Peoria Public School Board approves alternative school program for K-4th students, hoping to address learning loss

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PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) – The Peoria Public Schools’ board is seeking outside assistance to help address developmental and academic issues within the district’s primary school students.

After a lengthy discussion and a 5-2 vote during Monday night’s meeting, the board approved a one-year agreement with Ombudsman Educational Services, a ChanceLight Company, to come to Peoria and provide support and services for kindergarten-4th grade students.

“Students who are in our schools right now that are struggling, maybe due to trauma, maybe due to developmental issues, they can go to an alternative site and receive some additional support in a smaller school setting,” Derrick Booth, PPS’s director of the social and emotional learning, said.

Booth said the ChanceLight program would take place at Trewyn and the first year would cost $650,000 to serve a minimum of 50 students, which would be paid for using funds from the CARES ACT.

He said many students in this age range are in notable need of additional support due to a lack of age-appropriate development and academic development. He said the ultimate goal is to get kids back to their home schools at an “age developmental level.”

“COVID has really exacerbated some of the issues that our primary level students have had,” Booth said. “We have students arriving not only to kindergarten but first-grade who haven’t learned how to do school.”

“After doing 100% remote learning, some of those basic skills of doing school and being at an academic level were lost,” Booth said.

Booth said the program has the capability to serve 50 students at a time and as students transition out after meeting their goals, more students could come and take part. He said when each student comes in there would be goals set, an individual learning plan, as well as therapeutic, academic, and emotional support.

Dr. Anni Reinking and Chase Klause were the only two board members who opposed the proposal.

“I think it is taking away the autonomy of teachers, taking away professionalism of teachers,” Reinking said. “I don’t think that it’s going to be advantageous for our students along with sustainability does not seem like it’s going to be there.”

Reinking also brought up transportation as one of her issues with the program.

She said she understands the district is on a three-tier schedule because of a lack of busing and said she doesn’t understand how they will miraculously find bus drivers to take students to Trewyn when they’re already on a three-tier system because of that.

Booth said an alternative program gives them more flexibility to accommodate busing.

“We can schedule this program to occur outside of our current three-tier system of busing,” Booth said.

When it comes to choosing which students would take part in the program, Booth said they receive referrals from teachers and parents of students who need this additional support. He said, from those referrals, they would assess those students’ needs and refer them to the ChanceLight program.

Booth said the next step would be beginning to work with ChanceLight and for them to hire staff to come to Peoria and develop what the day would look like for students.

He said they’re looking at about 8-10 weeks before ChanceLight would see a student.

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