By Steve Robinson | February 27, 2021 - 10:28 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL — Students in Normal-based Unit 5 School District who need help in math and literacy will receive help thanks to a new program presented to Board members at the Board’s regularly-scheduled meeting Feb. 24 at Normal Community West High School.

The program, introduced to Board members by Assistant Superintendent Michelle Lamboley, would aid students in Pre-Kindergarten through 8th grade focusing on math and literacy with a social-emotional support component added. Parent requests for their student to be part of the program will be how students become involved in the program, Lamboley explained.

School preparedness will be what is focused on for younger students while older students will receive targeted instruction in areas where they are not meeting grade-level expectations, Lamboley explained.

Lamboley said the district anticipates the program would look to serve about 1,500 students, roughly five times more students that are traditionally helped during a summer school period. She added the program being proposed would be of help to students who “have not been able to close gaps” in their education during the regular school year.

Approximately 30 students would be in the Early Learning program at Brigham Elementary, while roughly 800 students would be in the Elementary program at three schools, Cedar Ridge Elementary, Northpoint Elementary, and Oakdale Elementary. Middle school students would attend at Kingsley Junior High School. At all locations, transportation would be provided, as would breakfast and grab-and-go lunches. Early Learning and Elementary programs would be solely in-person sessions.

Early learning, elementary, and junior high students would attend classes Monday-Thursday, June 14 through July 15, from 8:30a.m.-11:30a.m. Summer school for high school students is scheduled for 8a.m.-11a.m. and 12 Noon-3p.m. between June 7-July 2 at both Normal Community High School and Normal Community West High School. High school students would receive breakfast and packaged lunches. The high school sessions would be both in-person and remote.

“Those Who Excel” Award Honorees Recognized: The session began with nine educators being recognized with “Those Who Excel” Awards by Illinois State Board of Education. Illinois State Board of Education has sponsored Those Who Excel Award since 1970, in an effort to honor individuals who make significant contributions to public and nonpublic elementary and secondary schools. Awards are presented in five categories: School administrator, student support personnel, educational service personnel, community volunteer and teams.

The teachers honored, and the schools where they work, and award given each are: Mark Huffman, Unit 5 Office, Merit Award as a Community Volunteer; Kim Johnson, Kingsley Junior High School, Merit Award as a member of Student Support Personnel; Paula Birsa, Normal Community West High School, an excellence award as a member of Student Support Personnel; Julie Watson, Northpoint Elementary, Merit Award for Educational Service Personnel; Carrie Chapman, District Office, Merit Award for Office Administration; Lauren Romero, Benjamin Elementary School, Merit Award in Classroom Teaching; Angie Codron, Normal Community West High School, Merit Award as an Administrator; Josie Bensko, George L. Evans Junior High School, an excellence award in Classroom Teaching; and John Bergmann, Normal Community High School, Merit Award in Classroom Teaching.

Two teams of Unit 5 employees also were recognized, as well. They are: Office personnel at Prairieland Elementary School which received a Team Excellence Award, and Unit 5 Office’s Family Coordinator Team which also received a Team Excellence Award.

In congratulating those recognized, District Superintendent Dr. Kristen Weikle called honorees “unique examples of the fine staff we have here at Unit 5.”

Normal Community High School’s “Good News”: Trevor Chapman, principal at Normal Community High School, in a “good news” report to Board members, introduced Board members to Aditi Sharma, an NCHS senior who was named the City of Bloomington’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Youth Award recipient at an online ceremony in January. As a leader of Not In Our School and the founder of Inclusive Education Coalition, she has collaborated with peers and adults in her community to organize social justice events, informational workshops, charity events, and school curriculum reform. Sharma plans on double majoring in Political Science and Philosophy.

NCHS Students Address Standards Based Grading In Public Comments: Four NCHS seniors addressed Board members concerning Standard Based Grading. Standards-Based Grading uses a system which evaluates the student using a model that evaluates the student using a scale based on proficiency, and ranges from 1-to-4. The students who spoke to Board members argue the scale does not fit for all classes and teachers do not use it consistently across the board regardless of the subject. Unit 5 began using SBG during the 2017-18 school year. Since then, students have raised concerns about SBG being used.

Saying the district “overlooks why Standards Based Grading isn’t applicable to every subject,” Sri Nithya Yeragorla told Board members, “AP classes are meant to be complex and cannot conform” to the grading standards applied for SBG. She added students who take AP classes “are there to challenge themselves, not to have the grades filtered down so they will fit on a scale.”

“SBG is unrealistic in preparing students for the real world,” said Katie Krueger. She said it doesn’t aid students for when they must take timed tests such as SAT, ACT, or AP exams. She added SBG puts some students who must retake certain tests for one reason or another at a disadvantage. “The adult world does not allow for unlimited retakes,” she added.

Students “are open to hearing how exactly Standards Based Grading is improving our district, but so far, we have only seen problems arise,” Conner McClelland told Board members. “Lower performing students have been able to increase their grades, but Standard Based Grading requires a certain motivation to improve that not everyone has.” The result of that, he adds, those students don’t see their grades improve.

Sharma also addressed the issue, stating SBG “isn’t very versatile in every subject which leads to confusion grade interpretations which are reflected on students. SBG can be translated to percentages and these percentages can often be unfair to students.” She said under SBG, a student who does something 100 percent correct could get a grade of 90 percent, which she said is unfair. “It’s not only confusing, but it’s frustrating for both students and parents.”

She added students would like to be heard concerning their concerns about SBG, adding, “We really wish to be heard, and we would like to work alongside the district to reach a compromise. We won’t stop our peaceful opposition of this until we can reach some meaningful outcome that supports the interests of students and teachers.”

By Steve Robinson | February 16, 2021 - 4:57 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

NORMAL – During Monday’s regularly-scheduled Normal Town Council session Monday, held remotely due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, the Town’s Fire Chiefs updated members of the governing body concerning how a 16-car train derailment and fire at a nearby apartment complex created a busy weekend for members of both departments.

Normal Fire Chief Mick Humer told Council members said the first call came about the derailment around 5a.m., and once on scene firefighters realized it was a large situation, but the original call about the incident said 60 of 150 car train had come off the tracks between Vernon Ave. and Fell Ave. In truth, Humer said, just 16 cars had come off the track.

He said fire officials quickly realized the railroad crossings between Fell Ave. and Ft. Jesse Rd. were blocked due to the derailment. Luckily, Humer said, it was discovered there were no tanker cars turned over among the wreckage, which could have meant the possibility of hazardous materials being among the damaged cars. He said three power poles had been sheared off, but the lines were attached, meaning the power hadn’t gone out.

Published reports indicated Ameren and Nicor crews were present with railroad crews evaluating the accident. Power was shut off in a large area around Uptown to make repairs. Uptown Station and Bone Student Center were used as warming stations for residents of the affected area.

He credited elected officials with responding quickly getting information out to the public to avoid worry.

City Manager Reece’s Contract Extended: Council members voted 6-1 to approve a resolution for extending the employment contract of City Manager Pam Reece. Council Member Stan Nord cast the lone opposing vote. Reece has been City Manager for the Town since April 2, 2018, succeeding Mark Peterson who retired at the end of March that year.

The agreement for Reece’s employment the Town entered into was amended to reflect a wage adjustment in April 2019. The contract Council members approved will keep Reece at City Hall through March 31, 2024. She will receive a salary of $190,550. Employed by the Town for nearly 30 years, Reece served as Deputy City Manager under Peterson before being elevated to her current position.

Among the issues Nord questioned about the Town’s agreement with Reece was a clause concerning severance pay to Reece in the event of her dismissal. Should the Town either terminate Reece’s employment or not renew her contract with the Town, Mayor Chris Koos explained to Nord, Reece would receive severance pay. “It’s not broad-based,” Koos said. “A non-renewal is a passive termination, a firing is an active termination. The end result is the same.” The Mayor added that how the language in that part of the contract came about was the result of a conversation he had with Reece.

Nord then asked Town Corporation Counsel Brian Day for his opinion on the matter. Day verified that any non-renewal of such a contract “would, in effect, be a termination.”

Nord argued such compensation would be “a guaranteed payment” likening it to Reece receiving “a golden parachute” should her employment be concluded prior to the contract expiring. “I’m not in favor of the golden parachute clause.” Koos was quick to correct Nord’s assertion, saying, “It’s actually, not a golden parachute, Mr. Nord.”

Council Member Kevin McCarthy contributed to the conversation, saying he “disagreed with aligning City Manager renewals and election cycles. The City Manager position is a professional position.” He added the job of Council members “is to hire the best person we can to run the Town.”

Solid Waste Agreement With Bloomington-Based Company Approved: By a 6-1 count, Council members approved execution of a two-year agreement with Republic

Services at the Bloomington Transfer Station for the transfer and disposal of solid waste collected by the Town with the Town paying $537,903 for the service. Nord cast the lone opposing vote objecting to the length of the contract which would be for two years. The current contract between the company and the Town is due to expire March 1.

Agreement With Stark Excavating On Maxwell Park Ball Fields Project: Council members unanimously approved a resolution Accepting a bid and approved a contract with Bloomington-based Stark Excavating, Inc. in the Amount of $375,383.05 for a project to replace baseball and softball fields at Maxwell Park. The ball fields were first built in Maxwell Park in 1978.

In October of 2018, Council approved the application to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) for an Open Space Land Acquisition and Development (OSLAD) Grant for renovation and improvements at the park. The Town received an award of the requested maximum $400,000 grant. As part of what was required by the grant, the Town committed $400,000 to match the grant amount, resulting in a total project cost of $800,000.

During public comments, former Town Council candidate Ron Ulmer said, “With all the millions of dollars spent on walking and bicycling trails that are used for recreation and transportation, it is oxymoronic for the Town to encourage driving to the place of outdoor recreation and exercise that contribute to a healthy lifestyle.” He suggested using an established set location for users to be picked up or dropped off at the park. “Normal already has plenty of pavement,” he said. “Green space makes urban areas more attractive and improves quality of life.”

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

• Approval of minutes of the budget work session special meeting held Jan. 26, 2021.

• Approval of minutes of the regular Council meeting held Feb. 1, 2021

• Approval of Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of Feb. 10, 2021.

• A resolution to accept bids and award a contract to Bloomington-based Stark Excavating, Inc. for the Gregory St. culvert rehabilitation project (MFT Project 20-00268-00-BR) in the amount of $862,923.73.

• A resolution approving an amended site plan for Heartland Community College (1500 W. Raab Rd.).

By Steve Robinson | February 1, 2021 - 10:16 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

NORMAL – The Town Of Normal received Community Development Block Grant money from the Federal Government related to assisting residents in relation to the Coronavirus, COVID-19, in the amount of $335,359. Toward the end of Normal Town Council’s regular meeting Monday night, done remotely as a result of trying to protect Council and others from the virus, Council members received an update on how the money received has been spent thus far.

Taylor Long, associate planner with the Town, explained to Council members the Town was seeking approval for an amendment to the Town’s five-year plan and use monies provided from the Federally-based CARES Act, and put that money toward housing assistance.

According to its creator, the U. S. Treasury Department, the Federally-funded Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act provides for payments to State, Local, and Tribal governments navigating the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak. The CARES Act established the $150 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund. Treasury has made payments from the Fund to States and eligible units of local government.

What the Town is proposing is putting some of the money it will receive for COVID-19, totaling $335,359, toward housing assistance. Long said this would be the second time the Town would receive money for such purposes. The amount the Town received last year was just over $246,000.

Long said the Town has done research into housing assistance and looked at information provided by McLean County Regional Planning Commission among others in the area in the previous year and discovered such assistance is “still the greatest need facing the community that can be addressed with these CDBG-CV funds.” To that end, the Town will seek comments from the public starting Feb. 4 through Feb. 21.

“During that time, any member of the public can send in comments to the Town, as well as a virtual public hearing next Wednesday, Feb. 10 from 6p.m.-7p.m. He added persons wishing to participate in that session should contact Normal City Hall.

Council Members Approve Trio Of Measures Related To J&M Final Development: Council members unanimously approved a trio of resolutions related to J&M Planned Development, located at the northeast intersection of Cottage Ave. and Village Ct. All three resolutions were unanimously approved. The first resolution conditionally approved a final development plan, phase four of the project. The J&M PUD was approved for development of residences near a mix of other facilities such as grocery, video rental, a medical office, and a church. Residents moving into the PUD would also have access Connect Transit bus service which runs along Cottage Ave.
J&M needed to meet conditions set by the Town before the resolutions were passed including paying remaining development fees.

Council members unanimously approved a second ordinance conditionally vacating an easement within the development. Part of this concerned layout of the units coming in conflict with a storm sewer. The owner of the property has relocated the storm sewer further south, and the easement’s original location will be vacated.

Council members unanimously passed a third ordinance conditionally approving an amended final plat of the development, an action related to establishing property boundaries.

Located south and east of 1000 S. Cottage, construction on the facility began in 2017 has been constructed in sections. With the resolutions approved, J&M can now formally begin construction.

Public Comment: Former Council candidate Ron Ulmer addressed Council members in public comments concerning extension of a water main on West College Ave. Ulmer registered his objection to the Town doing that, in part, he said, has to do with the fact there is no business or housing development being considered for that part of town.

Liquor Commission Approves Fine For One Licensee, Grants One To New Licensee: Council members, acting in their capacity as Normal Local Liquor Commission, imposed a fine on one licensee for a violation and approved a license to an establishment which recently had changed owners. After a lengthy discussion, Commission members voted unanimously to impose a $1,750 fine against JSP, LLC, doing business as Joe’s Station House Pizza Pub, 305 S. Veterans Parkway. According to hearing records, owners of the pub faced a trio of violations including allowing indoor dining, which was a violation of Gov. J. B. Pritzker’s State COVID mitigation orders.

Town Corporation Counsel Brian Day explained Town liquor code requires all licensees to operate their businesses with all State laws and public health regulations, of which allowing indoor dining at the time was a violation during the pandemic.

Council members unanimous approved the business’ owners were fined a total of $1,750, which included court costs. Commissioners voted 6-1 in favor of levying the fine, with Commissioner Stan Nord voting against the measure.

Omnibus Items Approved: Council unanimously approved these omnibus items:

• Approval of minutes from the Council’s regular meeting of Jan. 19, 2021.

• Report to receive and file Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of Jan. 27, 2021.

• An ordinance abating the levy of 2020 Property Taxes for Special Service Area Number One.

• A resolution authorizing frame rail replacement and corrosion repairs to A 2009 Pierce fire engine.