By Steve Robinson | June 18, 2020 - 10:52 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – Keeping technology throughout Unit 5 was the goal when Board members, meeting distantly on June 17, unanimously approved the district to enter into a four-year lease $2 million agreement with a tax levy not to exceed 0.5 percent, in order to purchase technology equipment.

District Business Manager Marty Hickman informed Board members Unit 5 anticipates receiving $1,494,000 as part of the Elementary and Secondary School Relief, or ESSER Grant. The money will go toward purchases of laptops or tablets for students. The amount should be enough for the district to purchase over 10,000 devices for elementary school students.

Hickman said one-quarter of the funds Unit 5 gets from the Act will be used to refresh the district’s Wireless Fidelity, or Wi-Fi system. Congress put aside approximately $13.2 billion for the ESSER Fund, which was awarded as part of the Federal-based Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Security Act. That act was designed to prepare for and respond to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Referring to district Wi-Fi, Hickman responded to a question from Board Member Mike Trask, explaining the district will purchase equipment for Wi-Fi, but added the Wi-Fi equipment at the elementary school level “should be able to handle the bandwidth requirements.”

Monies used will pay for students in third through fifth grades to have individual Chromebooks, Pre-Kindergarten through 2nd grade students to receive individual tablets, and charging equipment for district staff. The district would be looking at paying $500,000 principle payment annually minus interest, Hickman said.

Hickman said the district had a purchase order ready to go to the vendor pending Board approval, and that many school districts in the country find themselves readying to make such purchases at this time in time for distribution sometime next month. Devices for student use should arrive by mid-July, he said.

Board Member Alan Kalitzky inquired as to where the purchase puts Unit 5 in relation to similarly-sized districts. Michelle Lamboley, director of special education for the district, responded to Kalitzky, saying, locally, other area district are also in the process of updating such technology and that such purchases by Unit 5 would put the district, in her words, “on par” with surrounding districts.

Amended School Year 2019-20 Budget Approved: Board members unanimously approved an amended budget for the district for the 2019-20 school year totaling $193.6 million for all funds. Unit 5 showed it is closing out that school year in the black courtesy of a $14.4 million surplus, Hickman explained.

However, Hickman added, compared to property tax dollars the district received last year, Unit 5 came up short by about $20 million. The district is uncertain it will receive any further tax payments by the time the current fiscal year ends on June 30.

Remote Learning Update Provided: Board members received a progress report concerning how remote learning was working in the district since school facilities were closed toward the end of March in light of the Coronavirus situation Michelle Lamboley, director of special education for the district, provided Board members with a report which included mention that some teachers used Google Classroom to maintain structured learning for students. She said the district made sure foreign language students learning English and special education students were able to continue keeping up with lessons using modified lessons, when necessary, which connected to subjects being taught.

She added that parents were surveyed twice during the remote learning period to see what comments or issues may have been addressed to the district. The first survey generated 3,000 responses when it was taken during the first week of remote learning, and the second survey, taken the last week of remote learning, brought in 1,300 responses.

Each school were shown results from the surveys, Lamboley explained. She said among issues addressed by parents included the amount of time students spent on remote learning activities and how parents felt about the difficulty level of the activities the students were doing.

The district also surveyed teachers, checking to see how they felt about how engaged they believed students were during remote learning, Lamboley said. “We definitely saw that student interest started to decline as the year went on,” she told Board members. Teachers and staff monitored student participation by reaching out to families, she added. School counselors, school resource officers, and Greg Leipold, Security Director for the district, were dispatched to make home visits as a means of doing well-being checks on families, she explained.

“Overall, the feedback we received showed remote learning was successful,” Lamboley reported. “Our teachers, our students, our families really adjusted quickly to this new learning environment and I would just say that I am very proud of how people adjusted.” During the period, she noted Unit 5 met learning guidelines established by Illinois State Board of Education.

The surveys showed “parents were satisfied with our efforts,” Lamboley added. “They understood the restraints of moving to remote learning so quickly.” But, she added, parents did express the belief that, should remote learning be a necessity come the fall semester, they would like to see the district do more to meet students’ needs. Unit 5 is studying responses in order to respond to parents’ concerns should remote learning be employed again in the fall, Lamboley said.

Board Member Barry Hitchins verified whether younger students would continue to interact with one another without technology sidetracking them. Lamboley responded by saying, “I think we would work carefully to make sure that we have a balance between the use of technology and our regular processes. We know that, at the elementary level, the amount of screen time is important to keep an eye on.” A district task force continues to study the subject of technology use by young students in the classroom, she added.

Two Long-Time Employees Promoted: Promotions bestowed upon two long-time district employees were brought to Board members’ attention during the session. Joe Adelman, district operations manager, relayed to Board members that Norm Hicks, a 32-year employee with the district, was recognized by Adelman for his efforts during his time at Unit 5. His career began at Parkside Junior High School as a custodian. For the last 18 years, he has served as a groundskeeper, during 10 of those he has added supervising snow and ice removal crews.

Adelman also recognized Tom Rockwell, a 20-year district employee, a manager of special operations. Rockwell’s career with the district began as a custodian at Normal Community High School, moving his way to work with HVAC special maintenance.

Supt. Mark Daniel Absent From Board Meeting: Although the 1 hour 21 minute session was to have been the final one for District Superintendent Dr. Mark Daniel, he was not present. On May 26, Dr. Daniel was introduced to media as the new superintendent of the district known as Fort Wayne Community Schools, according to reports by Peoria’s WMBD-TV and the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette newspaper.

Last September, Dr. Daniel publicly announced that he would be leaving Unit 5 at the end of the current school year so that he and his wife, Janet, could live somewhere closer to family because they had become first-time grandparents, which meant attempting to seek an opportunity in the Chicago area. His last day on the job with Unit 5 is June 30.

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