By Steve Robinson | November 15, 2018 - 10:44 pm
Posted in Category: Unit 5

NORMAL – Members of Normal-based Unit 5 School Board received previews of two items which will show up for votes at the Board’s December meeting: A new Student Information System and the upcoming annual tax levy.

Information On New Student Information System Given: Board members received an update concerning a new Student Information System the district is being asked to consider purchasing which would replace the current system known as Skyward, which the district has had in use since 2006, explained Dan Lamboley, director of secondary education for the district. The new system, known as Infinite Campus, was sought out because “Skyward takes a lot of training and is not very user friendly.”

“As what we’ve tried to do for teaching and learning, the system we have now has not adapted,” Lamboley said during a break in what was a three-hour meeting. “We feel from what we have already seen at other districts, this will be better.”

Initially, with set-up, implementation, and training sessions, the district would be spending $410,095 for the new system known as Infinite Campus. District Business Manager Marty Hickman told Board members that amount would be paid over the course of two fiscal years. After that, Unit 5 would be paying an estimated future annual payment of $266,155. The funds used to pay for the new system would come from money earmarked for technology within the district’s Education Fund, Hickman added.

Hickman said Infinite Campus has video tutorials, each lasting roughly five minutes, to help users learn how to operate it. He informed Board members the district would be signing a base contract which would last one year. There is an option for opting out of the contract provided the district gives 30 days notice, he added. The Board will vote on whether to make the purchase at its next meeting on Dec. 12.

Board members were informed by Dayna Brown, director of communications and community relations for the district, that promotional material will be going out on the district’s website, and will be bilingual, to help get parents up to speed on the change.

Vote On 2018 Tax Levy To Be Taken Next Month: Also at that December session, Board members will vote on approving the 2018 tax levy in time to meet the Christmas day deadline for submitting it to the McLean County Clerk’s Office for filing. Hickman informed Board members. The levy would result in residents’ tax rates going up 36 cents.

For the owner of a $175,000 home, that increase would tack on an additional $210 to their tax bill. Collection of tax levy monies would take place next May and June, Hickman reminded. He added that since the district currently has a deficit in its education fund, and a report from the McLean County Assessor’s Office indicates slight gains in existing property values, the county’s assessor is reporting modest gains in existing property values (EAV), thus making the levy particularly important for residents.

Resource Guide On Dyslexia Coming: Unit 5 will be coming out in the near future with a resource guide for parents and teachers concerning Dyslexia. Jessica Alt, Special Education Administrator for the district, informed Board members. She explained guidelines from the Federal government led to a proposal to hire specialists who know how to help students with the condition which can affect reading comprehension.

State Representative Keith Sommer (R-106th Dist.) was present for the session and has given his backing to help make State funding available to help educators who deal with students who cope with Dyslexia. He told Board members he attended a public session on Dyslexia where parents and teachers would be addressing it and admitted he wondered “if just six people would show up.” He said over 100 came to that public session.

New Courses Coming For Dual Credit: Lamboley and Lindsey Dickenson, a teacher at George L. Evans Junior High School, made a presentation to Board members announcing some new courses which high school students could receive dual credit for. Unit 5 will add four new dual credit courses to the 12 currently offered. Dual credit courses are college courses taught by qualified high school instructors. Students who successfully complete dual credit courses receive both high school and college credit for completing the courses.

Beginning in the 2019-2020 school year, students looking for dual credit will be able to take Introduction to Statistics, Introduction to Education, Principles of Engineering, and Civil Engineering & Architecture. The new offerings will join classes currently offered including Introduction to Welding Processes, Introduction to Oral Communication, Chemistry, and Finite Mathematics.

Cedar Ridge Elementary Doubles Up On “Good News”: With a population which includes a large number of Spanish speaking students, educators at Cedar Ridge Elementary School dedicated themselves to create something which would not only be inclusive for those students but also educational for the entire student body. A program called Cedar Ridge Se Habla Espanol, which in English means “we speak Spanish,” was created and Patsy Weber and Nela Diaz. The Se Habla Espanol program was begun by a grandparent and the district’s bilingual family coordinator, in efforts to share a love of our school diversity and promote a positive school culture. Se Habla Espanol is a program designed to bridge the language barrier between students at Cedar Ridge in both the school’s English and Spanish speaking classes. During school hours students in our monolingual classes participate in a 30 minute Spanish lesson designed by Weber. Students learn basic Spanish words, culture and songs with their peers.

That wasn’t the only item Cedar Ridge Principal Karrah Jensen had for Board members. In addition, she acknowledged the donation and dedication of a former Cedar Ridge Elementary student, Amber Hitchins. Now a student at Evans Junior High, Hitchins recently completed her Girl Scout Silver Award. Part of working toward this award required Hitchins to complete a project to benefit the community. For that project, Hitchins partnered with Cedar Ridge Elementary to enhance that school’s outdoor learning space with student seating. Cedar Ridge currently has an outdoor dry erase board that was donated in a previous year by the school’s Student Council. The addition of seating would complete this project for the school, designing a full outdoor classroom.

Hitchins presented the school with bench options to meet the needs of the students to make sure they were fitting for our learners. The benches were constructed, delivered and added to the outdoor learning space. In addition to the seating, Hitchins created a Kindness Garden outside near the learning classroom. In the Kindness Garden are large river stones. When Cedar Ridge’s 5th graders graduate and advance to junior high school, they will each receive an opportunity to paint a stone with an inspirational message. The stones will then be left in the Kindness Garden for all of the students to see. Amber Hitchins is the daughter of Unit 5 School Board President Barry Hitchins.

Parkside Junior High’s “Good News”: Darrin Cooper, Principal at Parkside Junior High School, introduced Board members to that school’s Girls’ Cross Country Team. The team had the distinction of placing in every invitational they ran in this year, he explained. In addition, the team can lay claim to being champions at four of those meets, including Intercity, Big 12, one held at Kingsley Junior High School, and their own Parkside Invitational. At their own invitational, PJHS was among 49 teams from across the state competing.

PJHS’ team went on from there to win the Illinois Elementary School Association Class 3A Sectional Championship with their scoring runners all placing in the top 16 out of the field of 94 runners. This qualified PJHS’ Girls Cross Country Team for the IESA State Meet which was hosted by PJHS hosted at Maxwell Park. Members of the 4th place Parkside Junior High School State Cross Country Team are: Reinhart, Kylie Childers, Payton Gaddis, Ashleigh Horton, Erin Jenkins, Lucy Koranek, Madison Schweizer, Madi Smith, Ava Starkey and Eve Whitlow. The Pythons are coached by head coaches Brandon Weber and Paul Bliss, volunteer coaches Brad Horton and Jessica Eberley.

Individual efforts singled out for recognition by the coaches were: Erin Jenkins finishing 21st out of over 300 runners in the Class 3A Girls Race with a time of 11:54.0 earning an individual medal as well as her team medal. Alex Reinhart starred in her 8th grade cross country season this year by winning every meet and invitational she participated in. She demonstrated her skill during the Sectional Meet where she was the Sectional Champion as well as the State Meet where she finished 13 seconds faster than the 2nd place runner. That earned her a 1st place medal and title of IESA Class 3A State Champion. Reinhart set a record in the 2 Mile Run with a time of 11 minutes, 18.1 seconds. That time not only earned Reinhart the State championship, but also broke her own school record. At State, the girls claimed a 4th place trophy.

District’s “Good News” Thanks Board Members: In a final “good news” item, district superintendent Dr. Mark Daniel informed those in attendance that Nov. 15 would be Illinois School Board Members Day, and thanked Board members for their service.

By Steve Robinson | November 11, 2018 - 10:32 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

Normal Community West High School’s quarterfinal football game at Oak Lawn Richards High School brought out a big crowd to cheer on both sides. But you had to be thrilled with how many Normal West fans and players’ family members turned out for the trip. There were a few hundred at least.

And there was a student section from Normal West present, too, at Korhonen Field. And as was customary for them, they stood throughout the contest yelling and cheering on their classmates on the field hoping to give them encouragement to see them through to the final gun. I checked out the student section to get the kids’ reaction to how the team was doing.

West student Anna Ludolph said she wasn’t surprised by the Wildcats’ keeping pace with their hosts at halftime, only down, 9-7. “I’m not surprised about being so close,” she said. “I trust our boys. Oak Lawn may be ranked higher than us, but I think we came to play.” In fact, Oak Lawn Richards was seeded second while Normal West was seeded sixth.

Just as they do at home games, West students remained standing on the road, too, explained Jaxynn Dyson, a senior who is on Normal West’s Softball and girls’ Basketball teams.

“We have a good team and it has been a good year, and we made history so we wanted to support them,” added West junior Kenneth Martin. The history he speaks of is the fact that this year’s Wildcats team is the first to get this far along in football for the first time in school history. Of the contest itself against the Bulldogs, Martin added, “I expected this to be a good fight and I think we can pull off a good win.”

Normal residents weren’t the only folks who came to the game. Reganne Camp, sister of Wildcats senior quarterback Carson Camp, flew in from New Jersey where she is attending Seton Hall University so she could witness her younger brother playing in the quarterfinal contest. “I’m super excited to be here,” she told me.

Of her brother, Reganne Camp said, “I have great expectations for Carson. He’s a great athlete. His team reminds me of the Softball teams I was on at West where they’re like a family, and when you have that kind of chemistry on a team, anything can happen. So I wasn’t surprised when I found out they were going further.”

Reganne Camp ought to know: She experienced getting to the State Softball Finals in East Peoria in June 2016, leading the way from the pitching circle. Her team finished second following a 10-inning battle against Oak Park-River Forest. She added she had been texting her brother during his team’s playoff run, giving advice, the biggest piece of which was, she said, “Enjoy every minute of the run because it goes by so fast.”

Normal West’s playoff run was, for students, parents, and fans alike, a fun ride while it lasted. The group of fans I saw and had occasion to talk to in Oak Lawn were optimistic their football heroes “would find a way to come back” during the contest, as Dyson said. She added, “They always come back.”

They gave it a good effort, scoring with 22.9 seconds on a 14 yard touchdown pass from the younger Camp to senior wide receiver Armani Forrest to pull within five, 22-17, with 22.9 ticks left on the game clock. West tried an onside kick with hopes of recovering the ball in that manner as they had done earlier in the fourth quarter, but Oak Lawn defenders were ready for that and recovered it, running out the clock on what was a historic run for the Wildcats.

Reganne Camp is right when she states, in this case for future seasons, that the Wildcats football program will find a way back to the playoffs. And just as there were this year, there will be fans and sisters and brothers and parents along for the ride. They will be another group of folks who will enjoy that ride for as long as it lasts.

OAK LAWN – The quest for a first football championship in school history for Normal Community West High School came to an end Saturday at Korhonen Field here but the Wildcats did make their hosts in the Illinois High School Association Class 6A contest, Oak Lawn Richards High School, work for the victory.

Using a stingy defense and employing the running talents of senior wide receiver Armani Forrest to get past defenders, the Wildcats proved formidable during their road contest. Forrest’s return after being sidelined for a month due to an ankle injury appeared to be an encouraging sign to roughly dozens of Wildcats’ fans as they watched him race past defenders at key moments in the contest.

But for as well as this season had gone for the Wildcats, they couldn’t overcome the Bulldogs’ defense in the final quarter to achieve another victory, dropping a 22-17 decision before roughly 3,000 fans, finishing the season at 11-1.

Ranked second in the state in the Class, Oak Lawn Richards (12-0) scored first in the first quarter on a 1 yard run from junior running back Leshon Williams for the only score in the period, putting Oak Lawn Richards (12-0) in front first, 6-0, followed by a missed extra point by junior kicker Sabastian Lasak. A 35-yard field goal by Lasak early in second quarter advanced that lead, 9-0.

Sixth ranked Normal West pulled within two, 9-7, on a 35 yard pass from senior quarterback Carson Camp to Forrest with 6:06 left until halftime followed by an extra point by senior kicker Parker Theobald. The two sides would show defensive might to their opponents throughout the third quarter keeping the score in tact going into the fourth quarter.

But Bulldogs senior quarterback Sebastian Castro’s 3 yard run into the end zone with 7:32 left in the contest silenced the Wildcats faithful, who, up to that moment, had been cheering throughout. Lasak’s extra point followed pushing Oak Lawn Richards forward, 16-7.

West’s next drive was highlighted by Camp passes to senior wide receiver Davion McQuirter of 16 and 5 yards, aiding in getting the Wildcats to the Bulldogs’ 13 yard line where Oak Lawn Richards defenders forced the Wildcats to kick a field goal, successfully done by Theobald from 30 yards out. That helped Normal West trim Richards’ lead to 16-10 with 1:43 left.

West opted for an onside kick, but Richards recovered it at West’s 48 yard line. Two plays later, a 45 yard run by University of Iowa recruit Castro with 1:24 left pushed the Bulldogs in front, 22-10, following a failed 2-point attempt.

Camp and Forrest connected a second time from 14 yards out with 22.9 seconds left, followed by Theobald’s extra point, cutting Richards’ lead to five, 22-17. West tried another onside kick, which Richards players recovered allowing them to let time expire.

First season Wildcats head coach Nate Fincham said afterward his team “showed determination” all year, continuing to do that to the end of this contest. “Our team was like this all year. When they were down, they just never gave up. They showed that tonight. They pushed the limits of Oak Lawn tonight.”

Following a final postgame huddle with all his players, Fincham met with the 25 seniors on his roster. Of those players, he said, “That senior group is obviously a special group for me and the way they supported me in my first year here this year means a lot.

“Our guys believed from the beginning 100 percent they were in this game and from the very first play, they knew they could compete with Oak Lawn,” Fincham said. “That’s a pretty good football team here, and I think we are too, and I think we showed that tonight.”

Fincham said he knew from looking at Oak Lawn Richards team tape “running the ball would be extremely difficult, but I knew they were weak in the defensive backfield and I knew we could take advantage of that and we did that.”

“We don’t take anybody lightly and we knew Normal West could play,” stated Oak Lawn Richards head coach Tony Sheehan. “Camp is very good and we knew he’d do a good job. Their coach is obviously in his first year and he has their program going in the right direction. Normal’s kids played hard and they played hard the whole game.

“Being in a quarterfinal means there are no bad teams left,” Sheehan said in complimenting Normal West’s program. “Because of that, we knew we had to play to the last whistle. Armani Forrest was a difference maker tonight and we knew he would be. That was the only thing we wondered about but we figured he would play.”

By Steve Robinson | November 5, 2018 - 10:53 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

NORMAL – Residents concerned about the prospect of having a new fire station in their neighborhood brought their concerns to Normal Town Council members at the governing body’s regular meeting in Council Chambers on the fourth floor of Uptown Station Monday night.

Council members unanimously approved an ordinance authorizing City Manager Pamela Reece to negotiate and execute a contract for the purchase of property at 1438 Hershey Rd. Putting the new fire station in the Hershey Road location, according to a memo prepared for Council members by Town Corporation Counsel Brian Day, would “improve service east of Veterans Parkway and would replace the current fire station on College Ave.”

Undeveloped property in the Blackstone Trails Subdivision was considered an appropriate site for the new fire station. The land is situated on the northeast corner of Hershey and Shepard Avenues.

The vote taken Monday was merely to get approval for the project to get underway. But the idea of a fire station being situated in their neighborhood brought out residents from that subdivision with concerns, among them that the station was a done deal with the ordinance discussed at the meeting.

What Council members, including R. C. McBride explained to the residents, numbering 20-25 who sat in the Chambers, was the vote was merely to get the process started. He and Reece explained to the residents that Normal Planning Commission members must examine the plan and approve it, after which, the final plan would return to Council members for a final vote. If the Planning Commission approves the plan, it would go back to the Town Council for approval.

When Council gets it back for a vote, one thing they will have to do is vote to rezone the land the fire station will sit on. That area is zoned for R-2 Mixed Residences and R-1B Single Family Residences. A fire station would need to be zoned S-1 Public Lands and Institutions.

Normal Planning Commission could get the proposed fire station land item on their agenda as early as their December meeting. Among five residents who asked to address the Council, was Don Byrd. He wanted to know from Council members if other properties were considered.

Another speaker was Pat Dullard, a member of Friends of Constitution Trail, reminded Council members there needed to be access to the Trail from the subdivision. Resident Don Byrd asked the Council if other properties were considered.

Resident Michael Pauken told Council members, “This was thrown at us at the last minute. We would have liked to have more time to meet with the Town.” He said he believes the subdivision’s residents “should get compensation for decreased property values.”

Reece informed the gathering a location analysis was done by the Town using Geographic Information System, or GIS, and that response time to emergency calls was among the reasons for the site being chosen. She added Normal Fire Department ran distance tests to help determine where the new fire station should be located.

NFD Chief Mick Humer told Council members using Veterans Parkway to get to calls from the station’s current location “has caused slowdowns trying to get to call scenes.” He cited taking 9 minutes to get to Normal Community High School. He explained that under fire prevention standards, that’s too much time.

Humer added the new station, which would replace one currently located at the corner of College Ave. and Blair Dr., would sit off of Shepard, with the building’s living quarters facing Shepard Rd. on the east, and the fire apparatus on the west side of the building toward Hershey Rd. He said the Town would plant trees near the station to reduce noise levels. He explained it would be manned by three firefighters and three Emergency Medical Technicians.

Rooming House Gets Special Use Permit: Council members unanimously approved an ordinance granting a special use permit for a rooming house to the owner of 904 W. Hovey Ave. The building has been operating under such a permit since 1981 when Council members approved such a permit for Sigma Nu fraternity.

The building’s new owner plans on renovating the front of the building, including a two-story wrap-around addition with an enclosed stair tower. There would be 22 parking spaces, including one that is ADA-compliant. Town Code requires such rooming houses have a parking space per 2 roomers plus an additional two spaces. Fifty residents would require 27 spaces. As a result, the owner is asking for a variance.

Ordinance Approving Prep Of 2018 Property Tax Levy OK’d: Council members unanimously approved a motion authorizing for the preparation of the 2018 Property Tax Levy. The proposed tax levy will result in property tax revenue totaling $12,958,494 for the Town in fiscal year 2019-20. The Town’s Property Tax rate, including Normal Public Library, is expected to decrease by 1.53 cents, from $1.4910 to $1.4757, or a drop of 1.03 percent. That decrease would translate into a homeowner of a $150,000 residence seeing their tax bill go down by $7.50.

Board And Commissions Update: Appointments to one Board and two commissions were announced by Mayor Pro Tem Jeff Fritzen. Patrick Bane was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Children’s Discovery Museum Board. A resident of Arrowsmith, Bane, a third generation farmer and member of Illinois Farm Bureau, has been active with the Museum at the McLean County Fair. He is filling a vacant seat with an initial term that expires June 30.

Jennifer Swartout, dean of humanities at Illinois Central College, has resided in Normal since 2013 and will fill the vacancy on the Normal Planning Commission as a result of Michael McFarlane’s moving from Normal.

Carl Teichman, named Normal’s Citizen of the Year in 2017, has been reappointed to the McLean County Regional Planning Commission. His new term expires Dec. 31, 2021.

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

• Approval of the minutes of the regular meeting of Oct. 15, 2018.

• Approval of Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of Nov. 1, 2018.

• A resolution requesting permission to close a portion of U. S. Highway 51 for the annual Jaycees Christmas Parade.

• A resolution of financial commitment and acknowledgement of the Town’s support for a Safe Routes To School Grant Application for improvements to Chiddix Junior High School at 300 S. Walnut.

• A resolution to waive the formal bidding process and authorize a contract with Normal-based SCADAware, Inc. to install upgrades at the Northbridge Sanitary Sewer Pump Station in the amount of $28,269.

• A resolution to waive the formal bidding process and authorize a contract with Hoerr Construction, Inc. for sanitary sewer repairs on Poplar St. in the amount not to exceed $162,000 and approving an associated budget adjustment.

• A resolution conditionally and partially approving a final plat within one and one-half miles of corporate limits by expedited process – Schaab Subdivision (northwest corner of Linden St. and Kerrick).

• A resolution conditionally approving an amended final development plan – Phase 2 of the J&M Planned Unit Development (Cottage Ave.).

• A motion to release school land dedication fees to McLean County Unit 5 School District.

By Steve Robinson | November 3, 2018 - 10:34 pm
Posted in Category: Normal West HS, The Normalite

NORMAL – To explain what happened to Normal Community West High School in their second round Illinois High School Association Class 6A game against Palos Heights-based Alan J. Shepard High School, a school named after the late astronaut, verbiage used by NASA would seem appropriate: Normal West’s mission to get to the championship avoided being scrubbed. Normal West came from behind to beat the Astros, 26-17.

With the win, the 6th ranked in the Class Wildcats advanced to the quarterfinals of Illinois High School Association Class 6A playoffs for the first time in school history. The victory will have the Wildcats taking to the road to take on 11-1 Oak Lawn-based Richards High School this weekend, winners of a second round contest by the score of 35-21 over Yorkville.

Junior wide receiver Cole Hernandez scored two touchdowns, the second of which put West in front after trailing for most of the first half, aiding in the effort.

After winning the coin toss and accepting to receive, Shepard (8-4) scored first on an 8 yard touchdown run by senior wide receiver Jamail Hunt at 8:23 in the first quarter followed by senior kicker Michal Strama’s extra point, putting the Astros on the scoreboard first, 7-0.

A 43 yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Carson Camp to senior wide receiver Magnus Moeller helped Normal West (11-1) tie the game at 7-all following senior kicker Parker Theobald’s extra point..

Although Shepard started their next drive at their own 30, West defenders managed to see to it the Astros only got as far as West’s 16, prompting the decision for Strama to kick a 34 yard field goal. That gave the Astros a 10-7 lead with 11:15 in the second quarter. West ended their ensuing drive with a punt allowing Shepard to begin their next drive at their own 38. Eight plays later, right hand senior quarterback Kevin Graham was forced to throw across his body to senior wide receiver Chris Harrison to avoid defenders for the Astros next score, followed by Strama’s extra point, increasing Shepard’s lead, 17-7 with 5:56 until halftime.

West cut that lead to 17-13, as Camp connected with Hernandez for the first time on the night from 15 yards out followed by Theobald’s extra point cutting Shepard’s lead, 17-13, at the 3:44 mark, a score they would keep until halftime.

Neither team scored in the third quarter, each team seeing opportunities spoiled by the opponents defensive maneuvering. But it was a 9 yard pass to Hernandez from Camp that put West in front for the first time in the contest, 20-17, after Theobald’s extra point with 2:09 remaining.

A defensive maneuver by West junior linebacker Zack Marcotte helped the Wildcats’ effort on the Astros’ next series, as he stripped the ball from Graham and scrambled to pick up the ball in the end zone with 53.9 seconds remaining on the clock. But Theobald’s extra point was no good resulting in the final score after West defenders forced Shepard to rush through their plays until the final gun.

Of what was his first defensive score, Marcotte said, “That was the most exhilarating. I suddenly realized, ‘I got the football. It’s a touchdown. Game’s over. We win.’”

“I’m just excited to make it to the quarterfinals,” West head coach Nate Fincham said, explaining not getting that far into the playoffs in years the school has existed “has been like a black cloud hanging over these kids’ heads. I’m proud of the way they stuck with it. They just kept working throughout the season and offseason.”

“I knew they were athletic and I knew they would give us some issues,” Fincham added. “They kind of surprised us a little bit. I don’t think we expected them to be that physical up front. But we responded well and that’s what’s important.” Beating Shepard was the goal for the week, Fincham added. Having Oak Lawn Richards to beat is another goal, he explained.

“The main thing I can say is hats off to Normal West,” said Shepard head coach John Roan. “They made fewer mistakes than us so they deserved to win the ball game. We liked our chances coming in and we thought we played a pretty good first half. In the second half, the mistakes started to mount and we didn’t overcome them.”