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In 2014, my wife and I moved our family from one of the smallest school districts in the state of Illinois to Decatur Public Schools. When we did this, we were met with a lot of commentary. There was a generally negative vibe about the school district, from people who had never been to, lived in, or even researched Decatur’s schools.

We already had a very positive experience involving DPS when our oldest child was 4. She required special education services that our small rural school district couldn’t provide, so Pershing Early Learning was her best option. We really cannot say enough good things about the help and guidance she received at Pershing.

We chose the West End to live and Dennis Lab School for our daughters to attend. This school has several exciting things happening. There is a garden plot that has resulted from a very beneficial partnership with Millikin University. In the summer, the scene from the weekly farmer’s market at the garden is full of live music, homemade baked goods and fresh-grown produce, all local and looking like something out of a Pinterest board. The personal investment from students helps build enthusiasm for the vegetation.

The project-based learning method that is used at this school is on the cutting edge of modern learning strategies. Dennis isn’t alone in its progressive approach. Garfield and Enterprise both boast a much-sought-after Montessori program, and John’s Hill is a magnet school with a foreign language and music program.

Paul Fregeau: Decatur school district plan values public

Whether it be Oak Grove, Parsons, Franklin, Stephen Decatur, all of our schools are equipped with hard-working, well-trained, passionate teachers and staff. DPS works hard not to over-crowd classrooms, and to find children who may come from a stressful home environment the support they need.

Our oldest daughter is now at MacArthur High School. She has access to some the best education, technology and supportive resources available. Her teachers help keep her on track for her current career goals and she will be able to take college accredited courses when they are available. Both MacArthur and Eisenhower high schools have been recently rebuilt and remodeled, and students have everything in place for a top notch educational experience.

So why the negativity about Decatur Public Schools? Perhaps it is because sometimes it is difficult to "score" inner-city schools accurately. Kids with various circumstances and economic backgrounds tend to test differently. Perhaps the reputation is still trying to rebound from the negativity and challenges the district went through in the 80s. Perhaps the voices of affluent surrounding towns saying that their public schools are "better" than DPS are just believed at face value without a lot of further research on the subject.

Whatever the cause, when a district has school gardens, Lab, Magnet, and Montessori schools, two new state-of-the-art high schools with college accredited courses: we should feel free to brag. We are setting our kids up for a secure future. A future that includes diversity and inclusivity. A future with a solid background in weathering challenges and developing empathy. A future that fosters a sense of community within our city and that looks ahead with progressive goals.

We are DPS. We are proud.

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Aaron McIntosh is owner of New Era Signs Inc. and Standing Paddle Co.​ 

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