Education Secretary Arne Duncan told a room filled with hundreds of administrators, teachers, education majors and community leaders that school districts must have the courage to adopt new ideas if they hope to produce college-ready students.
"We can't be afraid of innovation," said Duncan, who for 8 years was Chicago superintendent of schools.
" We need more schools that are graduating 95-percent of students and have 90-percent of students going on to college. We need to be open to innovation. Things that work we need to more of. Things that don't let's stop doing that."
Duncan says many of those innovations are already seeing results in schools around the country. The purpose of Wednesday's event at the Peoria Civic Center, entitled "Transforming Public Education", was to share those ideas.
Panelists included Louisiana schools superintendent Paul Pastorek, Peoria and Springfield mayors Jim Ardis and Tim Davlin, and incoming Peoria District-150 superintendent Grenita Lathan, who said those innovations need to start early.
"We keep talking about K-12 education. We must talk about pre-K, or birth to 12 education," said Lathan.
Pastorek says schools in his state have made strides by holding school principals accountable.
"The principal in the building needs to be accountable, but the principal in the building needs to have the autonomy to make the decisions that need to be made," said Pastorek.
"And I'd go a step further. The principal has to create an environment of innovation and creativity."
But Metamora superintendent of schools Ken Mauer says that really starts in the classroom.
"Most of our teachers, 90-percent of them are good teachers," said Mauer. "They're in it for the right reasons and they're trying their best to do the best job possible. Sometimes we're getting in their way with the Race to the Top or No Child Left Behind and some of the rules and regulations that are out there."
Panelists also talked about cultivating stronger relationships with teachers unions and local governments. But to quote Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis, when the talking is over what about tomorrow.