It is a distinct privilege to serve as Peoria’s mayor during this exciting and dynamic time in our long, colorful history. Now going on 12 years as mayor, I cannot think of a time when there were more people working together for the community’s betterment, common good and greatness. And there is no finer example than what is taking place under the umbrella of education—especially public education.
Let’s have a little fun. What is it that spends more than $203 million annually, has over 13,500 “users,” 116,000 individual stakeholders, 13,900 employer stakeholders, and commands nearly 55 percent of the local property tax bill? Of course, we’re talking about our Peoria Public Schools. Those of you who regularly read my column know that Peoria’s educational resources and performance results are among my top priorities. I’ve said it many times: there is no stronger demonstration of a city’s vitality than what we do to support and enhance quality education. It’s for the kids and their parents, for all residents and employers, and for our future as a growing and healthy community.
You’ve heard about Peoria Promise, Alignment Peoria, Peoria Pathways to Prosperity, Mayor’s Internship Challenge, Mayor’s Summer Youth Corps and Peoria Public Schools’ 2020 Strategic Plan, among others—all of which focus on making our public education the best it can be. A common denominator of these initiatives is that they embody collaboration, cooperation and commitment from people in all walks of life. Out of this cultural, economic and political diversity, a sense of shared responsibility for the success of our public schools is evolving.
As Peoria’s mayor, I want to briefly elaborate on the initiatives that identify closely with leadership from the Mayor’s Office.
The Peoria Mayor’s Internship Challenge is a long-term, value-laden program, established within the Peoria Pathways to Prosperity initiative being ably led by Brent Baker of the Greater Peoria Economic Development Council, in close cooperation with Peoria Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat. This effort works with employers to create internships and job opportunities specifically for Peoria Public Schools students. Typically, we think of internships as referring to college students, but by beginning earlier in the educational process, we create more local ownership and buy-in to the investment we are making in educating our kids. For the balance of 2016, the goal is to create 50 internship opportunities with area employers, and for 2017 and beyond, the goal is 75 a year. I am pleased to lend the support of the Mayor’s Office to this program, which speaks to the very core of my belief in doing all we can to strengthen our educational performance and effectiveness. There is no finer investment in the long-term future of our city. Please contact me or Brent Baker at the Greater Peoria EDC if you can utilize an intern at your business.
Closely related to the Mayor’s Internship Challenge is the Mayor’s Summer Youth Corps, again with the seamless cooperation between Peoria Public Schools and the City of Peoria. The Summer Youth Corps presents an opportunity for 20 students to experience the world of work by performing valuable beautification and cleanup projects under the leadership of our Public Works department. And a side benefit for the kids is to get to know Director of Public Works Mike Rogers, his deputy Sie Maroon and the rest of our Public Works team. I can guarantee you they will be energized and well-cared-for, and they will never forget this unique opportunity!
As I reflect on all that is happening with so many individuals and organizations working together to strengthen our public schools, I cannot fail to include Peoria Promise. More than 1,300 students within the City of Peoria have been able to attend Illinois Central College and pursue their academic and career goals because of this 100% donor-funded initiative. And of course, the program is always in fundraising mode, but we stand by our results and just think… it can be another factor supporting the overall goals of the Mayor’s Internship Challenge and Summer Youth Corps.
An internship opportunity or job corps experience this year may lead to a long-term career if the student can continue the studies and preparation provided by higher education. Yes, Peoria Promise is fully in the mix of initiatives to empower the student achievement and community prosperity that are taking place right now. If you haven’t heard, the Peoria Promise board is going to open the program to all high school students with City of Peoria addresses, private and public students alike. Of course, this will mean more fundraising, but it’s time to grow.
I am thankful at the dawn of another school year that hundreds of our neighbors, coworkers, employers and friends are rolling up their sleeves to further the mission of our public schools. In the final analysis, a community is only as good as the willingness of its people to work together for the common benefit and a prosperous future. Thank all of you for your selfless dedication and work! iBi