An Open Letter

From Rod Lorenz

Peoria Public Schools Proposal

At the Moss Bradley Residential Association February 7 membership meeting representatives from Peoria Public Schools (PPS) presented a proposal to utilize the Westminster Parish Hall for a new PPS program.  The new program, called a “wrap-around center,” would be installed in the Parish Hall, the building next door to the church.  The basic concept is that PPS serves many children and families that need a variety of social services currently provided by as many as 10 different agencies.  In a wrap-around center each of these agencies would maintain a presence so that an individual family could be served by multiple agencies at the same location, i.e. a one stop shop for social services.  The appeal of this concept is partly related to the belief that most families who might benefit from these services lack a vehicle or other means of transportation; thus, it is difficult for them to get access to multiple agencies.  PPS Superintendent Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat was careful to indicate the proposal is in early stages of discussion after Westminster Church offered access to the Parish Hall that is mostly unused today.

The proposed center at Westminster would serve children (and families) directed to it from PPS primary schools throughout town though most of the children would be residents of South Peoria, or zip code 61605.  The children served at the proposed facility would be those with problems that severely impact their learning and need lots of assistance.  The wrap-around center might also include rooms for “respite” instruction, i.e. a substitute schoolroom for a child that “just needs a break” from the usual classroom setting.  A wrap-around center for older students is already planned or in operation at Manual Academy.  PPS staff expects that most families using the Westminster facility would get there by school bus, or by City buses that stop at the intersections of Moss with Western and University Avenues.

At first look the wrap-around center concept seems logical.  Anyone who interacts frequently with young children from central Peoria understands the magnitude of the problems they may have and the potential benefit of easing access to helping hands.  PPS is to be commended for their genuine desire to help overcome the barriers to academic success, and for having the courage to step into what they could easily regard as someone else’s job.  We should also admire Westminster’s commitment to serve their community.  This proposal’s potential for positive impact on the future of certain children is not proven but could have important benefits for this community and should be taken seriously.

Unfortunately, many questions were not asked or couldn’t be answered at the meeting.  How many children/families would be expected to access the center each day, week, or year?  How many might be at the center on a given day, and how would the volume be regulated?  Exactly where in the city would these families likely reside?  What will be the operating hours?  Have the social service agencies committed to having staff at this facility, and who will bear those new costs?  Who will be responsible for the cost of operating and maintaining the facility? What will be the cost to the PPS budget for furnishing and operating the facility?  Has there been a search for suitable facilities for this program and is Moss Avenue the best location?  What impacts of wrap-around centers have been observed in other communities and how have impacts been measured?  It is hoped there will be opportunities to hear answers to these and many other questions before decisions are made.

The February 7 meeting was disappointing because of the small number of Moss Bradley residents present—probably less than 10% of owner-occupied residences in the neighborhood were represented.  It should be understood that Moss Bradley remains a vulnerable neighborhood.  The fraction of residential properties that are rentals, mostly owned by landlords who live elsewhere, is thought to be approaching half.  Most of these properties are not maintained to the same standard as owner-occupied homes.  We cannot take for granted that the positive trajectory seen in Moss Bradley over the past 15 -20 years will continue automatically.  Residents must remain involved for this neighborhood to thrive and keeping themselves and their neighbors informed about proposals such as this one is an important first step.  Attending MBRA meetings is one way to do that.

Stay tuned and ask questions.