By Steve Robinson | December 11, 2014 - 10:44 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

Unit 5NORMAL – Governor Pat Quinn announced Dec. 10 that Illinois has won an $80 million federal investment in early childhood education. Illinois will receive $20 million annually for four years through the Preschool Development Grants competition, which is part of President Obama’s call in 2013 to expand access to high-quality preschool to every child in America. Thirty-six states competed for a total of $250 million annually over four years to provide children from low-income households with access to early childhood education. The announcement is part of Governor Quinn’s Birth to Five Initiative, which expands access to early learning opportunities.

Administrators and School Board members for Normal-based Unit 5 School District learned the district would receive a share of that grant money. The federal program is designed to increase access to education for four-year-old children from families below 200 percent of the poverty level (approximately $47,700 annually for a family of four). School districts and communities partnered with states were invited to apply.

Illinois selected its partners, including Unit 5, using a number of criteria including: number of children with very high educational needs; lack of existing publicly-funded programs for preschoolers; capacity to link these new programs to a continuum of early education services; partnerships between community-based organizations and school districts; and readiness to open new classrooms by August 2015.

Illinois received the maximum $80 million award for the Expansion Grant to be distributed over four years. The Expansion Grants are designed for states with larger state-funded preschool programs or states that have received a Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge grant. Terms of the award allow a maximum of $20 million per year to be distributed to help build, develop and expand high-quality preschool programs for low to moderate-income families.

In the first year alone, these Preschool Development Grant awards will serve more than 33,000 additional children in high-quality preschool programs across the nation.

Pepper Ridge Elementary’s Quartet Of “Good News” Items: Sarah Edwards, principal at Pepper Ridge Elementary School, presented Unit 5 Board members with a quartet of “good news” items during the Board’s Dec. 10 meeting held at Kingsley Junior High School. Her first item centered around the school’s Garden Club. Teacher Jennifer has worked for the past two years to make the garden a success. Corbly began the school’s Garden Club last year and students have come out “in full force,” Edwards explained to help with it. There are close to 90 students in the club, which meets in the fall and the spring after school. Edwards explained to Board members students in the club till, plant, weed, water, and harvest the garden under Corbly’s supervision.

Corbly has also worked with fellow Pepper Ridge teacher Kimberly Page to use some of fruits and vegetables harvested in the school’s monthly food deliveries to the school’s student families in need through the Promise Council.

Recently, Corbly, along with fellow Pepper Ridge teacher Donna Leamer, applied for a grant to increase the opportunities of the Garden Club. Corbly and Leamer wrote and submitted the grant, and recently were notified they were awarded $1,000 for the Garden Club.

Pepper Ridge Elementary’s nurse, Jane Tucker, was the next person Edwards honored before Board members. Tucker has been the nurse at Pepper Ridge for the past seven years. Edwards praised Tucker for her diligence in checking all student medical records, making sure they are in compliance with immunizations and physicals. She also keeps staff informed about student allergies and illnesses that could impact their health. She attends meetings about particular students to provide leadership and information.

Edwards explained Tucker works closely with the school’s families to provide assistance and information when necessary. She calls parents to check on students when they have been ill or in an accident, and keeps parents informed about accidents that happen at school.

Edwards added Tucker offers support when parents need tools to keep their children happy and healthy. Some of these include assistance with doctor’s appointments, hygiene items, and glasses.

Edwards explained Tucker takes on leadership roles in at Pepper Ridge and at the district level, in part by serving as the school’s wellness coordinator. Tucker also sits on the district’s Wellness Committee.

In addition, she serves as a mentor for young nurses through the America’s Promise School Project at Illinois State University. As part of this project, student nurses come to Pepper Ridge each semester and work under Tucker’s supervision to learn about the job of a school nurse.

Edwards also introduced Board members to Jennifer Ficek, a fourth grade teacher at Pepper Ridge Elementary, and has been a part of the school since the first year it opened. Edwards explained Ficek has worked to educate herself on the workshop model in the areas of reading, writing, and math over the past five years. Doing so has often included hosting visiting educators from Unit 5 and throughout the state.

Edwards explained Ficek differentiates her instruction to each child’s individual level and need, working closely with families to inform and educate them about ways their students can strengthen their skills and improve their achievement. Edwards explained Ficek steps up daily to provide leadership, which has included voluntarily assisting with afternoon bus duty, a task teachers at Pepper Ridge are responsible for twice a week. But Ficek assists with this duty five days a week, Edwards informed.

Ficek is also a member of the building CORE team, School Culture Committee, and leads the Social Committee. She was instrumental in planning the 20-year celebration at Pepper Ridge last year. Edwards added Ficek extends her leadership to the district level in many ways, as well, serving as the fourth grade teacher leader and often presents to her grade level on institute days.Ficek has served on numerous committees and task forces over the years. She has worked closely with Moe Backe to develop reading and writing curriculum. She also worked with Jennifer Gill on the math task force.

Edwards concluded her presentation by introducing Kim Miller, a special education teacher at Pepper Ridge Elementary who works with students in our specialized services program. Edwards reports Miller works to develop relationships with students and families in an effort to enhance their educational experience. “If you were to visit Kim’s room on any day, at any time, you would see her deeply engaged with her students,” Edwards reported. “Kim might be working at a center with a few students, sitting on the carpet for a whole group lesson, escorting students to general education for inclusion, assisting a student with a sensory break, providing a treat to a student’s service dog for good behavior and support, or just spending a few moments talking with a student to help improve their day.”

Edwards explained Miller not only works with students at school, but she also works with families, making parents feel comfortable with their child’s educational plan. During meetings with parents, Miller always brings pictures of the child to make the reports on a child’s progress meaningful.

This year the school’s specialized services program expanded from two classrooms to three, Edwards reported. Two new teachers joined the team as a result.

Unit 5 mapPrairieland Elementary’s “Good News”: Carmen Bergmann, principal at Prairieland Elementary School, updated Board members on an event that took place for that school’s students on October 25, known as “Make a Difference Day.” Bergmann relayed the Prairieland community pulled together to do much needed work on landscaping and grounds at the school.

The work began in September when the Pomis Family and the Pack 19 Boy Scouts spent two days working in our butterfly garden to cut back weeds and overgrowth. Next, Bergmann explained, Lynn Dillon, one of the Prairieland administrative assistants, placed Prairieland on the “Make a Difference” website. Working with Jodi Pomis, Dillon set a plan in motion for the work and arrange for the necessary materials to create low maintenance landscaping. On October 24, Jeremy Cruthis, general manager of the Chateau Hotel and Conference Center and a Prairieland parent, spent the entire day at Prairieland with some of his workers, tilling the ground and laying down weed barriers in the amphitheater and around the trees in the front of the building.

Later that day, McLean County Asphalt delivered a truck full of river rock that they sold to the school at their cost. The school’s parent organization helped pay for the rock.

By October 25, the Prairieland grounds were filled with parents, students, and staff members who shoveled rock, pulled weeds, and cleared overgrowth from medians for four hours! It was an unbelievable sight and a true testament to the strong commitment that Prairieland families have for the school.

The volunteers who signed in on October 25 for the” Make a Difference Day” were: Chandra Kammari and friends; the Jenkins family; the Pomis family; the Behrends family; the Nord family; the Fitzgerald family; the Meilinger family; the Pabst family; Bradyn and Michelle Whitehead; Mallory, Beth and Will Witzemann; the Nafzinger family; Cole and Lynn Dillon; Brett Kirkwood; Stephanie and Molly Mook; the Kaeb family; the Rucker family; the Johnson family; and Dana and Peyton Brown.

Cedar Ridge Elementary’s “Good News”: Cedar Ridge Elementary School Principal Karrah Jensen also presented Board members with a “Good News” report concerning the work done by all the volunteers in her school who participated in the annual “Make A Difference Day.” For the past four years, volunteers at Cedar Ridge Elementary who have been involved with this program have shown the true meaning of giving, reported Jensen. This year, she detailed, the program helped has helped 35 families and over 96 children.

District’s “Good News”: The “Those Who Excel” Awards Program, presented by Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) annually recognizes and honors people and groups who have made outstanding contributions to public and nonpublic elementary and secondary education. Unit 5 was honored to have seven award winners in this annual statewide program.

This year’s Unit 5 Those Who Excel winners were:

Classroom Teacher –MaryLynn Meredith, Prairieland Elementary and Towanda Elementary; Award of Excellence School Administrator –Sarah Edwards, Pepper Ridge Elementary; Award of Excellence Educational Service Personnel (non-certificated) – Dayna Brown, Unit Office; Award of Excellence Student Support Personnel (certificated) – Rosann Emerson, Normal Community West High School; Award of Excellence School Board Member/Community Volunteer – Shad Wagehoft, George L. Evans Junior High School; Award of Excellence/Early Career Educator – Heather Rogers, Cedar Ridge Elementary; Award of Merit (Team) – Instructional Technology Coaches.

In addition, MaryLynn Meredith, received Special congratulations for having been a finalist for Illinois State Board of Education’s “Teacher Of The Year” award, an honor given annually by ISBE.