First day forward: Peoria Unified kicks off 2018-19 school year all under one roof

Instructional Coach Jana Winterton speaks to teachers about classroom organization during a workshop for new Peoria Unified teachers Aug. 1 at Centennial High School in Peoria. The district starts the new school year today. [Jacob Stanek/Independent Newsmedia]

By Philip Haldiman
Independent Newsmedia

Today is the first day of the 2018-19 Peoria Unified School District school year and employees are excited for the fresh start.

Officials say enrollment is on target with about 37,000 students on day-one for the district’s more than 40 schools. About 20 new principals and assistant principals are leading the charge, and the administration is at work on a strategic plan, a living document expected to lay the groundwork for the future. All this is under the guidance of the district’s first woman superintendent, Linda Palles Thompson.

“She’s taking the reigns after a turbulent year last year and putting people and processes in place to make this a successful year,” said spokeswoman Danielle Airey.

And the district held an event to start the year in solidarity.

For the first time in more than a decade all PUSD staff gathered under one roof to celebrate a new school year Aug. 6. The event, aptly named Under One Roof, brought together teachers, staff, and administrators — about 3,500 people, all at Christ Church of the Valley’s Peoria campus.

The district has celebrated the new school year in different ways over the years, but this event brought together everybody for the first time since the 2007-08 school year, Ms. Airey said.

“It was a long tradition but we stopped coming together at one location as our district experienced immense growth,” she said.

Governing board member David Sandoval said that in any organization, there is value in coming together and building community to work toward a common goal. He said an event like Under One Roof influences collaboration, unity and teamwork.

“Every vertical within our district impacts student success, from our bus drivers, our cafeteria personnel to our teachers and staff and administration. They all play a role in developing the character of a community, city and state,” he said. “When there is teamwork, wonderful things can be achieved. Organizations that consistently perform at the highest levels are able to come together and be unified across the organization. When everyone is on the same page, trust develops, and all stakeholders can grow and succeed together.”

Strategic plan

Administrators began working on the strategic plan earlier this year. It is focused on four areas, intended to set up a solid foundation for the district’s future: student success, stewardship of resources, community connection, and safety and well-being.

In the first quarter, expect to see policy discussions and updates on transportation, finance and open enrollment, which have not been reviewed in six years.

PUSD President Monica Ceja Martinez said the strategic plan touches every part of the district.

In terms of safety, she said staff has identified three areas of focus: emergency preparedness, site safety audits, and emotional well-being.

As a result, the district has hired a social worker, lead nurse, behavior interventionist, and is in the process of hiring a lead councilor. Some staff has been restructured to include a bilingual parent liaison, a federal policy compliance specialist and a parent mentor. Additionally, PUSD has partnered with Southwest Behavioral Health to provide additional support for students and staff. Future plans include board study sessions on bullying and positive behavior policies.

Ms. Ceja Martinez said the  district is also assessing student achievement with the inclusion of soft skills as well as social and emotional development.

The new method will ensure that test scores are not the only measure of student success, she said.

“Teachers will be active participants in this process through professional development in learning communities of their choice,” she said. “Assessments of the whole student, in addition to enhanced professional development are giant steps towards personalized student learning. This is the foundation that will drive growth in student achievement and ensure career and college readiness.”

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