On a Quest for Excellence

by Dr. Nicole Couri Wood
Quest Charter Academy

An update on key partnerships, current and future initiatives, and the loss of a visionary leader

Great things are happening at Quest Charter Academy, and I am so honored to be the first executive director of this special school. Without a doubt, one of the accomplishments we are proudest of is our class of 2016—our very first high school graduates. Most had been at Quest since it opened in 2010, and we watched them grow into remarkable individuals with great things in store for their futures.

Collectively, this class achieved over 2,500 community service hours and earned more than $1.5 million in scholarships—and each of the 38 graduates was accepted to college. Some took advantage of Peoria Promise and are attending ICC, one is joining the military, a few will attend professional career/trade schools, and the remainder will go to four-year colleges and universities.

Key Partnerships
Quest exists today because of a broad, strong base of support that recognized Peoria’s need for a math, science and technology academy—to offer an option within the public school system that would provide a college-prep, STEM-focused curriculum and partner with the community to infuse new ideas and resources for students.

With that in mind, Quest has established key partnerships with a range of community organizations, institutions and individuals who provide our students with invaluable exposure to the world that awaits them. These partnerships include those with the Peoria Symphony Orchestra, Caterpillar African American Network, University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria, Bradley University, Illinois Central College, Methodist College, Eureka College, Junior League of Peoria, Society of Women Engineers and many others. We are so thankful to all our partners for their involvement with our students and joining us on our “Quest to be the best!”

Current Initiatives
This past spring, a significant number of Quest teachers, staff, board members and parents engaged in a strategic planning process that resulted in formidable action plans in four key strategy areas:

 

  • We will structure the school day/calendar to enhance/maximize instruction and programming.
  • We will increase family engagement.
  • We will provide innovative programs and course offerings to maximize learning for individual students.
  • We will provide alternatives to reduce disruptive behavior and promote social-emotional support for students.

 

As a result of this process, we launched some exciting initiatives for this school year, including one-to-one technology so every student has a Chromebook they can use all day long. Most of our curriculum and adaptive learning programs live in the “cloud,” so students can access their learning tools at any time. We have also added many new staff positions to enhance our social-emotional support systems for students and families. With family involvement a key priority, we have added a full-time family and community liaison, as well as a social worker, to our team—and we are already showing a 25-percent increase in family engagement over last year!

This year, in response to research that shows middle and high school students do better with a later start time, teachers start their days together at 7:30am with collaboration time and professional development, while students arrive at 8:30. This has had a positive impact on our staff growing in their knowledge, as well as student achievement and attendance for both students and staff.

Future Changes
One significant change to take place in the 2017-18 school year will be the implementation of a balanced calendar. Students will still go to school the same number of days, but those days will be distributed differently to provide students with short, three-week breaks throughout the year and a five-week summer break. The research is clear that this approach drastically improves student achievement, as they do not experience the “summer slide,” often resulting in a loss of two to three months of knowledge.

Along with the balanced calendar rollout, we will also be introducing career academies at our high school, helping students take a deep dive into career exploration. In addition to providing more innovative and expanded programs like Project Lead the Way, students will be exposed to a variety of experiential learning opportunities through the partners mentioned earlier. We are also proud to report that several of our seniors are taking dual-credit courses at ICC throughout the day. With the addition of the “Glen and Polly Barton” sheltered bus stop on our high school campus, the opportunity for our scholars to earn college credit during their high school experience is now a reality.

A Living Legacy
Finally, I would be remiss if I did not take this opportunity to pay tribute to Mr. Glen Barton, the visionary leader behind Quest Charter Academy. Our school community mourns the loss of this great man, who inspired so many with his passion and commitment for providing a world-class education to Peoria youth. Glen was able to witness our first class of senior graduates, and I wish everyone could have seen the absolute joy on his face. He had a huge heart and was a man of focus, integrity and deep passion.

We are committed to ensuring Glen’s vision is a reality. The Peoria area lost a truly amazing leader, but his legacy will live on through every student who walks through our doors, and with every project throughout this great community that he and Polly made possible. iBi

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