By Steve Robinson | September 12, 2019 - 10:46 pm
Posted in Category: Unit 5

NORMAL – At Wednesday, Sept. 11’s regularly-scheduled meeting of Normal-based Unit 5 School Board, two days had gone by since Superintendent Dr. Mark Daniel made his intentions known that he would be leaving at the end of the school year, on June 30, the result of a decision to take a job to be closer to family in the Chicago area. At the Board meeting held at Parkside Junior High School, Board members received details on how the search firm the district was considering hiring in aiding in the search for the new leader would proceed.

Dr. Jill Hawk and former school administrator Diane Robertson, representing Oak Park-based search firm School Exec Connect, gave Board members insight into how the firm works to help the district find the most qualified candidates for the position Daniel has held since July 2014.

Robertson explained that using focus groups and interviews with district staff, parents, students and other interested parties, the firm “will be looking for a good fit for your community. The only way to do that is to come in for a couple of days and talk to people.” Such community input, Robertson explained would give the firm an idea from those talks an answer to the question “what kind of skills does the superintendent need to possess?”

Robertson added the group would also produce and post an online survey for residents of the district to complete, as well as host “a couple of open forums.” “We don’t want you to settle,” Robertson told Board members. “We don’t want to bring you candidates number 8, 9, or 10.”

This next search for a new Unit 5 Superintendent would be the third consecutive one for the district using School Exec Connect, the previous two resulting in the hirings of Niehaus and Daniel. The cost for finding a new superintendent through School Exec Connect breaks down as $23,500 for consulting services; travel expenses not to exceed $5,000; and costs for advertising the opening, based on options chosen by the Board. The Board also has a background check option available from the company, which if the district opts to use it would cost $750.

Robertson said the firm generally begins with a planning meeting with Board members shortly after the firm is hired. She told Board members that during that meeting is the Board’s opportunity to tell the firm how they want the search to be done.

School Exec Connect’s reach stretches to not just Illinois but also Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Iowa, North Dakota, and South Dakota. Board members will take up whether to hire the firm at their Sept. 25 meeting.

Transportation Issues Continue: The issue of transporting students continues vexing the district. In his Superintendent Comments segment, Daniel said he understands parents are frustrated by issue of buses not getting students to their schools on time. Daniel told the audience he is frustrated about the situation, too. “The service we are receiving is not acceptable,” Daniel said in referring to the district’s transportation provider, Cincinnati, Ohio-based First Student Bus Co.

“We understand most buses are running on time, but most is not enough,” Daniel said. He added he and Board members expect a quick solution from the provider. In addition to Daniel’s remarks, there were two public comments on the subject from Lindsey Dickinson, president of Unit Five Education Association and Tony Cole, a parent with two students in school in the district.

Dickenson pointed out that as a result of buses arriving late to some schools, those students miss out on between 30-45 minutes of class time at the start of the day. Cole added it sounded to him as though Unit 5 was attempting to solve the issue which he saw as primarily a communication breakdown between the district and First Student.

LaCrosse Co-Op Proposal Presented: Illinois Wesleyan University has both men’s and women’s lacrosse. There is a club lacrosse team, comprised of high school age players, both boys and girls, known as the Bloomington-Normal Warriors. Board members were presented with a proposal by Normal Community High School Athletic Director Nic Kearfoot which he and Normal Community West High School Athletic Director Stan Lewis have worked on which Kearfoot presented to start a lacrosse program at those two schools.

Currently, there is only a practice field for the club team – the field at Kingsley Junior High School, known as Truman Keys Field when the school was used by NCHS, Kearfoot explained. Kearfoot said in order for Lacrosse teams to use that field once more would require getting the field into shape as though it would be used for football. It has been over a decade since high school teams played football on that field, when it was a high school facility.

Being a spring sport, Kearfoot said he and Lewis have approached Illinois Wesleyan University Lacrosse coach Zach Iannucci about using Tucci Stadium, which is used for football and men’s and women’s lacrosse. Board Member Alan Kalitzky asked about how much money it would take to add the sport to its roster of athletic activities. District Operations Director Joe Adelman told Kalitzky answers to questions like that are being researched presently.

To get the sport approved by Board members and thus get set things in motion for the work needing to be done so that the sport can debut, potentially by next year, Board President Barry Hitchins informed Kearfoot that for the item to appear on the agenda of the Board’s next meeting on Sept. 25, Kearfoot would have to have the item submitted to the district office by Sept. 20.

Benjamin Elementary 4th Grader Recognized For District 70th Anniv. Art Contest Entry: When Board members met for their Aug. 28 session, they were introduced to a group of seven students from varying grade levels who won an art contest, the goal of which was to honor the district celebrating the milestone of its 70th anniversary. While she was not able to attend the prior session, Benjamin Elementary student Kaitlyn Call was recognized for her effort. At this latest meeting, Call’s art work displayed with her present by her principal, Marlys Bennington doing the honors.

By Steve Robinson | September 9, 2019 - 10:42 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – Citing his and his wife’s desires to locate closer to a daughter and her husband who just had a first child, Unit 5 Superintendent Dr. Mark Daniel announced that he will be leaving the district at the end of the current school year which ends June 30, 2020. He made his announcement at a brief news conference Monday afternoon from the School Board’s meeting room at district headquarters. Daniel became Unit 5 Superintendent on July 1, 2014 succeeding Dr. Gary Niehaus, who retired after serving as superintendent for seven years.

Explaining he and his wife, Janet, have just become first-time grandparents who wish to be close by to the child’s family, Daniel told reporters, “I want to share that over the summer, I have respectfully informed the Board of Education that I will be seeking a new superintendent position for the 2020-2021 school year.” As a result, he will be seeking a similar job in the Chicago area.

“This was a difficult decision as Bloomington-Normal was such a wonderful community,” Daniel, a father of four daughters added. “But Jan and I are excited to have more time with our daughters, our son-in-law, and our grandson in the very near future.

“I’m extremely proud of what we’ve accomplished in my tenure at Unit 5,” Daniel said. “We’ve enabled career pathways enabling students to graduate from high school with associate’s degrees in high-demand career fields, supporting local businesses and organizations.” He also touted that during his time, the district has been able to provide over $500,000 in tuition-free credits to high school students during the previous school year.

He reminded that during his time at Unit 5, graduation rates in the district increased – from 86.1 percent in 2014 to 92 percent in 2017. He said that higher figure is about where graduation rates remain today. He also led a program to put career counselors in the district’s two high schools to coordinate career readiness with area businesses to give students real world experience.

He also said he was pleased to be part of the negotiation team which brought Rivian Automotive and Brandt Industries to McLean County. “Through these negotiations, business partnerships developed supporting our college and career opportunities for students while meeting future employment needs of local businesses.”

Daniel, 58, is the 12th superintendent to lead Unit 5. School Board members recently approved a 1 percent raise for him, bringing his annual salary to $203,000. Board President Barry Hitchins said the district will work with an Oak Park-based search firm, School Exec Connect, to begin a search for Daniel’s successor. Although Hitchins could not recall the exact amount to be spent on the search, he said “it will be under $30,000.” Plans to approve a contract with School Exec Connect are slated to be part of the Board’s Sept. 25 meeting agenda. Hitchins confirmed School Exec Connect would, in looking for Daniel’s successor, be hired by Unit 5 for a third time. He added the search committee’s goal is to hire a new superintendent who would be hired in time to start at the beginning of the 2020-21 school year which started next July 1.

Daniel closed out the written statement to the media by saying, “It’s important to know I’m not going anywhere now. We have a lot of wonderful work to do in Unit 5.” He added by announcing his decision at this point in the year allows the school board to have “sufficient time to seek my replacement. I look forward to an outstanding school year as it continues to be an honor and privilege to serve the Unit 5 community.”

Prior to the press conference during which Daniel made his announcement, he and Hitchins broke the news of his exit during a brief meeting with administrators from the district’s 17 elementary schools, four junior high schools, and two high schools.

“The Unit 5 Board thanks Dr. Daniel for his leadership, his effort to empower his staff members and his ability to build important relationships with community and business leaders,” stated Hitchins, who sat next to Daniel during the press conference. “The Board will begin the search for a new superintendent immediately.”

“We appreciate Dr. Daniel’s dedication to the students and families of Unit 5,” Hitchins said in a prepared text. Hitchins responded to a reporter’s question that Daniel’s contract with Unit 5 expires July 30 and “this was just the opportune time” for this change to occur.

By Steve Robinson | August 29, 2019 - 10:21 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – Students may be gearing up for a new school year, but Normal-based Unit 5 School District is winding down its 70th Anniversary celebration which began July a year ago. At the regularly-scheduled meeting of the district school board, held at district headquarters on Aug. 28, Board members were introduced to students who participated in and won a poster contest to honor the district.

Dayna Brown, Director of Communications and Community Relations for the district, introduced Board members to poster contest winners who ranged in age from toddler to junior high. The winners Brown introduced (and the program or school they were from) are: Sugar Creek Early Learning student Aeden Emery; Prairieland Elementary student Quinn Dobson; Northpoint Elementary student Abhinav Avala; Oakdale Elementary student Jordan Nunoo-Ponder; Benjamin Elementary student Kaitlyn Call; Grove Elementary student Sophia Smith; and George L. Evans Junior High School student Elijah Noll.

The posters varied in size, and Brown explained to Board members the district accepted those differing sizes because Unit 5 didn’t want to limit student participation. “These posters were selected because they best showed what Unit 5 represents.”

Parkside Elementary Honored By Special Olympics Illinois: During his comments at the beginning of the meeting, Dr. Mark Daniel, district superintendent, announced Parkside Elementary School has been named one of 18 schools in the state to receive recognition by Special Olympics Illinois as a “Unified Champion School.” According to Special Olympics Illinois’ website, that makes Parkside Elementary one of 160 schools in the State which, “utilizes provided tools and resources to create inclusive school communities through Unified Sports, Leadership opportunities and whole school involvement activities.”

Special Olympics Illinois’ website explains its Project UNITY initiative this way: “Special Olympics Project UNIFY is an education and sports based strategy powered by an engaged youth community that increases athletic and leadership opportunities for students with and without intellectual disabilities. All of this success helps to create communities of acceptance for all.”

First Student Presents Busing Update: Board members heard an update on how Cincinnati, Ohio-based First Student Bus Co., the district’s transportation provider, has been doing since the beginning of the school year three weeks ago. Chris Coyle, area general manager for the company, gave a summary, explaining changes in a student’s living situation often leads to route changes for drivers.

He said since Aug. 5, First Student received reports and made adjustments as a result of 955 route changes. But he was quick to add that, as of the time of the meeting, he had been informed of their being roughly 35 changes per day. He said that large a drop “is natural,” as a result of late registrations of students, among other reasons.

“We are continuing to review the route timing,” Coyle said, adding, “Just like anything, when you have distance and traffic, what looks good on a computer isn’t necessarily right in reality.” He added the company “continues to struggle” to communicate changes such as late buses, to the public.

Despite Coyle’s explanation, Board Member Mike Trask responded by telling Coyle, “It’s your job to communicate effectively. I feel that we struggle with the communication issue constantly. We pay you a lot of money to do this. The communication piece always ends up being the problem.” Trask concluded by saying, “The communication piece has to get better or we move on.”

Board President Barry Hitchins, and members Alan Kalitzky and Meta Mickens-Baker added their concerns on the matter. Mickens-Baker urged managers to give consideration to what is going on in students’ minds during such delays. She likened the anxiety students could feel to waiting for a late but to running late for a job interview.

Trask noted the school system is paying First Student taxpayer dollars to do a job that Unit 5 isn’t able to oversee itself. Trask suggested the district might not renew First Student’s contract if problems continue.

In June 2012, over the objections of drivers then represented by American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Unit 5 Board voted to enter into a first contract with First Student. In 2016, the district threatened to not renew its contract with First Student due to issues related to getting students either to their schools or to home in a timely manner.

Once the issues were resolved to the Board’s satisfaction, the two sides pressed on, with Unit 5 and First Student agreeing to a two-year contract extension in January 2018.

New Assoc. Principal At PJHS, New Assistant Principal At Pepper Ridge Elementary: A new associate principal for Parkside Junior High School and a new assistant principal for Pepper Ridge Elementary School were formally introduced to Board members by Assistant Superintendent Dr. Ray Epperson. DeAndre Henderson is the new associate principal at PJHS, coming to Unit 5 from Urbana High School where he was a dean, student interventionist, and professional development facilitator there. He also has taught in Champaign and Galesburg. He received a Bachelor’s Degree from Knox College and two Master’s Degrees, both from Western Illinois University.

Epperson also introduced Emily Masten as the new assistant principal at Pepper Ridge Elementary School. Prior to joining Unit 5, Masten was employed by Peoria-based District 150 School District where she was a third grade teacher. She earned both her Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees from Bradley University.

Infinite Campus And Tyler Training Continues: As the start of the new school year approached, and after it started, reported District Business Manager Marty Hickman, district staff were continuing to receive training on both the Infinite Campus and Tyler Vision Accounting System, both newly operational beginning this year.

Tentative 2018-19 Budget Update Presented: Hickman also updated Board members concerning the district’s tentative 2018-19 budget report. He said that the district education fund had been expected to come in starting the year evenly balanced, but the district was surprised to find that account actually had a surplus of nearly $770,000. Expenditures in that account for this past school year totaled $106,317,959 while the money the district took in during that same period totaled $107,087,571.

In addition, Hickman explained, five of the seven other accounts the district maintains – Operations and Maintenance, Bond and Interest, Transportation, Municipal Retirement, and Working Cash – all showed surpluses. Only the district’s Tort fund and Fire Prevention/Life Safety account showed deficits to open the school year.

Tort Fund income was reported as being $5,496,835 while having spent $5,716,787. The District’s Fire Prevention/Life Safety took in $1,254,601 and although spending money on projects tallied $4,919,438. That left that fund with a deficit of $3,664,837.

Hickman said part of the reason for the surplus in the transportation fund was receiving four payments for that account coming due from the State.

Opening Day Enrollment Figures Presented: Although enrollment figures typically don’t become final until sometime in October, Epperson gave Board members enrollment figures for the opening day of school for this year. As of Friday, Aug. 16, Unit 5 had 13,203 students in class on day one of the new school year. That’s an increase of 256 students, or nearly a full percentage point increase above the 12,947 students registered by the first day of school last year.

By Steve Robinson | August 16, 2019 - 10:51 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – On Aug. 14, two days before the 2019-20 school year opened for Normal-based Unit 5 School District, child safety was the topic of concern presented by one parent at the public comments portion of the regularly-scheduled meeting of Unit 5 School Board. The cause for the parents to bring it to Board members attention was the arrest of Glenn Elementary School first grade teacher Jonathon Hovey. Normal Police arrested Hovey and charged him with molesting two of his students.

At the meeting held at district headquarters, Glenn Parent Claire Hedden recounted for Board members, first of all that her child is not one of Hovey’s alleged victims. She added that while she was volunteering in Hovey’s classroom one day in April, the school’s Principal, Cari Oester, escorted Hovey from the room.

Hedden said neither she nor any of the other parents in Hovey’s class received communication of any kind from the school regarding Hovey’s removal. She said weeks went by before the school told parents Hovey’s removal was for “personal reasons.” Allegations concerning Hovey surfaced in 2005.

Hedden wants to know how complaints are passed on when there’s a change in school administration. She added that she was curious as to why parents of all kids who were in Hovey’s class were never notified concerning the situation. She also questioned Board members as to why no public meeting was held with parents or Normal Police concerning the matter, adding she wondered why Illinois Department of Children and Family Services did not receive word from the district concerning Hovey. Neither Board members, nor Dr. Mark Daniel, district superintendent, gave replies directly to Hedden’s comments.

In April, the district placed Hovey on paid administrative leave. Hovey had a scheduled hearing date in a McLean County Law And Justice Center courtroom Aug. 16. At that hearing, media reports indicated Hovey pleaded not guilty to two counts of predatory sexual assault, and four counts of aggravated sexual assault abuse. Predatory sexual assault is a Class X felony while aggravated sexual assault is a Class 2 felony.

Change Related To Final Exams Approved: Board members voted unanimously to approve a change concerning which students can be exempted from taking a final exam at the end of a semester. The change approved will allow any junior or senior with an “A” grade average in a class on the last day of the semester to be exempt from taking a class’ final exam.

Dan Lamboley, director of secondary education for the district, in a memo to Daniel and Board members, reminded that before the policy change, students carrying an A or a B average were permitted to be exempt from finals provided they had no more than six absences from the class over the period of the semester. “It has been realized that final exams should be used to not only assess students learning but the exam itself as a learning opportunity,” Lamboley wrote in his memo.

Lamboley added, “If students who have consistently shown that they have met the standards are exempt from the final assessment, the teacher can better focus on those students that have not met the standard yet.” He said he be checking with principals at Normal Community High School and Normal Community West High School by the end of the new school year to see how effective the change was at each location.

Board member Alan Kalitzky told Lamboley he would like to hear an update at the end of school year on how the change affected the high schools. Board Member Mike Trask told Lamboley he would like to know what school staff thought of how the change worked as opposed to the previous policy’s use. Board Member Amy Roser added she would like to know how the change impacted students who had “B” grades going into their finals.

One Final Transportation Update Before Buses Rolled Out: With two days until school opened Aug. 16, Board members got a last update on how the district’s transportation provider, Cincinnati, Ohio-based First Student Bus Co., was finalizing preparations to get students from home to school and back again. Four representatives from First Student, including Robert Pawlik, location manager, and Chris Coyle, area general manager, informed Board members on progress with just one day before classes by the time of the meeting.

To add to what is already a stressful time trying to get routes ironed out before picking up students, First Student drivers were going through their dress rehearsal while students attending Illinois State University and their families were trying to maneuver around in the community as well, according to Joe Adelman, operations director for Unit 5, addressing Board members.

By Steve Robinson | August 4, 2019 - 10:20 pm
Posted in Category: District 87, News, The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – With the number of days in summer vacation dwindling down for students, getting kids ready for school is on the minds of many parents these days. And if all children were on a level playing field for the school year from the very first day, that, too, would benefit the children, their families, and their teachers. That level playing field means holding to the belief that all families could afford the supplies needed for a child’s routine school day. Sadly though, there are students who need a little help to accomplish this.

Those students in need to acquire those supplies will receive that help by attending a by invitation only “Back 2 School” Party, to be held at Grossinger Motors Arena in Bloomington on Tuesday, Aug. 13 from 12 Noon-5p.m. Also, from 5p.m.-6p.m., an express line to pick up supplies will also be available.

The “Back 2 School” Party is jointly sponsored by the Back To School Alliance through Illinois Prairie Foundation in conjunction with Normal-based Unit 5 School District and Bloomington School District #87.

Students eligible to participate at this party are entering Kindergarten through 8th grade at either a Unit 5 or District #87 school, and qualify for a free or reduced lunch, as identified by the school, and have met all registration requirements for this coming school year. Those requirements include having physicals and immunizations prior to entering certain grades.

“In exchange for having the responsibilities regarding registration and health records current, we give the kids a free back pack with supplies to get the kids started on the year,” explained Jan Meadows, co-chair of the Back2School Alliance event, along with Taunia Leffler. Leffler is also a board member for Normal-based Unit 5 School District.

“Basically, on day one, we want everyone ready on the first day of school,” Meadows said of the event’s primary goal. A committee of 15 area residents work year-round toward the success of this event, Leffler added.

Children who fall within Federal guidelines concerning such things as reduced lunches are eligible to attend, but must have received an invitation where they registered to attend school. Students must bring the invitation with them to the event. Parents can check with school offices about obtaining the invitations, Meadows said. She said invites would have also come through daily mail to eligible families, as well.

Leffler said about 1,600 kids received backpacks filled with supplies for the child’s grade level last year. Meadows said the Alliance tries to maximize every dollar spent by taking advantage of sales for supplies stores advertise as the school year gets closer. She added the group takes in donations for supplies, too. Typically, Meadows said, those 1,600 are evenly divided per grade level at this event.

Leffler said the Alliance also takes monetary donations through Illinois Prairie Community Foundation which the Alliance uses for any needed purchases, as well. In addition, Back2Alliance has a link on its Facebook page which allows for monetary donations using PayPal.

In addition to the necessary supplies for students, parents and their kids can find out about groups or organizations of interest for kids. Leffler said representatives from both public libraries, Girl Scouts, Boys & Girls Club of Bloomington-Normal, and other organizations will be present “to offer services to the kids.”

Leffler said there are still supplies the effort is in need of. She said those include: Pencils, composition notebooks, dry erase markers, and Post-It notes. “We know we are really in need of those things right now,” Leffler said.

Leffler and Meadows said there are a number of locations where supplies can be dropped off which the Alliance will pick up in time for the event. Those drop off locations include: HyVee, Wal-Mart in both Normal and Bloomington, Meijer in Normal, and Bloomington Public Library. In addition, such donations are being collected at both the main offices for both Unit 5 and Bloomington School District #87.

In addition to the Alliance’s own efforts, Meadows said, The Salvation Army has had collection boxes out in the community gathering supplies, as well. Meadows said this is the first year the Salvation Army has assisted in the Alliance’s effort. Another partnership the Alliance has forged for their effort is with Midwest Food Bank, which donated some space at its facility located at 2031 Warehouse Rd. in Normal for the Alliance to assemble backpacks. Leffler said this is the first year for that partnership.

“We really appreciate being able to store our supplies there year-round, but also use the space for our packing efforts,” Leffler said, adding the packing effort in preparation for the Aug. 13 event takes 300 volunteers. During the school year, Meadows added, Back2School Alliance also gets a helping hand from students enrolled in Vocational Transitional Assistance Program, (VTAP), which operates out of Eugene Field School.