By Steve Robinson | April 16, 2020 - 2:02 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – Employing a phone-in system, Normal-based Unit 5 School Board members met a week later than scheduled, on April 15, to hold their regularly-scheduled meeting. During the session, which lasted 30 minutes, Board members were informed the district will need to issue working cash bonds earlier than planned to have available working cash on hand to finish the fiscal year. That decision came as result of a McLean County Board decision concerning it property tax deadline.

District Business Manager Marty Hickman informed Board members relayed to Board members McLean County Treasurer’s Office moved back the due date residents have to turn in their property tax payments to June 17. As a result, Hickman explained, the district is cashing the bonds to have money on hand for expenditures.

Board members voted last July to inject the cash into the district’s coffers. At a meeting last December, Board members passed a measure intending to sell $29 million in working cash bonds as a means of addressing a deficit.

Hickman said cashing the bonds ahead of schedule was “to avoid any risks on our cash flow or have any issues with payments in June.” Not doing this now, he added, would have jeopardized the district’s ability to meet payroll distribution in July.

Superintendent Credits IT Staff, Food Service, District Directors For Efforts: District Superintendent Dr. Mark Daniel gave credit to a number of things taking place in Unit 5 which are helping families who are in need during the COVID-19 pandemic. First, he gave appreciation to the district’s food service staff for being able to feed roughly 1,200 daily meals to students, and followed that up with thanking district custodians who have been assisting food service in the assembly and distribution of those meals. “Bus drivers have delivered those meals, so they have been involved as well as food service, and principals have followed the buses on Fridays when we distribute those,” Daniel explained.

He added United Way of McLean County has joined in the food distribution effort, helping distribute dinners. “I am very, very appreciative for this because our food needs are growing and it seems as though we are continuing to raise the bar and meet that expectation.”

Daniel added the district is doing what it can to, also, “meet social and emotional needs of students and staff.” In addition, Daniel said, “Teachers have been phenomenal in contacting their individual students that they had in their classrooms. Principals have also been following up with staff, and those few students we have not yet connected with.”

He added Greg Leipold, the former Normal Police officer and recently-named Security Director for the district, has been checking up on students with home visits when the district has not heard from those students. In addition, he said, members of schools with Promise Council members have touched base with students, providing the students with activities to do.

The district has been in remote learning mode since the pandemic began. “At first, it was extremely intense, learning to use the devices,” Daniel said. He reminded that Unit 5 would prefer staff and students use Google Hangout, Google Classroom, and Google Webex for remote learning because the district’s Instructional Technology department staffers are able to support those items.

“Teachers have been very creative in their lessons,” Daniel added. He said he had a chance to observe lessons given by teachers in sixth through 12th grade and said he found them “very engaging. We’re very thankful for that.”

He said the district was responding to questions from both students and parents in a timely manner. He praised Maureen Backe, director of elementary education, and Dan Lamboley, director of secondary education, Michelle Lamboley, director of special education, and Darrin Cooper, director of teaching and learning, for their efforts in assembling the format used for remote learning. He also added his appreciation to Lindsey Dickinson, president of Unit Five Education Association for her efforts in helping organize the distance learning program.

“Without us coming together and truly rowing in the same direction, and supporting each other, I don’t think we’d be where we are today,” Daniel said. “And it’s very obvious that having our teachers in the front of the classroom is the best learning model.”

With regard to problems experienced with computer connectivity, Daniel added, “We’re working hard addressing issues we are having. If students have computers that are broken, we are able to swap those out and get them repaired.” District IT staff had 650 service requests once distance learning began last month and managed to reduce that number to 10 just prior to the Board meeting.

UFEA Introduces New Website: Dickinson wrote a public comment to the Board, which was read by Kim Stewart, Executive Assistant to the Superintendent and Clerk of the Board.

In the past few weeks, Dickinson penned, “We’ve been teaching remotely and our students have been learning remotely. It has been a challenge for teachers and students and for their parents and caregivers. And it has been a real challenge in how we do our work and how our students learn.” She said the current situation has called on teachers to seek creative ways to do their jobs. UFEA, she explained, has launched a new website to help students, parents, and caregivers called ufeacares.org.

Dickinson wrote the site features a directory of remote learning resources which the organization recommends. She added all grade levels and content areas are covered. She said resources will be updated for as long as the closure lasts, and welcome suggestions from students, parents, and educators.

“We miss our schools and classrooms, and we miss our colleagues,” Dickinson wrote. “But most of all, we miss our students and the connections we make with them at school. There is no way remote learning can replace, reproduce, or replicate the one-on-one interactions that happen in our schools every day. All we can do as students, parents, educators, and caregivers is to do the best we can. We know we are – and will be – better together.”

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