By Steve Robinson | December 14, 2017 - 10:19 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

Unit 5NORMAL – After no public comments were made to Board members of Normal-based Unit 5 School District during a public hearing at the Board’s regularly-scheduled meeting on Dec. 13, Board members unanimously approved levying taxes and authorizing a certificate for a tax levy for 2017. The amount the levy will bring in is nearly $113 million, taxes residents will pay next spring upon receiving their annual tax bills. The amount to come in is up from taxes due last spring by 2.97 percent. The tax levy for 2016 brought in around $109 million.

Board Members Approve Settlement With Apartment Owners: Board members unanimously approved a settlement agreement with owners of student apartment building owners which would establish the earned assessed valuation of certain buildings to be set for tax years 2015 through 2022. Under the agreement, Unit 5 will see an increase in the amount of money from property taxes received by building owners. That total increase in revenue means Unit 5 will take in roughly $141,000 more than in past years.

Both High Schools’ “Good News” From State Swimming: Representatives from both Normal Community High School and Normal Community West High School took a deep dive to inform Board members of their individual school’s athletes’ successes at Illinois High School Association State Swimming and Diving Competition held Nov. 17 and 18 in Winnetka.

Unit 5 mapNCHS high school reported the following results: Grace Ariola placed 1st in both the 50 meter freestyle and 100 meter backstroke; Julia Heimstead finished 2nd in the 100 meter butterfly and 9th in the 200 Individual Medley; Claire Koh placed 9th in the 500 meter freestyle while Julia Oostman finished 12th in the same event.

As a team, NCHS’ quartet of Ariola, Koh, Heimstead, and Ashley Bengtson placed 2nd in their heat of the 400 meter freestyle relay. In the 200 meter relay, Ariola, Oostman, Heimstead, and Bengtson came in 3rd.

Their crosstown counterparts from Normal West were able to glow over the successes Melissa Pish accomplished in a pair of freestyle events she participated in.

George L. Evans Junior High School’s “Good News”: Whenever Board members hear a “good news” item from administrators, it has to do with events that have already taken place. But in the case of the presentation brought before Board members at the meeting by Christopher McGraw, principal at the school located at Bloomington’s south end, it had to do with students preparing for an upcoming event.

McGraw introduced Board members to seventh graders, Anne Dameron and Megan Siegrist, both of Bloomington, who will compete in a National Leadership Competition in Atlanta, Ga. Feb. 9-11. The competition Dameron and Siegrist will participate in is the American called the Amazing Shake, a competition which puts an emphasis on student leadership skills, manners, and professional conduct. Before the competition, the pair were educated in skills related to professional human interaction, and practiced these skills.

The skills included giving a proper handshake, how to “work a room,” and how to give a successful interview, with the goal of this competition to prepare students to present themselves for future opportunities. Dameron is the daughter of Jeffrey and Jennifer Dameron, of Towanda, and Siegrist, daughter of Dave and Sarah Siegrist, of Bloomington.

By Steve Robinson | November 9, 2017 - 10:29 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

Unit 5NORMAL – Local honorees recognized by Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) at a dinner Oct. 28 were introduced to Normal-based Unit 5 School District Board members at the local governing body’s regularly-scheduled meeting at district headquarters Nov. 8.

District’s “Good News” Honors “Those Who Excel” Winners: Four Unit 5 employees and a former district school board member who had received honors at the event at the Carol A. Reitan Conference Center at the Bloomington-Normal Marriott Hotel in Uptown Normal had their contributions to the district mentioned to Board members by Dayna Brown, director of communications and community relations for the district.

Cory Bennett, a teacher at Parkside Junior High School, was recognized for his receiving ISBE’s Classroom Teacher Award Of Merit; District employee Nancy Braun received ISBE’s Administrator Award of Merit; A certified student support personal Award of Excellence from ISBE went to Suzann Marcum, who is employed at both Fairview Elementary and Grove Elementary.

A School Board Member/Community Volunteer Award of Excellence went to John Puzauskas, who served on Unit 5’s School Board for 12 years, opting not to run for re-election last spring. The Team Award of Merit went to Normal Community West High School’s Science Department.

Brown credited Braun with heading the district’s wellness committee, which has “contributed many policies” which have aided staff’s and students’ well-being.” In addition, a Non-Certified Educational Service Personal Award Of Excellence was received by Cindy Singley of Chiddix Junior High School.

District’s Other “Good News”: The District’s Other “Good News” item recognized that Nov. 15 would be “Illinois School Board Members Day” as designated by Illinois Association of School Boards. “This day is to honor these public servants for the contributions to our public schools,” explained district superintendent Dr. Mark Daniel. “The decisions our school board members make impact so many aspects of our daily lives that we often overlook the service they provide which allows our community to grow and thrive.”

Among the current Board members, Mike Trask earned his Master Board Membership; Meta Mickens-Baker earned her sixth year of Master Board Membership; and Board Member Barry Hitchins earned Level I Membership.

Unit 5 map“Welcoming Schools” Resolution Approved: Board members unanimously approved a resolution affirming Unit 5 as a “Welcoming Schools” district where, as the resolution states, in part, “students have the right to attend regardless of their immigration status.” The resolution also signifies, “Unit 5 will protect the rights of all students and their families, including student confidentiality rights under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).”

Board Receives Life Safety Recap: Board members received a recap of numerous life safety projects the district has done in this and the previous fiscal year to date on district buildings. Joe Adelman, operations manager for the district, explained that because of improvements done on the district’s six largest buildings over the last two fiscal years totaling $9.3 million – four junior high schools and two high schools – Unit 5 won’t be spending $6 million on improvements related to heating and cooling.

Adelman said roof work has been done at Colene Hoose, Northpoint, and Parkside Elementary Schools; Parkside Junior High School, and Normal Community West High School totaling slightly over $2 million. Nearly another $248,000 went into chiller projects at Northpoint, Prairieland, Towanda, and Pepper Ridge Elementary Schools. Geothermal installation at PJHS totaling over $561,000 has also been done.

He said work done to Normal West in the last two years will save the district $12,000 in energy costs annually. “All this work helps provide a healthy environment for teachers as well as students,” Mickens-Baker said in appreciation of the effort.

Trask reminded that the district does a 10-year plan to determine where repairs should be conducted.

Other Reports Presented: Board members also heard reports relating to preparation of the annual property tax levy due into the McLean County Clerk’s Office from the district by the last Tuesday in December, and about strategic planning being prepared for the coming year by the district.

No Second Meeting In November: As a result of the Thanksgiving holiday, there will be no second Board meeting in November. The next scheduled Board meeting will be Wednesday, Dec. 13, and will be the only Board meeting before the district’s Christmas holiday break.

By Steve Robinson | October 26, 2017 - 10:14 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

Unit 5NORMAL – One could say Chiddix Junior High School went into orbit to bring back its “good news” report during the meeting of Oct. 25 of Board Members of Normal-based Unit 5 School District.

Board members and a small audience present for the meeting at district headquarters learned that CJHS eighth grade student Dhruv Rebba had been working on and successfully achieved a hookup between the school and the International Space Station. The hookup took place on Monday, Oct. 23. Rebba wasn’t alone for the event, however, as roughly 50 students, teachers, and media witnessed the event.

At an event in 2015, Rebba met astronaut Douglas H. Wehlock. That meeting led Whelock to suggest Rebba and CJHS get in touch with Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS).

The very long distance hookup was done in cooperation with Challenger Learning Center, the Children’s Discovery Museum and the Central Illinois Radio Club. As a result of the connection, Rebba and his fellow students got the chance to speak with astronaut Joe Acaba. It took three tries over three school years to arrange, but the 60 students involved with the project were only granted 10 minutes to squeeze in as many questions as they would allow.

Among the questions students formulated through various class discussions and asked Acaba included wanting to know how astronauts stay in shape while on the station; which space travel movie was the most accurate; if the astronauts were able to grow vegetables in space, and how many space walks have the astronauts taken recently. The answer to that last question, Acaba told students was between 3-5 in the last week alone, although he said, that many in that length of time is “pretty unusual.”

Those people who didn’t attend the very long distance communication in person and Board members were able to see a video of the end result as, at the time of the event, it was shown through the social network Facebook’s “Live” streaming service.

Graduation Rate Percentage Is Up: Board members received details from the district’s 2016-17 Achievement Report from Deputy Superintendent Ray Epperson. Chief among the items Epperson presented to Board members was the fact high school graduation rates have gone up in the last six years eight percent, from 84 percent to 92 percent. Having announced that, however, Epperson sounded encouraged about those numbers continuing forward, telling Board Members, “We’re not planning on staying at 92 percent.”

Annual Audit Report Presented: Board members heard, and approved after receiving, an annual audit report presented by Adam Pulley CPA, from the firm of CliftonLarsonAllen. The audit report, Pulley said, noted just one finding concerning use of an incorrect reimbursement rate on claims paid for the beginning of fiscal year 2017. This particular item was also noted by auditors in last year’s annual report.

Settlement Agreement Approved: Board members unanimously approved a settlement agreement with student apartment owners establishing the earned assessed valuation of certain properties for the tax years 2015 through 2022. The settlement appears to be “slightly above” 2014 EAV figures, Curt Richardson, attorney for Unit 5, told Board members. Richardson reminded Board members “significant increases” in EAV translates to more money coming into the district from taxpayers.

Unit 5 mapBoard Members Hear Proposal For A “Welcoming Schools” Resolution: Board members were introduced to the idea of a resolution to make all schools within Unit 5 “Welcoming Schools.” The “Welcoming Schools” initiative, started by the Human Rights Campaign, strives to make schools accessible and safe for students coming from all types of families. As a result of this, the resolution said Unit 5 is a district “where all students have the right to attend regardless of their immigration status” and that “Unit 5 will protect the rights of all students and their families, including student confidentiality rights under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), when handling any request for student records or information.”

Two district teachers, and a student who could benefit from such a resolution, addressed Board members. The discussion began with Board members being informed by Normal Community West Social Studies teacher John Bierbaum and Normal Community High School Social Studies teacher Patrick Lawler that to pass such a resolution helps keep kids safe.

“We should take an overt action and emphasize we will do something to keep kids safe,” Bierbaum said.

“This is not about politics to do what is best for our kids,” Lawler added. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, known as DACA, was an immigration policy that began after passage during the Obama Administration in 2012 which allowed some individuals who entered the country as minors, and had either entered or remained in the country illegally, to receive a renewable two-year period of deferment from deportation. It also granted the people in this classification eligibility for work permits. As of 2017, approximately 800,000 individuals—referred to as Dreamers after the DREAM Act bill—were enrolled in the program created by DACA. The policy was rescinded by the Trump administration in September.

Aditi Sharma, a freshman at NCHS joined Bierbaum and Lawler to ask Board members to consider passing the resolution which is slated to be on the Board’s agenda for it Nov. 8 meeting, the only meeting that month because of the Thanksgiving holiday.

Bloomington School District #87 “vowed to protect immigrant kids,” Bierbaum added, noting that district has already voted to approve such a resolution. “We should take an overt action and emphasize we will do something to keep kids safe.” Lawler added, “I urge you to pass the resolution in support of our students.”

Saying the high schools have helped to build a welcoming culture, Board Member Meta Mickens-Baker thanked the trio for their efforts to bring the subject to the Board for consideration.

Board Members Hear Proposal For A “Farm-To-School” Resolution: Board Member David W. Fortner also proposed the Board give consideration to a “Farm To School” Resolution, helping to bring agriculture to district classrooms. Fortner said he would like to see students examine what local outlets there are which could educate students “not just about food but the ag sector.” He added such instruction is happening “in pockets in our district. This kind of program is good for our students.”

Dr. Mark Daniel, district superintendent, said “such a curriculum attaches itself to STEM,” – teaching related to Science, Technology, Education, and Math – with components of Agriculture added. “Many of our schools have gardens, but they need to develop programs.”

But to get such a program going to be beneficial to students, Daniel added, “”Data must be gathered and which companies and groups will help it continue.” He said, then, there is the issue of “how do you commit to staying to it when the school year is out.” He said that means there is “a lot of work to be done upfront” to get it started.

The discussion among Board members on this topic led to the feeling there are varying concerns needing to addressed before voting on a resolution. Board Member Joe Cleary said he wants to make sure proceeding to begin such a project is “done wisely, effectively, and with purpose.”

Board Member Mike Trask informed Fortner such resolutions need to be drawn up with the assistance of district legal counsel. Board Member Barry Hitchins, saying he favored what was being proposed, told Board Members he didn’t believe using a resolution was the right mechanism by which to achieve it.

Board Member Jim Hayek, Jr. said Daniel needs to direct resources to look into the matter further, and that such an initiative could be part of the district’s next strategic plan.

By Steve Robinson | October 12, 2017 - 12:24 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

Unit 5NORMAL – In a first of its kind event, Normal-based Unit 5 School District presented residents with an update on the district, not just on matters it was addressing, but some also provided some statistical information which residents might not have been aware of previously.

Held in the auditorium of Normal Community High School, Board President Jim Hayek, Jr. informed roughly 100 people present the district “has a direct impact on the quality of life” for the students it instructs.

Hayek was followed by Dr. Mark Daniel, district superintendent, who informed audience members that the district has seen its graduation rate jump 4 percent, to 91 percent, from a decade ago. He said Unit 5 is seen as “a destination district” by many who come to the area.

Daniel explained that through offering internships, project-based learning, and college and career readiness opportunities to its students, Unit 5 is continuing to help students prepare for their future.

Daniel touted activities such as 5th grade Band, which has 528 members currently, which helps students master skills, as well. He also mentioned that Virtual Learning has become part of the district, as well, the result of the virtual classroom at Normal Community West High School, which brings professionals to speak remotely to students’ classes. Of virtual learning, Daniel said, “We’re, hopefully, going to see more and more of this.”

In addition to the graduation figures, Daniel cited that 927 district students had scored highly on Advance Placement exams.

Unit 5 mapDaniel informed the gathering that 30 percent of Unit 5’s student population is neither white nor male. The teachers in the district also have continued to pursue learning, with 66 percent of them either holding Master’s degrees, and 64 of them are National Board Certified. He added the district manages to retain 87 percent of its teaching staff, which Daniel said, is above the national average.

But while Unit 5 has such positives, Daniel explained, it’s faced with some looming challenges, among which is trying to eliminate a $1.2 million deficit in its education fund. Unit 5 also finds itself $33 million below what State lawmakers see as an adequate amount of funding to meet State guidelines. Unit 5 has an overall budget of $162 million.

“Enrollment drives revenue,” Daniel told the audience members who attended the session which preceded the Board’s scheduled meeting, which was held in the school’s cafeteria.

Beginning Enrollment Figures Presented: During the Board meeting, Dr. James Harden, executive director of human resources and student services for the district, presented Board members with school year-opening figures. Unit 5 begins the 2017-18 school year with 13,334 students in its elementary schools, four junior high schools, and two high schools. That figure includes 1,003 students total at the district’s four junior high schools, and 2,144 students at NCHS and 1,686 students at Normal Community West High School. There are a total of 6,400 students attending the district’s 17 elementary schools.

ISBE Requests Information To Comply With Federal Law: Marty Hickman, business manager for the district, reported to Board members Illinois State Board of Education is asking Unit 5 to submit to them per school building budgets in order to comply with an Obama Administration law which asks for such figures which, once received by ISBE, would be turned over to the Federal government.

By Steve Robinson | September 28, 2017 - 10:00 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

Unit 5NORMAL – At their regularly scheduled meeting on Sept. 27 at district headquarters, members of Normal-based Unit 5 School Board unanimously approved spending for the 2017-18 school year, a budget of over $168 million, an increase in spending of 3 percent over the previous school year. But such spending will still leave Unit 5 with a $1.2 million shortage in its education fund, even though the increase in spending will have dollars added to that fund.

Board members were made aware that Senate Bill 1947, which was signed into law by Gov. Bruce Rauner Sept. 1, allocated awaited money from the State for the district will not make up for the $1.2 million deficit the district was anticipating for its education fund.

Marty Hickman, district business manager, told Board members the budget they were approving was unchanged from the draft version of the budget he presented to them last spring.

Unit 5 mapIn addition to the education fund being short, four other funds have shortfalls, as well. There is a $1,145,168 shortfall in the district’s Bond and Interest account; a shortage of over $3.8 million in the district’s fire prevention-life safety fund; A shortage of over $161,000 in the district tort fund; and a shortage of over $86,000 in the district retirement/Social Security fund. The deficits of those funds total over $4.9 million.

With regard to the retirement fund shortage, Hickman said the State providing Tier 2 funding could help lessen that amount. Filling in the other deficits, he said, will depend on timing issues.

A public hearing was held regarding the budget prior to its passage by the Board, at which no members of the public spoke.

Life Safety Expense At Normal Community West High School Approved: Board members unanimously approved spending $430,392 to make repairs on the 22-year-old tennis courts at Normal Community West High School. Board members were shown photos of various sections the courts, some which included deep, expanding cracks in the concrete. Of the dollar amount quoted for the repair, the actual cost estimate for the project is $358,660.

In addition to that amount, another $70,000 in contingency costs is part of the grand total. Anytime paving is involved with public safety, a public hearing is required, Joe Adelman, operations manager for the district, told Board members. No members of the public spoke at this hearing.

Inaugural “State Of The District” Event Set For Oct. 11: Unit 5 will hold a first-time event updating residents on matters pertaining to the district prior to the Board’s regularly-scheduled meeting on Oct. 11. The “State Of The District” event will be held at Normal Community High School starting at 6:30p.m. The Board will then hold its scheduled meeting afterward, beginning at 8p.m.