With focused and coordinated efforts, our impact will be powerful and transformational.
On a typical school day, Peoria Public Schools (PPS) staff and students interact with dozens of community visitors. Many are volunteers, representing one of the District’s 85 Adopt-A-School partners or 240 Reading Buddies. They may be members of a church group delivering weekend snack packs, or mentors from organizations like Junior Achievement, Goodwill or the PPS Foundation Horizons Club. Others are professional partners, representing organizations like OSF Saint Francis Behavioral Health, UnityPoint Health – Methodist, the Children’s Home Association of Illinois or FamilyCore. In short, the Peoria community lends valuable time and enormous resources to the District’s 13,265 students and more than 2,200 staff members.
A Collective Impact Organization
Individual contributions, while valuable, are usually not guided by a comprehensive definition of the needs of Peoria Public Schools. As a result, their impact may not be fully contributing to the District’s overall goals, but instead are limited to one class, one building or even one student. The challenges confronting Peoria Public Schools and the City of Peoria—and ultimately impacting the region—are far too complex for any one organization to address in isolation. Alignment Peoria was formed with the belief that if efforts become focused and coordinated, the impact on school performance will be both powerful and transformational.
Alignment Peoria, a nonprofit organization formed in 2016 and a member of the Alignment USA communities of collaboration, provides a toolbox specifically designed to transcend isolated improvement efforts in favor of long-term collective impact outcomes. The formation of Alignment Peoria represents a comprehensive, multifaceted aligning of the community and its stakeholders to orchestrate transformative change within the Peoria Public Schools and the central Illinois region.
The work of Alignment Peoria is implemented by a Governing Board, an Operating Board and Alignment teams. Over the past year, private fundraising has allowed the process to get started. Commerce Bank President Brent Eichelberger chairs the Governing Board, while Cheryl Sanfilip and Dr. Thom Simpson co-chair the Operating Board. Combined, both boards are comprised of more than 90 community stakeholders, who have worked to formulate and adopt the Alignment Peoria principles and long-term outcomes. Board members have attended training in other Alignment communities, hired Katherine Coyle to serve as the organization’s executive director, and approved bylaws and a budget.
Alignment Peoria is a collective impact organization. The Alignment model is designed to gather the Peoria region’s diverse resources and leverage their individual contributions to produce systemic, multi-generational changes to raise student achievement, improve the health and happiness of children, and advance the economic and social well-being of the community.
Remarkable Offerings and Achievements
Peoria Public Schools is a diverse district serving pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students at 27 different schools. Of its current student enrollment, 57 percent of students identify as black, 22 percent white, 11 percent Hispanic, nine percent as two or more races, and 1.5 percent as American Indian, Pacific Islander or Asian. The district also includes five percent of students who are English-language learners, 16 percent who receive special education services, and 71 percent who qualify for free or reduced lunch. More than 600 students are either homeless or doubled-up—in other words, staying at the home of a friend or family member, but having no permanent housing.
Peoria Public Schools also provides students with many unique programs and opportunities, such as the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme at Richwoods High School and the Preparatory School for the Arts at Peoria High School. Our Pathways towards college and careers continue to grow with programs for future teachers, law enforcement, culinary arts, emergency services, construction trades, autobody repair and manufacturing, just to name a few.
Last month, PPS found out it was one of 10 districts selected to participate in a competency-based education pilot program through the Illinois State Board of Education, which will allow for more relevant and personalized learning experiences for students. The district also offers early childhood, gifted and English-language learners programs, as well as many Advanced Placement and Early College Credit course opportunities. Washington Gifted Middle School continues to be one of the highest performing schools in the state. The list of remarkable offerings and achievements could go on and on. We want to continue to grow our students and our offerings to fulfill our vision of “educating and graduating each student prepared and inspired to contribute to the world.”
The Alignment Peoria boards identified five outcomes to result from the collective impact, which will transform schools and the community. These outcomes, based on the PPS strategic plan, are:
- Increase high school graduation rates;
- Increase college readiness;
- Increase career readiness;
- Increase student and community health; and
- Increase family and community engagement.
Alignment Peoria’s mission will be carried out through volunteer Alignment action teams focused on achieving these five outcomes. Action teams are currently forming and will spend the coming months focusing on tactical planning and community engagement.
Tactical planning, the most time-consuming phase of the process, can take months. It includes developing an overview of the specific issue, analyzing solutions, and defining specific services required to achieve the outcome. When tactical plans are complete, community engagement and outreach takes the form of an Invitation to Participate.
This process ensures that action teams progress toward systemic change. In each Alignment community or region, local Alignment staff guide them through each phase of the process. Each action team provides oversight for implementation of the initiative and gathers data to determine the impact and need for expansion. Finally, if the effort has achieved the desired impact and systemic change, it is institutionalized, either in the community or the school district.
The final component of the Alignment structure is technology. An online portal developed specifically for the Alignment process allows action team members, community partners and Alignment staff to collaborate, track, measure and report collective progress; collect participation responses; capture knowledge of best practices; and more. The Alignment model offers four distinct advantages. It offers a greater return on investment because the community’s resources are leveraged to avoid duplication of services and increase efficiency. It draws from the expertise of multiple organizations working collaboratively, so it can deliver higher-quality services to students. It improves the impact of each organization, while generating a bigger overall impact. Finally, by working together, it offers more opportunities to secure funding from national organizations. iBi
Dr. Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat is Superintendent of Peoria Public Schools, Katherine Coyle is Alignment Peoria Executive Director, and Brent Eichelberger chairs the Alignment Peoria Governing Board. For more information, visit alignmentpeoria.org. Learn more about Alignment USA at alignmentusa.org.