By Steve Robinson | March 12, 2020 - 10:30 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – With headlines of either a political or medical nature staring people in the face these days, those who attended the March 11 meeting of Normal-based Unit 5 School District got to hear plenty of items tagged “good news” by the district when Board members met for what would be their only meeting this month, held in the cafeteria of Kingsley Junior High School.

Colene Hoose Elementary School’s “Good News”: You might call this a dog of a good news story – but rather, it should be called a good news story about a dog named Zephyr. Zephyr, an 8-year-old golden retriever, was introduced to Board members by Dayna Brown, Director of Communications and Community Relations for the district, because the one-time service dog for a student now has changed jobs becoming a therapy dog at the school. Hillary Tanner, a social worker at the school, and kindergarten teacher Audrey Hensley together explained Zephyr has changed jobs – from being a service dog for a student to becoming a therapy dog.

Among his jobs is to help settle kindergarten students down and sooths sick students, explained Hensley. He travels throughout the building throughout the day, Hensley added. Being a Unit 5 staffer, he even has his own identification badge. “Kids read with him and they do math with him, so he’s learning lots of new books,” Tanner added.

George L. Evans Junior High School’s “Good News”: Chris McGraw, principal at Evans Junior High School, introduced Board members to students involved in the school’s chess program who recently competed in the 2020 Illinois Elementary School Association State Chess Championships on February 28-29, 2020. EJHS’ 6th grade team emerged State Champions out of 46 teams competing, while the Eagles’ 7th grade team members were crowned State Champions out of 54 teams. Not to be left out, EJHS’ 8th grade team placed 2nd out of 52 teams, missing out on finishing in 1st place by one half-point. EJHS’ chess program also had seven students win individual silver medals, and four students won individual bronze medals.

Normal Community High School’s “Good News”: Normal Community High School Principal Trevor Chapman introduced Board members to seniors Gregory Carter, and Jacob McBride, both member of local Boy Scout troops who worked on a project to earn their Eagle Scout designations. Carter, a member of Troop #912 and McBride, a member of Troop #920, were introduced to Board members for their efforts to make to improve areas of their school. Carter worked on a project which added a Gaga Ball Pit for use in the school gym. Gaga Ball gets its name from the Israeli word for “hit,” –or, ga – and started in Israel. GaGa is played with a ball and any number of players in an enclosed space. The object of the game is for players to use their hands to hit the other players with the ball, while avoiding being hit themselves. Players are eliminated if they are hit by the ball.

For his project, McBride turned his attention toward landscaping in the back of the school where he added picnic tables to the scene. Chapman told the gathering the projects Eagle Scouts choose don’t have to be done around the school, but he added, “these two young men chose to do projects that benefitted Normal Community and both chose projects that will be around for many, many years to come.”

Kingsley Junior High School’s “Good News”: Learning can sometimes be challenging for some students as they advance from elementary school to junior high. Kingsley Junior High School Principal Stacie France, after having discovered a book called The Learning Pit by James Nottingham, enlisted the help of KJHS’ digital media teacher, Danny Tanner, and two students, Lena Ganschow and Natalie Sokulski, to help develop such a device for their school which would help students.

With Tanner’s aid, Ganschow and Sokulski developed several Learning Pit drafts, and last summer, Learning Pit posters were printed for all KJHS classrooms. The concept of student ownership of KJHS, aided by the artist talents of the girls helped to encourage students, France said. Last summer, 15 KJHS staff members attended a training where Nottingham spoke. In October, KJHS’ entire staff participated in professional development led by Nottingham and a small group learned with him again at a session held prior to the Board meeting.

Chiddix Junior High School’s “Good News”: Chiddix Junior High School’s cheerleading team finished its competitions for the year with a 19-20 season, according to CJHS Athletic Director Wendy Davis, who presented the team and information before Board members. She explained the season started with a summer camp at CJHS hosting Bradley Junior High School. The team spent a week learning skills, cheers, building teamwork, and bonding. The team cheered at all home Boys Basketball games this season as well as a very strong competitive season. The Chargers started their competition season with a 1st place finish and overall Grand Champions of the entire competition at the Midwest Cheer Fest. They continued on this winning streak and placed 1st at the Farmington ICCA Invitational and the Wilmington ICCA Invitational. Competing against 25 teams in the ICCA Championship, CJHS cheer brought back a first place finish. The team ended their season by competing at Illinois Elementary School Association’s State event against 30 other teams, finishing 3rd, missing 1st place by .32 points.

Glenn Elementary And Benjamin Elementary Share In Some Musical “Good News”: Cari Roop, principal at Glenn Elementary School, introduced Board members to information concerning the Illinois Music Educators Association (ILMEA) which has, in the last three years provided an opportunity for students in grades 5 and 6 to audition for and attend District Choir event at Olivet Nazarene College in Bourbonnais, Illinois. Unit 5 has not had students attend at the 5th and 6th grade level until this year. Fifth grade students from this event. As a result, 11 students from Glenn and 5 from Benjamin were chosen to attend on November 16, 2019. They worked with students who represented ILMEA’s District 3 and with Erin Kozakis of the Schaumburg Youth Choir, their guest conductor, for 3 hours that morning before presenting a concert for their families. “The students at Glenn came before school and the students at Benjamin stayed after school and they worked diligently to prepare for their concert” Roop explained.

The Benjamin Elementary School students involved in this were: Srivaishnavi Puvvala, Hamsini Ganti, Madhulata Prabha, and Mahi Ganta. The Glenn Elementary School students involved were: Joe Morris, Philip Brandon, Laurel Gaff, and Lena Hemp.

District “Rocks Its Socks” For A “Good News” Item: To promote an upcoming event, Brown, joined by a number of the Board members, wore their funkiest pair of socks to wear to promote World Down Syndrome Day which will be on Saturday, March 21. With school not in session on Saturday, the district will get a jump on the event by celebrating it on Friday, March 20. Socks are used to promote this day because a picture of a person’s chromosomes looks something like a picture of a group of socks.

“In Unit 5, we try to recognize all types of different students,” Brown told the gathering, numbering around 200 who were there in support of students honored for a number of “good news” items. The district recently began honoring students in its autism program, she explained, adding staff and students are encouraged to wear bright socks, silly or mismatched socks to show support for what the day is honoring, “bringing some recognition to Down Syndrome,” she explained.

Retired NPD Officer Joins District As Director of Safety And Security: As a Normal Police officer, Greg Leipold had protecting the public as a priority, one he retired from last July wrapping up a 25-year career. At this meeting, it was announced he will join Unit 5 in the position of director of safety and security for the district. Dr. Ray Epperson, assistant district superintendent, introduced Leipold to Board members and the meeting’s audience. “He came highly recommended,” Epperson said. “He’s familiar with crisis management,” among other aspects of law enforcement,” Epperson told Board members.

Wes Temples To Become New AD At Normal West: Board members were informed Stan Lewis, athletic director at Normal Community West High School, will retire this summer. At the same time, the Board was introduced to the man who will succeed him. Wes Temples, who was head football coach at Normal Community High School for 10 seasons, from 2008-2017, will take over as AD this summer.

Superintendent Addresses Coronavirus Concerns: With news of people quarantining themselves after being diagnosed with the Coronavirus continue being reported, during his Superintendent Comments portion of the meeting, Dr. Mark Daniel told attendees the district is “trying to stay very much current on the matter. We are tapping into the Center for Disease Control, and tapping into Springfield with regards to State guidelines.

“But because of the constant change involved with this, we are having to constantly change what we are doing,” Daniel said. He explained the district has emergency days built into the school year calendar, and should any of those days being used, they will be made up for toward the end of the school year. He added the safety of the district’s students is what has priority as reason for any decisions made by district officials.

“Keep your child home if they have a fever,” Daniel advised parents. “They need to stay home and if it is the Coronavirus, those are excused absences. We will treat that as an excused absence because of the virus.”

“We are also monitoring daily absences in each of our 24 schools,” he said, adding hand-washing is a critical component to maintaining one’s health. He also advised, “When students are ill and they are still not over their illness, they will be moved to the school nurse’s station where ill students will be provided masks so they do not spread the germs.” Unit 5 has ordered “probably over 100 gallons of disinfectant” to help combat the disease from spreading. The order for disinfectant for the district is on back order as a result of the amount of need at this time, he added.

“We are concentrating on areas where large populations gather, but we are also looking at drawers and rest rooms and other areas,” Daniel reassured. Those at this meeting were made aware Daniel is in regular communication with superintendents from neighboring districts to share and take in any information on the matter.

Following Dr. Daniel’s comments, Brown added she and Michelle Lamboley, the district’s executive director for special services, have been working with local and State health organizations on the matter and following CDC guidelines, as well as working with the county health department, and various other State and county departments on this matter. “This situation is changing very fast,” Brown said, adding hundreds of emails come into the district as a result.

Brown added, “The Illinois State Board of Education has made no recommendation that we close as a result of this. I think that’s important. We are taking the recommendations of the county health department because they are the experts on this.

“The only other thing is, as we talk to parents about what is going on, what we say to them is as of the moment we are speaking with them,” Brown said, explaining that is because the district wants to give parents the most up-to-date information. She added, “I’ve never seen any situation, health or otherwise, change as rapidly as this has.” At this point, Brown said she and Lamboley are “information gatherers while continuing to work with health officials.”

Public Comments Center On Varying Topics: A total of six residents addressed Board members during the meeting. Their comment subjects ranged from how African-American students are disciplined in district grade schools to why the district has not put more of an effort to hire African-American teachers to concerns surrounding the Coronavirus to concerns surrounding the district’s use of Standards Based Grading. On this last matter, the Board heard a presentation concerning this matter before the meeting, which lasted three hours, was adjourned.

Students Taking An Intro To Ed Course Address Board: The Board also heard from Normal Community West High School students in a presentation concerning their experiences surrounding an Introduction to Education course. Many of the eight students who spoke to the Board said they have an interest in pursuing a career in education.

Next Board Meeting April 8: This is the only Board meeting scheduled for this month. The next scheduled Board meeting will be Wednesday, April 8 at district headquarters, beginning at 7p.m.

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