By Steve Robinson | February 28, 2020 - 10:33 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – Unit 5 School Board members voted unanimously to grant a two-year extension to the bus service which has been providing transportation for students from home to school and back for nearly eight years. Board members also were formally introduced to the man who will take the reins as location manager overseeing its operation when dealing with the district.

Board members unanimously approved a two-year extension for the Cincinnati, Ohio-based provider continuing to serve the district’s student transportation needs. The extension will carry through both the 2020-21 and 2021-22 school years. First Student’s first contract with the district was signed in 2012.

Chris Coyle, area general manager for First Student, introduced Board members to Nick Sorey, the new location manager responsible for seeing the buses get where they need to be on time as well as for hiring drivers and substitute drivers. Sorey is currently employed in Danville and is the father of five. He told Board members he has five kids ranging in age from 4 to 11, adding he “has a vested interest in your kids” as a result with this job. Sorey is succeeding Robert Pawlik in that position. Pawlik had been with First Student since last spring.

Previously, Sorey told Board members, he worked for UPS Delivery Service, where he explained, his job included “streamlining logistics involving 23 routes.”

“I’ve always tried to strive to provide a service, not just deliver packages,” Sorey told Board members. “It’s my goal to give you the best service I can to keep your kids as safe as I keep my own. My kids are going to ride these buses. I want to look a parent in the eye and say if I make a mistake, I want to apologize. But I also want them to know I care about their kids just like I care about my own.”

As of the meeting, Sorey said, First Student has 143 of the needed 145 drivers required to cover all routes, and will continuing recruiting drivers. He said there are two potential drivers taking needed classes for the job and he is looking over 20 applications for driver positions.

Coyle added that starting pay for new drivers will go up beginning in fall from $16 hourly to $19 hourly.

Daniel Explains Decision For Feb. 26 Snow Day: While Board members met Wednesday night, a decision to keep students home due to inclement winter weather that day eliminated the need for a scheduled “Late Start Wednesday.” District Superintendent Dr. Mark Daniel explained crews worked starting at 1a.m. that morning twice salting parking spaces and other areas. He said by 5:15a.m., the district had every intention to proceed with the scheduled “Late Start” as scheduled.

However, Daniel said, shortly after that decision was made, increasing winds accompanied by a heavy snow band came through prompting District officials to change their minds about staying open, he said, particularly with the weather causing problems for residents living in rural residents. “The weather conditions declined quickly, leading to many safety issues, including reduced visibility.

“We had to decide whether to stick with our original decision or change it,” Daniel said. “We decided safety first, which is why we closed today. It’s never an easy decision, but we believe it was the correct one.”

Board Approves Borrowing $37 Million, Partly For Working Cash: Board members unanimously approved a pair of measures, both related to financial issues. The first was to approve issuing $29 million in taxable general obligation school bonds as a means to have working cash. The bonds have an interest rank not to exceed five percent annually. The bond sale will take place sometime before mid-August. In addition, Board members unanimously $8 million in tax anticipation warrants are being issued based on revenue Unit 5 derived from taxes levied for 2019 and collected this year. The warrant sale will be overseen by Naperville-based PMA Securities and can take place no later than June 15.

Board Approves Contract On HVAC And Geothermal Upgrades At KJHS: Board members unanimously approved the hiring of Urbana-based A & R Mechanical Contractors, Inc. for work to be done on HVAC and perform upgrades to the geothermal system at Kingsley Junior High School. The company submitted a bid of $2,703,725, the lowest of three companies’ bids submitted for the assignment. The other companies submitting bids were from Bloomington and Peoria.

In addition to approving the projects, Adelman also gave Board members a quick tutorial concerning geothermal projects currently either completed or underway in the district. He explained that, as of this meeting, geothermal projects at George L. Evans Junior High School and Parkside Junior High School have been completed, as have energy efficiency projects at both Normal Community High School and Normal Community West High School.

A geothermal project is slated to begin at Kingsley Junior High School in May, Adelman said, adding planning for geothermal work to begin at Kingsley Junior High School will start soon with geothermal work to be done there sometime next year.

Adelman said completing the project will help the district save over $707,000 in energy costs

Public Comments Center On Standards Based Grading: Unit 5 using Standards Based Grading as opposed to a traditional grading method, many parents and students have raised objections and taken their complaints to Board members at meetings recently during public comments segments. This meeting was no different, with two Normal Community High School students raising their objections. Unlike a traditional grading scale of 90 percent to 100 percent being an A, scores in the 80s being a B, and so on, Standards Based Grading uses a grading range of 4 down to 1, with 4 indicating students have exceeded the desired target for what was expected of them to learn; 3 indicating meeting the desired target; 2 meaning the student has achieved “partial mastery” of the target, and 1 meaning having little or no mastery.

Lindsey Dickinson, president of Unit Five Education Association (UFEA), led off public comments representing members of that organization on the subject telling Board members, “We operate best when we receive clear, consistent messages. We believe parents, students, and the community desire the same thing. We need more clear, consistent communication.” We need more clarity on how the success of SBG will be measured.”

Behind her in the audience were about UFEA members, some of whom held small signs which displayed their opposition to Standards Based Grading. Two high school students also spoke concerning their perspective on Standards Based Grading.

Emily Dusin, a senior at NCHS, told Board members, “I firmly understand our teachers know what is best in their classrooms, including what is best to teach and to grade their students. That I why I believe teachers should have a choice to the grade book, be it either Standard Based Grading or the traditional grade book. Let teachers have a choice.”

Conner McLelland, an NCHS junior, followed Dusin telling Board members a group of students at the school took it upon themselves to find out how their classmates felt about the use of Standards Based Grading. He told Board members, “A total of 93 students found it was harder to earn the same grade in a Standards Based Grading class than it would be in a traditional class.” He added 95 percent of the students surveyed believe this method is not motivation enough for them to do their assigned homework and study more versus having their work evaluated using a traditional grading system.

He added a number of those students questioned do not believe Standards Based Grading was not transferable between subjects. McLelland reiterated the request for teachers to have the choice between using either Standards Based Grading or the grading system that was in use prior to its implementation, which started this school year.

During his comments at the beginning of the meeting prior to public comments, Daniel said, at the last Citizens Advisory Council meeting held in January, Council members heard a presentation on the subject and gave their input on the matter. “I want to thank CAC members for their input,” Daniel said. “They were honest, offered feedback, and asked questions. The group discussed the benefits of Standards Based Grading and what could be improved upon. They also identified areas that need to be addressed immediately.”

Daniel added while parents philosophically agree with the system, he said some concerns about it still exist in their minds. “We’ll continue to seek feedback from students, staff members, and parents to address these challenges,” he said.

Epperson Retiring From Public Education: Dr. Ray Epperson, assistant district superintendent, announced to Board members he will be retiring from a career in public education at the end of this school year. He has been in public education for 38 years. After he exits Unit 5, Epperson will become superintendent of Parkview Christian Academy, based in Yorkville. Epperson has served as Unit 5’s second in command for three years, earning his doctorate while employed at Unit 5, receiving it in the study of Educational Leadership from Northern Illinois University in 2018.

Julia Knepler Named New Principal At Hudson Elementary: Epperson announced to Board members that Julia Knepler has been named the new principal for Hudson Elementary School, effective July 1, succeeding Scott Myers, who is retiring. Knepler began her career as a teacher’s assistant and worked through the ranks and served on various committees within the district. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from Millikin University, and a master’s degree in Educational Administration from Illinois State University. “I’m very thrilled for this opportunity, and I’m very excited to get going with Mr. Myers with this transition,” Knepler told Board members.

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