Zion’s schools have also struggled. Going by last year’s test scores, Zion is home to four of the nearly 600 failing schools in Illinois. More than half of the town’s 3,000 elementary and junior high students are poor, and more than 60 percent are minorities. Before the local bond referendum passed last year, the schools were seriously underfunded. Central, which houses more than 600 seventh- and eighth-graders from around the district, has been “failing,” and resorted to school uniforms in an attempt to limit gang and racial conflicts on campus.

Carol Suetmeyer’s daughter, a student at Central, has witnessed firsthand the school’s problems, which aren’t limited to academics. In one harrowing incident last year, teachers and administrators couldn’t find the 14-year-old girl for several hours. She was eventually located, safe and sound, but for her mother the experience was terrifying. “I’m very protective of my daughter,

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Alexander Russo is a freelance education writer who has created several long-running blogs such as the national news site This Week In Education, District 299 (about Chicago schools), and LA School Report. He can be reached on Twitter at @alexanderrusso, on Facebook, or directly at alexanderrusso@gmail.com.