Change may be coming to District 150, but it may not be the type of change everyone believes is best for education. Since voters overwhelmingly voted in favor of Sue Wolstenholm to replace Laura Petelle on the District 150 School Board by a margin of 69 percent to 31 percent, Change 150 leader Jim Powell, also the lead pastor of Richwoods Christian Church, felt the outcome sent a strong message to the school board that a leadership change was necessary.
Although Wolstenholm suspended her campaign too late in the race to be replaced on the ballot, citing personal reasons, Change 150 members still rallied voters behind her in an effort to voice their concerns to school administration officials regarding recent controversy involving the temporary suspension of Charter Oak Primary School Principal John Wetterauer. The suspension was wrought over alleged ISAT testing irregularities at the school as well as transparency issues, both of which led to the formation of the community group, Change 150, that wishes to influence board leadership.
This fall, Jim Powell and his wife, Stephanie, are transferring their two sons, Tim and Trevor, from Charter Oak Primary School to Peoria Christian School because of the couple’s lack of confidence in District 150 leadership. Jim will remain the leader of Change 150.
Change 150, a coalition that was formed earlier this year, has called for an independent investigation and evaluation of District 150 organization; a possible change in internal district boundaries; increased training and advisors for school board members to guide them in making the best decisions for the district; and four-year term limits for school board members to replace the current five-year limit. Ultimately, Change 150 desires to replace the school board, ousting Superintendent Grenita Lathan whose administration has been said to be managing with “a pattern of fear and intimidation,” according to Change 150 members and supporters, some of whom include the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Peoria Federation of Teachers Local 780.
Don Jackson, president of the NAACP, says he would like to see school board terms shortened to three years as well as more representatives over District 1, which currently has only one representative while other districts have several.
Change 150 and District 150 each possess a different strategy for how to best run local schools. Lathan believes changing school principals on a rotating basis will help keep new ideas flowing in the administration. Powell says schools are better run by teachers, principals and staff rather than by an administration.
The conflicting management methods leave some Peoria residents questioning where the city’s education system is headed and how the groups’ disagreements may affect students.
“Everyone I’ve spoken with seems more concerned about taking sides between Change 150 and the district and less concerned about the real priority: our children’s education,” says Paula Mandel whose niece and nephew attend Charter Oak. “If change is needed—and I believe it is—then let’s get to it and stop the finger pointing and arguing. Let’s work together for our children’s wellbeing.”
Beverly Scott’s son Avery will enter kindergarten next year. She says the ruckus has her considering paying for private school. “I always assumed our kids would be public school students. But if our school officials can’t figure this thing out by next fall, I may not have a choice. I just don’t feel at ease about sending my son into a school system that’s butting heads with a community group. My son is just starting school. My concern for him is educational stability for the long haul.”
“I think Change 150 is on the right track,” says Don Forrester, a group supporter. “I don’t believe District 150 is a ‘bad’ administration, but I do think there needs to be more transparency. “