By Steve Robinson | January 20, 2020 - 10:32 pm
Posted in Category: St. Louis Cardinals, The Normalite

BLOOMINGTON – Central Illinois may be facing another winter at the moment, but St. Louis Cardinals fans got a jump on thinking about spring and summer thanks to a visit with a mix of veteran and newcomer players when the team’s annual St. Louis Cardinals Caravan rolled through town on Saturday, stopping at the Parke Regency Hotel and Conference Center.

Three Generations Of Rosendale Family Take In Event: For father and son Bob and Jake Rosendale, love of baseball was something that has been passed down. And Jake Rosendale is now watching as his daughter, Shelby, and son, Tyler, carry on the family tradition of rooting for the boys from St. Louis. Bob said he has been a Cardinals fan since he was a boy, when fans could find guys like pitchers Curt Simmons and Curt Flood, and outfielders Al Dark and Del Ennis on a lineup card. Jake Rosendale said he and his dad and kids have attended a number of Cards Caravan events since the team put the Twin Cities back in their rotation.

Tyler, a Northpoint Elementary School sixth grader said he likes the Cards because of the loyalty he sees players showing the team. “The team is just really cool,” Shelby, a Kingsley Junior High School eighth grader, added.

“Doing this and going to games teaches the kids about being a fan and to enjoy the athletes that are out there and the atmosphere when you’re at the ballpark,” Jake Rosendale explained.

The Rosendales, however, were missing one member of the family at this event who, clearly, does not share loyalty for the Cardinals the way the folks who came to this event do. That missing member would be Jake’s wife, Tricia. She was not at this event because, for you see, she is a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan, Jake explained.

Young Fans Begin The Questioning: Third baseman and outfielder Tommy Erdman, Pitchers Daniel Ponce De Leon and Matthew Libertore, and Cards minor league infielder Nolan Gorman appeared during this visit to whet baseball appetites of 300 Cards faithful, young and old alike. In addition to current players, fans also got visit and get autographs from Cardinals alums Kyle McClellan and Bernard Gilkey, who also came along for this leg of the trip. Players were introduced and asked follow-up questions by Cardinals broadcaster Mike Claibourne. Members of Illinois State University’s baseball team also were present for this event.

“How great was last season?,” asked the emcee for the event, WJBC personality Marc Strauss asked fans to begin the 90-minute session, reminding the crowd the Cards won the Central Division title last season, not to mention making the postseason for the fifth time in nine years. The crowd responded with applause having been witness to their favorite team winning the National League Divisional Series 3 games to 2 over Atlanta, but falling to Washington in the NL championship series.

Youthful fans sat on the floor in front of the dais the players gathered at as the questioning of players about the upcoming season began. The first question came from a young fan who wanted to know who the team thought would make the bigs first, either Matthew Rutherford or Gorman. Gorman diplomatically said he hoped both he and Rutherford would arrive to play for St. Louis “on the same day.” The diplomatic answer drew applause from the gathering.

Another young fan asked Erdman what it was like to hit his first major league grand slam, as he did at Cincinnati in July. “It was a great feeling to run around the bases after that hit,” Erdman responded. That hit was just one of 11 homers Erdman hit last season contributing to a season where he had 99 hits including 17 doubles and 35 extra base hits since getting promoted to the majors in early June. He started in 75 of 92 games last season and led the team with 32 hits.

Another fan asked about, upon finding out they were being called up to the majors, who did players call and break the news to first. Gorman said he contacted his wife. “It was a cool moment for me, but only thing was I found out when I was playing catch. And since it was the first day of spring training, I couldn’t to the locker room to call my wife or anybody. So I told my teammates and then my parents.”

To the same question, Ponce De Leon said he contacted his father. Upon hearing the news, he said, “My father just started screaming. He said, ‘Woooooooo.’ You could hear him drop the phone and run around the house. He told my mom and it was pretty cool because he was, like, my number one fan.”

“I called my wife and my parents,” explained Edman. “Fortunately, they were all able to come out to Chicago. We had a crew of 10 or 15 people there.”

Gilkey said the reaction to the news when he called his folks was his parents. “My mom answered the phone and she was who I told first. She was totally elated by the news,” he explained, adding that when his father got on the line, he renewed the feeling he had about his son being able to make the big leagues. “He said, instead of telling me how happy he was, he went into a long schpeel about when I started playing in little league and told me then he thought I could make it.”

McLellan admitted to being nervous when he first took the mound as a major leaguer with St. Louis in a game against Colorado in 2008. His career lasted six seasons, ending with his retirement from the game in 2013 playing for the Texas Rangers.

Libertore said his trade from the Tampa Bay Rays to the Cardinals took, in reality, 25 minutes to transpire. He said he was going through workouts when the call came and after checking with his agent, called his father to alert him to it. “I am super happy to be here,” he told attendees.

NORMAL – A Normal Community High School sophomore and a junior from Bloomington High School received honors as Youth Award Winners at the 44th annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Awards Banquet held Saturday in the Brown Ballroom of Illinois State University’s Bone Student Center. The event is co-sponsored by the Human Relations Commissions of the City of Bloomington and the Town of Normal.

Dhruv Rebba, son of Hari and Shailaja Rebba, attends NCHS and was honored by being awarded the Martin Luther King, Jr. Youth Award for the Town of Normal. Kaylin Richards, daughter of Nikita Richards, was honored by being awarded the Martin Luther King, Jr. Youth Award for the City of Bloomington.

About Dhruv Rebba: Rebba, an NCHS sophomore, is involved in a number of charitable causes, most notably founding a group called Universal Health Foundation. The mission of this not-for-profit organization is to find creative solutions to help improve peoples’ lives worldwide, he explained. The group, which he founded in December 2018 has raised funds and given textbooks to seven different schools in India, schools he explained are in rural areas and below that country’s poverty line.

In addition to the books, Rebba explained, the non-profit has been able to provide the school with digitalization, a projector, a computer, and, as Rebba describes it, “an unobstructed power supply.” Money from family, friends, and matching grants in India paid for what has been provided to the school thus far, Rebba added. He said he is doing this while still taking honors and advanced placement classes at NCHS. “I just have to manage my time,” he explained about being able to do this while still in school.

Rebba said he also helping with an after-school Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, or STEM program for elementary school students in the community as well. He said the goal of that program is to draw youngsters’ interest in STEM at an early age.

About Kaylin Richards: Kaylin Richards is a junior at Bloomington High School is a volunteer for Bloomington-based Project Oz, serving on the group’s youth action board as well as being involved with the West Bloomington Revitalization Project. “With the action board at Project Oz, I do a lot with substance abuse prevention activities,” Richards explained. She also helps with the Veggie Oasis Project, bringing vegetables into sections of Bloomington where groceries are not close at hand. The Veggie Oasis Project is another Project Oz operation.

She wants to attend either Tuskegee University or Arizona State University where she desires to major in history education to help her pursue her dream of becoming a history teacher. She said she reached that conclusion having been taught by some of her BHS history teachers. “All the history teachers I have had a BHS have inspired me,” Richards said.

“I read a lot when I was younger and I have always been interested in the deeper meaning of where things come from,” Richards added. “It has just kind of stayed with me.”

Elaine Hill Awarded Normal’s Adult “King” Honor: Normal and Bloomington each also presented an adult with a Martin Luther King, Jr. Award, also based on nominations, as were the teen honorees. Normal’s adult honoree is Elaine Hill. Hill is a long-time board member of the Cultural Festival, something she has been involved with almost from the beginning of her living in Normal, having been with the festival for 40 years. She also volunteers with the Coalescence Theatre Project, and is a member of the board for the McLean County Museum of History. In addition, she is also involved with the Bloomington-Normal Black History Project.

Karen Schmidt Awarded Bloomington’s Adult “King” Honor: Bloomington’s adult honoree is Karen Schmidt, a retired Illinois Wesleyan University librarian. Schmidt volunteers with the “Not In Our Town” initiative, West Bloomington Revitalization Project, and the Book Bike. Schmidt served five terms on Bloomington’s City Council, and was a YWCA Women of Distinction award recipient in 2002.

Author/Lecturer Aaron Vessup Delivers Keynote: After the award winners were announced and introduced to the gathering, those in attendance heard from Aaron A. Vessup, who served as the very first human relations coordinator for the City of Bloomington. Mixing personal experience stories with humor that added a lesson mined from such stories, Vessup spoke of the human experience young blacks often encountered when he was a coming-of-age youth during the turbulent days when blacks were fighting for equal rights in the 1960s.

“Today, I would like to tell you how we define friends or how we define enemies,” Vessup said. He encouraged those in attendance to keep in mind who they are and from where they have received their values. He added his home life as a youngster and young man shaped the individual he has become, and encouraged the youth in the audience as well as the adults to keep in mind those same things as they proceed on in this life.

By Steve Robinson | January 18, 2020 - 10:53 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – At one point or another in our high school careers, we might have groused about grades we received in certain classes. While such things are all part of what adults label as teenage angst, students from Normal Community High School believe there is something more problematic in the grading system used by the school and brought their complaints to members of Normal-based Unit 5 School Board during the governing body’s regularly-scheduled meeting at district headquarters Jan. 15.

Students and parents, numbering around 30, filled the gallery in the school board meeting area of the building on Hovey Ave. In describing their concerns with the grading system, the students who spoke labeled the grading system using words like “inconsistent,” and “confusing.”

Standards-Based Grading uses a system which evaluates the student using a model that evaluates the student using a scale based on proficiency, and ranges from 1-to-4. The students who spoke to Board members argue the scale does not fit for all classes and teachers do not use it consistently across the board regardless of the subject.

“Standards-Based Grading does not affect students’ lives,” argued Conner McClellan in his comments to Board members, adding grades drop if there are two or more errors noticed by teachers.

“It’s a major problem of inconsistency from class to class,” explained Swetha Veluvolu. “We’re not learning. We’re just suffering.” Veluvolu asked Board members to reconsider the district’s use of this style of grading.

Another student, Emily Dusin, said there is another concern for some students where this testing system is concerned – test anxiety. “Students who have test anxiety suffer as a result of this system. How does this help us in college or in life?” She stated there are no “re-do’s” under this system.

District Deputy Superintendent Dr. Ray Epperson told the gathering he was of the belief the Standards-Based System was what was concerning to the students, but rather, the format upon which the students are graded which was at issue for the students’ grievances. He said such matters are continuing to be looked at in discussions between the district office and NCHS teachers.

Parkside Junior High Introduces Board To Four “Good News” Items: Parkside Junior High School was able to demonstrate three times the pride when they were spotlighted in three “good news” items presented to Board members. PJHS Principal Suzi Hesser introduced Board members to five students who won “Judge’s Choice Awards at the Illinois Elementary School Association Area Speech Contest on Nov. 9. The students are: Isaiah Eeten, Will Marvel, Gabrielle Montgomery, Katie Van Heuklon, and Corinna Thomas.

Hesser said students worked throughout September and October memorizing a solo, a duet, or small group skit and performed those before judges at the contest. They also practiced stage blocking and working to perform their pieces within a specified time period. Students were prohibited from using props or wearing costumes for performances, leaving them to use facial and vocal expressions to show conflicts. Eleven PJHS students participated in the event where students from a total of 124 schools took.

That was followed by a Congratulatory recognition for PJHS Band Director Jennifer Bolton for receiving IESA’s Distinguished Service Award. The award was created as a way to recognize, preserve and promote interscholastic fine arts. Directors are chosen for this honor by IESA Board of Directors and the association’s Music Advisory Committee. Selection is based upon director contributions, enthusiasm, and positive effect on students.

Concerning PJHS’ next bit of good news, junior high school band students in the state of Illinois are encouraged to audition for the state band. This is the highest accomplishment that any junior high band member can achieve with 84 of the top band musicians in the-state selected to participate. Hesser was smiling as she announced PJHS has had five students were chosen for the State band. Those students are Ethan Snyder, Rolen Schlipmann, Tori Tackett, Leah Renollet, and Ava Eames. Hesser told the gathering those students were the only ones from the entire Bloomington/Normal area for such recognition, with two of the students being selected as first chair. Those students were Schlipmann, who places the euphonium and Ethan Snyder who plays the trombone.

Lastly, Hesser spoke about an improvement made to the school building itself. She expressed excitement as she spoke on behalf of her school to thank the district for its support regarding energy management at her building. As of January 1, 2020, PJHS earned an Energy Star Rating of 87. That turns out to be a turnaround for the building because it had an Energy Star Rating of 10 four years ago. The rating is an 88 percent improvement in performance. Hesser said that improvement translates to a savings of $444,533.

In 2016, PJHS proved to be the worst performing school related to energy consumption. The building’s equipment had a heating and cooling system that was 42 years old equipment and was performing poorly, only earning an Energy Star Rating of 10. Board approval to sell bonds made paying for improvements possible, Adelman said. That included implementation of a geo-thermal ground heating and cooling source.

Currently, Adelman added, the district is working on Normal Community High School and Kingsley Junior High School and those improvements will lead toward those buildings to be able to earn energy star certification in the future. PJHS is the 3rd of Unit 5’s six largest buildings to achieve energy star, he said, adding EJHS and Normal Community West High School are energy star certified as well.

Board Unanimously Approves Money For Working Cash Fund: Board members unanimously approved issuance of an amount not to exceed $29 million in working cash bonds for use by the district to help the district maintain operations for the school years 2020-21 and 2021-22. The purpose for this was to increase the amount of working cash for the district. A public hearing was required by law to be held prior to the Board vote. At that hearing, no members of the public spoke. Interest rate assumptions based upon market conditions as of December 2, 2019 plus 0.25 percent for working cash bonds and 0.5 percent for life safety bonds.

In an item related to finance for the district, Board members also heard from Robert Lewis III, managing director, PMA Securities LLC, who informed Board members in discussing a financing plan for the district that included the proposed timeline related to the bonds. That timeline included the Board approving a resolution of the selling of the bonds at their Feb. 26 meeting; the bonds being sold as early as June 16 and bonds closing, allowing the district to receive the cash as early as July 14.

Busing Consultant Leaves District With Decision To Make: In recent years, although the district has outsourced its busing services, Unit 5 has pondered keeping that service as one done in-house. At the beginning of the 2018-19 school year, a number of reports of late bus arrivals at both ends of the school day had Board members pondering whether to continue its association with Cincinnati, Ohio-based First Student Bus Co. Once matters were corrected to the Board’s satisfaction, the relationship between the two, which has existed since 2012, continued. Prior to the agreement with First Student, Unit 5 had been doing busing on its own for several years.

But in October, Board members approved hiring of Charleston, S. C.-based School Bus Consultants, an affiliate of TransPar Group, to learn what the possibility would be if the district considered making the bus service workable in-house.

Phil McConnell, a consultant with School Bus Consultants, told Board members depending on the decision the district chooses, be it continuing with First Student, contracting with another company, or going ahead with independently operating a busing service, documented and enforced procedures and policies must be in place from the beginning of the arrangement.

Calendar For School Year 2020-21 Approved: As part of the Board’s omnibus agenda, which Board members unanimously passed, among other items, the school year 2020-21 calendar. That school year is slated to begin with a full-day of classes on Wednesday, Aug. 19.

Next Board Meeting Feb. 12: This is the only Board meeting scheduled for this month. The next scheduled Board meeting will be Wednesday, Feb. 12 at district headquarters, beginning at 7p.m.

By Steve Robinson | January 13, 2020 - 10:23 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – After two rounds of interviews with candidates in December to find a successor to District Superintendent Dr. Mark Daniel, Normal-based Unit 5 School Board introduced Dr. Kristen Kendrick-Weikle as the person who will become the district’s 13th superintendent since the district was founded in 1948. By being approved by a 6-1 vote during a special School Board session Monday at district headquarters, Dr. Kendrick-Weikle also makes history by becoming the second female superintendent in the district’s history.

Dr. Kendrick-Weikle will assume her duties as superintendent on July 1, succeeding Dr. Daniel, who has served as superintendent since July 1, 2014. Dr. Daniel announced in September that he and his wife had just become first-time grandparents, and were desiring to move to the Chicago area to be closer to family. The Board began a search for Dr. Daniel’s successor shortly afterward.

While Board President Barry Hitchins, joined by Board Members Mike Trask, Meta Mickens-Baker, Taunia Leffler, Alan Kalitzky, and Amy Roser by voting in the affirmative for Dr. Kendrick-Weikle, Board Member Dr. Kelly Pyle cast the lone opposing vote.

Following the vote, Dr. Kendrick-Weikle told the gathering, “I’ve always held Unit 5 in high regard and I’m happy at where I’m at but when Unit 5 became open, it was just too intriguing to pass up. I’m excited to get know you better and work with you, and really do great things for our kids.”

Dr. Kendrick-Weikle is currently superintendent at Warrensburg Latham District 11, which is smaller than Unit 5, with just an elementary school, junior high, and high school, the combined K-12 population within the three schools is 973 students, according to the website niche.com.

Dr. Kendrick-Weikle will start at Unit 5 with a three-year contract with a salary of $185,000. She has previously served as director of special education for Special Education Association of Adams County and was a principal in Quincy Public Schools. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Special Education and Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction, both from Quincy University. She earned her Doctorate in Educational Leadership from Western Illinois University.

Dr. Kendrick-Weikle and her husband, Skip, are parents to six children ranging from a junior in high school to a 26-year-old and have one grandchild.

Media were informed by Hitchins there were 32 applicants for the position which Oak Park-based search firm School Exec Connect narrowed to six candidates to start. After a first round of interviews with Board members, that number was reduced to three before the Board selected Dr. Kendrick-Weikle during sessions that covered five days in December.

Before the vote was taken at Monday’s meeting, Trask told the gathering of around 40 people present for the process for selecting a new superintendent involved each member not having tunnel vision toward their own views and listening to the viewpoints of the other six Board members.

Selecting a new superintendent “is not a process to take lightly,” added Mickens-Baker, who reminded the gathering this was her third time to experience it. “Please know we took the process seriously in the process of deciding which candidate was the best fit given the profile that our community, Board, and staff had developed,” she added. “I look forward to working with you.”

Mickens-Baker the search firm which brought candidates to Unit 5, Oak Park-based School Exec Connect, “did a really good job of preparing us for the challenge of finding superintendents.” She added each of the other superintendent candidates could have brought something to Unit 5.

In explaining her opposing vote to the gathering, and addressing Dr. Kendrick-Weikle directly, Dr. Pyle said she had “tremendous respect for the work you have done at Warrensburg-Latham.”

“It was a very difficult decision, and trying to match them up with a profile of who we thought would be the best person for Unit 5 was a difficult time,” Leffler admitted. “We tried to bring you the best candidate for Unit 5 and we think we’ve done that.”

“This wasn’t just a seven-person responsibility to find a new leader for our school district,” Kalitzky said. “This was an entire community’s responsibility.”

Hitchins, following the meeting, said he was impressed by Dr. Kendrick-Weikle opinions concerning “communication and relationship building. That’s what I think she will bring to this table.”

Second Woman Superintendent in Unit 5 History: Some may be wondering if Dr. Kendrick-Weikle is the first woman to serve as superintendent for the district. Fact is, she is not. Dr. Carol Struck served as interim superintendent for Unit 5 from August 1, 1989 until June 11, 1990.

Clay and Sue Wiseman say they wanted to find a way to honor their youngest of two sons, Noah, after he passed away in June 2014. With the support of the local school district and contributions from family, friends, residents, and other area citizens, the Wisemans created the “Win For Wiseman” Scholarship, essentially to give away a scholarship to a deserving Heyworth High School student.

At least, as they were beginning this endeavor, they believed it would only be one scholarship. But when their efforts caused $10,000 to come in that first year, the Wisemans found they could give away not one but a pair of $5,000 scholarships. From the award’s first year, that is what they have done to help two deserving HHS seniors ever since.

The first year the scholarships were given, the Wisemans used an independent panel of judges without their direct involvement, and they confined the contest to members of the Heyworth High football squad, the team Noah belonged to at the time of his passing. In the years that followed, they expanded eligibility to members of HHS’ senior class.

Eight grads from HHS have benefitted from this honor. Two more will benefit from it as well this year. But after those two deserving recipients who enter this year’s essay contest in hopes of and then each receiving their $5,000 scholarship receive their awards, the Wisemans will end their charitable venture. That’s because, when it began, they only intended for it to last just five years.

This year’s question: “What role does social media play in your life? Write about its influence and lack thereof, including advantages and disadvantages for society.” Essays from the students are due into the HHS’ Counseling Office by Friday, Feb. 14. Sue Wiseman said scholarship winners will be notified by March 16. Once a student turns in an essay, which must be between 300-1,000 words in length, it is given a number by the counseling office to keep committee members from knowing the name of the student who submitted it.

“I can tell you Clay came up with the question this year, and I, personally, think it’s the best question we’ve ever had,” Sue Wiseman, Noah’s mother, said, adding she “just looked at Clay in awe when he said it.”

The Wisemans, older son Kyle and wife, Jill, and Jeff and Julie Day serve as the panel of judges for the scholarship. Each student submitting an essay does so to the school’s counseling office. School Counselor Rebecca Stanton receives the essays and assigns a number to each essay as a means of preserving the anonymity of the student who wrote it so that the committee can judge each essay unbiasedly.

“I’m not a huge social media individual,” Noah’s father, Clay, added. “I don’t have the time to be addicted to my phone or my iPad or my computer. “But as you look at the news, read the news, I just want to get a picture of what drives these kids to be so involved in social media yet not have one-on-one contact with their classmates, their families, their friends, or why do they always have their faces in their phones or iPads.”

Clay Wiseman said he and Sue monitored how much time Noah could be on social media, with the parental goal of time he spent on social media limited as much as could be done.

Sue Wiseman added this topic came about as a result of the couple’s own views concerning the subject. “We would like to hear from the students about the good, the bad, and the ugly on this subject,” She added.

Being the final year of this scholarship, Clay Wiseman said, there was never an intent for he and Sue to memorialize their youngest son. “We committed to five years and we thought that after five years, this spring, the first “Win For Wiseman” scholarship winners graduate from college,” he said. Those first two recipients, Cole Sinn and Jacob Day, are both preparing to enter the working work after receiving their college diplomas this spring. Sinn from Aurora University where he played football, as well, and Day from University of Dubuque.

After this year, the “Win For Wiseman” scholarship will have raised $50,000 during its five-year span. Looking back, Clay Wiseman said doing that to help the HHS students they have in that time “is a remarkable thing.”

The names of the HHS alums who won this scholarship before are familiar to locals, of course, and include 2016 recipients Day and Sinn; 2017 recipients Saegan Snow and Jackson Bradshaw; 2018 recipients Riley Ryburn and Amber Tomlin; and 2019 recipients Kara Monteggia and Claire Martens. Clay Wiseman is quick to remind there were no corporate entities involved during this venture. “This all came from friends and family. We didn’t consider approaching corporations. But those friends and family came through for us.” He choked up a little as he concluded, “We’ve done well. We’re happy with the result.”

As no doubt are the families of the high school grads-turned-college grads and soon-to-be college grads who were aided by the Wiseman’s efforts.