By Steve Robinson | May 23, 2019 - 10:14 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – Normal-based Unit 5 School District Board members heard about students participating in a program which turned them into young authors, and about how a community business is helping students with furthering their education in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, or STEM. Board members received these details during their regularly-scheduled meeting held May 22 at district headquarters.

“Good News” About Young Authors: Each year, Unit 5 is participates in the Young Authors Program. The purpose of the program is to encourage and recognize student authorship. The district program is part of the statewide effort supported and endorsed by the Illinois Reading Council. The authorship process begins in the classroom and many teachers begin the writing process with their students early in the year.

The process for the students involves brainstorming and information gathering followed by a rough draft version of their manuscript. After revision and editing, a final manuscript is published. Students write fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. In addition to their original writing, students illustrate their text to enhance their work.

Each elementary and middle school in the district is allowed to submit entries to be considered for district level judging. A panel of junior high school student judges selected the winners. The 2019 Unit 5 Young Author winners are: Lauren Brooks, Roman Felix, Joanna Gonzalez, Lacy Hefter, Ishaan Jha, Alina Johnson, Amy Kieser, Sushma Kota, Elleigh Lang, Grant Marvel, Samuel McCoy, Claudia O’Connor, McKenna Phillips, Jonathan Schuller, Justinne Walker, Amanda Warren, Avery Wodika, Mason Wood, and Khushi Singla.

“Good News” About STEM Mentors From State Farm: Board members also heard about the State Farm Enterprise Technology STEM Team. This team is a group dedicated to providing mentoring opportunities to high school students involved in Computer Science courses and the Freshman Computer Science Associate’s Degree Program at both Normal Community High School and Normal Community West High School. Students in these classes benefit from the involvement and commitment of State Farm Mentors.

STEM Engagement Coordinators from State Farm partner with teachers at each school to provide an opportunity for a STEM Challenge Project, whereby the students identify a problem in their school or community, then work throughout the school year in teams to solve the problem using technology. Each student team is assigned a State Farm mentor who volunteers their time during a class period once or twice a month for the school year, leading the students through various facets of the project such as planning, problem solving, and critical thinking.

Generally, this program typically runs mid-September through April, and is supported by State Farm Enterprise Technology leadership. The students then get an opportunity to showcase their work to State Farm leadership, parents, teachers, school administrators and the local community.

Additionally, the State Farm Enterprise Technology Leadership Team also helps to provide volunteers/mentors and subject matter experts needed to assist with STEM activities and events at Unit 5 schools and within the community. A few examples of roles include: Being an event volunteer at one or multiple STEM related events to interact with students from a variety of age groups at events such as “Stemposium” events at the middle schools. The State Farm Enterprise Technology Leadership Team members are: Kevin Reeves, Nancy Smith, Jami Becker, and Julie Smith-Marshall.

Growth At Towanda Elementary Will Require Portable Classrooms: Board members heard from Towanda Elementary Principal Scott Vogel that his school is a little cramp these days. The school, which has 191 students, is experiencing a closed-in feeling and will receive two portable classrooms to try to alleviate the crowding. Joe Adelman, operations manager for the district, explained each portable classroom unit has two classrooms divided by a wall. He added the district is leasing the units for three years at a cost of $26,000 from a company in southern Illinois and that the units will be located on the southwest corner of the property.

Adelman said the district will put out bids for contractors to have concrete laid where the portable units will go, which will be followed by the portables being put in place. Schumer said third grade classes will use one portable and fifth grade classes will use the other portable. Adelman said the new concrete foundation and portables will be in place by late July.

Infinite Campus Update Given: Board members received an update on the Infinite Campus information system the district will spend two years paying for, and will replace the system the district has used over the past decade known as Skyward.

Michelle Lamboley, director of special education for the district, informed Board members set-up took place in April allowing for Infinite Campus to be used to keep track of summer school attendance. In addition, she said, teachers and district administrators were trained that month on how to send and receive messages on the portal. In June, she said, enrollment set-up training will take place twice during the month, and later that month, a refresher on registration of students in the system and report card set-up are scheduled.

Marty Hickman, Business Manager for the district, told Board members parents received an email on May 14 about the district formally switching to Infinite Campus with a link to follow so parents could find it and set new passwords. Parents failing to do this, he said, received a note asking them to go to Infinite Campus so they would be able to reset a password. He added online registration information will be coming to parents in July.

He said parents who had difficulty setting up a password should either call the district at (309) 557-4333 or email to

Social Emotional Learning Discussed: Board members heard from members of a district committee working to help staff as they help students with social-emotional learning skills. Board members heard from three teams of educators working with students, parents, and teachers on this matter.

Schedule B Committee Reports To Board: Until before this meeting, an internal group within the district, known as the Schedule B Committee, which looked at processes within the district, hadn’t met since 2014. But with teacher Gina Tenuta, an 8th grade language arts teacher, and Julie Hagler, vice president of Unit Five Education Association, or UFEA, spearheading its revival, the group is looking to get back to work to help the district.

Among the group’s recommendations were: Add 11 elementary school music teachers to the district payroll. In addition, the group would like to see a consolidation of 22 district chair positions into 11. Hagler said such a move would save the district money. Hagler and Tenuta also recommended the district consider a track coach at each of the district’s four junior high schools. They said there would be a savings in doing both of those for the district.

Board Votes To Abate Fund: Board members unanimously voted to adopt a resolution to abate the district’s working cash fund.

Executive Session Held: Roughly midway through the 3 ½ hour meeting, Board members adjourned to executive session for an administrative matter. That meeting lasted 27 minutes.

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