By Steve Robinson | November 15, 2018 - 10:44 pm
Posted in Category: Unit 5

NORMAL – Members of Normal-based Unit 5 School Board received previews of two items which will show up for votes at the Board’s December meeting: A new Student Information System and the upcoming annual tax levy.

Information On New Student Information System Given: Board members received an update concerning a new Student Information System the district is being asked to consider purchasing which would replace the current system known as Skyward, which the district has had in use since 2006, explained Dan Lamboley, director of secondary education for the district. The new system, known as Infinite Campus, was sought out because “Skyward takes a lot of training and is not very user friendly.”

“As what we’ve tried to do for teaching and learning, the system we have now has not adapted,” Lamboley said during a break in what was a three-hour meeting. “We feel from what we have already seen at other districts, this will be better.”

Initially, with set-up, implementation, and training sessions, the district would be spending $410,095 for the new system known as Infinite Campus. District Business Manager Marty Hickman told Board members that amount would be paid over the course of two fiscal years. After that, Unit 5 would be paying an estimated future annual payment of $266,155. The funds used to pay for the new system would come from money earmarked for technology within the district’s Education Fund, Hickman added.

Hickman said Infinite Campus has video tutorials, each lasting roughly five minutes, to help users learn how to operate it. He informed Board members the district would be signing a base contract which would last one year. There is an option for opting out of the contract provided the district gives 30 days notice, he added. The Board will vote on whether to make the purchase at its next meeting on Dec. 12.

Board members were informed by Dayna Brown, director of communications and community relations for the district, that promotional material will be going out on the district’s website, and will be bilingual, to help get parents up to speed on the change.

Vote On 2018 Tax Levy To Be Taken Next Month: Also at that December session, Board members will vote on approving the 2018 tax levy in time to meet the Christmas day deadline for submitting it to the McLean County Clerk’s Office for filing. Hickman informed Board members. The levy would result in residents’ tax rates going up 36 cents.

For the owner of a $175,000 home, that increase would tack on an additional $210 to their tax bill. Collection of tax levy monies would take place next May and June, Hickman reminded. He added that since the district currently has a deficit in its education fund, and a report from the McLean County Assessor’s Office indicates slight gains in existing property values, the county’s assessor is reporting modest gains in existing property values (EAV), thus making the levy particularly important for residents.

Resource Guide On Dyslexia Coming: Unit 5 will be coming out in the near future with a resource guide for parents and teachers concerning Dyslexia. Jessica Alt, Special Education Administrator for the district, informed Board members. She explained guidelines from the Federal government led to a proposal to hire specialists who know how to help students with the condition which can affect reading comprehension.

State Representative Keith Sommer (R-106th Dist.) was present for the session and has given his backing to help make State funding available to help educators who deal with students who cope with Dyslexia. He told Board members he attended a public session on Dyslexia where parents and teachers would be addressing it and admitted he wondered “if just six people would show up.” He said over 100 came to that public session.

New Courses Coming For Dual Credit: Lamboley and Lindsey Dickenson, a teacher at George L. Evans Junior High School, made a presentation to Board members announcing some new courses which high school students could receive dual credit for. Unit 5 will add four new dual credit courses to the 12 currently offered. Dual credit courses are college courses taught by qualified high school instructors. Students who successfully complete dual credit courses receive both high school and college credit for completing the courses.

Beginning in the 2019-2020 school year, students looking for dual credit will be able to take Introduction to Statistics, Introduction to Education, Principles of Engineering, and Civil Engineering & Architecture. The new offerings will join classes currently offered including Introduction to Welding Processes, Introduction to Oral Communication, Chemistry, and Finite Mathematics.

Cedar Ridge Elementary Doubles Up On “Good News”: With a population which includes a large number of Spanish speaking students, educators at Cedar Ridge Elementary School dedicated themselves to create something which would not only be inclusive for those students but also educational for the entire student body. A program called Cedar Ridge Se Habla Espanol, which in English means “we speak Spanish,” was created and Patsy Weber and Nela Diaz. The Se Habla Espanol program was begun by a grandparent and the district’s bilingual family coordinator, in efforts to share a love of our school diversity and promote a positive school culture. Se Habla Espanol is a program designed to bridge the language barrier between students at Cedar Ridge in both the school’s English and Spanish speaking classes. During school hours students in our monolingual classes participate in a 30 minute Spanish lesson designed by Weber. Students learn basic Spanish words, culture and songs with their peers.

That wasn’t the only item Cedar Ridge Principal Karrah Jensen had for Board members. In addition, she acknowledged the donation and dedication of a former Cedar Ridge Elementary student, Amber Hitchins. Now a student at Evans Junior High, Hitchins recently completed her Girl Scout Silver Award. Part of working toward this award required Hitchins to complete a project to benefit the community. For that project, Hitchins partnered with Cedar Ridge Elementary to enhance that school’s outdoor learning space with student seating. Cedar Ridge currently has an outdoor dry erase board that was donated in a previous year by the school’s Student Council. The addition of seating would complete this project for the school, designing a full outdoor classroom.

Hitchins presented the school with bench options to meet the needs of the students to make sure they were fitting for our learners. The benches were constructed, delivered and added to the outdoor learning space. In addition to the seating, Hitchins created a Kindness Garden outside near the learning classroom. In the Kindness Garden are large river stones. When Cedar Ridge’s 5th graders graduate and advance to junior high school, they will each receive an opportunity to paint a stone with an inspirational message. The stones will then be left in the Kindness Garden for all of the students to see. Amber Hitchins is the daughter of Unit 5 School Board President Barry Hitchins.

Parkside Junior High’s “Good News”: Darrin Cooper, Principal at Parkside Junior High School, introduced Board members to that school’s Girls’ Cross Country Team. The team had the distinction of placing in every invitational they ran in this year, he explained. In addition, the team can lay claim to being champions at four of those meets, including Intercity, Big 12, one held at Kingsley Junior High School, and their own Parkside Invitational. At their own invitational, PJHS was among 49 teams from across the state competing.

PJHS’ team went on from there to win the Illinois Elementary School Association Class 3A Sectional Championship with their scoring runners all placing in the top 16 out of the field of 94 runners. This qualified PJHS’ Girls Cross Country Team for the IESA State Meet which was hosted by PJHS hosted at Maxwell Park. Members of the 4th place Parkside Junior High School State Cross Country Team are: Reinhart, Kylie Childers, Payton Gaddis, Ashleigh Horton, Erin Jenkins, Lucy Koranek, Madison Schweizer, Madi Smith, Ava Starkey and Eve Whitlow. The Pythons are coached by head coaches Brandon Weber and Paul Bliss, volunteer coaches Brad Horton and Jessica Eberley.

Individual efforts singled out for recognition by the coaches were: Erin Jenkins finishing 21st out of over 300 runners in the Class 3A Girls Race with a time of 11:54.0 earning an individual medal as well as her team medal. Alex Reinhart starred in her 8th grade cross country season this year by winning every meet and invitational she participated in. She demonstrated her skill during the Sectional Meet where she was the Sectional Champion as well as the State Meet where she finished 13 seconds faster than the 2nd place runner. That earned her a 1st place medal and title of IESA Class 3A State Champion. Reinhart set a record in the 2 Mile Run with a time of 11 minutes, 18.1 seconds. That time not only earned Reinhart the State championship, but also broke her own school record. At State, the girls claimed a 4th place trophy.

District’s “Good News” Thanks Board Members: In a final “good news” item, district superintendent Dr. Mark Daniel informed those in attendance that Nov. 15 would be Illinois School Board Members Day, and thanked Board members for their service.

By Steve Robinson | October 25, 2018 - 10:10 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – Members of Normal-based Unit 5 School Board were informed the district its most recent audit which was conducted by the firm of CliftonLarsonAllen LLP produced positive results. In a brief rundown of the audit, Adam Pulley, a Principal with the firm, explained auditors examined district financial reports, material relating to the district program addressing the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and the district’s nutrition program.

Auditors found no problems when examining the three programs, Pulley told Board members, and thus, were able to write what auditors refer to as “clean” opinions on those programs.

“The district has made vast improvements over the year,” Pulley said. “That’s a testament to the culture of the district.” Pulley added there weren’t many changes in terms of how the district spent money from fiscal year 2017 to fiscal year 2018. Board members unanimously approved accepting the results of the audit report.

Events Planned For Students Looking Into Careers: Dr. Mark Daniel, district superintendent, announced a pair of upcoming events will be held for high school students looking into researching certain career paths. Both will be held at the Astroth Center on Heartland Community College’s campus from 12 noon-3p.m. On Wednesday, Nov. 7, an event giving students a chance to research careers in agribusiness and manufacturing will be held during those same hours. An event giving students a chance to research careers in health sciences will be held on Wednesday, Nov. 13.

Natural Gas Contract Extension Approved: Board members unanimously approved an extension of the contract with Vanguard Energy through December 2020, paying for natural gas for its buildings at a price of .335 cents per therm. Unit 5 has had a contract with Vanguard Energy since June 2014.

“Principal Appreciation Day” Recognized: Each October, National Principals Month recognizes the essential role that principals play in making a school great. As part of that celebration, The State of Illinois has endorsed Friday, October 26, 2018 as Principal Appreciation Day. This recognition was first approved by the Governor of Illinois in 1990 and is annually celebrated.

To begin a list of “good news” reports to Board members, Dr. Mark Daniel spoke about those district staffers who oversee each of the district’s elementary, junior high, and high schools.

The principals (and their schools) are: Benjamin Elementary, Marlys Bennington; Oakdale Elementary, Liz Holtz; Brigham Elementary, Julia Knepler; Parkside Elementary, Ryan Weichman; Carlock Elementary, Laura Delgado; Pepper Ridge Elementary, Tina Fogal; Cedar Ridge Elementary, Karrah Jensen; Prairieland Elementary, Scott Peters; Fairview Elementary, Jim Cooper; Sugar Creek Elementary, Kristina Peifer; Eugene Field Center – Jane Collins; Towanda Elementary, Scott Vogel; Fox Creek Elementary, Leslie Davenport; Chiddix Junior High School, Jim Allen; Glenn Elementary, Cari Oester; George L. Evans Junior High School, Chris McGraw; Grove Elementary, Sarah Edwards; Kingsley Junior High School, Stacie France; Colene Hoose Elementary, Adam Zbrozek; Parkside Junior High School, Darrin Cooper; Hudson Elementary, Scott Myers; Normal Community High School, Trevor Chapman; Northpoint Elementary,, Matt Harr; and Normal Community West High School, David Johnson.

District “Good News”: Board members were introduced to district teachers who were recognized at the Illinois State Board of Education’s annual “Those Who Excel” dinner held Oct. 20 at the Bloomington-Normal Marriott Hotel and Carol A. Reitan Conference Center. A total of 214 statewide recipients of 2018-19 Those Who Excel awards were recognized. “Those Who Excel” celebrates outstanding classroom teachers, educational leaders, and support personnel and their invaluable contributions to schools and communities State Superintendent of Education Tony Smith recognized Illinois’ top educators at the 44th annual event. The Unit 5 honorees, and the categories they were recognized in, were: Classroom Teacher – Ben Luginbuhl – Award of Excellence; Administrator – Darrin Cooper – Award of Merit; Educational Service Personnel (non-certificated) – Jennifer Barlow – Award of Excellence; Early educator – Claire Rybarczyk – Award of Excellence; Student Support Personnel (certificated) –Brooke Bollmann– Award of Excellence;
Community Volunteer – Jan Meadows – Award of Excellence; and Team – Benjamin Business Bears – Award of Excellence. Honorees also included the 10 Teacher of the Year finalists, including Normal Community High School Music Teacher Ben Luginbuhl.

George L. Evans Junior High School’s “Good News”: Christopher McGraw, principal of George L. Evans Junior High School, addressed Board members to update them that the school’s Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) team had been recognized for recently earning the Midwest PBIS Network’s “Platinum” recognition. The Midwest PBIS Network recognized over 500 Illinois schools for their PBIS implementation during the 2017-18 school year. Schools were recognized at four levels, based on their implementation and outcome data: Bronze, Silver, Gold, or Platinum Levels. Of those 500 state-wide schools, Evans was one of only three middle schools, outside of the Chicago-land area, to earn “Platinum” – the highest possible recognition.

“Good News” Regarding Energy Use At Normal West: Joe Adelman, district operations manager, and Marty Hickman, district budget manager, reported to Board members the district has partnered with companies such as Alpha Controls & Services, Corn Belt Electric, and Ameren Illinois in an effort to achieve energy efficiency at Normal Community West High School.

Adelman and Hickman placed a spotlight on three district employees for their work on behalf of the district when working closely with the energy providers. Those employees are: Angie Codron, associate principal at Normal West, who served as lead administrator representing the school in meetings concerning the matter; Lowell Correll, head day custodian at Normal West, whose job was to intake information concerning the new system being implemented; and Tommy Hoerr, the district’s assistant business manager, whose responsibilities included applying for grants and rebate incentives the district was awarded totaling $200,000 from the district’s utility providers to help offset costs.

The project is going into its eighth month of showing energy savings for the school, Adelman and Hickman explained in a memo to Daniel and Board members.

He’s Now Dr. Epperson: Ray Epperson, assistant district superintendent, announced he had recently received his doctorate from Northern Illinois University in Educational Leadership. His dissertation topic was “The Connection Between Principal Leadership Behavior and School Climate.”

Academic Growth And Achievement Report Presented: Epperson, joined by Moe Backe, director of elementary education, and Dan Lamboley, director of secondary education, presented an annual growth and achievement report to Board members. Among the findings presented for results which concluded at the end of the 2016-17 school year were that Unit 5 had a graduation rate of 91.35 percent.

Also part of that report was an update on freshmen who are proceeding through their education, or on track toward graduation as scheduled. At the end of the last school year, 459 of the 529 freshmen students at NCHS (or 87 percent), and 397 of the 440 freshmen students at Normal Community West High School (or 90 percent) were on track to graduate.

This same group of educators also promised to bring Board members an extensive report concerning improvements needed for the district’s Student Information System at the Board’s only meeting in November, slated for Nov. 14, a result of the Thanksgiving holiday.

District Starting Enrollment Numbers Down Slightly: Unit 5 has seen a minor drop in student population at the start of this year over last year, according to the district’s executive director of human resources and student services. Dr. James Harden reported to Board members the district is starting with 13,202 students in its classrooms as opposed to 13,315 students who started the school year at this time last year, a decrease of 113 students.

Unit 5 Music Parents Spaghetti Dinner Dates Set: Board members heard from Donna Garrett, one of the organizers of the Unit 5 Music Parents Spaghetti Dinners which will take place twice in November. She invited Board members and the public to attend one of the two dinners slated to take place in November. On Monday, Nov. 5, the dinner will be held at Normal Community West, with serving taking place from 5p.m.-7:30p.m., and performances continuing until 9p.m., and again on Monday, November 12 at Normal Community High School between those same hours.

By Steve Robinson | October 11, 2018 - 10:59 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – Members of Normal-based Unit 5 School Board unanimously a resolution authorizing district Business Manager Marty Hickman to seek bids for and later award contracts to companies for diesel fuel and gasoline.

Once the bids are announced they are subject to a future Board vote. Among the parameters bidders must meet are that diesel fuel must be at a cost of $2.60 or lower per gallon and that gasoline must be at a cost of $2.20 or lower per gallon.

But although the amounts are set in this instance, one district official would like to see legislation introduced which would change bidding requirements on such commodities. Curt Richardson, attorney for the school district, explained he has reached out to both State Rep. Dan Brady (R-105th) and State Sen. Jason Barickman (R-53rd) to see if they would be willing to look into sponsoring legislation which would support such a measure once crafted.

Having such legislation would allow the district to react more quickly to changes in market prices for such commodities. As the process is now, between the times the district advertises for bids, receives them, opens them, and then has a measure for approval for paying a vendor for such goods, the market price of those goods risks going one direction or another which could not sit well with vendors when Board members approve the measure.

Hickman said currently, once the district posts it’s taking bids for such commodities, the bid has to remain advertised for 10 days by law. Once those bids are opened and a company and their price have been accepted, that process needs to be timed to have a Board meeting at which Board members would vote to accept the proposed bid.

“With diesel fuel prices, for example, you never know what can happen overnight,” Hickman said. Richardson submitted a draft of legislation which would try to reduce the time involved in the process from posting to a school board approving how much they would pay for such commodities.

Were such legislation to pass, Hickman said, “if there’s a drop in fuel prices, we could move in more quickly to lock in a contract at a low price” Under current rules, he added, “it takes so long to go through the process, we don’t want to lock into a contract at a price the vendor won’t take.”

“In the end, doing this would help us get the lowest price for taxpayers,” Hickman said.

Superintendent Issues Caution Concerning Teacher Shortage: In his superintendent comments at the meeting Dr. Mark Daniel told the gathering concerns about a teacher shortage are well-founded and that it may be not just on the horizon but in progress. He said heading off such a shortage was something it had in mind when the district increased pay for starting teachers.

But he said evidence of the shortage was recently cited during a conference conducted by the Large Unit District Association which indicated numbers of education certification and licensure tests for teachers saw a 74 percent decline from the 2012-13 school year and the 2016-17 school year.

Oakdale Elementary Says ‘Thank You” Twice Publicly: Elizabeth Holtz, principal at Oakdale Elementary School had twice the “good news” report to present to Board members, which included twice the “thank you”s for work that had been done around the school during the summer. First, she thanked members of Eastview Christian Church for their members’ donation of time and effort in terms of improvements around the school.

Eastview members came out and re-surfaced the playground blacktop, provided a new roof for the school’s tool shed, and completed numerous landscape projects needing finishing at the school.

Holtz explained in a memo to district superintendent Dr. Mark Daniel and Board members that each year, Eastview members partner with local community members to provide various services at no cost through The Serve Project, a continuous program of serving to help others the church established. Holtz explained Eastview contacted Unit 5 with interest in providing services to Oakdale Elementary, as they had previously partnered with the school through other charitable causes. In the same way the Dollar Donation provided transportation for

Church members also helped as they re-surfaced the school blacktop included adding painted lines which provide students with game opportunities during both recess and lunch. Also painted onto the blacktop were Basketball court lines a kickball field, as well as four square, and hopscotch squares, all ready for action.

“Every single day, there are kids out there playing and it has been a huge blessing,” Holtz told Board members.

In addition, the basketball hoops were repainted, and rims and nets were added. Volunteers also saw to it the shed’s roof was redone.

In addition, Mulch was provided around the base of all the trees on the property, as well as laid around the school sign and front garden area.

Holtz also introduced Board members to Normal Community High School student Ben Brown, who along with various community members helped to continue with the improvements at the school. But for Brown, his efforts toward the community were part of duties he performed as he sought the goal of becoming an Eagle Scout.

Brown created and planned out a garden space at the school for his project, enlisting assistance from community businesses and volunteers. Brown’s garden includes providing garden boxes, seeds and plants, grass, dirt, benches, food donations, and monetary donations to help make the garden become a reality. The garden also has a library thanks to a local organization called A Little Free Library. In this library, students are provided with free books to take home to read and bring them back in exchange for a new book.

The efforts have provided the school with an outdoor learning space which, Holtz explained, has already seen plenty of use.

Gina Tenuta Named New Principal At Fairview Elementary: Dr. James Harden, executive director of human resources and student services, introduced Gina Tenuta as the new principal at Fairview Elementary School. Tenuta assumes her new duties Jan. 1. She is currently associate principal and athletic director at George L. Evans Junior High School. Tenuta will take over from retired Bloomington School District #87 Principal Jim Cooper who has been serving as interim principal. Cooper stepped in on a temporary basis after Lori Harrison, the school’s principal last year, left the district over the summer.

PBIS Presentation Made: Board members heard from Nancy Braun, who serves as a coach for district schools concerning its Positive Interventions and Supports (PBIS) program. Braun reported to Board members all 23 of the district’s schools – elementary, junior highs, and high schools – have achieved varying levels of success in implementing PBIS in their schools. PBIS originated from language used in a 1997 amendment to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This portion of IDEA was very specific in pinpointing methods of identification and support of positive behaviors in the classroom.

Since the 2014-15 school year, the number of district schools receiving recognition for their efforts for PBIS has grown. Also since that school year, Braun told Board members, only one school – Pepper Ridge Elementary – has been every year since 2014-15.

PBIS schools are rated with awards ranging from Platinum to Gold to Silver to Bronze. District schools receiving Platinum ranking were: Benjamin Elementary, Cedar Ridge Elementary, Colene Hoose Elementary, and Northpoint Elementary, Chiddix Junior High School, and George L. Evans Junior High School.

Unit 5 Schools receiving a Gold ranking were: Fox Creek Elementary, Glenn Elementary, Grove Elementary, and Sugar Creek Elementary.

District Schools receiving a Silver ranking were: Brigham Elementary, Carlock Elementary, Fairview Elementary, Oakdale Elementary, Parkside Elementary, Pepper Ridge Elementary, Prairieland Elementary, Towanda Elementary, Kingsley Junior High School, and Normal Community High School. Hudson Elementary and Normal Community West High School received Bronze designations.

By Steve Robinson | September 27, 2018 - 10:59 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – Jane Collins made sure those who made the concrete walkway rounding the inner part of the property near Eugene Field after a year plus of labor received a proper “thank you” during the regularly-scheduled meeting of Normal-based Unit 5 Board of Education Sept. 26.

The walkway surrounding the inner grounds of Eugene Field School complete, during a “good news” item at the meeting, Collins, the school’s administrator, passed along her and the school’s thanks to all involved in making the walkway a reality. A formal ceremony to announce the project, including groundbreaking, was held in May 2017. Students saw the finished product when they returned to class as the current school year started Aug. 16.

Eugene Field School, once an elementary school when it opened over 80 years ago, is now home to an Adapted Learning Program, a Secondary Services Program for young people ages 18-21, a vocational training center, a vocational transitional training program, and Decker Industries.

The walkway was dedicated to one of the school’s first students, Reggie Whittaker, who attended the school as a fifth grader in the 1936-37 school year. Work began work on the walkway shortly after the groundbreaking.

Among those Collins thanked were: Ronald C. Morehead, President of Local 18 of Bloomington-Normal Trades and Labor Assembly. Also thanked were Nick Blazevich, Ray Bosquez, Joe Carr, Justin Dumyahn, Scott Gregory, Dick Huddleston, Steve Lowe, Gage Nimmo, Scott Nimmo, Chris Patterson, Dennis Rich, Kevin Taylor, and Mark West of Laborers Local 362.

In addition, Collins thanked Ray Lello, Danny Martinez, Jr., Doug Meyers, Ronnie Paul, Chuck Porter, Tony Sipes, and Elliot Vinson, from Bloomington-based Stark Excavating Co. Brent Williams from Midwest Construction Rentals also received acknowledged appreciation.

Collins’ thanks continued to Alan Batterman, Jim McKinney, and Bill Speary who were Teamsters members who drove trucks hauling the needed concrete, and the dispatcher who coordinated the trucks, Curtis Eichen. She also acknowledged Rob Ditchen, the concrete supervisor for McLean County Asphalt Co., Inc.

Unit 5 personnel were not left out in Collins’ appreciation for what was done for the school. She started with Operations Manager Joe Adelman, and Unit 5 staffers Doug Johnson, Kaine Hilt, Norm Hicks, and Chad Merritt.

Hudson Elementary School’s “Good News”: Board members heard from Scott Myers, principal of Hudson Elementary School, as he introduced them to second grade teachers Amanda Hunt and Becky Braman. Hunt and Braman, Myers explained, have introduced a new mentoring program into the school which puts students in “multi-grade family teams.” The teams meet weekly on Monday and Friday mornings with students to discuss such things as character traits, goals such as self-esteem and empathy, and showing kindness toward others.

He explained there are student mentors in the group giving positive reminders to fellow classmates each day during morning announcements.

School Year 2018-19 Budget Approved: Board members unanimously approved a budget for the coming school year. District leaders presented Board members a tentative budget for the next fiscal year that has a structural deficit totaling close to $5.9 million. To close that gap, Board members unanimously approved borrowing up to $16.5 million using bonds. Doing that will create an increase in property taxes for local residents. For example, the owner of a $177,000 home will see an increase of roughly $204 in their tax bill in each of the next two years.

Substitute Teacher Issues To Be Concern Of New Panel: Board members heard the district will form a panel which will address issues brought to the district’s attention by substitute teachers who addressed the Board at this meeting and at the governing body’s Sept. 12 session. Dr. James Harden, executive director of human resources and student services for the district, informed Board members an advisory committee consisting of substitute teachers, members of Unit Five Education Association and Unit Five Support Professionals Association, which represents support staff in the district, will meet for the first time on Oct. 9 to address concerns raised by the substitutes.

Learning By Playing Returning To District Kindergarten: Board members heard from Deb Honniger, Early Learning Instructional Coach for the district, and Kathy Reardon, Kindergarten teacher at Fox Creek Elementary School, Bloomington. Honniger and Reardon informed Board members that after years of being absent, play time is back for district kindergarten classes.

Honniger informed Board members 40 minutes of free play time, which has been absent from district schools for a few years, has returned. She explained such activity helps children’s brains and imaginations. She said it’s done in what she called a “teacher-engaged” style and helps to form emotional and academic skills. In one class, the instructors informed, children used water-filled bottles to study different sounds made using them.

Reardon related children using blocks in her class to build a Wal-Mart building. She said that prompted one child to consider the fact the building would need a sign, which he took the initiative to make for the creation. Other children, she added, began creating the road around their creation.

In another instance, Reardon said, children used blocks to build a castle. That exercise, Reardon explained, helped teach youngsters about various shapes, such as cylinder-shaped blocks.

“We want our time in the classroom to stick with them,” Honniger told Board members.

By Steve Robinson | September 13, 2018 - 10:03 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – Officials for Normal-based Unit 5 School District informed constituents the district will assemble a working group which will tackle matters which concern substitute teachers employed by the district. A pay increase is among the matters the district’s substitute teachers would like Unit 5 to look into.

Currently, substitute teachers are paid $80 per day Monday through Thursday, and $90 for every Friday they work. Two substitute teachers who work in the district, Martha Arjona and Duane Malany, presented their concerns during the meeting’s public comments section.

“I’m a long-term sub here and this is my 13th year, but I do know the sub pay has not increased in 18 to 20 years,” Arjona told Board members. She told Board members she researched and found Peoria School District 150 pays subs $130 per day, with that amount going up after a sub has taught for 15 straight days to $180 per day. “That’s significantly higher than what we have here,” she told the Board.

She suggested Unit 5 should consider paying certified teachers who have teaching degrees more than what they pay someone who does not hold that distinction. Responsibility for substitutes has been increased to manage a classroom, stated fellow substitute Dawn Leman, but the money subs get for that increased duty has not.

Fellow substitute teacher Duane Malany made the point that a substitute teacher ought to be considered an employee of the district and receive a means of being able to communicate with teachers they sub for to make the teachers aware of any issues they may have encountered in the class they worked in. He said he would like to see the district provide substitutes with an email address through Unit 5’s email system.

“I think substitutes are professionals and should be treated that way,” Malany told Board members. He said his training from the district before being put in a classroom consisted of a course in first aid and an overview regarding sexual harassment in the workplace.

“Outside of that, I was given no guidance on what to expect,” Malany said, adding that during his time at Unit 5, he had only had three instances where a school principal made contact or introduced themselves to him. He said because of the contact principals made, he has become “loyal to those schools” while not as much toward schools where he wasn’t shown that approach.

He called the feeling of not being known at some schools “uncomfortable” because of not knowing the staff at some schools he goes in to.

A discussion of how to rectify the issues brought by substitutes followed, led by Dr. James Harden, executive director of human resources and student services, and Marty Hickman, business manager for the district. The concerns surrounding substitute teachers pay and other concerns found a spark during the public comments section of the Board’s Aug. 22 meeting. There, Pam Etcheson, a substitute teacher in the district, asked Board members to consider a raise in pay for fill-in teachers.

During the latest meeting, Harden said, since the August meeting, Unit 5 has been looking into the concerns which were brought to their attention. “It’s important to say we appreciate and value what you do when you come into our classrooms,” he told those subs present at the meeting. There were about 6-8 fill-in teachers on hand for the meeting.

Pay for substitutes comes out of the district’s education fund, where in the last few school years, between $1.2 million and $1.5 million has been earmarked to give them their keep. Substitutes say they need to use what they are paid to buy gas and purchase teaching licenses if they are certified for them.

Board Member Alan J. Kalitzky asked Hickman to consider keeping track of how many classes were not filled by a substitute teacher in the district, which Hickman agreed to look into. When no substitute is available, a school administrator, such as a principal or vice principal must step in to oversee a class, Harden explained.

The next step in addressing the issue substitutes want to see addressed will come when the district forms a work group which will includes substitutes, classroom teachers, and administrators. That work group will be tasked with researching the situations substitutes have brought to the district’s attention, including finding a way to speed up how often subs are paid. Currently, depending on when a sub works, about 45 days passes before they are paid by the district.

Board Member Taunia Leffler asked Harden how long before the work group would be put together. Harden answered it would take about a month. He told Board members he hoped to have members of the substitutes work group in place by the Board’s first meeting next month, and that its hopes the work group’s first meeting will have already taken place by the Board’s second meeting in October.

Following the session, Hickman said the district will look into a way to add substitutes to the district’s email system. After the meeting, he said putting substitutes into the district email system is not difficult, but making sure to completely take them off the system should they leave the district is not as immediate a process to complete.

Board Approves Issuing Bonds: Board members unanimously approved a resolution to issue $21.5 million in general obligation bonds for refunding purposes and another $16.5 million in general obligation bonds for use in the district’s working cash fund. There was no discussion prior to the vote being taken.