By Steve Robinson | August 29, 2017 - 10:40 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

Steve RobinsonPrior to their Aug. 23 meeting at Normal Community West High School, members of Normal-based Unit 5 School Board and District Superintendent Dr. Mark Daniel were given a chance to have a classroom experience not many students, teachers, or administrators have an opportunity to encounter regularly. They sat in Room 223 and got a first-hand opportunity to experience being in a virtual classroom.

In this room, there are two large viewing screens which 30 students face and a large one located behind them which a teacher can use to continue conducting a session without having to look over their shoulder.

The room was set up by Normal-based zdi, an audio-visual company. The equipment needed in the room is set up for a two-way hook-up so that someone off Normal West premises and class members can interact. All that takes is a computer with a microphone and an iPhone. Cameras mounted on the room’s walls follow the room so that they can instantly pick up on a student or teacher speaking. A camera in the back of the room is trained on the instructor.

The demonstration Daniel and Board members sat in on involved interacting with Aaron McArdle, chief executive officer of zdi. He was in his van driving to a location in town when the demo began but parked so he could carry on a conversation with the group. That, in itself, was the point of the demonstration — that teachers could bring experts into the classroom to kids directly using this technology.

Facial recognition technology in the room picks up on how many people are in the room, explained Christine Street, an account executive with zdi. Street stood at the front of the class, as a teacher might, during the demonstration.

Unit 5 spent roughly $750,000 on the technology, Street said. Teachers applied for licenses with zdi which allows them to conduct meetings. Some 900 licenses were applied for and obtained, with each teacher being able to use their own personal logon to enter the system.

The money used for the purchase came from what money remained from the district’s $96.7 million fund used to construct Cedar Ridge Elementary School and Benjamin Elementary School, and George L. Evans Junior High School, Daniel said. Voters in 2008 approved a referendum for construction of those schools.

Daniel said because of the capability this system provides, school administrators will be able to save travel time to and from certain large group meetings. They can now hook in and be present from their own office when needed. “More experts will come talk to these kids because of this,” Street told Board members.

Board Member Barry Hitchins mentioned to the gathering he’d like to see the school keep track of how much use the equipment gets – that is, how often teachers and administrators book the room. Daniel explained Normal West’s administrative staff has responsibility for bookings.

This appears to be the latest way to bring the real world kids will soon inherit into their lives. They are clearly exposed to technological advances which means this sort of communication can only increase their desire for knowledge. Getting it this way appears to add to that.

By Steve Robinson | August 28, 2017 - 10:08 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

Steve RobinsonOur parents are often responsible for teaching us things that we carry with us the rest of our lives. Among those things for me, was my father, John, teaching me how to score a baseball game. It was a fun way to follow games and has turned out to also serve me professionally as well, covering baseball and softball.

Then, there’s just fun stuff we pick up from parents that are usually only helpful when bragging rights are at stake. For father Bill Adelman and sons Charlie and Will Adelman, the art of speed-eating corn on the cob for, if nothing else, the feeling of self-satisfaction at beating 8 or 9 competitors.

“He just told me how to do this his way and I followed it,” said Charlie, a freshman at Bloomington Central Catholic High School., explaining the instruction his father gave him.

For his part, Bill Adelman admits when he started a few years back participating in the annual Corn-Eating Contest, part of the Town’s Sweet Corn Blues Festival (some around here might call it Corn Fest), his manner of shearing off the corn from the cob was a suggestion from a young man who works for him at Redbird Property Management. “I just turn the cob straight up and down and take them off with my front teeth,” he said.

The Adelmans – Bill, sons Charlie and Will, and daughter Madelyn – have been part of the contest from its beginning six years ago, but it was Madelyn, who’s now a BCC junior, who placed at that very first competition, taking first place. Charlie has come extremely close though, losing a one cob runoff last year. This year, in the adult division, Bill and Charlie went at it, side-by-side, chomping and sheering and rolling off as much corn from their cobs as possible. But it was dear old dad Bill showing the way, downing 17 ears in the allotted 10 minute period. Charlie, having downed 14, managed to keep a pretty good pace, placing second.

In the age 12-18 division, Charlie demolished 10 ears in the allotted five minute time span. “That means he ate 24 ears in a 35-minute period,” with a short break between contests, Bill Adelman was quick to point out. I love corn on the cob, too, but that much consumption of it in such a short period just had me thinking of Pepto-Bismol.

Bill Adelman said a key technique to wolfing down that much corn in such a brief amount of time is to fast for a half-day prior to the contest.

It wasn’t just his dad who Charlie tried to keep pace with on this day. He also had some stiff competition in the Age 12-18 division, too. Charlie won that competition downing 10 ears in five minutes. But he had nine-year-old Tyler Myers right behind him, with 9 ears consumed. Kirstin West, in her very first corn-eating competition, downed 6 ears in the time allotted. Her father, Ryan West, said his daughter pondered whether or not to enter beforehand, deciding on her fourth change of mind to dive in.

There was a sizable crowd of around 50 people (possibly a little more) to see both competitions, too. Half of them, it appeared, were friends of or members of the Adelman clan. That was as impressive as the competition itself.

One more person who needs some recognition is the man who served as emcee of both contests, which were sponsored by Menold Construction. That man was Steve Driscoll, that company’s owner. His play-by-play, complete with…ahem, corny comments, was perfectly suited to the event.

Watching the event and those competitors who were hoping to stalk a victory, if you will, made for a perfect way to start the fun on Sunday, the second day of the two-day festival.

By Steve Robinson | - 10:03 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

midwest food bankBLOOMINGTON – The devastation brought onto the southeast Texas coast by Hurricane Harvey last week has pushed volunteers into action at the Midwest Food Bank. Between 25-75 volunteers from that organization assembled enough shelf-ready food packages which should feed a family of 4 for four to five days, one of the group’s representatives said.

Midwest Food Bank is seeking donations of canned vegetables, canned fruit, pasta, and other dry food items to help those who are in need in the affected areas, explained Phil Hodel, director of communications for Midwest Food Bank.

Such goods, Hodel said, are packaged into disaster relief boxes by the Bank’s volunteers and trucked to Texas by The Salvation Army.

As of Monday, Hodel said, two semi-trucks of food left here for Texas, with two more slated to have left earlier this week – one on Tuesday and one Thursday. At this time, Hodel said, Midwest Food Bank is strictly taking monetary donations.

“We can do more with monetary donations right now than with donated items,” Hodel said. He added monetary donations can be made online by going to the group’s website, and clicking on the “Donate” tab.

Hodel said he’s been informed Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) anticipates needing to be in the stricken area for over a year as a result of the storm.

The storm has renewed interest by local residents to volunteer for the group, Hodel said. Midwest Food Bank had an open call for volunteers Monday and nearly 300 people replied, half of them new to the effort.

Hodel said Midwest Food Bank welcomes anyone age 10 and older to volunteer. Because the work is done in a warehouse, he added, volunteers must wear closed toed shoes.

By Steve Robinson | August 26, 2017 - 10:11 pm
Posted in Category: Sports, The Normalite

FootballCOLFAX – A quick first quarter score by junior running back Josh Hardman was all it took for the Ridgeview-Lexington Mustangs to capture a first win for the 2017 season on home turf Aug. 25. The Mustangs defeated LeRoy, 6-0 before roughly 600 fans to open the Heart Of Illinois Conference season.

The Mustangs’ opening drive in this non-divisional contest resulted in a turnover giving the Panthers the ball at their own 30 yard line. Following a first down incomplete pass, LeRoy sophomore running back Aiden Eddy dashed 48 yards to the Mustangs’ 23 yard line highlighting the drive. But a fumble ended it when the ball was recovered by Mustangs sophomore defensive lineman Tyler Cappis. The Mustangs would begin their charge to the end zone from LeRoy’s 29 yard line.

Ten plays later, Hardman breezed his way past LeRoy defenders to put the Mustangs up, 6-0 at the 2:20 mark of the opening quarter. Ridgeview-Lexington (1-0) failed to score on the subsequent two-point conversion try.

heart of illinois conferenceLeRoy junior quarterback Jakob Sexton racked up 70 of the Panthers’ 250 yards on the night rushing. Ridgeview-Lexington’s Hardman rushed 16 times for 47 of the 164 yards his team had on the night. Senior quarterback Will White completed 2-of-3 passes for the Mustangs for 55 yards. LeRoy (0-1) struggled from giving up two fumbles and an interception.

Late in the contest, Mustangs junior running back Ryan Benton needed to be helped off the field by trainers renewing concerns he might have aggravated a meniscus issue he had over the summer. But Mustangs’ head coach Jacob Kennedy reassured that Benton’s exit from the game was the result of a calf cramp.

“We generated some turnovers, but give LeRoy some credit, they were able to move the ball well on us,” Kennedy said. “They were in our red zone five or six times, so give our defensive line and linebackers some credit for not giving up.”

“There were times I felt we moved the football really well,” said Panthers head coach

B. J. Zeleznik. “But we got stopped four or five times in the red zone, so, obviously, we’ve got to work on red zone offense. Turnovers and penalties are something we talk about all the time, and we had too many of them tonight.”

By Steve Robinson | August 23, 2017 - 10:31 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

Unit 5NORMAL – Anticipating there could be parents who would have issues relating to busing they wanted to bring to the attention of Normal-based Unit 5 School Board members at the governing body’s Aug. 23 meeting, district officials moved the session to the cafeteria of Normal Community West High School.

But even with glitches that were reported in local daily media after the first day of school on Aug. 16, the cafeteria, which the district plotting seating for 220 people, was pretty much empty except for some spectators and media members.

Board members and Mark Bohl, location manager for Cincinnati, Ohio-based First Student transportation company, assessed how things went on that first day, and for the rest of the time leading up to the meeting.

Bohl told Board members First Student began the semester with 146 drivers but as of the meeting were down to 142 due to various unspecified reasons. First Student is currently training 20 additional drivers, he mentioned. He said 12 routes have had to be added to the 123 which were planned for before the semester began, bring the total to 135. He added the bus provider is looking to reduce that number “to some extent.”

Joe Adelman, district operations manager, told Board members when the district has to add a bus stop to a route, that adds between 3-5 minutes to the time needed to get buses to a school. He said such additions tighten the timing of a route. The district and First Student plan on conducting a review of the routes in September. Bohl said 97 percent of the buses were running on time.

Bohl assured Board members First Student drivers have two main goals when transporting students: First, to get them to school safely, and secondly, to get them there on time. The goal is to get there ahead of the school opening bell. Bohl said the company had received 500 routing requests in the week prior to the school year opening, all of them having been handled. He added the district’s messaging system has received 100 messages. He said the company is working to respond to messages and address requests related to route changes.

Beginning Student Population Count Down Slightly From ‘16: Board members received a beginning student population count from Dr. James Harden, the district’s executive director of human resources and student services. Harden reported Unit 5 had a total of 13,281 students in class on Aug. 23, which was down from the same day last year by 197 students. With families and their students still either just coming into or exiting the district for varying reasons at this time, it will be mid-October before the district has a final first count of its students.

Unit 5 mapNormal Community High School’s “Good News”: Nikki Maurer, associate principal at Normal Community High School, introduced Board members to two NCHS seniors who won medals at the 39th National NAACP’s Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics, also known as the ACT-SO Awards. This year’s event was held in Baltimore, Md. in late July. Two NCHS seniors placed first in two separate categories and were honored before Board members for their accomplishments.

Jessica Bynum, daughter of Brent Bynum was honored for getting a gold medal in Filmmaking, and Alexis Starks, daughter of Pamela Starks, received a gold medal in Photography. Both the Bynums and the Starks reside in Normal.

Board Gets Financial Update: Marty Hickman, district business manager, reported to Board members the district’s education fund is running at a deficit of $1,227,687. But he said that fund could become balanced provided the district receives payments due them by the State which the district would count toward money it takes in during fiscal year 2018 which began July 1. He added the district’s operations and maintenance budget is projected to be balanced for the coming fiscal year.

In addition, Hickman explained, the district’s transportation fund for FY’18 is running with a surplus of $327,597, but that surplus could be in jeopardy pending the financial outcome of a contract extension with First Student or another type of financial outcome should Unit 5 opt to put the busing contract up for bid when the current contract expires prior to the 2018-19 school year.

A public hearing on the 2017-18 budget will be held at the Board’s Sept. 27 meeting.

Board Receives Energy Efficiency Report For Normal West: Board members received an energy efficiency report regarding Normal Community West High School, presented by a representative of Rockford-based Alpha Controls And Services, which has been working on the project since the spring. According to Jason Vogelbaugh, representative for the company, the company used certain measures to try to help with the slightly over 20-year-old building’s energy efficiency.

Among the measures were: Resetting both the building’s static pressure and air temperature discharge; and daily, weekly, and holiday scheduling of reducing room temperatures based on occupancy. In addition, 33 of 239 reheat valves were replaced among additional measures, which in total saved the district $740,020.

Now that the work is continuing on Normal West, Adelman said, the efficiency project will move next to two additional schools, including Kingsley Junior High School.