By Steve Robinson | January 18, 2020 - 10:53 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – At one point or another in our high school careers, we might have groused about grades we received in certain classes. While such things are all part of what adults label as teenage angst, students from Normal Community High School believe there is something more problematic in the grading system used by the school and brought their complaints to members of Normal-based Unit 5 School Board during the governing body’s regularly-scheduled meeting at district headquarters Jan. 15.

Students and parents, numbering around 30, filled the gallery in the school board meeting area of the building on Hovey Ave. In describing their concerns with the grading system, the students who spoke labeled the grading system using words like “inconsistent,” and “confusing.”

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.

“Standards-Based Grading does not affect students’ lives,” argued Conner McClellan in his comments to Board members, adding grades drop if there are two or more errors noticed by teachers.

“It’s a major problem of inconsistency from class to class,” explained Swetha Veluvolu. “We’re not learning. We’re just suffering.” Veluvolu asked Board members to reconsider the district’s use of this style of grading.

Another student, Emily Dusin, said there is another concern for some students where this testing system is concerned – test anxiety. “Students who have test anxiety suffer as a result of this system. How does this help us in college or in life?” She stated there are no “re-do’s” under this system.

District Deputy Superintendent Dr. Ray Epperson told the gathering he was of the belief the Standards-Based System was what was concerning to the students, but rather, the format upon which the students are graded which was at issue for the students’ grievances. He said such matters are continuing to be looked at in discussions between the district office and NCHS teachers.

Parkside Junior High Introduces Board To Four “Good News” Items: Parkside Junior High School was able to demonstrate three times the pride when they were spotlighted in three “good news” items presented to Board members. PJHS Principal Suzi Hesser introduced Board members to five students who won “Judge’s Choice Awards at the Illinois Elementary School Association Area Speech Contest on Nov. 9. The students are: Isaiah Eeten, Will Marvel, Gabrielle Montgomery, Katie Van Heuklon, and Corinna Thomas.

Hesser said students worked throughout September and October memorizing a solo, a duet, or small group skit and performed those before judges at the contest. They also practiced stage blocking and working to perform their pieces within a specified time period. Students were prohibited from using props or wearing costumes for performances, leaving them to use facial and vocal expressions to show conflicts. Eleven PJHS students participated in the event where students from a total of 124 schools took.

That was followed by a Congratulatory recognition for PJHS Band Director Jennifer Bolton for receiving IESA’s Distinguished Service Award. The award was created as a way to recognize, preserve and promote interscholastic fine arts. Directors are chosen for this honor by IESA Board of Directors and the association’s Music Advisory Committee. Selection is based upon director contributions, enthusiasm, and positive effect on students.

Concerning PJHS’ next bit of good news, junior high school band students in the state of Illinois are encouraged to audition for the state band. This is the highest accomplishment that any junior high band member can achieve with 84 of the top band musicians in the-state selected to participate. Hesser was smiling as she announced PJHS has had five students were chosen for the State band. Those students are Ethan Snyder, Rolen Schlipmann, Tori Tackett, Leah Renollet, and Ava Eames. Hesser told the gathering those students were the only ones from the entire Bloomington/Normal area for such recognition, with two of the students being selected as first chair. Those students were Schlipmann, who places the euphonium and Ethan Snyder who plays the trombone.

Lastly, Hesser spoke about an improvement made to the school building itself. She expressed excitement as she spoke on behalf of her school to thank the district for its support regarding energy management at her building. As of January 1, 2020, PJHS earned an Energy Star Rating of 87. That turns out to be a turnaround for the building because it had an Energy Star Rating of 10 four years ago. The rating is an 88 percent improvement in performance. Hesser said that improvement translates to a savings of $444,533.

In 2016, PJHS proved to be the worst performing school related to energy consumption. The building’s equipment had a heating and cooling system that was 42 years old equipment and was performing poorly, only earning an Energy Star Rating of 10. Board approval to sell bonds made paying for improvements possible, Adelman said. That included implementation of a geo-thermal ground heating and cooling source.

Currently, Adelman added, the district is working on Normal Community High School and Kingsley Junior High School and those improvements will lead toward those buildings to be able to earn energy star certification in the future. PJHS is the 3rd of Unit 5’s six largest buildings to achieve energy star, he said, adding EJHS and Normal Community West High School are energy star certified as well.

Board Unanimously Approves Money For Working Cash Fund: Board members unanimously approved issuance of an amount not to exceed $29 million in working cash bonds for use by the district to help the district maintain operations for the school years 2020-21 and 2021-22. The purpose for this was to increase the amount of working cash for the district. A public hearing was required by law to be held prior to the Board vote. At that hearing, no members of the public spoke. Interest rate assumptions based upon market conditions as of December 2, 2019 plus 0.25 percent for working cash bonds and 0.5 percent for life safety bonds.

In an item related to finance for the district, Board members also heard from Robert Lewis III, managing director, PMA Securities LLC, who informed Board members in discussing a financing plan for the district that included the proposed timeline related to the bonds. That timeline included the Board approving a resolution of the selling of the bonds at their Feb. 26 meeting; the bonds being sold as early as June 16 and bonds closing, allowing the district to receive the cash as early as July 14.

Busing Consultant Leaves District With Decision To Make: In recent years, although the district has outsourced its busing services, Unit 5 has pondered keeping that service as one done in-house. At the beginning of the 2018-19 school year, a number of reports of late bus arrivals at both ends of the school day had Board members pondering whether to continue its association with Cincinnati, Ohio-based First Student Bus Co. Once matters were corrected to the Board’s satisfaction, the relationship between the two, which has existed since 2012, continued. Prior to the agreement with First Student, Unit 5 had been doing busing on its own for several years.

But in October, Board members approved hiring of Charleston, S. C.-based School Bus Consultants, an affiliate of TransPar Group, to learn what the possibility would be if the district considered making the bus service workable in-house.

Phil McConnell, a consultant with School Bus Consultants, told Board members depending on the decision the district chooses, be it continuing with First Student, contracting with another company, or going ahead with independently operating a busing service, documented and enforced procedures and policies must be in place from the beginning of the arrangement.

Calendar For School Year 2020-21 Approved: As part of the Board’s omnibus agenda, which Board members unanimously passed, among other items, the school year 2020-21 calendar. That school year is slated to begin with a full-day of classes on Wednesday, Aug. 19.

Next Board Meeting Feb. 12: This is the only Board meeting scheduled for this month. The next scheduled Board meeting will be Wednesday, Feb. 12 at district headquarters, beginning at 7p.m.

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