Native to Peoria—and currently president of the Peoria District 150 Board of Education, a Friday morning sports reporter on WOAM-1350, and a marketing and finance employee at Dynamic Graphics—Alicia Butler is so committed to her hometown that she decided to attend Bradley University for both undergraduate and graduate work in business administration. “I’m a lifelong Peorian and proud to say that. I was blessed with a very supportive home environment, and to this day, my mother is still extremely involved in attending events with me.”
Butler has served on the District 150 School Board since 2002. “What prompted my interest in running for the board was my desire to help all children attain their goals. I also felt the perception of District 150 wasn’t the reality, and I felt—and still strongly feel—the district needs to be marketed better. We have a wonderful school district with wonderful students and staff, and that needs to be touted more. I received an excellent education from District 150 and am very proud of where I went to school. I want every student coming out of our system to feel the same way,” she said.
She became president of the board last July. “Being president is an extreme honor, and I’m very humbled by the office. There are definitely more meetings to attend, but I enjoy attending school functions and meeting parents, staff, and most importantly, the students. I’ve eaten lunch with students, participated in events, and attended numerous fine arts and athletic events. No matter how difficult the elected position sometimes can be, walking into a school and seeing a student smiling, enjoying school, and being proud of his or her accomplishments is worth more than words can ever say. Also, being president allows me to represent the district and speak at a number of venues. I absolutely love talking about District 150,” she said.
Another aspect Butler enjoys is the collaborative nature of the job. “I’m very pleased to be working with Mayor Jim Ardis,” she said. “He’s very supportive of District 150 and understands the need for a strong school system. The Peoria City Council has been extremely cooperative and supportive, and our relationship is very strong. I’m encouraged by the support we’ve received from the city, the county, the Peoria Police Department, Sheriff Mike McCoy and the deputies, the Fire Department, and other governmental bodies, and I know with all of us working together, we’ll move District 150 forward.”
As president, Butler said her most important priority is to provide a safe, top-level educational experience for all of our students. “We’re also running a deficit, so trying to obtain fiscal soundness and cutting from the budget without jeopardizing the educational integrity of our students is another priority. It’s crucial that we have to look closely at our expenditures since we can’t continue to operate in deficit spending. However, we can’t balance the budget on the backs of the children. Our schools are the anchors in our neighborhoods, so utilizing the buildings to their best potential and incorporating the community are major keys to success.”
Another priority, she said, is to change the perception of the district. “With the marketing campaign, the Open House, etc., we’re diligently trying to convey the message that our schools are great schools. The perception isn’t the reality. I’m fighting hard for this district because I truly believe in this district. With District 150 being the largest district in this area, it’s crucial to the health of the City of Peoria to have a strong, vibrant public school system. District 150 is a business—and one of the largest employers in the area. It has to be operated like a business, but notwithstanding that, we’re touching human lives every moment of every day. The product is education, but the children are our most valuable our asset; they’re our future.”
One of the most controversial elements affecting schools today, Butler said she has mixed feelings about the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act. “The premise is good. However, adequate funding hasn’t been there for District 150 to implement all of the requirements detailed by NCLB. With the amount of sub-groups large districts have, very few schools will meet standards, and the bar continually is being raised. I don’t feel it’s fair to judge a school based on its test scores. Test scores are important, but that shouldn’t be the basis of achieving vs. non-achieving schools. Schools are so much more than that. I don’t like schools or children being labeled, and labels have been imposed because of NCLB.”
One misperception that chases District 150 is that it has a very narrow curriculum. Not true, said Butler. “We offer basic and college preparatory at our high schools, and the Edison model is at four of our schools; we have a school for special needs children and one for hearing impaired, in addition to special education classes. We also offer an International Baccalaureate program and a Fine Arts Academy. In addition, we have a gifted school and a fine arts magnet school. We have outstanding ROTC programs and a wide variety of competitive athletics. We’re implementing a machinist program and graphic design classes. We currently have a Business Academy, Health Academy, and an alternative high school.”
She said another misperception is that the district doesn’t implement discipline. “The board has policies the district follows regarding discipline. Our teachers, deans, and principals care very much about these students but also know we have to have a safe, undisturbed learning environment. This year we’re unveiling a truancy assessment center to aid chronically absent students. We want to provide the intervention necessary before the student becomes disengaged. Our staff has worked very closely with the Peoria Police Department in implementing this center.”
And it may surprise some to learn that the school board members work well together. “Communication, respect, and trust are the keys, as they are in any relationship. We all have our opinions on various subjects; however, we can disagree without being disagreeable. Board members can be on opposing sides, but we need to listen and respect the opposing side, even if we don’t agree.”
Butler said among the school board’s many accomplishments, she’s especially proud of its decision to hire Ken Hinton as superintendent. “Ken is a very caring, considerate man who’s truly passionate about the students, the entire district, and the community. He has a vision, and he knows we may endure some challenges, but that’s not going to stop us from moving forward and doing what’s right for this district and this community. Ken is focused on wanting every child to succeed.”
Other accomplishments have included keeping hearing impaired students at Sterling School, the $2 million in scholarships students received last year, the Air Force ROTC program winning back-to-back titles, and the amount of Sterling Merit winners in the district. “Success is measured in many different ways, and as long as our students are achieving their goals, that’s a great accomplishment in itself.” TPW