sense could have predicted as trouble.

The rest of the story is oddly reminiscent of a popular 2004 movie . Sadly though, in this case, we are dealing with adult, not teenage behavior, and instead of being comedic, it is a real life situation with real life consequences.

According to the teachers, shortly after Julie McArdle arrived at the beginning of the '08/'09school year, the "Fab 5" as they had been dubbed let her know in short shrift who was in charge. All attempts by McArdle to shore up notoriously loose interpretations of State, Federal and district rules were met with a full court press by these gals who considered Julie an opponent to the leadership of Davis as opposed to a successor to.

McArdle is well known by her peers in the industry as a very competent, extremely knowledgeable "by the book and stickler for rules" principal with an impeccable record including a Central Illinois "Principal of the Year Award". The vast majority of teachers and parents felt McArdle was doing a very good job. The Fab 5, however, felt differently. According to sources, they worked double time to undermine her and complained constantly to Davis of McArdle's attempts to "even the playing field" by treating all students, parents, teachers and staff equally. Davis, instead of discouraging this challenge to McArdles leadership, seemingly encouraged and welcomed it.

Several teachers told me that as early as January, the Fab 5 would frequently roll their eyes at the directives of McArdle and mouth "She's gone" to those around her.

Mary Davis, as principal of LMS, was thought to pander to a chosen few. According to some teachers and parents, appearances and image were everything to her. She was partial to the admittance of students with high GPA's over the more academically challenged students, and would bypass the "boundary waiver" requirement by telling parents they could use the home address of one of her Fab 5 on their student admission form.

Many of Davis' actions were considered manipulative by some of the faculty. She was lavish with gifts, signature apparel and catered parties. The teachers were told that she paid for these perks with her own money. Now that the whistle blowing allegations of misuse of funds has surfaced, many teachers are beginning to worry that this lavish treatment came at the expense of the generous contributions from parents and students via their activity fund.

Other questions have arisen. One example is the annual school field trip to Springfield, Illinois. Parents have traditionally been charged $25. per student to cover the "expenses" relating to this trip. Where are the financial records for payments made for this trip? How was the $25 figure calculated? Many of the payments from parents were made in cash.

Another example: Under the Davis Administration, a Herculean effort was underway every week to sell food items such as ice-cream, nachos, pop and crazy bread from outside vendors to students at a profit. This practice was in direct violation of the contract the District had with the food service vendor. For instance, Little Caesars Crazy Bread could be purchased for .50 per serving but was sold to the students for $1.00. Likewise with soda-pop. The Kids loved this practice and it endeared them to Mary Davis. If the food vendor was scheduled to appear on the premises during lunch time the kids were told "Don't ask for crazy bread - we aren't selling crazy bread today!". The "store" (the student council storage room) would be locked up and all were under strict orders to keep it secret. Again, it was a largely cash business. Where are the records of receipts and disbursements?

According to teachers, Davis systematically bent the rules to gain and maintain popularity. One teacher described how Davis would submit a plan to Admin for how the teachers would utilize their teacher institute days, only to have it discarded and the teachers told to go home and "stay off the golf course".

She would utilize the PA system throughout the day with frequent blasts of psychological propaganda such as "We are number 1!" Many teachers found this very disruptive and intrusive.

Teachers that have declared their unquestioned loyalty to Davis by all appearances are forgiven their sins, and some of those "sins" are serious.

According to these teachers, one of the Fab 5 continues to scream and berate her students on a daily basis. "SHUT UP!" is constantly emanating from her classroom. The behavior is upsetting and shocking to the other teachers and they frequently have to close their doors. Teachers and parents have complained continuously about this teacher. At one point a parent filed a complaint with the state. This teacher, however, despite her horrid offensive behavior towards her students continues to be employed and continues to receive satisfactory reviews.

To add to the intrigue, activity fund records have been reported to the police as "missing". Credit card records filed in the Julie McArdle vs. Mary Davis court case clearly demonstrate a payment from the student activity fund to pay a credit card balance on a credit card that Mary Davis denied existed. Many of the charges on this credit card appeared to be of a personal nature. There were also several "cash advances", and the activity fund does not reflect any credit for rewards cash earned from the credit card.

According to this group, the Fab 5 along with Mary Davis regularly demonstrated extremely unprofessional and sophomoric behavior. They would regularly hang out after hours in the office, outside the gym and at extra-curricular events. They would frequently have their heads together, giggle, snicker and laugh. This behavior was very unsettling to the teachers, and the group that spoke to me said it made them feel belittled, excluded and intimidated.

A parent that I spoke to reported similar feelings. She told me she would shake when she went to pick up her child's report card, because she would see it passed among them, then handed to her, and they would burst out in laughter as she walked away.

One person told me that Mary Davis referred to a student as "dumber than a box of rocks" in front of staff.

Another teacher once said she had to unwillingly and uncomfortably sit in on a conversation where the Fab 5 discussed how awful it would be to have sex with some of the male teachers.

Many of the teachers I spoke with would describe incidents where Davis would scream at students. According to them, she was very short-tempered and would get within inches of a students face and scream so hard "she would spit". "You could see the veins pop out on her neck!" A parent that I spoke with witnessed one such incident with her child unbeknownst to Davis at the time. She described the situation as "horrifying". That same parent reported however, that under Julie's leadership, her child has had their "best year ever".

The teachers that spoke to me felt that if they exhibited independence and an unwillingness to bow to Davis, they were shunned and ignored. If they directly challenged her they would get the worst scheduling, the most difficult students, a cubby hole instead of an office - and worse, be the subject of ridicule and gossip at the hands of the Fab 5.

One teacher said she felt so stripped of her self esteem that "When Davis would leave the building, I felt like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders".

I asked the group if this affected their ability to teach. The group was quiet for a moment and lowered their gaze. It was a reflective sad moment. Then quietly someone offered "We had to continually tell ourselves that we were OK - that we were worthwhile. So much effort was put into tearing us down, we had to constantly try to build ourselves up." Emotionally, it was very challenging and demoralizing for them. The commonality of this group however, was that they had families, enriching personal lives and a relationship with God. This is how they coped.

As I looked at them, I was struck by how much they DID not fit the profile of an "outcast". They were all very well dressed, attractive, intelligent and well spoken. Truth be told, I felt a little dowdy in their company. It was obvious from the sincerity with which they spoke that they were truly devoted to their students and in their job for the "right" reasons. Could those be the very reasons they were ostracized? This writer thinks so.

This group feels that the only people that have been heard is the Fab 5 and a few easily influenced "fence sitters". Davis obviously has cultivated herself some power in Central Admin and the "how" and "why" is a burning question on more than one mind.

Appalled yet somewhat amazed at what I was hearing I asked a few probing questions. First, did any of these teachers field complaints from parents regarding McArdle? They all shook their heads. "No." However, they do think that some of the parents who had benefited from Davis' willingness to disregard rules and laws may have objected to McArdle putting a stop to it.

So how have things changed at LMS under the McArdle principal-ship? The teachers that I talked to feel very supported by her. "I saw support for my program that I have never seen before." "She sits in on every Special Ed IEP meeting", one teacher said. "We started feeling like we could be part of the leadership team." Other comments: "Julie gave us hope and courage." "My kids have really progressed this year." "Julie often comes in and sits in our classes. It makes the kids feel so proud!" "If there is a problem she talks it through with us." "Her knowledge of curriculum is amazing." "She never belittles or berates us - she is firm, but fair." "Never once have I ever seen her raise her voice to a student."

I wondered however, if the sentiments expressed were unique to the teachers before me - and I inquired as such. One teacher said that she had begun asking around, to gain some perspective other than her own. She said that she has heard from Speech, Occupational, Physical therapists, cafeteria, custodial, Social Workers, nurses, aides and support staff. They all had little to no complaints about McArdles knowlege or performance. She feels strongly that the tide against McArdle was orchestrated and embellished by the Fab 5 and the fence sitters eager to please, along with the assistance of Mary Davis.

Many feel that these individuals exploited long-lasting personal relationships they enjoyed with staff members and parents to pursue their own agenda against McArdle.

So why have these teachers come forward now? For one, they are extremely concerned that the new principal will be another Davis minion hand-picked by Mary Davis herself. One that will maintain or intensify the incredibly demoralizing and disfunctional status-quo. Secondly, their sense of honor and integrity compels them to take a stand against a situation that they know is fundamentally wrong and unfair. "If it could happen to Julie, it could happen to any of us", they said.

"Why did you not complain sooner?", I asked. They responded that they were very proud of their school and the reputation it enjoyed as District 150's finest. They did not want to air their "dirty laundrty" in public and felt they would tolerate it as best as they could for the sake of the community and their students. They also said that sometimes when you are in a disfunctional environment, you lose perspective and it becomes the new norm. At this point however, it has become just too weird to overlook, and they feel the time is appropriate to lay the cards on the table.

Work has not been easy for Julie since her contract termination. Many students thought that it was in fact her who was the subject of allegations of misuse of funds. Some students picked up on the cue's of the teachers and parents against McArdle and felt that it was OK to mirror that behavior and show disrespect.

The Fab 5 continues to challenge McArdle's authority. The students insult her audibly. I was told of a situation that occurred recently, after her termination. During a mandatory "Code Red" Safety drill, one of the Fab 5 refused to participate. That teacher is still working, under the assumed protection of Mary Davis.

A bright spot in all of this has been Asst. Superintendent Herschel Hannah, who has replaced Mary Davis as McArdle's Supervisor. Hannah has been very kind and supportive to Julie and has helped smooth over some of the difficulties and discomfort of the circumstances. Many feel that had she reported to Hannah from the beginning, much of this could have been averted.

The reader may wonder what this all has to do with the bigger picture that is D150. How can a situation like this be allowed to fester and thrive? In any properly functioning working environment nonsense of this nature would be nipped in the bud. To me, it is a perfect microcosm of all the problems we see in District 150. We have finally seen the demise of normalcy and common sense.

So many questions remain. Why would Superintendent Hinton NOT have intervened prior to the Mcardle firing? Why wouldn't they have replaced Davis as McArdle's supervisor at the first sign of trouble? Why did not a single Board of Education member do their due diligence and investigate the other side of the story (there always is one, isn't there?) prior to their vote to terminate the McArdle contract- particularly when they were warned that a major whistle blowing lawsuit was in the works? How could the District 150 legal council NOT have anticipated this? Or did they and were ignored? Did anyone in D150 leadership ever consider the legal costs to the district at a time that we are virtually bankrupt? Why is Mary Davis not on administrative leave following such serious and well documented allegations? McArdle's lawyer must be dancing a jig at the end of every single day she remains at her desk.

Julie McArdle recalled one moment when she asked Human Resources director Tom Broderick why she was being fired. Broderick's response: "Your just not a good fit."
Damn. I'll say!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Baby Eyebrows greets the world with a dazzling smile!

OK, the smiling part I made up but Laura Petelle, aka Eyebrows McGee and hubby Garth are now the proud parents of a bouncing baby boy! Count on the Generation x-ers to tweet within hours of their child's birth! Here is Laura's Twitter page with the happy news! I love the second to the last tweet "Having baby - be right back". Ha ha! Congrats Garth and Laura! Hmmm, I wonder if he has thick eyebrows.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Reverse Psychology

Here is some advice. If your kids know something that you don't want your husband/wife to know about, tell them to MAKE SURE they tell their father/mother. Then they will forget and not tell.

Never, I'm tellin ya NEVER, request that they NOT tell them. That's my advice. Take it or leave it.

As usual, all advice lavishly doled out on this site is provided free of charge.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

My thoughts on Julie McCardle...

First off, I've only spoken with her a few times. When Laura Petelle was running for School Board I arranged a PTO meeting with her. I'd like to say that Julie, the staff and Faculty of Lindbergh, and the PTO were absolutely lovely to Laura. After Laura's PTO appearance, we both agreed that the connection she felt with the folks at Lindbergh was pivotal in her campaign. For that reason, and the fact that I consider Lindbergh our "neighborhood school", I feel a special passion for its continued success.

I understand that some parents and teachers were critical of Julie's style when she first arrived at LMS. I respect that and acknowledge that I wasn't there, so my opinion may not mean squat to some people. I'm cool with that, but I'm going to say this anyway - Julie got a RAW deal.

I have spoken with enough people close to the situation that I feel pretty comfortable with my grasp on things.

It is commonly accepted that Mary Davis, the former principal was well liked by many. In hindsight, I am suspicious as to how she achieved that admiration, but will leave it at that. A commenter on the blogs reported that Julie was "divisive". However, an LMS teacher told me that Lindbergh has been that way for awhile - that a clique-ish mentality existed long before Julie arrived. There are those who are on the team, and those who didn't make the try-outs - and I ain't talking about cheer leading. In fact, several teachers had expressed a fear for how well the new principal would fare.

When Julie arrived, people soon realized she was a stickler for the rules, and had a very no-nonsense approach to things. One teacher said that although she was considered strict, she really knew her stuff. Many were impressed with the vast knowledge that she had of curriculum, testing, evaluation and laws.

As the facts seep out regarding Julie busting up students that had used fraudulent addresses with the assistance of staff, and putting an end to the "I love you" payroll, having lived a full, eventful life, I can well imagine the hard feelings she may have created for herself. Those that were unable to maintain their "preferred" status under Mary Davis were soon relegated to "ordinary" citizen, parent, staffer, whatever. Those individuals sought each other out first for comfort, and then for strength.

I have heard several compelling stories (from more than one source) about how they worked to undermine her authority by capitalizing on the friendship they maintained with now Julie's boss, Mary Davis.

But aside from that, several commenter's on blogs reported erratic, nervous behavior on the part of McCardle. McCardle has reported through friends that she felt very intimidated and bullied by this network of scorned Davis supporters. I am well aware of the affects of bullying on individuals and feel that the series of events that transpired likely played a role if in fact she exhibited this behavior. Further, if she is incompetant, she has not had a nuetral set of circumstances to demonstrate that incompetancy. In other words, the actions of Davis negates the opportunity for any claims of incompetancy. Does that make sense? It does in my head.

I realize there are two sides to every story, and my perception may be skewed. If so, I doubt it is by much. Too much corroborating evidence.

The whole situation is disturbing. First, it is such a shame that these dynamics are going on in an institution that should be teaching kids mature adult behavior. Although I'm sure staffers were careful to disguise their pettiness in front of students, kids today aren't stupid and no doubt they picked up on some of the vibes. Reading some of THEIR comments on the blogs confirms this suspicion. How do you teach children that bullying is wrong when it is being modeled in the adult world all around them?

Secondly, why is Mary Davis still working? I've seen the docs with my own two eyes. I realize the allegations haven't been proven but I can read. These are some serious documented allegations.

Third, it will be interesting to see how the loyal "friends of Davis" will react to her if she is in fact found guilty. Friendship is great but stealing from kids would super-cede any sense of friendship I could feel with pretty much anyone - including my Mom. This is not to suggest in any way that I think my Mom steals from kids. Haha.

Fourth, why in God's creation did the school board vote to dismiss Julie before the facts were in? Never mind. Don't answer that. It's too troubling. One blog commenter noted that the accused is the same person responsible for the personnel reports that resulted in McCardles firing. How wrong is that?

I have received multiple reports that the District has informed staff and employees that as of the end of this month they will begin purging e-mails - despite the fact there is an on-going criminal investigation into the activities of its central administration. I have placed a call to the FBI and informed them of that fact.

Finally, I hope that somehow Linbergh can heal. We are here for our children. In 50 years, most of us will be dead and gone, but our children will be carrying our torch. How bright that torch will burn is up to us. Put your differences aside, kumbaya in whatever way you can, and get back to the business of helping our children grow to be the very best they can be.

Teachable Moment

The daughter loves to wear dresses, but she rarely wears them to school because of gym, playground and group time.

This morning, however, she had a yen to wear one to school. She picked out a pretty floral print with a loose flowing skirt.

I warned "Keep your skirt down and make sure you cover yourself up when you sit down".

Later, on the way home from school she announced she never wanted to wear a dress to school again.

Me: "Why not, honey?"

The daughter: "Because the boys kept trying to look up my dress".

Me: "I warned you sweetie, and that will never change. It's up to you to make sure that doesn't happen. No one should ever be allowed to see under your dress, except some day your husband".

The daughter: "Why would he want to then, Mommie?"

Me: "Hmmm, I wonder what the flavor of the day is at Culvers?"

Will I ever learn when to keep my big mouth shut? On second thought, please don't answer that.

Question of the Day...

If Superintendant Ken Hinton told his Board of Education to jump off a bridge, would they do it? Post your thoughts here.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Dear Peoria District 150 Board of Education,

Superintendent Ken Hinton has called upon you to tender a decision tomorrow, that, upon a majority of "yes" votes could begin the process of closing and shuttering our schools. Why the rush is a mystery, as we all know the budget is not due until September 30. There is also no urgency with the District bond rating either, contrary to what he would have you believe.

Only last week your Administration rolled out our $8,000 magic money machine, patting themselves on the back while they input the data needed to provide the desired output. Meanwhile, the public clamors to input data of their own and are rebuked. Fully realizing that all cost cutting avenues have NOT been exhausted, Mr. Hinton's illogical reaction is to prematurely call for your vote. He has represented your acquiescence to his wishes as a foregone conclusion. Since you are OUR representatives, it is your responsibility to insure that our ideas are aired as well. We trust that you will direct Mr. Hinton to give us time and opportunity to fully vet our own cost cutting suggestions through the magic money machine.

Now, according to Erik Bush, chairperson of the newly formed Budget Finance Committee, the district is following the Master Facility Plan to guide them in their closing of schools. To refresh your memory of the Plan, I have summarized it's "spirit" by highlighting the following paragraphs.

5. The school district should establish a clear commitment to making all facilities vibrant community centers for the neighborhoods that they serve (and where they are physically located). A corollary to this emphasis should be the development of a careful, detailed plan of implementation of the school closings and openings – a plan that absolutely minimizes disruption and negative impacts to the students, the educational setting, and the neighborhoods.

6. Every effort should be made by the school district to place students in facilities located in the neighborhoods where they reside. In tandem, every effort should also be made by the school district to absolutely minimize involuntary or arbitrary busing of students.

No displaced student would involuntarily have to leave his/her high school
attendance area by bus or other means to attend a District 150 school; that the
recommendations contemplated students attending a school as close in proximity
to their home as would be practicable; and, that no displaced student would be
involuntarily bussed “cross-town.”

Good schools are neighborhood anchors that attract and retain homeowners and
stabilize enrollments and property values, both of which are relied upon for the
funding of schools.

Develop and implement a comprehensive communication plan to explain the
proposed plan and its benefit to the community.

13. Continue the school planning, design and siting process by engaging all interested stakeholders in our community including students, parents, teachers,
administrators, neighborhood organizations, interested citizens, civic entities,
business community representatives and all others interested in developing
optimum learning environments for the children of District 150.

Since anyone with a degree of common sense would realize that few if any of these criteria have been met, we fully expect a "No" vote tomorrow.

However, for any of those who are vacillating, I offer the following comments:

Dr. Gorenz - Our family extends our prayers to your family as you embark upon the journey before you. May good health be yours again soon.

Mrs. Wolfmeyer - Occasionally I see the "fight" in you that I'm sure your constituents recognized when they elected you. Please channel that God-given quality towards the best interests of the children, and not the admin, the budget or any other entity. Your words in the Peoria Journal Star today were very disturbing:

“We know that these decisions we have to make are not necessarily the best interest of children right here today, but we’ve got to look at the whole district and have got to look at those (future) years to make sure that we have a district here that can serve kids in this area,” School Board vice president Debbie Wolfmeyer said last week.

We are unwilling to let ANY generation of children be the sacrificial lambs for generations before or after them. By your own admission a "Yes" vote tomorrow would NOT be in the best interests of the children that are under your care today. Therefore, a "Yes" vote will be an extreme dereliction of your duties.

Mrs. Spangler - You have paid your dues to the district- and your 5 year term is coming to an end. You have requested and received a leave of absence. Our families should always come first and your leave is well deserved. However, if you plan to resurrect yourself briefly for one vote to close our schools, after having missed months of public input and the comments of nearly 100 families, your vote can and will be challenged. The state school board code of conduct states:

6. I will encourage and respect the free expression of opinion by my fellow board members and will participate in board discussions in an open, honest and respectful manner, honoring differences of opinion or perspective.
7. I will prepare for, attend and actively participate in school board meetings.
8. I will be sufficiently informed about and prepared to act on the specific
issues before the board, and remain reasonably knowledgeable about local, state, national, and global education issues.
9. I will respectfully listen to those who communicate with the board, seeking to
understand their views, while recognizing my responsibility to represent the
interests of the entire community.

You were not at the board meetings to see, hear, and feel the input from the public. Reading about it later or watching it on tv is not sufficient. Communications to your official Board e-mail address are returned with the following message:

Due to a family issues over the next few weeks, Mrs. Spangler is not able to respond to phone calls and emails.

Your own sense of honor and duty should preclude you from making life altering decisions for these children. We should not even have to ask you to refrain from voting, but we will.

Ms. Butler, you are a public servant. This decision could rest on your shoulders. Please pray for God's divine intervention that he will in your moment of decision remind you to focus only on the needs of the children before you and nothing else.

Mrs. Parker - Your actions on the school board reflect a clearness of vision and a life of purpose. Please don't ever change.

Mrs. Ross - Several years ago you were asked to make a similar vote. Against great pressure from the status quo, you held firm to your core beliefs, voted your conscience, and you were right! Despite the promises made to you, the school closings not only didn't save the district money, but cost the district money, all borne on the backs of our students. Nothing has changed, and history will repeat itself.

Mr. Stowell, Although I appreciate your attempts to engage the public through social networking venues, much of what you say only accentuates the lack of confidence we feel in the School board. You can change that with a "No" vote tomorrow.

Mr. Hinton. You have lost your way. I do believe once the children were your primary concern, but at some point that changed. If you tender your resignation, I feel you can re-gain some of the respect that you once enjoyed. The only thing more frightening to me than you being in charge of $160,000,000 of public money, is you being in charge of almost as much of public building funds.

It is clear you seek a "do over" in your quest for charter schools, but if that is to happen, Mr. Hinton, you need to be as far away from it as possible. You may be willing to throw in the towel on this generation of children, but there are plenty of people still willing to fight for them and we will.

This is it. The future of many children rest in your hands tomorrow. Your collective decision will be pivotal. Will it fall on the side of the children, or will it be a continuum of adversity? We shall see.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

District 150 Priorities: I'll report - you decide!

Next Monday night Peoria Public Schools District 150 plans on voting once again for School closures. Next up on the chopping block, Kingman and Tyng primary schools. District watchers may experience a bit of deja'vu, as it was only a few years ago that they were singing the same swan song in anticipation of cost savings via the closings of Blaine Sumner and White Middle Schools.

For some background, consider the statements made in the following excerpts from the Peoria Journal Star

PJstar, Sept. 13, 2005-The facility committee in a presentation stated that consolidation was recommended because of the district's budget deficit. Closing schools and building new facilities would cut down on maintenance costs and improve the quality of education. The committee's goal is to save $5 million with the consolidation.

Some residents questioned the committee on why school renovation wasn't an option. Beth McDaniel attended the forum and said she believed the district was not focusing on the right things for bettering students' education.

"You guys jump too much. You're like a school district with ADHD," McDaniel said.

Residents said they understood the cost of maintaining a building, but thought renovating the schools would cost less than building new ones.

"I wouldn't mind a new building, but that's not going to make a better educational community," Katz said. "Renovate what we have. Keep what we have and don't look at ways to replace the buildings, but look at ways to alter the community involvement and engagement at the schools."

Sound familiar? It seems these remarks could have been made only yesterday. The beauty of history, however, is that we can look in retrospect at District decisions and see how their promises and consequences thereof held up. Although past behavior is not necessarily prediction of future, it's the best we got.

It would be reasonable to consider selling off real estate as an option for balancing a budget. At least that is what the district has argued. Is their intention to really save money, or could there be other conscious or subconscious agendas of which the public is not aware.
Peoria Journal Star, October 12, 2005
The district will try to swap vacant buildings for land to construct new buildings. If that doesn't work, it will try to sell the buildings. If no buyers are found, the district will attempt to transfer the properties to a financially sound organization with a plan for the space. If all that is unsuccessful, the buildings will be maintained or demolished.

Let's fast forward to Blaine Sumner today, closed as a middle School in 2006. Here is an exterior pic of this beautiful, all brick historic building.

The District instead of closing the school, thereby eliminating the maintenance and rehab costs as well as forfeiting its value in a sale, did in fact rehab it and moved Student Services personell in. The Student Services personell relocated from the Diagnostic Learning Center (DLC) on Wisconsin Avenue and into the Blaine Sumner School. The original DLC space remains vacant, and is still retained and maintained by the District.

Below is a pic of the Building Managers "office". His office is in a fullsized classroom the same size that my K-gartner shares with 28 other children! Next year, if Hinton gets his way, all classes will be further increased by 3.

From another angle:

This building is roughly 65,000 square feet. There are 80 employees that work out of it. According to an old Peoria Journal Star article, it had an occupancy permit for 500 people. There are approximately 2 people working out of each full sized classroom. Immediately after they closed it as a school, the district moved to AIR CONDITION it, and added FULL SECURITY complete with video monitors. There is also indication that they encapsulated some asbestos insulated heat ducts (not uncommon). In fairness, it is possible the asbestos remediation was done prior to its closing - not sure about that. Perhaps the District would clarify.

The building contains two lovely gyms. Here is the first one, used only as storage:

Here is the second one. Occassionally children from neighboring schools are bussed here to use this gym. The other gym (the one being used as storage) is definately the newer, nicer and larger of the two.

Here is the old school library. Completely vacant and not in use.

More storage:

and more storage:

Here is a room that is used by a few for child evaluations. I asked how often this room was used. Once person told us once a week for about 30 minutes, and someone else told us twice a week. It was beautful - fully lit up, furnished with play area and sofa and ready to go.

Here is a pic of the thermostat. It's hard to read, but the temp in the room was over 90 degrees. Not kidding!

Most of the employees that work there are part of the DLC. They provide support services to the students by way of speech, hearing, testing and act as a resource in recommending services. Much of their time is spent in the schools. Sources told us that over the summer, this 65,000 sq.ft. building is occupied by about 20 people. Over the Spring Break, there were about 5. This building costs roughly $250,000 year to maintain. The space they moved from - about $20K. I ask, where has been the cost savings to the district for justification of closing a school?

Some employees reported that they love the conveniance to each other for meetings and the space the building offers them to spread out. I don't blame them. Conveniant for them... too bad about the kids though. I would like to say though, that the employees that we all talked to were great. I have no problem what-so-ever with any of them or the work that they do.

Last night board member Jim Stowell posted the following on the Peoria Chronicle:

Either we drastically reduce labor costs across all functional areas, or we can’t afford to operate the current number of facilities. Those that we do operate, we hope take on the qualities of a “community center”. It is not 2005 and our costs have been greater than our revenue for an extended period. My desire is to help our district achieve financial stability while providing vibrant learning opportunities for our children. Every effort will be made to minimize hardships and inconveniences (unfortunately, there will be many), but these steps are necessary, in my opinion, to get us to where we need to go. The process will create obstacles and challenges, but it’s time to right size the district while planning for a better day.

I have a problem with this on so many levels. The excessive waste, (some of which is documented here and on numerous other blogs) overspending, and mismanagement by this Administration (and others) and this board which has given them the green light on just about everything has put this district where it is today - on the brink of financial ruin. Why is it that when the adults screw up, they look at our youngest, most vulnerable citizens - the students of which they exist to serve to shoulder the burden? My understanding is that the children that were moved out of Blaine Sumner have struggled even more academically since. I have not yet personally verified that claim yet.

It should be noted that current Board member Martha Ross voted NO to closing the Blaine Sumner School:

Peoria Journal Star November 22, 2005-Board President Alicia Butler and board member Martha Ross voted against them. "I'm fully aware that we need to cut costs. I can't in my heart of hearts look at this as a positive for our children," Ross said, adding she's concerned about the effect on displaced children, both academically and socially.

Martha is the board member that the other members felt didn't exhibit enough leadership or vision to be deserving of the board presidency.

Folks, I try to keep this blog happy and upbeat. I love Peoria and most everything about it. But when I see stuff like this, I realize sometimes, Peoria doesn't rock.

I'm not done...

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Blogger fight!

DeWayne Bartels of the Times Observer calls out the Pundit. Ha! Personally, I think they should have to strip down to one of those diaper looking thingy's and sumo- wrestle in the mud! Anyone wanna place any bets? This oughta be good.

Miracle on Water Street

Those were the sentiments expressed by Brad McMillan as the Block-heads watched their dream for a Peoria Regional museum become a reality last night. Over 100 people crowded the back room at Old Chicago Pizza Tuesday evening to watch the election results roll in.

Supporters embrace and lovingly accept the name of Block-head at Museum wrap party

It was a nail biter till the very end. When we first arrived, they had just posted the results of early voting - which were heavily in favor of the museum. That thrill was short-lived, however, as throughout the evening the pendulum swung in one direction and then the other.

Many of us were trying to predict the trends. It appeared that the city of Peoria was voting in favor at over 60% of the vote. The county, however, was less than enthusiastic and was returning "Yes" votes of less than 40%. So not only were we focused on the number of votes, but the percentages of the county and city that had reported.

Several hours into the evening, I noticed the stats were stuck on +88 votes in favor of the museum. The atmosphere could be cut with a knife. Girls were hanging on to each other for dear life. There was very little conversation. All eyes were glued, I'm telling ya glued to the overhead. I started breathing a little easier upon the realization that almost the entire county had reported, but only 50% of the city. I felt encouraged by the knowledge that with the city of Peoria turning in an average 60% "yes" vote, it was highly likely that the YES votes would end up in even higher positive territory.

Ryan Spain, the technology guru of the evening, agreed. Young people in politics are a gift from God, and Mr. Spain was exactly that last night. He had his computer hooked up to a thingy magiggy, and the thingy magiggy hooked up to an overhead. He and an accomplice must have hit the refresh tab over 1000 times last night as they studied the Peoria Votes site. They would then type up-to-the-minute results into a thingamabob - and poof - out popped the projections on the overhead. "Oohs", "aahs" and gasps perpetually filled the air. At one point, Senator David Koehler sat with Ryan as they concentrated and analyzed results.

Finally, we saw a shift- up 180 votes, up 240 votes, up over 400 votes - and then magically - 100% precincts reporting. The room went wild. People were hugging, laughing, crying, and hugging again! It was an awesome moment. I was so happy, feeling in my heart that the citizens of Peoria had just taken a huge vote of confidence in their community, their future and their children. My mind filled with images of thousands of present and future generations of Peorian's experiencing life altering moments. Of course, I have stated from the beginning that those are intangibles you simply cannot put a price on.

There was one point in the evening when the "yes" votes were down almost 200. For some strange reason, so unlike myself, I believed at that moment (and only for a moment) that the referendum would fail. I try to hold on to that feeling to acknowledge that for many, that is how they feel today. I hope in time, they will begin to see the value in the museum, too. They may be surprised.

Finally, I would like to address the incorrect notion that the museum plan was put forth and supported only by the privileged and elite. That is preposterous. Open your eyes and look around. The museum was supported by people from all walks of life. Parents, grandparents, teachers, students, educators, laborers, execs - thousands of people see the value clearly. There is no ownership of an appreciation of the arts, history and science. The only commonality that was shared, and I noticed this last night, was a vision and a hope that we can do better for Peoria.

Although I don't want to understate my pleasure, I do want to acknowledge the disappointment of the opposition. Their strategies were remarkable, and I respect their opinions and their efforts for the most part. Every night I will add an extra bedtime prayer - Dear Lord, please don't ever let me be on the opposite side of an issue with Karrie Alms again.

Please allow me to share this thought... Imagine for a moment Chicagoans in the 1870's immediately following the Great Chicago fire. Chicago had just been devastated and it's residents left with nothing. They did not give up. They did not slink away in despair. On the contrary. They started dreaming. They started planning. They started building. Out of nothing rose the 3rd largest city in the United States. I guess you could say they were Block- heads too. Being a block head really isn't that bad. A big thank you to all of them for their relentless hard work.