By Steve Robinson | February 18, 2016 - 10:21 pm
Posted in Category: Normal West HS, The Normalite

Steve RobinsonOn the eve of the Illinois High School Association State Girls’ Basketball Tournament at Redbird Arena this weekend, this story seems appropriate. That’s probably because we have seen Angie Codron on the sidelines numerous times over the years as her Normal Community West High School teams fought to have winning seasons and get a shot at going to State.

Over her eight years at West, which concluded at the end of the 2014-15 season, Codron amassed a .608 winning percentage. She provided the drive to help her girls make that percentage of wins a reality. In total, Codron spent 15 years on the sidelines coaching.

But prior to one of the West-Normal Community High School girls’ game in January, something seemed out of place to me: Before the big game, Codron was with her two boys buying snacks. She then went from the concessions to the stands behind the Wildcats bench.

That’s because Codron is now a former coach, shifting her priorities. She is still helping kids, to be certain as you’re about to find out, but now she is doing it through a business venture. In January 2015, while still coaching at Normal West, Codron and her husband, Jamie, a physical education teacher at Bloomington High School, bought All American Driver’s Training in Normal.

Codron said she sees many of her students from her day job as a chemistry teacher at Normal West come through the driving school. That’s partly because Unit 5’s two high schools are cutting back on Driver’s Ed. classes, making it a necessity for students to seek outside instruction for the needed training. The schools now only have one or two sections of Driver’s Ed., Codron said. Students go to the driving school for either the written or the physical driving portion, or both depending on their needs.

Codron said she sees parallels between her sport and teaching driving to students: “The skills they learn are kind of the same thing,” she said. Codron said she misses the hands-on of coaching girls’ basketball but is quick to remind, “Driver’s Ed. is still a lot of coaching. And you’re helping people with a life skill. In coaching basketball, it was teaching them about discipline.” By teaching Driver’s Ed., it was teaching students things that would stay with them during a life outside of playing sports, she reasoned.

She said that with education and teaching being the primary vocations for both her and her husband, they had no surprises about how much of that skill translates to their new venture.

Schools needing to rely on outside businesses for this service became a reality as Unit 5’s Board of Education members approved a measure in November which will alter when students would be allowed to take Driver’s Ed., explained Laura O’Donnell, director of secondary education for the district.

Under the change established by the district and which will take effect beginning in the 2016-17 school year, O’Donnell explained, students can enroll in Driver’s Ed. during the semester after they turn 15. Previously, they could enroll during the quarter of the year when they became 15.

“We are pushing the registration eligibility date for entering Driver’s Ed. back so that students don’t get to start that class until the semester after they turn 15,” O’Donnell said. She said the costs involved with the district’s Driver’s Ed. program factored into the Board’s decision.

A State statute says Unit 5 has one year to get students behind the wheel instruction, O’Donnell explained. Unit 5 figures students will go to the driving schools in the area for either testing or behind the wheel and thus either start or finish sooner in completing their required training.

O’Donnell said the costs involved with Driver’s Ed. (vehicles, gas, insurance, staff) has ranged between $60,000-$120,000 annually, also prompting the change. She added physical education teachers at the high schools, normally placed with the responsibility of teaching Driver’s Ed., would simply pick up more P. E. classes to teach when the number of Driver’s Ed. sections at schools drops.

O’Donnell said the district will be looking to increase its fee for Driver’s Ed. classes from the current $250. She said driving schools charge around $450. A discussion of how much of an increase is going to be considered will take place during a June School Board meeting.

The district needs to apply for a waiver to the State for it to increase its fees for Driver’s Ed., O’Donnell said. She said many districts statewide are considering such an increase. She added that until the waiver is granted, how much Unit 5 will increase the fee can’t be discussed.

But as we prepare to see young men and women drive to the basket over the next four weeks at State Tournaments, we need to keep in mind they will, soon enough, be driving to the store, to see friends, and to work, too. That last drive will, hopefully thanks to the instruction they receive, be a smooth ride.

By Steve Robinson | February 15, 2016 - 10:01 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

Town of NormalOver the years, the relationship between the students attending Illinois State University and the Town of Normal has needed to evolve from outright adversarial to finding common ground to working together. It has been a long process over the years which currently is enjoying the benefits of each of the two parties understanding the concerns and needs of the other.

As part of that relationship, students have been invited for their classes to attend Normal Town Council meetings, held in Council Chambers. A small group of students, obviously curious, have shown from time to time.

But Normal Town Council had never held a meeting on University property in all those years. That is until Monday night, when Town officials held their very first Council meeting in the Old Main Room at the Bone Student Center on campus. The session lasted slightly over an hour and began with a special session of the Normal Local Liquor Commission followed by the regular Council session.

Ryan Powers, president of ISU’s Student Government Association (SGA), and Marcus Thornton, SGA’s secretary for government relations, welcomed Council members to campus as the meeting began. Following the session, both Powers and Thornton said the opportunity for Town Council to hold a meeting on campus was overdue. “We wanted the Council to come on campus and meet the students they represent,” Powers said afterward.

SGA did promote the meeting to students for a couple weeks hoping for a large turnout, setting up for a gathering of 150 anticipated to be in the audience. In reality, 35 people total came to the meeting, roughly one-third of them ISU students.

Such a meeting “was overdue,” Powers said. “We invited the Council to come on campus to meet some of the students they represent.”

“It was great,” Mayor Chris Koos said afterward. He said the Town and SGA have been working on putting the session together for the last couple of years. He said scheduling a date for the session to take place on campus was the biggest hurdle to getting it finalized.

Two Bond Ordinances Approved: In the first of two bond-related ordinances, Council members unanimously approved an ordinance providing for issuing an amount not to exceed $10 million in General Obligation Refunding Bonds to refund the Town’s 2006 fixed rate bonds. The Town has several bond issues outstanding and those bonds were issued in April 2006 for $10 million at a rate fixed at 4.36 percent. The action was taken now because bond market has changed to where those bonds now have a fixed rate of 3 percent, saving the Town slightly over $1 million in interest costs.

Council members also approved issuing $10 million in General Obligation Bonds to help the Town pay for a couple of redevelopment and construction projects in its future. The $10 million will help cover the cost of construction for a new fire station to be located on University St. scheduled to open in September 2017. Request for bids will be sent out by the Town next month. The Town estimates the new fire station, which will also serve NFD’s headquarters station, will cost $4 million to build.

In addition to the fire station, $2.8 million will be used to finalize the Town’s contribution to Phase two of the One Uptown Circle redevelopment project.

Feasibility Study Gets Formal OK: Council members unanimously approved a resolution to provide for a feasibility study on the designation to give as a redevelopment area the land where Mitsubishi Motors of North America’s building currently stands. The company stopped production in December and will stop making parts in March.

A proposed resolution, known as an inducement resolution, would give Town Staff approval to begin a feasibility study on designating a Tax Increment Funding redevelopment of the area currently where MMNA now stands. Approving the resolution does not guarantee that a TIF will be established. But if one is approved, it will allow the Town to recoup all costs associated with researching and creating it, according to a memo provided to Council members by Peterson.

Rezoning For Area Near Raab Rd. Approved: Council members unanimously approved an ordinance rezoning roughly slightly over six acres of land near Parkside Rd. and Raab Rd. in Normal be rezoned as Medium Density Multiple Family in anticipation of an apartment complex to be built in the area.

Council Member Kathleen Lorenz raised a concern about the potential for increased traffic in the area related to Normal Community West High School, and the potential for new businesses to be established in the area.

City Manager Mark Peterson concurred, saying depending on the type of business established in the area, the Town will have to do some additional studying on the matter.

Town To Purchase Two Properties With One Owner: Council members unanimously approved a resolution granting Peterson authority to execute a contract to purchase a parcel of land located behind the parking lot located at 105 W. College Ave and a smaller plot of land at 112 North St. The seller is willing to sell to the Town but has required both pieces of property be sold together.

The Town has the right of first refusal on such land dealings and began negotiations with the seller when a potential buyer, became interested in purchasing the building at 112 North St. Under the contract between the seller and that potential buyer, the potential buyer has proposed purchasing both properties then turn over the parking lot parcel to the Town for the same price and terms discussed with the original owner. As part of the deal, the Town will pay expenses related to closing costs.

Site Plan For Underwood Park Approved:
Council members approved a site plan for Underwood Park, land located with addresses of 200 Jersey Ave. and 900 S. Linden St. Currently, the park is zoned Public Lands and Institutions and has never had a site plan before. The Normal Planning Commission held a hearing on the matter on Feb. 4 and unanimously approved sending the matter to the Council.

Liquor Commission Approves License For Flat Top Grill: Council members, serving as the Normal Local Liquor Commission, unanimously approved a liquor license for DK Flat Top LLC doing business as Flat Top Grill, 307 Veterans Parkway. A corporate change necessitated the application needing to be applied for.

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

• Approval of minutes of regular meeting held Feb. 1, 2016.

• Approval of Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of Feb. 10, 2016.

• A motion to initiate a zoning text amendment to expand special uses for historic landmark properties.

• A motion to initiate a zoning map amendment to amend the parking impact zone boundaries.

• A resolution waiving the formal bidding process and accepting a quote in the amount of $51,270 from William Masters, Inc. for the purchase and installation of an automated access control system for the Normal Water Department and approving an associated budget adjustment.

• A resolution waiving the formal bidding process and authorizing the purchase of refuse containers from Schaefer Systems International, Inc. in the amount of $25,212.45 and approving an associated budget adjustment.

• A resolution authorizing an agreement for construction materials testing services for the 2016 construction season with Ramsey Geotechnical Engineering LLC (RGE).

• A resolution approving an agreement with CivicPlus for website redesign services associated wth and various sub-sites and approval of a budget adjustment to move the appropriated funds from the FY 2016-17 budget to the current year budget.

• A resolution waiving the formal bidding requirements and authorizing Town Staff to execute a contract with Rowe Construction, a division of United Contractors Midwest, Inc., for a storm sewer crossing of the Union Pacific Railroad at College Ave. and Oak St. in the amount of $135,198.44 and approval of an associated budget adjustment.

• A resolution waiving the formal bidding process and authorizing Town Staff to execute a contract with Rowe Construction, a division of United Contractors Midwest, Inc, for a new storm sewer crossing of the Union Pacific Railroad at Broadway St. in the amount of $151,731.31 and approval of an associated budget adjustment.

• An ordinance amending parking restrictions on North School St. and North Normal Ave.

By Steve Robinson | February 11, 2016 - 10:17 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

Unit 5NORMAL – Normal-based Unit 5 School District Board members approved a measure to issue $21 million in bonds to be used for school repairs and upkeep. The money will be spent primarily in the areas of fire prevention, safety, energy conservation, and school security, The action became necessary as a result of Unit 5 being denied $17.5 million in state bond money for 36 months worth of projects district officials say must be addressed. Unit 5 Business Manager Marty Hickman informed Board members about the application to Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) at a regular meeting last month. ISBE notified Unit 5 their application for $21 million to get projects completed was denied Feb. 5. Roughly 29 districts in the state received the grant dollars.

The continuing budget standoff in Springfield between Gov. Bruce Rauner and the State House has meant “dire straits” for many districts in Illinois, explained Dr. Mark Daniel, District Superintendent. We are being put in the position of making difficult decisions. “We need parents to tell Springfield secondary education must be fully funded,” he added.

High School Later Start Times Discussed: Another subject brought up at the meeting was the potential for a change to a later hour for start times at Unit 5’s two high schools, making them later than the current 6:20a.m. first bell. The Board is set to discuss this at their next meeting which will be held on Wednesday, Feb. 24 at Parkside Junior High School. Daniel said proposals for start time changes will be presented at that meeting. The meeting is set to begin at 7p.m.

District officials are looking to make a decision on any changes to start times by their March 9 meeting, the only meeting they will have that month because of scheduled spring break for the district. The March 9 meeting will be held at Normal Community West High School, beginning at 7p.m.

Unit 5 map2016-17 School Year Calendar Approved: Bruce Weldy, Human Resources Coordinator for the district, presented Board members with the final draft of the district’s 2016-17 calendar. The Board unanimously approved the calendar for use in the coming school year. The first full day of school will be Wednesday, Aug. 17. The last day of school is June 1, 2017. There will be 185 days of school with five weather emergency days built in.

Normal Community West High School will celebrate homecoming first this year, on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1. Normal Community High will celebrate homecoming Oct. 21 and 22.

A key change from last year has to do with parent-teacher conferences. This year, they will be held in the late afternoon-early evening, as opposed to strictly in the evenings. Weldy told Board members it was a change the committee that put the calendar together wanted to experiment with for one year.

Oakdale Elementary’s “Good News”: Darrin Cooper, Principal at Oakdale Elementary School, introduced Board members to Kelly Gallick, a physical education teacher at the school, publicly commending her for her efforts that allowed her to receive monies that would allow her to purchase equipment for the school’s students.

To try to earn the first grant, Gallick submitted an application for a Donors Choose Grant entitled “The Need to Succeed.” In her application, she included items such as custom locks for puzzles, posters to display, incorporate math concepts, and added a 3D Doodler to visualize ideas to show the need for P.E. equipment the school was seeking. With help from various donors and State Farm, the approximately $850 needed for the project became available within a 12-day period.

Gallick was also chosen as the recipient of a $1,000 “One Class at a Time” grant presented to her by CEFCU Credit Union and Peoria’s WHOI-TV. Gallick was nominated for this second grant by a fellow Unit 5 teacher, and plans to use the money to purchase pedometers or fitness trackers for students.

By Steve Robinson | February 7, 2016 - 10:13 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, U-High

Steve RobinsonA simple observation from my first experience with Competitive Cheerleading: The hopes of the kids who compete in this event are as high-flying as some of the maneuvers they perform. It is also filled with drama for both participants and fans just as any other sport would be.

Odds are if you knew nothing about Competitive Cheerleading before attending such an event, those are the things you might assume to be true. After having been to my first State Competitive Cheerleading competition, I came away impressed.

On Feb. 5, Normal’s three intercity schools – Normal Community High School, Normal Community West High School, and University High School – were in contention. By the next day, and contrary to the local daily paper’s reporting I had one parent point out to me, only U-High was left standing to be one of 10 teams to try to finish in one of the sport’s three top State Finalist positions. The event was held at U. S. Cellular Coliseum, and many of U-High’s opponents were bigger schools from the Chicago area.

Head coach Drew Miller’s crew could be seen doing warm-ups prior to the final competition Saturday. As they stretched and went over their moves, all 23 members looked determined, focused, and ready for what was going to be their last performance of the season.

U-High finished seventh last year, and as they entered the preliminaries this year, they were ranked fourth, as was my understanding after talking to Calen Rowe, mother of team member Lexie Rowe, a sophomore. “Every year, they have climbed up and up in the rankings,” Calen Rowe explained, As a result, Calen Rowe explained, there was a “good chance” the Pioneers could finish the day in third place. Finishing in third would have U-High celebrating winning a state trophy.

What’s more, U-High Principal Andrea Markert noted, the Pioneers would be the 10th and last school to perform in the final round before the contest judges deliberated on final placement – adding her own wishful thinking in hopes such placement would help the Pioneers’ performance to stick in the judges’ minds.

The members of the team are: Lexie Rowe; Anna Rodriguez; Olivia Cramer; Taylor McCormick; Karizma Im; Zach Frey; Olivia Morkin; Bri Lehr; Breezy Smith; Aubrie Smith; Janelle McDowell; Maddie Thompson; Sami Spain; Beau Hendren-Santiago; Haley Torrez; Anne Rich; Micayla Mathieson; Ellie Paul; Kevin Covarrubias; Skylar Bunton; Noah Walker; Jordan Carr; and Caleb Evans.

Calen Rowe said this group of kids spend “75 percent of their time together.” That would include when their season is not part of calendars, too, she said.

The big takeaway Calen Rowe wanted to leave readers with was that, for a school of its size (620 students), its Cheerleading team manages to maintain “a good grade point average” even with classes and activities they are all involved in, especially when you consider, U-High competes with bigger-sized schools from outside the area.

“This team has worked so hard for their moment,” Markert said. “And to be a school of 600 people and to be in competition with schools that have 2,000 or 3,000 is a real honor. It shows our athletes’ dedication and hard work.”

Like the nine other finalist schools, U-High’s squad performed a routine that would last no longer than two minutes and 45 seconds. But how they finished against schools like Hoffman Estates-based Conant High School and Homewood Flossmoor was going to be the real prize.

But hope and enthusiasm gave way to disappointment this time around, unfortunately, as U-High was judged to have come in 10th. Buffalo Grove took first place, with Belvidere North placing second, and Niles North finishing third.

“Our kids did a good job and we still have a lot to be proud of,” Miller said of his team afterward. “We’re a top 10 team in the State. It’s still quite good because they’re being recognized as student athletes for their hard work, for persevering, and for what they’ve done for the whole year.”

What Miller said is something we older folks know from experience. Having gone through this competition will give the kids that experience in preparation for next year, and in the case of the seniors on the team, their next big opportunities. Regardless of what is next for these kids, they will learn to persevere.

Relay For LifeFor Alexys Ogorek, becoming involved with the Annual Teen Relay For Life event was a simple matter for her: The Normal Community High School senior admits, “I’ve been one of the lucky ones who hasn’t had a family member affected by cancer, but I was looking for a way to get involved at the school and looking for a great cause” to work for and donate time.

That looking for a cause to become involved in first began two years ago when the Teen Relay For Life event was seeking new blood because the chair it had at the time, Adam Woodside, had graduated, Ogorek said. She added that Nikki Maurer, NCHS’ Associate Principal, introduced her to the Teen event through an announcement made over the school’s public address system.

From that point on, Ogorek said, she had found her cause. She will serve as event co-chair for a second straight year in 2016 when the event is held from 6p.m.-6a.m. on Friday, April 29 and Saturday, April 30. Ogorek said she and the organizers of the Relay want to see as many teens join in as possible. Currently, Normal-based Unit 5 School District’s two high schools, NCHS and Normal Community West High School, are joined by University High School and Bloomington High School for this year’s event. There is even one Unit 5 junior high school that has a team coming this year for a second time, Kingsley Junior High School.

This year, although the dates and hours for this event are set, the weather will determine the exact location for the event, Ogorek said. If there is no threat of bad weather, the event will be held outdoors around Wildcat Field at Normal Community West High School. But should the threat of bad weather be in the forecast, the event will be moved indoors and held at Bloomington High School. Ogorek said organizers will give participants 72 hours’ notice if there is such a change.

Last year, although only 100 kids showed up due to a threat of bad weather, Ogorek said the event raised $17,000. Ogorek wasn’t the only one who found her cause when Relay For Life became a possibility for serving others. As a seventh grader last year, Jolie Pressburger, daughter of Mark and Donnelle Pressburger, was also seeking a project for her Bat Mitzvah.

The website explains a Bat Mitzvah as when girl reaches 12-years-old she becomes recognized by Jewish tradition as having the same rights as an adult. The temple Pressburger attends, Moses Montifiori in Bloomington, requires students to do some kind of community service project as part of it. Boys must also do this for Bar Mitzvah at Moses Montifiori.

“I wanted to choose a project that spoke to me or that I could relate to,” Pressburger said about her organization she would donate her time to. “I chose Relay For Life because I had an aunt and a grandmother who both passed away from cancer.” In December 2014, Jolie’s aunt, Melissa McClure, went into hospice care as her time grew short. After McClure passed away, Pressburger and her Rabbi at that time, Lynn Goldstein, talked and Pressburger came to the decision to choose Teen Relay For Life for her project.

“I think my mom and dad were both happy with what I chose for my project,” Pressburger said. In the process of managing the team, she said she learned about such things as time management, what with getting both her regular studies and Bat Mitzvah studies in, and serving as captain of her team and the duties that has with it. Her Relay team, Jolie’s Joggers, raised $2,300 at their first try at Relay, something the now eighth grader is very proud of and ready to continue for this year’s Relay.

All the work that kids like Ogorek and Pressburger do does not go unnoticed by the American Cancer Society office in Peoria, which oversees all Relay For Life events in central Illinois. “I am humbled to have the opportunity to support these young volunteers who care so deeply about the fight against cancer,” explained Kimberly Wright, community manager for American Cancer Society’s Peoria office, in an email to me. ”They all know someone who has been effected by cancer, and it is just too close for comfort. The leadership of these young students in our community is astounding. They have taken this opportunity to make a difference locally, nationally, globally, and have shown great compassion, perseverance and hard work. I am so proud to live and work in a community with such inspiring young people.”

Wright added she believed “the future of our community is in great hands” as a result of such efforts. It’s hard to argue with what these kids are doing or with Wright’s comment. I have the Teen Relay For Life event on my calendar and will bring you an update after it has concluded. Like the kids and Wright, I’m looking forward to it.