PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Peoria Public Schools District 150 is continuously making strides to improve its safety for students and staff.

On Monday during a regular school board meeting Director of Safety Chief Demario Boone, Deputy Director of Safety Captain Richard Gould and Peoria Police Chief Eric Echevarria presented on technology updates, building and ground improvements and the overall safety department.

Some of the technology updates include using Gaggle, IntelliSee and Tip 411. Gaggle monitors student activity on school devices so it will alert principals and the safety department if students are talking about self-harm, suicide, guns, etc.

“We’ve had a lot of meaningful interventions. Especially over COVID when students had those laptops. We were able to get into homes and put support services for kids and families when certain things arose,” said Boone.

Boone said IntelliSee is integrated into camera systems and flags potentials threats to any building. He said getting the program was partly in response to the Uvalde school shooting.

“If anything looks remotely close to a weapon outside of the building it’s going to flag it, log it and send it to me. We’re actually able to be proactive on top of that.”

Boone said IntelliSee also has the capability to send alerts if water is on the floor. This will allow the safety department to alert custodians to prevent slips, falls and injuries.

Tip 411 allows students to anonymously text officers. Boone said it has proven to be very fruitful.

“With Tip 411, since we’ve implemented it over a couple of months ago, we have over 60 tips in there,” said Boone “With our previous tip line, we would probably average 12 to 15 a year. So we’re well over what we would do in a normal year with Tip 411. So it’s very helpful.”

Boone and Echevarria spoke about a situation that occurred over the weekend when a student posted a picture of themselves holding what appeared to be a gun. It turns out it was a BB gun and Echevarria was able to speak to the family about different variables of safety like gun and internet safety.

“I think it’s important to note that a lot of the information that we have and that we share, it’s not to go and arrest the child,” said Echevarria. “It’s not to go and put some handcuffs on them and take them away but really to intervene and find a solution to the issue.”

Also before the Board was a renewable contract with Hanover Research to support research for recruitment, retention and staff culture. Each year would cost $119,500 and would be renewed yearly for up to three years totaling $358,500.

The funds for the contract are from a $600,000 Illinois Teacher Vacancy Grant Pilot Program.

Superintendent Dr. Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat said in a nutshell the grant is about encouraging and preparing individuals to get into the education pathway no matter where they are. She said the grant would pick up the certification costs for substitutes wanting to become certified.

Kherat also said Hanover would look at what the district is doing around recruiting and have one-on-one interviews and focus groups to help the district with recruitment and retention.

“What I envisioned was a nice reference document that the board would have, the administration would have and they would supply support as well on it. And then we would talk about implementing those strategies,” said Superintendent Dr. Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat.

Multiple board members questioned the need to have an outside entity come in to do the research.

Paris McConnell said: “Do we not have staff already in the building that we can allocate those funds as a part of grow your own? I know we talked about giving parent advocates the opportunity to become TAs. Why can’t we take those funds and use them locally and invest in our community opposed to having some outside entity come in and tell us how to do it or why. The who, the what and the why I think we can gather that from our current staff. I still don’t see the value in paying somebody else to ask questions that we can ask. And why not empower ourselves to be able to examine and research so we can stop this revolving door.”

“Personally, I feel that retention comes from within. You don’t need somebody to come in to tell you why people are leaving when they’re telling you why they’re leaving,” said Lynne Costic. “You know the wheel is broken. We need to fix the internal wheels before we go outside and try to get somebody to come in and fix it.”

“We need to setup a system within ourselves to figure out how to get this done,” said Martha Ross “I’m just not in favor of bringing in an outside group. Have we talked to the teachers about this? When we talk about retaining teachers, have we talked to them?”

Gregory Wilson said. “I think we can find better ways to use these funds. To have teachers in our district that can tell you what’s wrong and that can tell you how to retain them, I do think that’s something we can do from the inside. I think that part is not being utilized to its full potential. I think there’s things there that can deal with morale from teachers, to the administration, to the board level. I’m not quite sure but I do know that we have a teachers union and a lot of teachers out there that will be more than happy to tell you how to keep them. Are we listening? I’m not to sure we are.”

Board Vice-President Dr. Ann Reinking made the motion to table also saying she would like to see who else the district has looked at before making the decision to choose Hanover Research. The motion passed with one nay from Wilson who was ready to vote on the matter Monday.

During public comment, several people spoke about the class sizes at Kellar Primary School and how some of those students have been sent to Northmoor Primary School.

“These are families. They are not pieces in a game. This is disheartening but it is also nonsensical,” said Nicole Pierson. “It is collateral damage of poor planning and understaffing buildings such as Kellar.”

She continued to say, “It appears that the district prioritizes getting more bang for their buck out of every teacher we already have on staff rather than hiring additional teachers that would allow for manageable class sizes and keep children in their homeschools where they belong. It is not fair to our teachers and it is not fair to our kids.”

Chief Financial Officer Mick Willis also did a presentation on the budget. The budget has to be displayed publicly for 30 days. It’s available on the website or can be picked up at the school district’s office on Aug. 15.

A public hearing for the budget is scheduled for Sept. 25 and then the board will vote on the amended budget at the regular scheduled meeting that same night.