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.

By Steve Robinson | August 23, 2018 - 10:37 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – In his comments at the regularly-scheduled meeting of Normal-based Unit 5 School Board on Aug. 22 at District Headquarters, district superintendent Dr. Mark Daniel announced the new school year got off on “a smooth start” when school opened for the year on Aug. 16. And after a few days of bus schedules being in place, Daniel explained, the district received a number of requests for route changes.

A total of more than 900 requests put in by parents for route changes to be exact. “It’s important that kids be on the right bus headed for the right school,” Daniel said addressing the matter. On another subject, he said the district is expecting to receive a grant for its early childhood program. Those additional funds would allow more youngsters to participate in the program, he said.

Board Approves Sale Of Bonds For Working Cash: On occasion, we all need to juggle money in our personal accounts to help make a payment or two. Board members did just that, unanimously voting to sell $16.5 million in working cash fund bonds. The cash would be put to work in the district’s working cash fund.

A public hearing was required to be held by State law prior to the vote, but no one addressed the hearing on the matter.

In another matter related to how the district spends money, Michelle Lamboley, executive director of special services for the district, informed Board members Unit 5 has added four psychologists working four days a week at district junior high schools.

New Program Beginning At Cedar Ridge Elementary Introduced: Cedar Ridge Elementary School Principal Karrah Jensen and three of a team of teachers who have been working on an intervention program which would tie into the school’s Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) initiative addressed Board members at the session.

The intervention program, known as Rocket Ready, named after the school’s team nickname, would be implemented with the school’s already-established PBIS program, and would among other things, help children to address three Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) skills, among them, to “use social awareness and interpersonal skills to establish and maintain positive relationships.”

In addition to Jensen, Board members also heard about Rocket Ready from Leslie Kokotek, a special education teacher at the school; Jara Hendren, Rocket Ready interventionist; and school psychologist Maggie Lakebrink. Other Cedar Ridge Elementary staff who are involved but were not present at the meeting were: Melinda Miethe; Danyelle Babbs; Marielena Gozur; Dina Dixon; Kim Day; and Nancy Braun.

According to team members who addressed Board members, youngsters in kindergarten, first and second grades are currently participating in the program, and it’s hoped third through fifth graders will soon be added.

PJHS Bus Lane Project Awarded To Bloomington Contractor: Board members unanimously voted to award a Bloomington contractor a project to build a new bus lane at the southwest corner of Parkside Junior High School . Of six companies submitting bids, J.G. Stewart Contractors, Inc. submitted the lowest bid for the project of $64,768, outbidding five competitors from Bloomington , Goodfield, Morton, and Springfield .

Pay Increase For Substitutes In Public Comment: In the public comments section of the meeting, Pam Etcheson, a substitute teacher in the district, asked the district to consider a raise in pay for fill-in teachers. Currently, she explained substitute teachers receive $80 per day for a full day and $40 per day for a half-day. She explained that once subs pay for gas and other expenses, the current amount doesn’t go as far as people might think.

As if the rate of pay wasn’t an issue, she said, when teachers receive their money is another concern. If a teacher works at the beginning of a month, that person doesn’t see the check until the middle of the following month, Etcheson explained. She said she would like to see the district consider a faster time lapse for getting checks to substitutes, as a result.

District Celebrates 70th Anniversary, Debuts New Logo: Prior to the meeting, district officials held a reception in the cafeteria of Kingsley Junior High School to celebrate the district’s founding in 1948. Throughout the room, there were published articles and scrapbooks noting noteworthy events from each of the district’s elementary, junior high, and high schools, including the years they were founded.

As part of the celebration, the district debuts a new logo, which was one of five district residents were able to make a final selection on in a vote on Facebook. Each of the designs was created by Ben Matthews, a freelance graphic designer who was approached by the district to create them. The voting took place for about two weeks with the design receiving the most votes being declared the choice, according to Board President Barry Hitchins. “I think the people of Unit 5 made an excellent choice in the logo that will represent the district going forward,” he said.

The logo retains orange as its primary color, and has double semi circles at its sides. Those meet bold black letters at the top and bottom. At the top reads, “ McLEAN COUNTY ” and at the bottom reads “UNIT 5.” A mortarboard sits in front of an open book in its lower third.

From that mortarboard, 70 white straight lines, or beams, one for each of the 70 years Unit 5 has been in operation, extend upward.

Dayna Brown, director of communications and community relations for the district, explained the district wanted to give the new logo “a more modern feel, to make it more applicable to what Unit 5 is today and into the future.”

By Steve Robinson | July 12, 2018 - 10:41 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – At what will be the only meeting scheduled this month for members of Normal-based Unit 5 School Board, two new Board members were sworn in to replace two who had resigned in the last couple months, and a third who will leave the Board at the end of this month said his public goodbye.

Amy Roser and Alan J. Kalitzky were sworn in at the start of the 45-minute session to fill vacancies created by the resignations of Jim Hayek Jr. and David W. Fortner, respectfully. They were both appointed to fill the seats and will need to run for election to full terms in next spring’s primary elections in April. Fortner’s unexpired term ends in April 2021, and Hayek’s term remaining will be for four years.

Both Hayek and Fortner have both experienced job transfers – Hayek to Arizona, Fortner to Chicago – which prompted their need to step down. Hayek’s resignation became effective at the end of May after announcing his intentions three months earlier, while Fortner’s became effective June 22.

Roser is employed at Illinois State University as an Associate Director for University College. University College supports students as they adjust to university life, providing programs and services to make a successful transition. She and her husband, Randy, have two daughters who will be going into 3rd and 5th grade this fall, respectfully.

Kalitzky is employed by State Farm Insurance as a Relationship Manager in the company’s Technology Vendor Management Office. He and his wife, Alexis, have four children – three girls and a boy — who are in schools in the district.

A press release from the district indicated a total of six applications for the two positions were received. Board members received six applications for the position. Both appointees have been involved with Unit 5’s Citizens Advisory Council (CAC), which serves as a liaison between the district and its community. Kalitzky, held the title of CAC president when he applied for the Board post He resigned from CAC as a result of his appointment to the Board.

Cleary Departs: Cleary made a public announcement concerning his intention to step down at the Board’s June 13 session. His resignation becomes effective July 31. Under State law, Unit 5 will have 45 days from that date to appoint a successor. That person, after taking office, like Roser and Kalitzky, will have to formally run for the seat in the primary elections next spring.

“It’s been a pleasure,” Cleary said, adding he hoped Roser and Kalitzky would improve it while they serve so that they leave the district “in better shape” when their time to exit the Board comes. “We’ve made a lot of progress in the last couple years, and we had financial challenges though we’re financially stable.” Board President Jim Hitchins presented Cleary with a gift from Board members of a small glass vase. Each of the remaining Board members thanked Cleary for his service and wished him well in his new position. Cleary was appointed to a Board seat in late April 2016, replacing Denise Schuster, a State Farm employee, who moved to Texas as a result of a job transfer for her husband. He was elected to the seat outright in spring elections in 2017.

New Sugar Creek Elementary Principal Introduced: Kristina Peifer was introduced by Deputy Superintendent Ray Epperson to Board members as the new principal at Sugar Creek Elementary School, effective July 31. She last worked in Morton School District 709, starting as a special education teacher and worked her way up to a principal’s position in that district. She earned an undergraduate degree at Illinois State University and her master’s degree at Olivet Nazarene University. “I’m looking forward to the opportunity and honored to be part of this community and looking forward to bring my experiences to working with staff and students in the community,” Peifer told Board members.

New Clerk For The Board: Kim Stewart began her new job as administrative assistant to district superintendent Dr. Mark Daniel. Her duties will also include serving as clerk to the Board. She replaces LaNell Greenberg who took a job as assistant to Normal Community High School Associate Principal Nikki Maurer.

Two-Year Contracts Approved With Custodians, Support Personnel: Board members approved two-year contracts for custodians and maintenance personnel represented by Laborers Local 362, and with members of Unit Five Support Professionals Association which represents district office staff and paraprofessionals.

Construction For Hoose BEST Program Gets Approval: Prior to their May 11 meeting, Board members were given a tour of rooms which house the Behavioral Emotion Support Team, or BEST, at Colene Hoose Elementary School on Vernon Ave. in Normal. BEST provides intensive behavioral and emotional support for students who have such difficulties. During that tour, Hoose Principal Dr. Adam Zbrozek explained Hoose has become Unit 5’s hub for dealing with students who deal with this issue.

The program began over 30 years ago and needs the space it occupies to be reconfigured to better serve students. That would include construction of a 5.200 sq. ft. addition to the building at its east side which would be used primarily by the BEST Program. During the Board meeting this month, Board members gave unanimous approval to awarding a bid of $959,000 for the project to Peoria-based Bishop Brothers, Inc. In addition, the contract calls for Florida-based Marathon Engineering Corp. to serve as a subcontractor under Bishop Brothers for installation of padded walls at a cost of $49,180. That would bring the total bid presented by Bishop Brothers, Inc. for the project to $1,009,180. Bishop Brothers, Inc.’s bid was lowest among six firms who placed bids for the project.

But the project’s funding will also be paid for in part by school land dedication fees collected from developers. The additional space will have a common area and four classrooms. The current space will be redesigned into a large calming room. There will also be a conference area and a sensory room. An additional bus lane closest to the entrance to the room will be constructed.

Construction on the project will start immediately and is expected to be completed by around Thanksgiving.

By Steve Robinson | June 13, 2018 - 10:19 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – Having lost Jim Hayek, Jr. off Normal-based Unit 5 School District Board as of the end of last month, the district is currently in search of his replacement. The procedure for finding someone to replace him should cause Board members to become quick studies with the procedure after hearing that Joseph Cleary will step down soon as a Board member, as well.

During the Board member comments section toward the end of the meeting, Cleary, who teaches construction management at Illinois State University, announced he had been offered a similar position at California Polytechnic State University, known as Cal-Poly, in San Luis Obispo, Calif. Cleary did not state when he would submit his resignation from the Board.

But when Cleary formally turns in his resignation, under State law, the Board will have 45 days from the date the resignation takes effect to appoint a successor. Also, that person would have to run for election the spring of the next election cycle. The Board is currently going through applications from citizens wishing to replace Hayek.

Cleary was appointed to the Board following the resignation of Denise Schuster in spring 2016. Schuster, an employee of State Farm Insurance, as is Hayek, exited the Board because of a job transfer to Dallas, Texas for her husband. In April 2016, Cleary was sworn in to complete Schuster’s term, and successfully ran for a term of his own the following spring.

“Unit 5 is still a great district,” Cleary said in answer to a media question as to whether the State’s witnessing an exodus of residents partly because its financial status, had anything to do with his own departure. He said the State’s situation had nothing to do with his own exit, and that “I was presented with a teaching opportunity on the west coast. My family loves it here. We have family here, so we will visit as often as we can.” Cleary and his wife, Karmon, have a boy who will enter 4th grade and a girl who will enter 6th grade in the fall.

Amended Budget Approved: Prior to Cleary’s announcement, Board members conducted business which included unanimously approving an amended budget for the coming school year. The district will have $169 million with which to operate. The district is looking at each of the operating funds the district has – Education, Operations and Maintenance, Transportation, and Working Cash – having some surplus money on hand to the tune of $2.3 million, according to the report presented to Board members by Business Manager Marty Hickman.

There is still some money yet to come in, Hickman told Board members, as Unit 5 is expecting roughly $2.7 million in payments for Special Education and Transportation due the district from the State.

Board Votes For District To Join Insurance Co-Op: In addition, Board members unanimously approved a resolution agreeing to become part of Suburban School Cooperative Insurance Pool (SSCIP) for its insurance needs. SSCIP operates financially on an annual calendar whereas the district operates on a fiscal calendar. As a result, Hickman said, Unit 5 would need to pay for its membership for the second half of this calendar year as well as for all of 2019 to start that relationship. After that, beginning with the start of 2020, Unit 5 would pay an annual amount to SSCIP.

By Steve Robinson | May 23, 2018 - 10:06 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

In February, he announced his intentions to resign from Normal-based Unit 5 School Board due to a job transfer through his employer, State Farm Insurance. At that governing body’s meeting May 23 at district headquarters, Jim Hayek, who had been a Board member for three years, formally announced he was stepping down at the end of the evening. The Board held a closed door one-hour session, followed by the public meeting which lasted 45-minutes, followed by another closed door session.

“I’ve learned a lot from you and I just want to wish you the best,” said Board Member Taunia Leffler. Board Member Joe Cleary told Hayek he was envious because he was moving to a constantly warmer climate in Arizona.

“I’ll just always remember you for having a strategic mind and a general calmness that you brought to the table,” said Board President Barry Hitchins. “We had heated meetings over the three years here. You just always seemed calm, cool, and collected.”

“You moved us forward with our strategic plan,” Board Member Mike Trask said in beginning his tribute. Calling Hayek “a great mentor,” Trask added, “I’ve enjoyed conversations with you, and although we haven’t always agreed with each other, we’ve respected each other’s opinions.”

“Thank you for your leadership, thank you for your mentoring,” District Superintendent Dr. Mark Daniel extended to Hayek. “I think I’ve learned many things from you, and I know Phoenix is going to be a better place because you and your family are going to be there.”

Hayek’s resignation becomes effective May 30. Under State law, Unit 5 will have 45 days from that date to appoint a successor. That person, after taking office, will have to formally run for the seat in the primary elections next spring.

In addition to Hayek’s departure, the Board will need a new clerk due to LaNell Greenberg, who has held the job for four years, moving on to become assistant to Nikki Maurer, associate principal at Normal Community High School. Greenberg has held numerous positions throughout the district during a14-year career with the district.

Normal Community High’s “Good News”: On May 10, the Normal Community High School’s Chapter of Best Buddies was named the Illinois Chapter of the Year by the national organization. Currently, more than 100 Best Buddies chapters in the State of Illinois. Earlier this semester, NCHS’ chapter named the Regional Chapter of the Year at the Annual Best Buddies Walk.

Best Buddies is an organization founded in 1989 with a mission to establish a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment, and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. NCHS’ has grown over the years, with about 50 general education students and 25 students with disabilities who are paired through the program to bond at school during classroom and other weekly activities. This occurs by simply spending time together at school or out in the community. The teachers who serve as sponsors for the Best Buddies program at NCHS are Erin Sanders, Angie Cardiff, Brandy Sherrick and Amy Veselak.

NCHS assistant principal Natalie Shumaker and Addie Smith, an NCHS junior who has served as the president of the group this year, addressed Board members. “Our club has changed so many lives,” Smith told Board members. “It has changed my life, as well. We’re causing a ripple affect and we look forward to having a better year next year.”

In an emotional response to the presentation, Trask said his daughter has been “a beneficiary” of being part of the group. “I can’t tell you what its done for her.”

Parkside Elementary’s “Good News”: Team building was the goal of a program which took place in May at Parkside Elementary School. Assistant Principal Beth Goken explained Principal Ryan Weichman had team building in mind, and each day for a week earlier this month, seven teams competed in a unique team building event. Among the personal aspects of this were committing acts of kindness and showing team spirit among other challenges. Parkside students were included in many of the activities the program involved.

District’s “Good News”: Dr. Mark Daniel, district superintendent, brought to the attention of those attending the meeting news about the Tales of English Language Learners, or TELL exhibit. This exhibit, which was created collaboratively by Illinois State University students enrolled in School of Teaching and Learning, and School of Art Graphic Design courses, features stories of English Language Learners in Bloomington-Normal schools and at ISU.

TELL displays the journeys of students through their stories, cultural traditions, challenges, and dreams for the future. The exhibit seeks to reduce misconceptions and prejudice about the faces and voices of English Language Learners, or ELLs, in our community, and aspires to raise public awareness and create positive dialogue.

Each ELL story is a combination of determination, hope, and challenges. It is more important than ever to share the stories of ELLs through which we can understand better and celebrate the diversity and commonality of human experience.

Dr. Rabia Hos has been instrumental in forging a partnership between ISU and Unit 5 English Learners Programs.