By Steve Robinson | March 12, 2020 - 10:30 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – With headlines of either a political or medical nature staring people in the face these days, those who attended the March 11 meeting of Normal-based Unit 5 School District got to hear plenty of items tagged “good news” by the district when Board members met for what would be their only meeting this month, held in the cafeteria of Kingsley Junior High School.

Colene Hoose Elementary School’s “Good News”: You might call this a dog of a good news story – but rather, it should be called a good news story about a dog named Zephyr. Zephyr, an 8-year-old golden retriever, was introduced to Board members by Dayna Brown, Director of Communications and Community Relations for the district, because the one-time service dog for a student now has changed jobs becoming a therapy dog at the school. Hillary Tanner, a social worker at the school, and kindergarten teacher Audrey Hensley together explained Zephyr has changed jobs – from being a service dog for a student to becoming a therapy dog.

Among his jobs is to help settle kindergarten students down and sooths sick students, explained Hensley. He travels throughout the building throughout the day, Hensley added. Being a Unit 5 staffer, he even has his own identification badge. “Kids read with him and they do math with him, so he’s learning lots of new books,” Tanner added.

George L. Evans Junior High School’s “Good News”: Chris McGraw, principal at Evans Junior High School, introduced Board members to students involved in the school’s chess program who recently competed in the 2020 Illinois Elementary School Association State Chess Championships on February 28-29, 2020. EJHS’ 6th grade team emerged State Champions out of 46 teams competing, while the Eagles’ 7th grade team members were crowned State Champions out of 54 teams. Not to be left out, EJHS’ 8th grade team placed 2nd out of 52 teams, missing out on finishing in 1st place by one half-point. EJHS’ chess program also had seven students win individual silver medals, and four students won individual bronze medals.

Normal Community High School’s “Good News”: Normal Community High School Principal Trevor Chapman introduced Board members to seniors Gregory Carter, and Jacob McBride, both member of local Boy Scout troops who worked on a project to earn their Eagle Scout designations. Carter, a member of Troop #912 and McBride, a member of Troop #920, were introduced to Board members for their efforts to make to improve areas of their school. Carter worked on a project which added a Gaga Ball Pit for use in the school gym. Gaga Ball gets its name from the Israeli word for “hit,” –or, ga – and started in Israel. GaGa is played with a ball and any number of players in an enclosed space. The object of the game is for players to use their hands to hit the other players with the ball, while avoiding being hit themselves. Players are eliminated if they are hit by the ball.

For his project, McBride turned his attention toward landscaping in the back of the school where he added picnic tables to the scene. Chapman told the gathering the projects Eagle Scouts choose don’t have to be done around the school, but he added, “these two young men chose to do projects that benefitted Normal Community and both chose projects that will be around for many, many years to come.”

Kingsley Junior High School’s “Good News”: Learning can sometimes be challenging for some students as they advance from elementary school to junior high. Kingsley Junior High School Principal Stacie France, after having discovered a book called The Learning Pit by James Nottingham, enlisted the help of KJHS’ digital media teacher, Danny Tanner, and two students, Lena Ganschow and Natalie Sokulski, to help develop such a device for their school which would help students.

With Tanner’s aid, Ganschow and Sokulski developed several Learning Pit drafts, and last summer, Learning Pit posters were printed for all KJHS classrooms. The concept of student ownership of KJHS, aided by the artist talents of the girls helped to encourage students, France said. Last summer, 15 KJHS staff members attended a training where Nottingham spoke. In October, KJHS’ entire staff participated in professional development led by Nottingham and a small group learned with him again at a session held prior to the Board meeting.

Chiddix Junior High School’s “Good News”: Chiddix Junior High School’s cheerleading team finished its competitions for the year with a 19-20 season, according to CJHS Athletic Director Wendy Davis, who presented the team and information before Board members. She explained the season started with a summer camp at CJHS hosting Bradley Junior High School. The team spent a week learning skills, cheers, building teamwork, and bonding. The team cheered at all home Boys Basketball games this season as well as a very strong competitive season. The Chargers started their competition season with a 1st place finish and overall Grand Champions of the entire competition at the Midwest Cheer Fest. They continued on this winning streak and placed 1st at the Farmington ICCA Invitational and the Wilmington ICCA Invitational. Competing against 25 teams in the ICCA Championship, CJHS cheer brought back a first place finish. The team ended their season by competing at Illinois Elementary School Association’s State event against 30 other teams, finishing 3rd, missing 1st place by .32 points.

Glenn Elementary And Benjamin Elementary Share In Some Musical “Good News”: Cari Roop, principal at Glenn Elementary School, introduced Board members to information concerning the Illinois Music Educators Association (ILMEA) which has, in the last three years provided an opportunity for students in grades 5 and 6 to audition for and attend District Choir event at Olivet Nazarene College in Bourbonnais, Illinois. Unit 5 has not had students attend at the 5th and 6th grade level until this year. Fifth grade students from this event. As a result, 11 students from Glenn and 5 from Benjamin were chosen to attend on November 16, 2019. They worked with students who represented ILMEA’s District 3 and with Erin Kozakis of the Schaumburg Youth Choir, their guest conductor, for 3 hours that morning before presenting a concert for their families. “The students at Glenn came before school and the students at Benjamin stayed after school and they worked diligently to prepare for their concert” Roop explained.

The Benjamin Elementary School students involved in this were: Srivaishnavi Puvvala, Hamsini Ganti, Madhulata Prabha, and Mahi Ganta. The Glenn Elementary School students involved were: Joe Morris, Philip Brandon, Laurel Gaff, and Lena Hemp.

District “Rocks Its Socks” For A “Good News” Item: To promote an upcoming event, Brown, joined by a number of the Board members, wore their funkiest pair of socks to wear to promote World Down Syndrome Day which will be on Saturday, March 21. With school not in session on Saturday, the district will get a jump on the event by celebrating it on Friday, March 20. Socks are used to promote this day because a picture of a person’s chromosomes looks something like a picture of a group of socks.

“In Unit 5, we try to recognize all types of different students,” Brown told the gathering, numbering around 200 who were there in support of students honored for a number of “good news” items. The district recently began honoring students in its autism program, she explained, adding staff and students are encouraged to wear bright socks, silly or mismatched socks to show support for what the day is honoring, “bringing some recognition to Down Syndrome,” she explained.

Retired NPD Officer Joins District As Director of Safety And Security: As a Normal Police officer, Greg Leipold had protecting the public as a priority, one he retired from last July wrapping up a 25-year career. At this meeting, it was announced he will join Unit 5 in the position of director of safety and security for the district. Dr. Ray Epperson, assistant district superintendent, introduced Leipold to Board members and the meeting’s audience. “He came highly recommended,” Epperson said. “He’s familiar with crisis management,” among other aspects of law enforcement,” Epperson told Board members.

Wes Temples To Become New AD At Normal West: Board members were informed Stan Lewis, athletic director at Normal Community West High School, will retire this summer. At the same time, the Board was introduced to the man who will succeed him. Wes Temples, who was head football coach at Normal Community High School for 10 seasons, from 2008-2017, will take over as AD this summer.

Superintendent Addresses Coronavirus Concerns: With news of people quarantining themselves after being diagnosed with the Coronavirus continue being reported, during his Superintendent Comments portion of the meeting, Dr. Mark Daniel told attendees the district is “trying to stay very much current on the matter. We are tapping into the Center for Disease Control, and tapping into Springfield with regards to State guidelines.

“But because of the constant change involved with this, we are having to constantly change what we are doing,” Daniel said. He explained the district has emergency days built into the school year calendar, and should any of those days being used, they will be made up for toward the end of the school year. He added the safety of the district’s students is what has priority as reason for any decisions made by district officials.

“Keep your child home if they have a fever,” Daniel advised parents. “They need to stay home and if it is the Coronavirus, those are excused absences. We will treat that as an excused absence because of the virus.”

“We are also monitoring daily absences in each of our 24 schools,” he said, adding hand-washing is a critical component to maintaining one’s health. He also advised, “When students are ill and they are still not over their illness, they will be moved to the school nurse’s station where ill students will be provided masks so they do not spread the germs.” Unit 5 has ordered “probably over 100 gallons of disinfectant” to help combat the disease from spreading. The order for disinfectant for the district is on back order as a result of the amount of need at this time, he added.

“We are concentrating on areas where large populations gather, but we are also looking at drawers and rest rooms and other areas,” Daniel reassured. Those at this meeting were made aware Daniel is in regular communication with superintendents from neighboring districts to share and take in any information on the matter.

Following Dr. Daniel’s comments, Brown added she and Michelle Lamboley, the district’s executive director for special services, have been working with local and State health organizations on the matter and following CDC guidelines, as well as working with the county health department, and various other State and county departments on this matter. “This situation is changing very fast,” Brown said, adding hundreds of emails come into the district as a result.

Brown added, “The Illinois State Board of Education has made no recommendation that we close as a result of this. I think that’s important. We are taking the recommendations of the county health department because they are the experts on this.

“The only other thing is, as we talk to parents about what is going on, what we say to them is as of the moment we are speaking with them,” Brown said, explaining that is because the district wants to give parents the most up-to-date information. She added, “I’ve never seen any situation, health or otherwise, change as rapidly as this has.” At this point, Brown said she and Lamboley are “information gatherers while continuing to work with health officials.”

Public Comments Center On Varying Topics: A total of six residents addressed Board members during the meeting. Their comment subjects ranged from how African-American students are disciplined in district grade schools to why the district has not put more of an effort to hire African-American teachers to concerns surrounding the Coronavirus to concerns surrounding the district’s use of Standards Based Grading. On this last matter, the Board heard a presentation concerning this matter before the meeting, which lasted three hours, was adjourned.

Students Taking An Intro To Ed Course Address Board: The Board also heard from Normal Community West High School students in a presentation concerning their experiences surrounding an Introduction to Education course. Many of the eight students who spoke to the Board said they have an interest in pursuing a career in education.

Next Board Meeting April 8: This is the only Board meeting scheduled for this month. The next scheduled Board meeting will be Wednesday, April 8 at district headquarters, beginning at 7p.m.

By Steve Robinson | February 28, 2020 - 10:33 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – Unit 5 School Board members voted unanimously to grant a two-year extension to the bus service which has been providing transportation for students from home to school and back for nearly eight years. Board members also were formally introduced to the man who will take the reins as location manager overseeing its operation when dealing with the district.

Board members unanimously approved a two-year extension for the Cincinnati, Ohio-based provider continuing to serve the district’s student transportation needs. The extension will carry through both the 2020-21 and 2021-22 school years. First Student’s first contract with the district was signed in 2012.

Chris Coyle, area general manager for First Student, introduced Board members to Nick Sorey, the new location manager responsible for seeing the buses get where they need to be on time as well as for hiring drivers and substitute drivers. Sorey is currently employed in Danville and is the father of five. He told Board members he has five kids ranging in age from 4 to 11, adding he “has a vested interest in your kids” as a result with this job. Sorey is succeeding Robert Pawlik in that position. Pawlik had been with First Student since last spring.

Previously, Sorey told Board members, he worked for UPS Delivery Service, where he explained, his job included “streamlining logistics involving 23 routes.”

“I’ve always tried to strive to provide a service, not just deliver packages,” Sorey told Board members. “It’s my goal to give you the best service I can to keep your kids as safe as I keep my own. My kids are going to ride these buses. I want to look a parent in the eye and say if I make a mistake, I want to apologize. But I also want them to know I care about their kids just like I care about my own.”

As of the meeting, Sorey said, First Student has 143 of the needed 145 drivers required to cover all routes, and will continuing recruiting drivers. He said there are two potential drivers taking needed classes for the job and he is looking over 20 applications for driver positions.

Coyle added that starting pay for new drivers will go up beginning in fall from $16 hourly to $19 hourly.

Daniel Explains Decision For Feb. 26 Snow Day: While Board members met Wednesday night, a decision to keep students home due to inclement winter weather that day eliminated the need for a scheduled “Late Start Wednesday.” District Superintendent Dr. Mark Daniel explained crews worked starting at 1a.m. that morning twice salting parking spaces and other areas. He said by 5:15a.m., the district had every intention to proceed with the scheduled “Late Start” as scheduled.

However, Daniel said, shortly after that decision was made, increasing winds accompanied by a heavy snow band came through prompting District officials to change their minds about staying open, he said, particularly with the weather causing problems for residents living in rural residents. “The weather conditions declined quickly, leading to many safety issues, including reduced visibility.

“We had to decide whether to stick with our original decision or change it,” Daniel said. “We decided safety first, which is why we closed today. It’s never an easy decision, but we believe it was the correct one.”

Board Approves Borrowing $37 Million, Partly For Working Cash: Board members unanimously approved a pair of measures, both related to financial issues. The first was to approve issuing $29 million in taxable general obligation school bonds as a means to have working cash. The bonds have an interest rank not to exceed five percent annually. The bond sale will take place sometime before mid-August. In addition, Board members unanimously $8 million in tax anticipation warrants are being issued based on revenue Unit 5 derived from taxes levied for 2019 and collected this year. The warrant sale will be overseen by Naperville-based PMA Securities and can take place no later than June 15.

Board Approves Contract On HVAC And Geothermal Upgrades At KJHS: Board members unanimously approved the hiring of Urbana-based A & R Mechanical Contractors, Inc. for work to be done on HVAC and perform upgrades to the geothermal system at Kingsley Junior High School. The company submitted a bid of $2,703,725, the lowest of three companies’ bids submitted for the assignment. The other companies submitting bids were from Bloomington and Peoria.

In addition to approving the projects, Adelman also gave Board members a quick tutorial concerning geothermal projects currently either completed or underway in the district. He explained that, as of this meeting, geothermal projects at George L. Evans Junior High School and Parkside Junior High School have been completed, as have energy efficiency projects at both Normal Community High School and Normal Community West High School.

A geothermal project is slated to begin at Kingsley Junior High School in May, Adelman said, adding planning for geothermal work to begin at Kingsley Junior High School will start soon with geothermal work to be done there sometime next year.

Adelman said completing the project will help the district save over $707,000 in energy costs

Public Comments Center On Standards Based Grading: Unit 5 using Standards Based Grading as opposed to a traditional grading method, many parents and students have raised objections and taken their complaints to Board members at meetings recently during public comments segments. This meeting was no different, with two Normal Community High School students raising their objections. Unlike a traditional grading scale of 90 percent to 100 percent being an A, scores in the 80s being a B, and so on, Standards Based Grading uses a grading range of 4 down to 1, with 4 indicating students have exceeded the desired target for what was expected of them to learn; 3 indicating meeting the desired target; 2 meaning the student has achieved “partial mastery” of the target, and 1 meaning having little or no mastery.

Lindsey Dickinson, president of Unit Five Education Association (UFEA), led off public comments representing members of that organization on the subject telling Board members, “We operate best when we receive clear, consistent messages. We believe parents, students, and the community desire the same thing. We need more clear, consistent communication.” We need more clarity on how the success of SBG will be measured.”

Behind her in the audience were about UFEA members, some of whom held small signs which displayed their opposition to Standards Based Grading. Two high school students also spoke concerning their perspective on Standards Based Grading.

Emily Dusin, a senior at NCHS, told Board members, “I firmly understand our teachers know what is best in their classrooms, including what is best to teach and to grade their students. That I why I believe teachers should have a choice to the grade book, be it either Standard Based Grading or the traditional grade book. Let teachers have a choice.”

Conner McLelland, an NCHS junior, followed Dusin telling Board members a group of students at the school took it upon themselves to find out how their classmates felt about the use of Standards Based Grading. He told Board members, “A total of 93 students found it was harder to earn the same grade in a Standards Based Grading class than it would be in a traditional class.” He added 95 percent of the students surveyed believe this method is not motivation enough for them to do their assigned homework and study more versus having their work evaluated using a traditional grading system.

He added a number of those students questioned do not believe Standards Based Grading was not transferable between subjects. McLelland reiterated the request for teachers to have the choice between using either Standards Based Grading or the grading system that was in use prior to its implementation, which started this school year.

During his comments at the beginning of the meeting prior to public comments, Daniel said, at the last Citizens Advisory Council meeting held in January, Council members heard a presentation on the subject and gave their input on the matter. “I want to thank CAC members for their input,” Daniel said. “They were honest, offered feedback, and asked questions. The group discussed the benefits of Standards Based Grading and what could be improved upon. They also identified areas that need to be addressed immediately.”

Daniel added while parents philosophically agree with the system, he said some concerns about it still exist in their minds. “We’ll continue to seek feedback from students, staff members, and parents to address these challenges,” he said.

Epperson Retiring From Public Education: Dr. Ray Epperson, assistant district superintendent, announced to Board members he will be retiring from a career in public education at the end of this school year. He has been in public education for 38 years. After he exits Unit 5, Epperson will become superintendent of Parkview Christian Academy, based in Yorkville. Epperson has served as Unit 5’s second in command for three years, earning his doctorate while employed at Unit 5, receiving it in the study of Educational Leadership from Northern Illinois University in 2018.

Julia Knepler Named New Principal At Hudson Elementary: Epperson announced to Board members that Julia Knepler has been named the new principal for Hudson Elementary School, effective July 1, succeeding Scott Myers, who is retiring. Knepler began her career as a teacher’s assistant and worked through the ranks and served on various committees within the district. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from Millikin University, and a master’s degree in Educational Administration from Illinois State University. “I’m very thrilled for this opportunity, and I’m very excited to get going with Mr. Myers with this transition,” Knepler told Board members.

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.

By Steve Robinson | December 11, 2019 - 10:10 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – A new leader for Normal-based Unit 5 School District will be introduced next month.

Before the regularly-scheduled meeting of Normal-based Unit 5 School District Board came to a close at district headquarters on Dec. 11, Board President Barry Hitchins reminded Board members they would be interviewing a total of six candidates who are seeking to serve as Unit 5’s next superintendent. Current Superintendent Dr. Mark Daniel announced in September he would be stepping down when the current school year ends June 30 and seeking a similar position in the Chicago area to be closer to family there. Daniel and his wife, Janet, have just become first-time grandparents.

Hitchins announced six candidates have been found the Board wishes to interview. Those candidate interviews would took place Dec. 13 and 14. That candidate list would be narrowed to three and the three finalist candidates would be interviewed Dec. 16, 17, and 19. Hitchins said the announcement of the person to become the next superintendent of Unit 5 would be made once school is back in session sometime in January. The district’s Christmas break runs from Dec. 23-Jan. 6.

Daniel became Unit 5 Superintendent on July 1, 2014 succeeding Dr. Gary Niehaus, who retired after serving as superintendent for seven years.

Vote On 2019 Tax Levy Taken: Also at this session, Board members voted unanimously on approving the 2019 tax levy in time to meet the deadline for submitting it to the McLean County Clerk’s Office for filing. The County Clerk’s Office will verify the levy in March or April and begin collecting the tax in May or June.

Board Approves $29 Million In Working Cash Bonds: Board members unanimously approved using an amount not to exceed $29 million in working cash bonds with the intent to use them to increase the district’s working cash fund. Marty Hickman, business manager for the district, explained to Board members approving this is the first in a number of steps to getting this matter approved including holding a public hearing in January. Among the items to be purchased include new buses. Hickman reminded Board members the district is responsible for purchasing their own fleet.

Grove Elementary’s “Good News”: In the only “good news” item for this meeting, Grove Elementary School Principal Sarah Edwards introduced Board members to teachers at her school who serve as several members of the school’s Student Support Team. It has become clear that one teacher cannot meet all the needs of every child by themselves. Edwards introduced Board members to Beth Beaty who serves as social worker at Grove. Beaty came back to Unit 5 after taking a few years off to raise her children, and since returning has provided crisis counseling, serves as a lead member of the school’s special education assessment team, and is part of the school’s Behavioral Leadership Team. In addition to all that, Edwards explained, Beaty finds ways to assist our families.

“Most recently she helped a single mother find a new apartment, assisted with her move, and found a way for her to get a reliable car to get to her new job and school program,” Edwards told Board members. I am so proud to work alongside Beth to assist the Grove School Community.

Next, Edwards honored the Grove Elementary Learning Behavior Specialists team. Jennifer Hawkins, Michele Kinley, and Katie Matthews make up the LBS team at Grove. “They work tirelessly to plan interventions, accommodations, and modifications to ensure that our students have equitable access to an excellent education at Grove,” Edwards told Board members. “They develop strong relationships with classroom teachers to plan instruction and develop goals and objectives. They regularly communicate and build trust with our families for strong and positive working relationships.”

Edwards also shined a spotlight on Kindergarten teachers Veronica Collins and Nikki Dillow, who encountered a unique issue with one student this year. Early on, they realized he was not talking at school — at all. Rather than letting time go by and hoping that he would become more comfortable, they took a unique approach to the problem. Collins called the family and built a trusting relationship. From that, the family opened their home to Collins to come and talk with the student, where he was more comfortable. Then each week, they took an additional step. One week they walked to school, talking with the boy the entire trip. The next week they planned a play date with a peer after school. The following week they invited the student’s mother in to start volunteering in the classroom.

All of these steps, Edwards explained, build comfort and trust with the student. “I am so proud to say that the student walks in the front door and says hello and talks at school, all because of the extra efforts of this pair of educators,” Edwards said.

Recently, the State of Illinois released their school designations, and Grove Elementary has been rated as Exemplary, Edwards informed Board members.

Board Receives Update From First Student: Board members received an update from officials of the district’s transportation provider, Cincinnati, Ohio-based First Student Bus Co. during the session. Chris Coyle, area general manager for the company, began by telling Board members he admitted the company had some struggles at the beginning of the year but that the issues which plagued the company at the start of the school year had been resolved.

The company has been at “95 percent on time performance for the last six weeks,” explained Roger Moore, a senior vice president for the company. “We’re confident that with the recruiting, the compensation package we have that we can keep that level of 95, 96 percent or higher going for the remainder of the school year.” He credited the current positive economy for being able to have potential employees come their way to seek employment.

“The bar keeps going higher and higher to try to retain drivers,” Moore added. Coyle said that as of this meeting, locally, First Student stands at having a 97 percent staffing level for drivers. However, he did admit he is borrowing drivers from other communities to fill vacancies for between 8 to 10 drivers calling in daily to not report for work.

“Rather than put it on the backs of the community, we’re bringing folks in,” Coyle said, explaining some of those drivers are borrowed from adjoining states. He added that from May through December, the company has hired 36 drivers while losing 15 drivers. He said the company has raised it wages by $2 to help keep employees.

First Student has had a contract with Unit 5 since 2012 but there has been conversation about not renewing the contract as late as November last year after a series of delivery issues. With the contract under examination for renewal again, Coyle told Board members, “We think we have a good team and can continue with the district. We know the district very well. We know you have different options and that you were, once, doing this in-house. You could extend with us – that’s our desire – hopefully, tonight we have shown you we are operating at a high level. We’re confident we can maintain it.”

Board Member Mike Trask told Coyle and Moore he “continues to struggle with issues” related to communication between the district and the busing provider, calling those issues “horrific.”

“At the end of the day, we’re paying you a significant amount of money to handle this operation and it’s not our problem to fix driver shortages or communication issues,” Trask told the men. “It’s not what we’re supposed to be doing. You talk about the size of your operation but I cannot figure out why the communication part is as poor as it is.

“I don’t know where I am on this issue,” Trask added. “All I know is we have a community that doesn’t have the trust that they should have in their bus company in transporting the kids to and from their house.”

On another matter related to busing, Coyle stated First Student has “a very good relationship with AFSCME,” the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, represented by AFSCME Council 31. Prior to signing an agreement with First Student, Unit 5 bus drivers were represented by AFSCME Local 2608 and Council 31. A total of over 200 drivers are represented by Local 2608.

During public comments, Renee Nestler, staff representative for Council 31, told Board members the local hopes to agree with First Student on a second contract for drivers. “With whatever decision the Board makes regarding the transportation employer for next fall, our expectation is that our union contract is honored and followed.”

2020-21 School Calendar Previewed: Board members got a sneak peek at the district’s 2020-21 school calendar, courtesy of Dr. Ray Epperson, deputy superintendent. He explained to Board members that district staff were asked to complete a pair of questionnaires in order to fill in certain dates on the calendar. With regard to one survey, Epperson said in the first questionnaire, most respondents said they wanted to continue having Friday, April 2, designated Good Friday, as a non-attendance day. Epperson said 77 percent of the staff said they would prefer to have that day off. He said with that response, the district then wanted to find out what day worked best for staff as the start day for the new school year.

The majority of staff, two-thirds, voted they would prefer to have institute days on Monday and Tuesday, Aug. 17 and 18, followed by Wednesday, Aug. 18 as the first day for students to start school. He added that a couple of scheduled institute days for teachers have been moved from Mondays to Fridays. He said the reason for that has to do with there being a number of holidays which fall on Mondays. As a result of institute days on Mondays, some students missed out on attending art, physical education classes, or scheduled study hall in the school library. Making the change would eliminate students missing those classes, Epperson said.

With the change that was made, the four institute days teachers need were split evenly between Fridays and Mondays. Epperson said there will be a total of 12 “late start” dates – dates when school starts late so teachers can attend in-service sessions – with six in the fall and six in the spring. Should there be no use for the five snow days or any other days when school is cancelled, the last regularly-scheduled day of classes would be Wednesday, May 26.

Insurance Renewals Approved: Board members also unanimously approved renewal of insurance policies for the district. Those include property and general liability insurance, school board liability insurance, workman’s compensation, automobile, and group medical.

Next Board Meeting Jan. 15: With the Christmas holiday coming, there will be no second Board meeting this month. The next scheduled Board meeting will be Wednesday, Jan. 15 at district headquarters, beginning at 7p.m.