By Steve Robinson | September 28, 2010 - 10:07 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

Steve RobinsonFive teachers from Kingsley Junior High School received the very first $10,000 grant awarded by the Beyond The Books Educational Foundation in a ceremony in the school’s library Tuesday. This year, the Shirk Family Foundation, based in Bloomington, chose the Beyond The Books Foundation to administer the $10,000 grant, which would be awarded to a single recipient. This $10,000 grant was called the “Beyond The Box” Grant.

KJHS Science teachers Stacie Threlfall and Jennifer Snyder, Math teacher Keith Rice, Social Studies teacher Jennifer Ritchason, and Language Arts teacher Jennifer Snyder applied for the grant over the summer. They collectively applied for it to begin a lesson for their students about water conservation.

Threlfall, serving as the group’s spokesperson, said the group was inspired to apply for the “Beyond The Box” Grant because their students at KJHS had expressed concerns about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico which happened this summer. The grant application submitted by the KJHS teachers was one of 21 the Beyond The Books Foundation received for this specific grant.

Unit 5Threlfall said the quintet applied for the grant, which was titled, “Water Is Life: Our Endangered Resource,” with the idea that they wanted to teach students about water, and try “touching as many lives as possible” in the process. So, in addition to teaching KJHS students about water and how it effects our everyday lives, the educators will be helping their students to pass along lessons to local grade school children as well. That will come in the form of KJHS students being involved in shared activities with local elementary school students.

Threlfall cited a statistic from the U. S. Geological Society that said, even though the Earth is 70 percent water, only three percent of that is fresh water. ”We really want to give our students the gift of knowledge so that they know how to take care of that three percent,” Threlfall said.

A thumbnail of the lessons ahead for the students: Sixth graders will receive basic knowledge about water. Seventh graders will learn what they can do to conserve water. Eighth graders will learn to how take what they have learned and apply it within their communities and their own lives.

Speaking for the group, Threlfel said, “We are absolutely thrilled for the opportunity that it is going to give our students, and not just our students, but also the elementary students.

Unit 5 map“And what we’re really, really hoping is that it will touch the lives of the students’ families,” Threlfel said.

The group explained that sixth graders will study the effect having water had on an ancient civilization like Ancient Egypt. This would involve students building scale models of rivers. Seventh graders will spend the year discussing why people settled near water during Colonial times. Eighth graders will study the time periods surrounding World War I, World War II, and the Depression Era, and what effect those times had for people in relation to having or not having water.

Rice said mathematics will come into play with students recording data, such as how much water they use daily, either through laundry, showers, and other household functions, and see what they can do to conserve water use at home. Students will also look at how to conserve rain water. Eighth graders will visit a water treatment plant and look at the various water sources available to the Twin Cities.

Kingsley CavaliersLaurel Straub, president of the Beyond The Books Educational Foundation, reminded those in attendance that the Foundation annually awards funding for programs “that go beyond the standard classroom experience.” Since 1992, the Foundation has awarded just over $339,000 to 497 different grants, submitted by teachers in both Normal’s School District Unit 5 and Bloomington School District 87.

On another subject, the annual “Chili Bowl” game between Normal Community High and Normal Community West High is Friday at NCHS. This will be the 16th annual event. Next week, I hope to have a little history on how the event started. NCHS holds a commanding 13-2 lead in the series since it began in 1995.

With West at 3-2, having lost to Danville last week, and NCHS, winners of their fifth straight over, last week over Champaign Centennial, remain ranked third in Class 6A. Danville head coach B. J. Luke said the Wildcats played against his team in a fashion that was, in Luke’s words, “pretty dang salty.” No doubt West head coach Darren Hess hopes his guys continue to be a little salty against their cross-town rivals on Friday night.

As for me, not too much salt please, but I do hope the chili will be nice and hot.

By Steve Robinson | September 26, 2010 - 10:03 pm
Posted in Category: Normal West HS, The Normalite

FootballNORMAL – Normal Community West High School carried a three-game winning streak into its Big 12 Conference game against undefeated Danville at Wildcat Field Sept. 24. But Danville senior running back Eddie Clark’s two touchdowns and 18 carries for 107 yards helped push the Vikings past West, snapping the Wildcats’ streak, 28-20.

Clark’s first touchdown of the night completed the first possession by Danville (5-0). Clark dodged West defenders on his way to a 15 yard touchdown at the 9:20 mark in the first quarter. That put the Vikings up, 7-0, after the successful extra point by senior kicker Dennis Forrest.

Normal West (3-2) scored for the first time on a 34 yard touchdown run by senior quarterback Tyler Marcordes, capping a 5 play, 60-yard drive. That tied the score at 7-7, going into the second quarter, following a successful extra point by senior kicker Matthew Barnet.

Clark ran the ball into the end zone from 4 yards out with 7:15 left in the second quarter, completing an 8 play, 80 yard drive. That gave Danville a 14-7 lead following Forrest’s extra point.

A 66-yard pass from junior quarterback Dennis Hightower to senior wide receiver Joey Robinson with 1:11 until halftime, followed by another Forrest extra point, increased Danville’s lead at the break to 21-7.

Normal West FootballWest responded on the very next series, as Marcordes scored from one yard out, capping a 7 play, 71 yard drive, cutting Danville’s lead, and going into halftime trailing, 21-14, following Barnet’s successful extra point.

Following a scoreless third quarter, West got as close as they would get on the night, following an 11 yard touchdown pass from Marcordes to senior running back Erik Sipes with 11:54 left in the contest. That cut Danville’s lead to one, 21-20, but Danville defenders blocked Barnet’s extra point try, which would have tied the game.

Hightower scored the last touchdown of the night, from one yard out with 6:53 left in the game, ending a 6 play, 50 yard drive, followed by Forrest’s extra point, resulting in the final score.

Both quarterbacks had high numbers on the night, not just for passing but for rushing as well. Marcordes carried the ball 22 times for West for 104 yards. Hightower had 21 carries for 127 yards. Danville’s Robinson led in total yards on just five receptions, with 133 yards.

“We took on the opportunity to play a great Danville team and I thought we rose to the occasion,” Wildcats head coach Darren Hess said. “It didn’t turn out the way we wanted it. The loss is just hard for our kids because they have worked so hard.

“We’ve been struggling for the last few years, and then it seems like they’ve been turning a corner. Scoreboard result aside, I think we really took a positive step. Our kids will gain confidence. We will just take this game and take the momentum into next week and keep working hard.

“When you take Danville down to the wire, you’re doing something pretty good,” Hess said. “They have a special ball club.”

Danville VikingsDespite the defeat, Hess had only positive comments about his team’s performance against the Vikings. “Our kids played their hearts out tonight,” Hess said. “I thought we contained Danville real well. I think our kids understand what a great job we did and how we can build off of that.”

“That was a very physical football team we played,” said Danville head coach B. J. Luke. “They really gave us everything we could ask for in a football game, and I was very impressed with their front line, I was impressed with Marcordes – we knew he was a good kid, a big kid and good athlete.

He said that, “for some reason, we weren’t focused this week coming into this game.” Luke said he does not know why that appeared to be for the Vikings.

Luke admitted, “I think it was the kind of game we needed. We needed to get punched in the face a little bit. It was a good game for us. I just feel very fortunate to get out of Normal with a W.

“Normal West played pretty dang salty,” Luke added. “I think most of the credit goes to their guys for the way they were hanging in there against us. They played very inspired football. Darren does a nice job with them and had them ready to go tonight.”

By Steve Robinson | September 23, 2010 - 10:01 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

Unit 5NORMAL – Normal’s Unit 5 School District has a balanced budget. After working and reworking the numbers, that was the final word from Business Manager Erik Bush during the group’s regularly scheduled meeting at District headquarters on Sept. 22.

Unit 5 will have a budget of $197,587,205 for the 2010-2011 school year. That amount is divided amongst nine funds the district has for various uses: Education, Operations, Debt Service, Transportation, State and Federal Pensions, Capital Projects, Working Cash, Tort, and Life Safety.

All funds making up this budget, however, add up to $166.7 million. The deficit is due to money garnered for school construction being spent.

“This budget didn’t come without considerable amount of effort, and wage freezes on our hourly employees,” Board member Scott Lay reminded.

An area where Unit 5 is saving money is in its energy use. Bruce Boswell, the district’s energy educator, told Board members that, despite rising costs of electricity, gas, and water, the district has been able to save money on its energy costs.

Boswell told Board members prices for electricity increased 28 percent over what they were at this time last year; water rates increased 4.5 percent above what they were last year; and prices for natural gas were up 49 percent from this time last year.

On the positive side, Boswell said there was a decrease in the amount of BTUs used as far as electricity use in the district was concerned.

Over a six year period that Unit 5 has had an energy conservation program in place, since the beginning of the 2004-2005 school year, the district has saved $6,170,710 in energy costs, Boswell told the Board. It was projected when this program started that the district would spend just over $20 million in energy costs. As a result of the energy conservation program, Unit 5’s actual energy costs totaled $13,947,959, a savings of nearly 31 percent.

Unit 5 mapCAC Study Topics: During most years, Unit 5’s Citizens Advisory Council spends the school year tackling a number of subjects, usually unrelated to one another, and then presents a series of final reports on each subject at the end of the school year to the Board. This year, however, although there will be five subjects studied, there is a common thread among them: Helping students prepare for college and careers.

Dayna Brown, assistant to the Superintendent, told Board members that four subcommittees had been set up to study subjects which would help ensure that students would be either ready for college-level courses by the time they graduated high school, or ready for a job that would help them support a family.

The four subjects the subcommittees will be studying are: Early childhood; Elementary School; Junior High School; and High School, and how each portion of a child’s education at those levels helps students prepare for their future upon graduating from high school.

CAC will present a final report to Board members on their findings at the end of the school year.

Student Achieves Perfection On SAT & ACT: Blake Cecil, a senior at Normal Community High School was recognized by Board members for achieving perfect scores on his SAT and ACT tests.

According to a memo written by NCHS Principal Dr. Jeanette Nuckolls, Blake earned the highest composite score of 36 on a recent ACT test. ACT consists of tests in English, mathematics, reading and science. Each test is scored on a scale of 1 – 36, and a student’s composite score is the average of the four test scores.

Among the test takers in the graduating class of 2009, just 638 of almost 1.5 million students earned a composite score of 36, Nuckolls wrote to Board members.

ACT test scores are accepted by all major U.S. colleges and universities.

In addition to his perfect ACT, Blake managed a perfect score of 2,400 on his SAT test as well.

Blake is ranked number one in the NCHS Class of 2011 which includes 435 students.

Blake’s parents are Wayne “Bill” Cecil and Laurie Cecil. The Cecils were present at the meeting to see their son honored.

By Steve Robinson | September 21, 2010 - 10:58 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

Steve RobinsonBy the time you read this, students of Unit 5’s two high schools, like all students in the district’s 17 grade schools and three junior high schools will have gone through their second “Late Start Wednesday” of the school year.

From talking to some parents and students this week, having been through their first one a couple weeks ago and the second one Wednesday, it sounds as though high school kids and their parents not only have adjusted to class start times which start an hour later than usual, but are almost relishing it.

Peg Modglin is a speech pathologist working the school’s special education department. She and her husband, Jim, a physical therapy assistant, have a daughter, Lexi, who is a junior at Normal Community West High School. Modglin said she was in favor of “Late Start Wednesdays” because Normal West has been involved Professional Learning Communities, which are teachers learning from other teachers as to how to collaborate and help students continue to learn.

Modglin said she did not run into any parents who had opposition to the concept of Late Start Wednesdays. “Some parents I spoke to who have teenagers thought the students would enjoy it because it would mean they would either get to rest for an extra hour on those days.”

On those days, Unit 5’s high schools begin their day at 8:15a.m., junior highs begin their day at 8:45a.m.; and elementary schools begin their day at 9:30a.m. The schools will be dismissed at their regular times. Buses to school will run one hour later. District officials believe doing “Late Start Wednesdays” rather than seeing teachers travel out of town for training, which would result in hiring substitute teachers, will save the district about $1 million.

Modglin pointed out to me the sessions aren’t used by teachers as one long coffee break. They are getting work done, learning what they can to better themselves and other teachers. “We, the teachers, are held accountable for using the time,” Modglin said. “We have administrators, such as principals and assistant principals, who are coming to these sessions and monitoring to make sure we are working on the things we are supposed to be working on, whether it’s taking data or working on our goals to help our students learn better.”

Modglin said items looked at might include looking at creating tests that all teachers from a school’s specific department, like English, might give. After the tests are given, Modglin said, teachers would look at how students did on them, looking at how well the teachers taught the lessons.

“We look and see if those tests were successful, or do we need to change the way we’re teaching to help them be more successful,” Modglin explained.

Dawn Wickenhauser has two daughters – one who is a Normal West freshman, Ashley, and one who is in seventh grade, Hailey.

“Having older children, they are mature enough to get themselves ready and get to the bus with no problem.” Wickenhauser said she imagines parents of younger children were faced with having to make sure their kids got on the bus on time, leading to their kids arriving at school on time.

Tia Robertson is a freshman at West, having come from Parkside Junior High. She said she was excited about “Late Start Wednesdays” because she could get some extra sleep. She said she is up every morning at 5, because her bus comes at 6. She said her friends liked it, too, because classes on Late Start Wednesdays last just 50 minutes, as opposed to the normal 55 minutes.

Tia’s parents, Arthur and Gail Freeman, ought to be very proud of their daughter because she understands that, as she put it, “grades count now. They count more now because it could lead to a bad GPA.”

Can you tell this girl has thought this out? I was, sometimes, just grateful to have a GPA when I was in high school. Tia seems to be in tune with what is important while she is at West. Some credit ought to go to her folks for instilling that in her, don’t you think?

Next Month’s “Late Start Wednesdays” will take place Oct. 13 and Oct. 27.

Normal West High has there homecoming this weekend. The theme for this year’s homecoming dance is “Hawaiian Paradise.”

And after a week when, even though I did not spend Friday in a press box, things got very busy for me anyway, I will be glad to settle back into the routine by covering the Wildcats’ homecoming showdown against the Danville Vikings. Kickoff at Wildcats Stadium is 7p.m.

Looking ahead, the big Unit 5 football rivalry, known as the “Chili Bowl,” Normal Community visiting Normal West, takes place Oct. 1.

Town of NormalNORMAL – Normal Town Council members heard at their meeting on Monday at Normal City Hall that, partly because of an ongoing downturn in the economy, the developers of One Main Development may scale down the project slated for a mixed use building planned for the west end of Uptown Normal’s traffic circle.

Rick Jebb, managing broker for Prudential Snyder Commercial Real Estate, said the Bloomington firm has been looking at how this project could be completed from a number of different perspectives.

He said the firm did a marketing feasibility study which led Prudential Snyder officials to believe the project needed to be shifted downward toward building apartments rather than the originally proposed upscale condominiums. He said a redesign of the building would mean the building going from 45 luxury condos to between 35-40 apartments

When the U. S. economy sank into recession in October 2008, work on the project ceased. Since that time, there has been fencing blocking off a large hole in the ground at that location.

Jebb said he believes his group would know something about whether he has financial backing on the project in the next two weeks. Provided the financing being hoped for by Prudential Snyder comes through, Jebb said steel for the project could be ordered by October, and construction could begin as early as December.

Jebb was joined in his presentation to Council members by Jon “Cody” Sokolski, chief executive officer of One Main Development. Council member Sonja Reece asked Sokolski if he thought the next few weeks would help his firm put the funding for the project in place.

Sokolski told Reece, “yes, I think the market may be improving a little bit,” thus helping his firm get started on the project.

City Manager Mark Peterson told Council members, “One Main Developers has left no stone unturned toward seeking financing.”

But while Council members, like Cheryl Gaines, appeared willing to give the developers time to obtain necessary funds, fellow Council member Adam Nielsen reminded Jebb and Sokolski that the Town has managed to see other construction projects, such as the recently opened Uptown Crossing building open despite the current economy.

“I wish you well. I really do,” Nielsen told Jebb and Sokolski. “But a hole in the ground isn’t adding to the tax base of the town.” Nielsen said he was willing to give One Main Development two weeks to find financing needed.

But if One Main Development comes back to the Council with no financing plan, Neilsen said, “then maybe, there’s another developer out there.”

Reece told Jebb and Sokolski, “we don’t have other developers waiting in the wings.”

Jebb said the goal his firm and One Main Development have is to get construction restarted later this year.

Council member Jason Chambers commented that, by changing the project from condos to apartments, One Main Development “was not staying true to the original idea. Apartments are a significant change from the original plan, which included condos.”

Mayor Chris Koos said this project has not been easy, what with times where there were “false starts” at times when it was thought construction would resume.

Zoning Code Amendments Pass: Council members began the night tackling the issue of discussing some proposed zoning code amendments pertaining to Planned Unit Developments (PUDs) within the Town’s Parking Impact Zone. Town Staff began working with Normal Planning Commission members began work on this in February. By May, a list of zoning code amendments had been drawn up by the Planning Commission.

Town Staff also presented a list of amendments to Normal’s Community Design Standards (CDS) CDS have remained largely untouched since 2003. Among the proposed code changes were:

• Permit up to half the trees screening parking lots from public Right-Of-Ways to be ornamental rather than all-shade varieties.

• Reduce the amount of green space required on a site located within the Town’s Parking Impact Zone from 20 percent to 15 percent. This is something that would affect both commercial and residential sites.

• Require decorative outdoor lighting to have interior louvers to prevent glare when brightness reaches a minimum.

• Reduce the requirements for significant tree replacements by either capping the amount that could be assessed to any project or cutting in half the cost of planting replacement trees from $500 per tree to $250 per tree.

There were 10 proposed changes, but the tree replacement cost item created a conversation among Council members. In explaining the change for the reduction in replacement cost, City Manager Mark Peterson told Council members, “We don’t think we are giving away the store. We just looked at it as reducing the cost.”

Peterson said there were some properties in town, some between 50 to 60 years old, which were still income producers. He said for the developers to tear those down and rebuild on those same lots would be “financially difficult for the developers.”

Reece asked Town Planner Mercy Davison what role developers played in creating the changes suggested. Davison said developers hesitated coming to public hearings for fears they would be seen as promoters of one project sought over others.

On the tree replacement item, Council member Cheryl Gaines said she could not vote for all of the items as a group until the item about tree replacement cost was removed from it.

A motion was made to vote on the tree replacement cost issue separately from the rest, leaving the replacement cost at $500. Council members voted 4-3 to, in effect, reject keeping the replacement cost for trees at $500 per tree. Gaines voted yes to keep the cost at the current rate, along with Mayor Chris Koos and Council Member Jason Chambers. Council members Adam Nielsen, Jeff Fritzen, Chuck Scott, and Sonja Reece voted to reduce the tree replacement cost amount.

A vote was then taken on the remaining proposed changes, which included the $250 per tree replacement provision. The vote on that was 6-1 in favor, with Gaines voting against it.

Omnibus Agenda Items Approved: Omnibus agenda items approved by the Council included:

• Approval of minutes of the Council’s regular meeting held Sept. 7, 2010.

• Approval of Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of Sept. 15, 2010.

• A motion to approve revised guidelines and change the name of the Town of Normal Housing Rehabilitation Program to the Homeowners Emergency Repair and Accessibility Program.

• A resolution authorizing execution of a Wireline Crossing Agreement with Union Pacific Railroad Co.

• A resolution conditionally and partially approving the final plat of the 2nd resubdivision of Wal-Mart/Parkway Plaza Subdivision by Expedited Process.