Cornerstones for Sustainable Development

Mayor Jim Ardis - City of Peoria

“Development” couldn’t be a more appropriate topic for this June edition of iBi. There is no doubt that Peoria has a huge volume of economic development underway, and there are many articles in this issue describing the dynamics of the physical transformation and evolution occurring throughout the city. From the Warehouse District to the Louisville Slugger Complex, we are witnessing an exciting diversity of new investments, re-investments and growth. And as exciting as the new bricks and mortar are, the most important “development” is building a sustainable community based on stewardship of our children and their education.

They are our most precious resources—the cornerstones for sustainable development. Throughout my tenure as mayor, I have consistently emphasized that enhanced educational opportunities for our kids—preparing them to successfully compete and enjoy a good quality of life in an increasingly challenging world—is my number-one priority. How we support their growth and confidence through high-quality, local public education represents the very soul of our community.

I am proud of the city’s record in supporting District 150 by building infrastructure at new schools, continuously working to improve the safety of our neighborhoods, collaborating to expand economic and career opportunities, and starting Peoria Promise. Peoria Promise has opened the door for more than 1,300 kids in Peoria schools to attend ICC and go on to good-paying jobs and careers right here in central Illinois. While we still have a long way to go, we are working with District 150 and other schools to reduce truancy rates, increase scores on standardized tests, raise the achievement levels of all students and achieve graduation rates among the best in the state.

Peoria is blessed with tireless volunteers working to improve our city’s overall quality of life, and most importantly, our educational resources. Dr. Bill Collier, our school liaison, has opened doors for us and District 150 at the state and federal levels. Although he “retired” from this role in 2015, he continues to look for opportunities to raise the quality of our educational offerings. Glen and Polly Barton were the inspiration and guiding lights for the growth and success of Quest Charter Academy—they were recently recognized at a celebration for their unselfish commitment of time, treasure and talent. Dr. Amir Al-Khafaji of Bradley University has been at the forefront of our sustainability efforts for nearly 10 years, and he will be the first to tell you that sustainability begins with quality education. And I certainly commend school board members for their dedication, as well as for hiring Dr. Desmoulin-Kherat, whose leadership is already being felt throughout the district.

In my State of the City speech in January, I mentioned that Peoria is on the verge of an initiative that could be a game-changer: the “Alignment” movement that is turning around the Rockford public school system. A wide array of representatives from Peoria’s civic, business, education and neighborhood groups have met with Alignment Rockford leadership, and the prospect for igniting more successful innovation here in Peoria is truly exciting. The Alignment process, which creates a collaborative and coordinated approach and support framework for youth empowerment and success, has taken root in Nashville, Tennessee; San Bernardino, California; Elgin, Illinois; and other cities around the country. As mayor, I am dedicated to partnering and collaborating with others in the community to improve those dimensions of our city that impair growth and quality of life. For an Alignment initiative to be successful here, partnerships such as these are critical.

Having learned from Alignment Rockford and other Alignment initiatives, we now have a dedicated task force—including representatives from the Peoria Area Chamber, District 150, Regional Office of Education and Greater Peoria EDC, as well as elected officials—to fully explore the potential for an “Alignment Peoria.” This could truly be the initiative our entire community can embrace to address our school district issues and move it forward… together.

There is no one more enthusiastic about Peoria’s continuing economic development than I am. But without nurturing our kids and their educational success, we will not accomplish our overall growth and investment in a genuinely sustainable and quality fashion. Let’s join together to learn all we can about the Alignment process, and as we’ve done in other challenging areas, take Peoria to the next level of educational achievement. iBi

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