By Steve Robinson | November 30, 2013 - 10:46 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

Steve RobinsonThe end of November usually signals the end of another high school season for football, soccer, and volleyball. Collectively, we all will now shift our attention to the winter sports of boys and girls basketball while waiting, in the case of some of the fall sports to see who stood out in the minds of coaches, writers, and editors when reviewing the seasons just past.

Possibly it is just me, but the results for the fall sports have rolled out a little slowly this year, but as a public service, I like to use this space to recognize the local and area athletes who, in a daily paper, might only get a mention in a one-paragraph article before moving on to the next event on the agenda. Parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends and acquaintances, here comes the first wave of accolades for Big 12 and Corn Belt Conference Volleyball and Soccer players.

When it came to Boys’ Soccer, two young men received unanimously approval from voters by season’s end (I’d like to hear a politician – any politician – be able to say they could make that claim!): Normal Community High School junior Eddie Plesha and Bloomington High School senior Alex White can both boast about finishing their seasons with such an honor.

Among “First Team” Selections, NCHS had five players chosen, including Plesha; Normal Community West High School had three; and BHS had three, including White. Also named to the First Team for NCHS were: Connor Oltman, Brandon Lam, and Mason Maier (juniors); and senior Blake Smith.

Normal West could lay claim to three First Team honorees from three separate classes: Sophomore Adam Bauman; Junior Ben Nielsen; and senior Tanner Rutledge. BHS’ White was the only Purple Raider to make the First Team list this year.

A total of nine players made it to the Conference’s “Honorable Mention” roster. Those players (and their schools) were: Geofred Kalala, (ssenior) and Jared Collier (junior) BHS; Grant Donath, (Senior), Riley Hutchison, and Josh Millmore, (juniors), NCHS; Evan Jefferson, and Owen Peterson (seniors), Pablo Garcia (junior), and sophomore Tim O’Brien, Normal West.

But it wasn’t just guys on the gridiron who earned recognition. Local high school volleyball teams were recognized as well. When the Big 12 Conference announced their post-season honors, Normal West had four players selected to their All-Conference volleyball team, followed by three NCHS honorees, and two from BHS.

Wildcats juniors Tyler Brown, Maddy Moser, Maddie Williams and Jill Paska were named by their league for their efforts to the All-Conference team. NCHS juniors Machayla Leonard and Erika Peoples joined sophomore Micki Quakenbush as Ironmen honorees, and junior Izzy Carroll and sophomore Summer Horchem were the Purple Raiders’ players who completed their season by being honored. Of the number of players who found themselves on the league’s “honorable mention” list, BHS tallied four players while West and NCHS each registered two.

For now, at least, you are caught up on the accolades given out up to now for the season just past. They were well-deserved. As I say, when the conferences release more information, I will pass it along.

On another subject, you might recall that back in late October, Normal West High School attempted to raise money for the family of Kevin Winterland, a janitor at the school who suffered a stroke as he was driving home from work on Sept. 30. He was rushed to a local hospital where he suffered a second stroke. The result of those strokes was Kevin being left paralyzed from the jaw down. The school took up collections for the family at their two home football games in October. Kevin passed away on Oct. 25. Money continued to come in even after Kevin passed away.

“We raised a total of $4,007.66 for the family,” Normal West Associate Principal Wendy Davis wrote to me in an email. “We had help from our Student Council to collect donations at the Oct 25 football game. Otherwise, donations came from teachers, staff, students, and community members that were either mailed to West or collected at the two games where we collected donations.”

While we have sympathy for the family, and appreciate their grieving at losing a loved one, it is good to know that community spirit was able to shine through to help the Winterlands during their difficult period.

By Steve Robinson | November 19, 2013 - 10:51 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

Town of NormalNORMAL – Normal Town Council members voted unanimously to approve an ordinance authorizing the 2013 property tax levy, which increased the Town’s individual share of monies collected. Other governing bodies within the county, such as the Normal-based Unit 5 School District and the City of Bloomington also needed to vote on the levy as well.

Town administrators and Council members tried to explain that by approving the 11 percent increase, Normal residents were not being asked to shoulder the entire amount they would pay, but rather a portion of the 11 percent. “People assume their taxes are going up 11 percent,” City Manager Mark Peterson explained, which he said is not the case.

“In truth, the tax is going up $5 a month. A person with a $300,000 home would see an increase of $10 per month. A person with a $150,000 home would see an increase of $5 per month,” Peterson explained after the public hearing that began before the regularly scheduled Council session.

But as the evening began with the public hearing, it was clear some residents did not want to see their taxes increase. Normal resident Jim Woodward told Council members, “I do feel we need to scale back on what we spend money on.” He added he was currently battling cancer and that, excluding his illness as an explanation, he has cut back on personal expenses and “hopes the Town would also cut back.”

Joseph Zompetti, a retired Illinois State University employee, told Council members, “An increase in the property tax is misguided. I think there are other revenue streams that could be looked into.” He cited Unit 5’s desire to seek a tax increase, then added, “We all have to do belt-tightening to get by and I hope the Council will take this opportunity to vote no on this increase.”

“We need more cooperation between governing bodies within the state,” explained Ron Ulmer, a candidate for Town Council last spring, when he addressed Council members. He suggested the Town consider imposing a tax on packaged liquor before considering approving a property tax hike.

Rhonda Coyle, a 13-year Normal resident, said, “The fiscal decisions of the Council are making me question my decision” to settle in town. She cited the Town considering construction of new fire stations to replace aging facilities, and the Town pondering construction of a new library as reasons for her concern.

Coyle also took issue with the Council’s decision in the spring to pledge and contribute $500,000 to help pay for a new video scoreboard for ISU’s Hancock Stadium. The total would be paid over a five-year period per an agreement between the Town and the University, and the amount would be nearly half of the $1.2 million price tag for the upgrade.

“My water bill continues to increase,” Coyle added. “I have two kids in college. I don’t see what I pay going down. It just goes up,” she said. “We seem to want to be special and exceptional as a community until it comes to taxes. Then, we want to be like any other community.”

A total of 10 people addressed the Council, with only one man in person addressing Council members to support the tax. But he was not alone. Mayor Chris Koos asked that an email he received prior to the meeting from a resident who could not attend the hearing be read into the record as part of the discussion.

“I wanted to convey my support for the action of the Council to increase property taxes in Normal,” wrote resident Carl Teichman. “The Town needs to operate from a position of strength and this small increase will allow an already lean operation to provide needed basic services to the citizens of Normal. I do not mind paying a bit more each month to maintain the momentum from the Uptown projects.”

The public hearing was required by state statute because the amount of the total increase over last year’s levy was more than five percent.

In addition to approving the tax levy, Council members also unanimously approved ordinances authorizing abatement of 2013 property taxes for debt service. A total of nine ordinances totaling $5,466,076 in property taxes for general bond issues from 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012, and 2013 were abated. State law requires the county to levy property taxes for paying of these bonds. Communities are permitted to discard the tax if sufficient funds are available to pay off the required principal and interest.

Agreement With Economic Development Council Approved: Council members unanimously approved execution of a memorandum of understanding between the Town and the Economic Development Council to enter into an abatement incentive program which would aid economic development. EDC officials hope the agreement helps to create or retain 50 or more full time jobs in the community and increase the area’s tax base by $5 million if not more.

As of Monday’s meeting, the Town of Normal is the fourth area governing body to approve the agreement with EDC. The others were Unit 5, Bloomington School District #87, and the City of Bloomington. Normal’s approving the agreement leaves the McLean County Board as the only entity left to vote on the agreement.

Public Works Update Given: Peterson gave Council members an update on how Normal fared following the severe weather central Illinois encountered on Nov. 17. He explained the Town’s Public Works Director, Robin Weaver, and Town crews worked to get streets cleared following the storms. He said the Town had four crews on duty collecting brush after the storms, double the number usually responsible for the job.

“Hopefully, this is the last windstorm of 2013 and we’re ready for snow,” Peterson told Council members. Monday’s session was also the last one attended by Weaver, who is retiring Nov. 22. She will be succeeded by Wayne Aldrich, currently Uptown Development Director, beginning Nov. 25.

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

• Approval of minutes of regular meeting on Nov. 4, 2013.

• Approval of Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of November 13, 2013.

• A motion to approve annual street resurfacing priority list for FY 2013-14.

• A resolution authorizing an extension and rate adjustment to a contract with Towanda-based Laesch Electric, Inc. for traffic control equipment and highway lighting maintenance.

• A resolution authorizing Amendment Number One to the intergovernmental agreement with the Illinois Department of Transportation for the pedestrian overpass, south boarding platform, and improvement to the old Amtrak Station.

• A resolution waiving the formal bidding process and authorizing an agreement with Dayton, Ohio-based International Display Systems, Inc., for the installation of an upgrade to the Passenger Information Display System (PIDS) in the Uptown Station in the amount of $47,347 and approving an associated budget adjustment.

• A resolution authorizing a license agreement with Connect Transit for the implementation of a Passenger Information Display System (PIDS) in the Uptown Station.

• A resolution conditionally and partially approving a final plat within one and one-half miles of Town Corporate Limits by expedited process –Hartley Subdivision (Old Peoria Rd.).

• A resolution accepting an easement for public water main and related utilities – Trails On Sunset Lake.

• A resolution conditionally and partially approving an amended final development plan for Lot 3 in the resubdivision of Lot 3 in the Omni Sports Planned Unit Development (1531 Fort Jesse Rd.).

• An ordinance amending Chapter 18 of the Town Municipal Code (Personnel).

• An ordinance amending Section 7.20-11 of the Town Municipal Code – Altering Date of Requirement of Overhead Sewers.

• An ordinance amending Sections 11.4.3-3, 11.4.3-7, 11.4.4-1, and 11.4.4-2 of the Town Municipal Code – Adopting the 2012 International Energy Conservation Code.

By Steve Robinson | November 16, 2013 - 10:12 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, U-High, Washington HS

FootballWASHINGTON – For the second straight year, University High’s football team found itself faced with traveling to Washington to try to advance in the Illinois High School Playoffs. Last year, the two sides met to win a second round match, with the Pioneers on the receiving end of a 24-point loss. On Nov. 16, the result still wasn’t what Pioneers head coach Dusty Burk, his players or fans wanted, as the Panthers defeated the Pioneers, 41-7, in a Class 5A quarterfinal skirmish, the second half of which was played in a steady sideways rain.

Washington (12-0) jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead on a 6 yard touchdown by senior running back Casey Danley at 7:48 in the first quarter, followed by kicker Jake Miller’s extra point.

Washington Panthers footballThe teams opened the second quarter on that score but Panthers senior quarterback Colton Marshall’s 1 yd. keeper touchdown, followed by another Miller extra point, increased the Panthers’ lead 14-0.

Danley scored again on a 12-yard run, with 1:31 until halftime, followed by another Miller extra point, forcing the Pioneers to confront a 21-0 deficit going into the second half.

U-High Pioneers footballWeather would factor into the game as a driving rain began just before halftime, continuing through the second half. Washington would score again twice in the third quarter and once in the fourth quarter, going up 41-0.

The Panthers would keep U-High scoreless until the waning minutes of the contest, when Pioneers junior quarterback Arion Worthman engineered a drive which resulted in a 45-yard scoring pass to junior wide receiver Austin Welter, followed by senior kicker Luke Otto’s extra point, resulting in the final score.

By Steve Robinson | November 15, 2013 - 10:17 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

Steve RobinsonLook in your closet. You know, the one where you keep clothes that aren’t in season or keep other items not in use right this minute. Or how about in the closet in your bedroom…you know, usually shoved to either end of that closet.

I’m willing to bet you have – still – some artifact from your high school days in at least one of those two places. Am I right? If you’re a graduate of Normal Community West High School, and you have some items from your days there, and you want to free up closet space and contribute to living history at the same time, John Bierbaum would like to hear from you.

Bierbaum, a Social Studies teacher, and a candidate for Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) “Teacher Of The Year” this year, would like folks who attended Normal West and have items relating to the school to consider donating them for an archive project he began last spring in preparation for an event the school will celebrate in a couple of years – Normal West’s 20th year of existence. That will take place during the 2015-16 school year.

While that sounds like it’s quite a way away, we all know how time has a tendency to catch up with us all – especially when we aren’t minding it.

The way Bierbaum sees it, from the point of view of an historian, “Our institution is going to be 20 years old soon, and if we don’t save items from it, it won’t have a history.” To his way of thinking, the school’s historical record risks going the way of the color of the school’s first sports jerseys in the memories of those who attended the school at that time. And it’s not just jerseys but other things that slip from memory as time passes. Those jerseys may be black with white letters and numbers now, but that wasn’t always the case (anybody remember what color they were in 2002? Keep reading).

Bierbaum and his students have been collecting and cataloging items for almost the past couple of years in an attempt to piece together a physical history of the home of the Wildcats.

“As years go by, the kids at the school will define what our history is,” Bierbaum said. “But I’m a history guy. I like to know where we’re from.”

To get this task completed, Bierbaum has enlisted the help of students from his U. S. History class and the Normal West Social Studies Club to help gather, sort, and catalog items – everything you could possibly imagine from sports jerseys to photos to trophies to programs from school plays, and more – anything they can collect in hopes of giving future Wildcats a sense of where they come from and where the school has been and how far it has come.

“We just have a lot of fun going through this,” Bierbaum explained.

In the process of this exercise, Bierbaum’s students have been getting educated further in how archivists and historians collect and care for what they collect courtesy of the McLean County Museum of History, specifically from Susan Hartzold, the Museum’s curator of collections and exhibits; and Candace Summers, the Museum’s director of education.

From Hartzold and Summers, Bierbaum’s charges have learned how museums operate, as well as the process museums use to assemble exhibits. “Our kids loved it,” Bierbaum said. “We went behind the scenes. The kids learned doing this takes hard work and a passion. From that, you can build a really neat collection.”

Bierbaum said the Museum helped the school develop policies for the types of items to collect. From there, the students assign to each item certain information such as: What year it was donated; Who donated the item; And which of four separate categories the item should be added to. Those categories were: Sports (and those items were subdivided by individual sports); Events of varying kinds; Charitable causes; and Founding Documents. Probably the oldest item in the collection was a shovel used during the groundbreaking ceremony for the school.

The project also received a little monetary assistance, too. Bierbaum and the school applied for and received a $1,200 grand from Beyond The Books Foundation, plus $750 from Normal West’s Boosters group. With those funds, Bierbaum purchased PastPerfect, a computer software program tailored toward helping historians. The PastPerfect software helped the students inventory the entire memorabilia collection, tallying a few hundred items, with more still coming in, and still more items being sought.

In putting this collection together, Bierbaum said, the purpose of getting these items “is to foster school spirit and celebrate the past and our traditions, and to serve a purpose for our alumni.” Here’s hoping that by the time that celebration is upon us, Bierbaum and his charges have more and varied mementos that tell Normal West’s story so that future Wildcats can learn about and come to appreciate their history.

Finally, on another subject, despite not advancing to the semi-finals in Class 5A of the Illinois High School Association Football Playoffs, University High School, under head coach Dusty Burk, gave us all some thrills and helped extend the season for themselves and their fans as they attempted to get to State again this year. Of course, Normal Community High School, under head coach Wes Temples, and Normal Community West High School, under head coach Darrell Hess, tried to do the same thing, but, unfortunately, also, had their seasons end too quickly to suit their fans. Thanks to the teams and their coaches and their families for giving the Town something to cheer about in the postseason, and here’s to looking forward to 2014!

By Steve Robinson | November 14, 2013 - 10:54 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

Unit 5NORMAL – The season for parent-teacher conferences to evaluate student performance has arrived in Normal’s Unit 5 School District. During the public comments portion of the regular meeting of Normal-based Unit 5 School Board on Nov. 13, Board members received an evaluation of sorts themselves from members of the union that represents its bus drivers and monitors.

The assessment, according to the speakers representing Council 31 of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) concerning how the district has handled relations with drivers and service to students, ranks an overall failing grade in five key areas, speakers told Board members. Those areas are: Attendance/Recruitment; Operations; Professionalism; Safety; and Financial Responsibility.

“In December 2011, Unit 5’s initial rationale for outsourcing the entire transportation service was because of absenteeism and the inability to hire and retain transportation employees,” explained transportation employee Tom Dixon, addressing the Board. He said that, as of July 2012, the district had hired 142 drivers and 54 monitors. But, he said, by August of 2013, the district had 137 drivers and 62 monitors employed.

“These are the lowest first day numbers of employees on record for several years,” Dixon said. “It is clear that in the front of the school year, not enough drivers and monitors have been hired.

“For these reasons, in the area of attendance and recruitment, you are receiving an F,” Dixon said.

Transportation employee Annette Arnold addressed Cincinnati-based First Student Bus Co.’s issues with timely service. The district signed an agreement with First Student in December of 2011. “First Student pledges ‘time once spent on transportation related issues will be cleared, allowing district leadership to focus more time on education related issues.’ This has not been the case.” She said District Superintendent Dr. Gary Niehaus “spends the equivalent of one day every three weeks on transportation issues and meetings.” She concluded by saying, “You are still receiving an F in Operations.”

Transportation employee Charita Jeffrey said professionalism on the part of the district is also an issue, citing poor communication between drivers and First Student and district supervisors. She cited changes being made to employee time sheets without consultation of the employee as cause for concern. “Morale is low,” Jeffrey said. “There is little direction, consistency, leadership, or respect. Employees love their jobs, love the kids, but do not love dealing with the employees involved. Bad has led to worse. Many transportation employees will agree this is one of the worst years ever.”

“For these reasons,” Jeffrey said continuing the Union theme, “You are receiving an F in professionalism.”

“We understand the importance of transporting students safely and strive to do so,” explained the next speaker, Dana Coon. “First Student’s motto is, ‘If you cannot do it safely, don’t do it.’ However, First Student has not held to its own standard. There is a pattern of overcrowded buses.” Coon’s ending tagline to Board members: “For these reasons, you are receiving an F in Safety.”

Addressing financial responsibility, transportation department employee J. B. Johnson told Board members, “When Unit 5 decided to outsource the entire transportation department, the new justification was that there would be $1.5 million in cost savings. However, this is not proving to be true.” She added that the legal issues involved with the situation between the district and drivers tacks on additional expense for the district besides just paying salary and benefits.

Johnson’s closing tagline: “For these reasons, you are receiving an F in Financial Responsibilty.”

AFSCME Council 31 Representative Renee Nestler summed up the group’s presentation, telling Board members, “Once Unit 5 knew AFSCME was going to have an election, you actively worked to sink transportation in the fall of 2011. As soon as we certified, you started the plan to outsource transportation as retaliation for unionization.”

No Board members addressed any of the speakers, nor did they make comments after AFSCME-represented drivers or Nestler spoke.

But Robert Rutkowski, First Student’s Naperville-based region operations manager, countered the drivers’ claims by saying that during the 2012-13 school year, First Student took numerous steps to accommodate the district, including: Eliminating driver shortages by providing out-of-town drivers to the district at no charge; Hiring 40 new drivers and monitors; Spending $1.7 million to replace 25 aging buses; and reducing two routes at the beginning of the current school year which saved the district roughly $70,000.

Rutkowski added in a sheet distributed to media at the meeting First Student gave raises to all First Student employees for two straight years, and attempted to hold informational meetings with AFSCME members in an attempt to stave off litigation.

In January, an administrative law judge with the Illinois Labor Relations Board ruled that Unit 5 did not negotiate in good faith with its unionized drivers before opting to outsource its bus services. That Administrative Law Judge, Colleen Harvey, ordered Unit 5 to cancel its contract with First Student and again take up negotiations with its union drivers.

Unit 5 mapBoard Approves Agreement With Search Firm For Next Superintendent: Board members unanimously approved an agreement with a Highland Park, Ill.-based company to aid in the search for a successor to District Superintendent Dr. Gary Niehaus, who announced his intention to retire at the end of the current school year.

Board members unanimously approved an agreement with School Exec Connect, a company that will begin the process of seeking a new superintendent now that an agreement has been approved by the Board.

Dr. Edward L. Olds III, a consultant with School Exec Connect, told Board members the search would be a “multi-level process,” adding, “Our searches end on time and we have found that those chosen for the job have stayed on their jobs for at least three years.”

The firm, Olds said, would begin by developing a profile of the ideal candidate, using interviews with district staff and community leaders, as well as put together an on-line survey which community members may participate in in order to get further input. About that public survey, Olds told Board members, “We get a lot of responses, which give us an idea what the community is looking for.” He said the firm also advertises the job opening with both the National Association of School Administrators, as well as that group’s Illinois counterpart, the Illinois Association of School Administrators..

Olds said after screening a number of applicants, School Exec Connect narrows the field to between 15-20 candidates, from which between 5-7 candidates would be selected to be interviewed by Board members. As a result of that part of the process, Olds told Board members he would anticipate a new superintendent would be in place by late February or early March.

Although he received an extension through the end of the 2014-15 school year from the Board, Niehaus announced that with the Board approving the process to begin a search for a new superintendent, he intended to submit paperwork making his retirement effective at the end of the current school year.

Board Votes To Accept 2012-13 Financial Report: At the Board’s first meeting in October, members heard the final report concerning the district’s annual financial report for school year 2012-13 from a member of the audit team responsible for the report. At this meeting, Board members voted to accept the report.

Tentative Tax Levy Information Presented: Board members also heard information concerning the proposed tax levy for next year, which included the fact that, because the levy is less than five percent greater than the prior extension of the levy, no public hearing will be required.

District staff is requesting a 2.8 percent increase in the tax levy extended for property tax year 2013, Niehaus explained in a memo to Board members. “This value is based on an estimated growth in total property value base of 1% and a total, non-debt, extension request of $82,452,410,” Niehaus explained in his memo. The district has until Dec. 31 to file the tax levy request with the County Clerk’s Office.

10-Year Health/Life Safety Update Presented: Board members were presented with a report on the district’s proposed work needing completion as part of its 10-year Health/Life Safety work project schedule. On average, Unit 5 is looking to spend roughly $1.3 million annually on Health/Life Safety items over the next decade. Joe Adelman, Unit 5’s director of operations, told Board members, “Sometimes, what is on the schedule changes due to immediate needs.”

“We have plenty on our plate to do,” Niehaus said. “We are working aggressively to be able to get these projects done.”

Board Member Mike Trask added, “The list of projects on this update goes through 2024, but let’s understand that’s not where it stops. We’ll continue to go year-by-year regarding projects.”

“It’s an on-going item when you have as large an infrastructure as we have,” added Board President John Puzauskas.

Ferguson To Resign From Board: Todd Ferguson, elected to the Board last spring, announced to Board members that due to a job transfer which would take him out-of-state, he would be resigning from the Board, a move he anticipates having to make by March. “I have truly, truly, truly valued this experience,” Ferguson told Board members. “I would encourage people wanting to become involved with this community to get involved” by pursuing doing so with the school board, Ferguson said.

Puzauskas told Ferguson Board members see his new job opportunity as cause for celebration, as well as “an opportunity for your family. With that said, we will miss you.” Puzauskas added that Board policy for such circumstances dictates that once Ferguson’s resignation is accepted by the Board, the Board will look into seeking a successor.

Parkside Junior High’s “Good News”: Board members were introduced to Parkside Junior High School’s Boys Cross Country Team. They are the lllinois Elementary School Association Class 3A State Cross Country Champions for 2013. PJHS hosted the State Cross Country Meet, which took place on Saturday, October 19.

PJHS finished the state meet 43 points ahead of second place finisher Batavia Rotolo Junior High School. PJHS’ Cross Country runners finished in 8th, 10th, 12th, 46th, 67th, 100th, and 163rd respectively out of a total of 206 runners in the Class 3A meet. The following Parkside boys finished in the top 25 and received individual medals: Tyler Dunn (8th place), Tanner Gillam (10th place), and Collin McQueen (12th place). This is the second year PJHS’ Boys Cross Country Team has captured the state title.

The State Boys Cross Country Team at Parkside Junior High School is coached by Scott Peterson and Doug Gillam and is made up of the following student athletes: Dunn; Gillam; McQueen; Zane Losk; Xavier Higgins; Thomas Lipka; Robbie Henson; Josh Lewis; Landon Powell; and Spencer Alsop. PJHS Principal Dan Lamboley introduced the team members to Board members, and each member shook hands with Niehaus and Puzauskas following the presentation.

Cedar Ridge Elementary’s “Good News”: Board members were introduced to Cedar Ridge Elementary School teacher Lyndra Webb, by her supervisor, Principal Karrah Jensen. Jensen informed Board members that last year, Webb was awarded a Beyond the Books Foundation grant to provide all of the students at Cedar Ridge Elementary an opportunity to experience the arts through a trip to the Nutcracker ballet. Webb enhanced her grant with another opportunity which was titled “Day of Dance.” For “Day Of Dance,” Webb organized the entire school around one common theme of learning.

As an example of this, in Cedar Ridge Physical Education classes, teachers Amanda Zehr and Jeff Wolter taught a unit on dance, with the assistance of instructor Marielena Gozur. In music, teacher Michelle Hardwick taught a unit on the Nutcracker Suite. In the library, IMC Specialist Patricia Ziebart read and helped students to compare two versions of the Nutcracker story before attending the ballet.

On Monday, October 28, Marielena Gozur was joined by several members of the Twin Cities Ballet Company who were decked out in full costume. The students were introduced to the Nutcracker storyline and to several characters from the Nutcracker who performed excerpts from their dances. Students also had the opportunity to try a several basic ballet steps after viewing each character’s dance. In the afternoon, Gozur had students pretend to be different characters and dance a few of the steps of those characters.

But Webb was not the only Cedar Ridge Elementary staffer honored with a “good news” offering at this meeting. Jensen also introduced Board members to Anne Bare. Bare had applied for a “Classroom of the Month” award through the Bloomington Pantagraph and was awarded $500 to enhance the school’s learning garden. Jensen explained Bare has put numerous hours and effort into the school’s learning garden. Jensen explained Cedar Ridge students enjoy their time in the garden which grows everything from hot peppers to lettuce. She said some students use the garden as a place to socialize, occasionally bringing a vegetable or two into the school. She added the time spent weeding, watering and harvesting has made for a bountiful garden, and the vegetables grown there are donated to local organizations or go directly into the mouths of Cedar Ridge’s students.

Jensen said Bare plans on using the funds from the Classroom of the Month” honor to buy additional seating so an entire class of students could be at the garden for lunch, independent reading or a garden lesson.

District’s “Good News”: Niehaus informed the gathering that Friday, Nov. 15 is Illinois School Board Members Day,” an annual date set aside to honor those persons giving of their time and talents to serve on local school boards. As part of recognizing this, each member of the school board was recognized for continuing their individual efforts by participating in a “Leadership Academy” training program, through Illinois Association of School Boards. According to IASB’s website, among the goals of “Leadership Academy” are “to promote and recognize board members’ efforts toward continuous learning and professional development. As board members work their way through the School Board LeaderShop curriculum, they earn and maintain membership in the Academy.”

All seven Board members are at varying stages of their training. Ferguson was recognized for his participating in academy in what was his first year. Trask was recognized for completing Level I of his Academy training. Wendy Maulson was recognized for attending IASB Leadership Academy, Levels I and II. Gail Ann Briggs, Mark Pritchett, Meta Mickens-Baker, and Puzauskas were all recognized for their being honored by IASB for achieving Master Board Member status, a designation Pritchett and Puzauskas are experiencing for the first time. Briggs has had the designation for 21 years, while Mickens-Baker has had it for three years.

Next Board Meeting Dec. 11: Because of the Thanksgiving holiday, there will be no second Board meeting in November. The Board’s next meeting will be on Wednesday, Dec. 11, at district headquarters, 1809 W. Hovey Ave., beginning at 7p.m.