NORMAL – When Normal Community High School plays their first football game at home on Sept. 3, they will not be playing at Ironmen Field — and the reason for that has nothing to do a cancellation or the game being moved to another venue. It has everything to do with honoring one of the school’s more recognized head coaches. That’s because, prior to that Ironmen first home game against Big 12 Conference foe Peoria Manual, the moniker of the stadium the team has played in since 1996 will be formally changed to Dick Tharp Field.

Board members unanimously approved the measure, part of the Board’s omnibus agenda, to make the change at their July 19 meeting. Tharp coached the Ironmen for 22 seasons from 1968 until 1988. During that time, his teams amassed a 158-50-5 record, making him the Ironmen’s winningest coach in school history. His teams reached IHSA quarterfinals seven times managing to finish in 2nd place to close out their 1974 season. The team also made eight playoff appearances. The team was also the 1974 Class 4A State Runner-Up. No district funds will be used for this change. Any costs will be covered by private donations.

Former NCHS head coach Mike Goodwin explained the notion to make the change was brought up when the school moved from its previous location on Kingsley Street, but that there were many other priorities needing to be addressed then and the notion about naming the stadium got benched. With NCHS preparing for their 125th football season this year, he said, the timing seemed appropriate. Goodwin said a conversation between himself and current Ironmen head coach Jason Drengwitz which put the idea of naming the field after Tharp in motion.

The name change will happen in a ceremony preceding the Ironmen’s 2021 season home opener Friday, Sept. 3 prior to NCHS hosting Big 12 Conference foe Peoria Manual at 7p.m.

District Elaborates On How Sex Ed Will Be Taught: School Board President Amy Roser addressed issues which the Board had heard public comment on at the Board’s lone meeting in June and again during this session. On the subject of sex education, State Senate Bill 818 allows for age-appropriate material to be taught, Roser explained. She added the bill puts requirements on the subject if school districts offer comprehensive sex education at various grade levels.

“Unit 5 does not teach sex education at the elementary level, and therefore, is not required to follow the resulting K-5 guidelines,” Roser said. She added, “Unit 5 does teach sex education as part of our health curriculum at the secondary level, and is thus, subject to the resulting grade 6 through 12 guidelines.” She added both abstinence and contraception are part of the district’s curriculum with teaching materials used are “evidence based and medically accurate.”

She added the district has a task force which reviews its health education curriculum as a result of passage of SB 818. Task force members, she said, “use National Sex Education Standards as a resource along with training from the Illinois State Schools Alliance.” As a result, what will be taught “is expected to be more inclusive and affirming for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.” A junior high task force will examine the curriculum this fall, she added. She mentioned parents do have the right to opt their students out of this instruction.

NCHS’ “Good News” Regarding Track & Field: Those attending the meeting were informed about a 1st place finish achieved by Leslie Fisher in the triple jump with a distance of 14.67 meters. This not only helped the team but also was a personal achievement for Leslie.

Board members were also informed about members of Normal Community High School’s Track and Field team’s most recent accomplishment – finishing in 3rd place in Class 3A while competing in Illinois High School Association Track and Field Championship at Eastern Illinois University’s campus on June 19. NCHS Principal Dave Johnson acknowledged the efforts of head coach Chad Aubin, and assistant coaches Megan Starkey, Kyrin Tucker, and Grant Basting for their efforts for the successful season the team experienced.

First Student Reps Address Coming School Year: Unit 5’s 2021-22 school year is about a month away and representatives from the district’s busing provider, Cincinnati, Ohio-based First Student Bus Co. gave Board members a brief presentation on their preparedness with students returning to classrooms. Nick Sorey, location manager for the bus company, told Board members, “We are excited to go,” and followed that up by introducing Zachary Corey, safety manager for handling Unit 5. That’s after transporting 1,700 students to and from summer school daily this year, Sorey explained, adding that was done with an on-time performance rate of 97 percent throughout the previous school year and into summer school.

Sorey said First Student needs 147 drivers to be able to cover all routes, and added that as of the meeting, the firm “is on track to be above that at the start of school.”

Opposition To Mandating Masks Continues: Some members of the audience of roughly 50 people attending the session refused to adhere to the State mandate concerning wearing masks and displayed signs registering their opposition to the mandate.

Kari Donoho, a college instructor, said, “There is not a single study that proves that masking works. It is an unproven conjecture at best, and an evil fear mongering control tactic at worst.”

Parent Dawn Bergeron told Board members she raised two children in the district and has one child remaining in Unit 5. She told Board members masking is unhealthy and “compromises our kids’ health, not to mention their psychological well-being. It blows my mind how many people cannot see through the deception we are being fed.”

Parent Mollie Emery, who also introduced herself as a fill-in school nurse for the district, said her child did regress last year in what had been learned, and “pray that we, as a district, a board, and a community, can encourage choice and student-centered decisions.” She said she was bothered by the fact the State of Illinois is now fully open but that schoolchildren “were being forced to wear masks.” She added nieces and nephews in Iowa didn’t miss school time and aren’t wearing masks.

Dana Niswonger told Board members he believes children should be in school because it helps them to learn in that setting. But he added he understands if young people pick up the Covid virus, there is a potential of them spreading it. He suggested that until a vaccine is found for school age kids, that a mask mandate be put into place. That comment prompted some voices in the audience to say “no.”

Parent Christina Faulkner said there was “no evidence or documentation that proves masks work,” adding evidence of “more and more districts going mask optional for the fall.”

Parent Jason McCullough told Board members, “My children will not be your students nor your sources of revenue if you continue this mask madness.” He added he was pulling his kids out of the district because of how the district was handling the pandemic currently. Parent Danielle Renee said she also opposed mandated mask mandates, explaining, “the only people who should be making health decisions about my children are my husband and myself.”

Critical Race Theory, Diversity Addressed In Public Comments: Another different matter was brought up when Marc Judd addressed Board members saying he objected to the teaching of Critical Race Theory, explaining, “CRT is racist. It seeks to divide us into a black America and a white America. There is one race and one blood – the human race. God made all of us in his image.” Judd also objected to sex education being taught, saying teaching that subject was “not the government’s business” and doing so was the job of parents. He said parents who don’t want their children being taught sex education could request the child be asked to opt out of it. He added even a student being opted out won’t keep them being with kids who took part in the classes. He requested the district return to “classic education.”

Public Comment Concerning Disciplinary Practices Mentioned: Courtney Marks addressed concerns of a parental group which has concerns about what the group sees as inequity in the district with matters concerning disciplinary practices related to black students, hiring practices to incorporate a more diverse staff, and academic achievement among those students in the district.

By Steve Robinson | June 17, 2021 - 10:43 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – A recently passed State Senate Bill mandating the teaching of sex education to primary school students prompted nearly 200 people to attend June 16’s regularly-scheduled meeting of Normal-based Unit 5 School Board objecting to what the bill asks school districts to do in terms of teaching the subject to younger students.

Illinois Senate Bill 818 would create a new curriculum for grades K-5, and a “sexual health education” for grades 6-12, according to the website Capitol News Illinois. But District Superintendent Dr. Kristen Weikle informed 180 parents who attended the meeting at Normal Community West High School’s cafeteria. Dr. Weikle informed the gathering Unit 5 doesn’t teach sex education in its elementary schools. As a result, she said, the district “is not required to follow the guidelines at the elementary level.” That information brought about applause from some audience members.

She added students in grades 6 through 12 do receive sex education which, she said, “includes abstinence and contraception, teaching with materials that are evidence based, and medically accurate.”

Opposition To Mandating Masks Continues: Some members of the audience of roughly 200 people attending the session refused to adhere to the State mandate concerning wearing masks prompting Board President Amy Roser to ask Board Attorney Curt Richardson to inform the gathering about what the district policy on the matter is. “Any person who refuses to engage in conduct prohibited by our policy including the State rule, may be ejected from school property,” Richardson explained. There were two Normal Police officers on hand at the session.

There were, as there had been at previous meetings since the COVID-19 pandemic began over a year ago, a number of comments regarding mandating students wear masks, all of them opposed. Parent Jason McCullough told Board members if the masks mandate is not lifted by the district, he would pull his children out of the district.

“Cultural Race Theory” Addressed By Commentors: There were even attendees who signed up to speak in public comments over cultural race theory because of concerns that issue was being or going to be taught in Unit 5 schools. Britannica.com defines “cultural race theory” as “Critical race theory is an intellectual movement and a framework of legal analysis according to which (1) race is a culturally invented category used to oppress people of colour and (2) the law and legal institutions in the United States are inherently racist insofar as they function to create and maintain social, political, and economic inequalities between white and nonwhite people.”

NCHS special education teacher Dustin Underwood was among a number of attendees who addressed this issue explaining to Board members he considers himself a “culturally responsive teacher,” and as such, for him, means he should care about and respect the culture the student comes from. He said he also maintains relationships with his students’ parents to help make sure he monitors their concerns.

In part, Lupita Shonn, the parent of a recent Unit 5 graduate raised an objection to the bill, saying Unit 5 “is clueless about race,” suggesting grade schools should be color blind.”

NCHS’ “Good News” Honors Track Team’s Achievement: Board members were introduced to members of Normal Community High School’s girls’ track team which came away from a State event with record setting times, including a new school record in one event when they competed at Illinois High School Association Track and Field Competition on Eastern Illinois University’s campus in Charleston on June 12. The first event NCHS’ team won was 4×400 Relay with a time of 3:57:34 which broke a previous mark held by the school. Team members who competed were Abigail Ziemer, Carina Ingst, Jordynn Griffin, and Ali Ince. The team is coached by Den Patten, Austin Peters, and Marcus Mann.

Ince, a freshman, then added to the team trophy case by winning the 800 meter run with a time of 2:07.06 which was just .01 seconds from setting a State meet record. Ince then competed in the 1,600 meter run finishing first again with a time of 4:40.85, breaking an IHSA State record in the process. Maurer thanked head track coach Marcus Mann, and assistant coaches Austin Peters, Den Patten, Amy Scott, and Tom Patten for their efforts this season. Maurer said NCHS coming away from the event with those medals “was just amazing.”

District To Finish 2020-21 School Year With Slight Surplus: Board members received what could be considered a surprise when District Chief Financial Officer Marty Hickman presented a budget update for the current school year which ends June 30. Hickman explained the district will finish the school year with a budget that indicates a slight surplus of $3.5 million as the district reported having a budget of $202.3 million for all funds. Hickman said Board members will approve the district’s fiscal year 2021-22 budget during a meeting in September.

Another financial matter Board members addressed was to vote unanimously to approve adoption of the amended budget.

Superintendent Comments Mention Masks, COVID Shots, Screenings: District Superintendent Dr. Kristen Weikle covered a number of subjects in her Superintendent’s comments, starting with reminding roughly between 180-200 citizens sitting either in or near the cafeteria that the district adheres to policies regarding the pandemic issued by Illinois State Board of Education. She explained ISBE requires masks to be worn by staff, students, and visitors on school grounds. “As a school district, we do not get to pick and choose what rules we will follow and which ones we will not,” Dr. Weikle explained, adding the district would continue to work closely with ISBE and continue to seek guidance from Illinois Department of Public Health.

Dr. Weikle also pointed out ISBE and IDPH are not requiring students to repeat the COVID vaccine for the 2021-22 school year if already vaccinated. If students and staff have had the shot and have come in close contact with someone with COVID will not have to be in quarantine. Additionally, she said, ISBE and IDPH are encouraging school districts to offer voluntary COVID screening tests next school year.

Trio Of New School Administrators Introduced: When students return in the fall, they may find new administrators in their school’s front offices and will begin their duties July 1. Jon Haws is the new associate principal at Parkside Junior High School. He most recently spent eight years at Metcalf School, Illinois State University’s Lab School, where he served as a physical education teacher, as well as a coach, and leader in several building and district-level committees.

Megan Bozarth is the new principal at Carlock Elementary School. This upcoming school year will mark Megan’s 21st year in education. For the past 5 years, she has been at Dean of Students/Activities Director at Metcalf School, and Heather Rodgers is the new principal at Cedar Ridge Elementary School. Heather brings 10 years of experience as an educator, all of which have been spent at Cedar Ridge. She had taught 2nd and 5thgrades before becoming assistant principal at Cedar Ridge in 2019.

By Steve Robinson | June 1, 2021 - 10:43 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – A teacher from Normal Community High School leads the list of instructors who were honored for winning numerous awards recently given by Beyond The Books Foundation and were recognized by members of Normal-based Unit 5 School Board during the governing body’s May 26 meeting held in Normal Community West High School’s cafeteria. A total of 17 district teachers were awarded monies for 19 projects. The total amount of grant monies awarded Unit 5 teachers who applied came to $59,138.

Schools where grant winners work, project titles, and the amounts awarded are:

Normal Community High School: Liz Harris, Normal Community High School, “Making A (Green)house A Home, $15,000.

Colene Hoose Elementary School: Jason Alexander, Colene Hoose Elementary School, “Community Composting,” $$1,315;

Pepper Ridge Elementary School: Shauna Gourley, Pepper Ridge Elementary, “Feeding The Mind,” $4,875;

Prairieland Elementary School: Kelli Halsey, Prairieland Elementary, “STEAM Playground,” $2803;

Chiddix Junior High School: Lisa Galliart, Chiddix Junior High School, “Apple Pharaohs, $233;

Parkside Junior High School: Jessica Stutz, Parkside Junior High School, “I Need To Unwind,” $311;

Glenn Elementary School: Jamie Haseman, Glenn Elementary, “Collaboration Boxes,” $355; and Kim Harmon, “A Path To Success!” $4,900;

Brigham Early Learning: Melissa Adams-McCarthy, Brigham Early Learning, “Books Alive: Using Objects, Actions, And Engaged Play To Create Literacy,” $400;

Normal Community High School: Brad Smith, Normal Community High School, “Bioengineering-Brain-Machine Interface And Neuroscience Unit,” $2,000; Daniel Higby, “Hands On Minds On Community,” $4,994; Brad Bovenkerk, “Whisper Rooms: Amplifying Student Voice,” $4,840; Stephanie Hedgespeth, “#DisruptTexts: Disrupting To Kill A Mockingbird,” $4,391.

George L. Evans Junior High School: Kate Shanks, “You Can’t Handle The Truth: Taking A Stand For Characters On Trial,” $1,059; and for “Boom, Bang, Crash: Adding Sound Effects To Old Time Radio Broadcasts,” $514.

Benjamin Elementary School: Mary Aper, “You Can COUNT On First Grade,” $400; Jennifer Gibson, “Getting Math In Students’ Hands So They Understand It With Their Heads (District level Unit 5), $1,850; and Lauren Romero, “Instrument And More: Adapting Classic Methods To Current Realities,” $4,268; and “Orff Instruments – Helping Meet Students Where They’re At,” $4,985.

By Steve Robinson | May 31, 2021 - 10:41 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – A teacher from Normal Community High School lead the list of instructors who were honored for winning numerous awards recently and recognized by members of Normal-based Unit 5 School Board during the governing body’s May 26 meeting held in Normal Community West High School’s cafeteria.

NCHS’ Liz Harris Wins $10,000 “Beyond The Box” Grant: NCHS teacher Liz Harris was honored with “Beyond The Box” Foundation’s top honor of its $10,000 “Beyond The Box” Grant for her project called, “Making a (Green)house A Home.” The goal of this project was to renovate the greenhouse overseen by students with lessons by Harris. Presently, the greenhouse is not in functional condition, according to Principal Trevor Chapman. In his memo to Board members, Chapman said the grant money will be used to update its heating and cooling, watering, and electrical systems in order to grow flowers and vegetables.

The greenhouse is also meant to serve as space for NCHS students enrolled in the school’s Animal Science course which provides students with a dual credit opportunity which provides them with hands-on learning. This semester, the students’ studies centered on animal husbandry and animal reproduction.

NCHS, Normal West ACT-SO Award Winners Honored: Eight students from both Unit 5 schools who won at the ACT-SO Awards on May 21 were introduced to Board members and recognized for their accomplishments. ACT-SO stands for Afro-Academic Cultural, Technological, and Scientific Olympics. Eight students, three from NCHS and five from Normal West, were honored for their accomplishments. The three students from NCHS honored, how they finished, and their subject they competed in are: Isha Gollapudi, a gold medal each in Architecture and Painting; Bradley Ross Jackson, bronze medal in Poetry Performance; and Aniya Thompson, gold medal in Music Vocal Contemporary.

The five from Normal West honored, how they finished, and their subject they competed in are: Kodzo Aduonum, gold medal, Drawing; Destinee Byrd, gold medal in Poetry Written and silver medal in Poetry Performance; Jasmyn Jordan, silver medal, Poetry Written; Nashyla McQuirter, gold medal, Biology/Microbiology; and Sahara Williams, a bronze medal each in Poetry Written and Music Vocal Contemporary.

NCHS’ Madelyn Hubble Wins FFA Honor For Second Straight Year: NCHS teacher Madelyn Hubble won the competition at Illinois Future Farmers of America’s Ag Education Career Development event. She created and taught a lesson plan to a group of high school students on the subject of communication called “Communication Charades” based on the popular party game, stressed verbal and non-verbal cues. This was Hubble’s second consecutive win at the FFA event but because of the pandemic, the first time she was able to present her lesson in person.

She told Board members she found being able to present the lesson and to talk to the judges afterward to answer their questions to be “a super cool experience. It allowed me to give insight to one of my passions.”

Normal West’s FFA Win State Livestock Judging Event: Normal Community West High School Principal Dave Johnson announced Normal West’s placed first at the FFA State Livestock Judging event which was judged virtually on May 21. Team members Chloe Boitnott, Paige Lenemager, Lauren Mohr, and Preston Rhode saw their exhibits place first in a competition that had eight classes. In addition to placing classes of beef, swine, sheep, and goats, students completed three breeding selection classes and a class of cattle yield and quality grading. This event follows the animal sciences courses these students have been studying. Normal West teacher Parker Bane is the FFA advisor.

NORMAL – With COVID-19 still in our midst and parents and students age 12 and up receiving vaccinations, District Superintendent Dr. Kristen Weikle took to the visiting speaker’s lectern and faced members of Normal-based Unit 5 School Board and laid out plans for the upcoming school year. First item on her list: Students will be expected back in classrooms when the 2021-22 school year opens on Wednesday, Aug. 18.

Dr. Weikle began by explaining she and assistant superintendent Michelle Lamboley had meetings with groups she identified as “a variety of stakeholders” within the district – primarily Kindergarten through fifth grade educators followed by educators serving 6th through 12th graders, as well with the district’s Citizen Advisory Council, as well as the district’s pandemic advisory committee.

First, she explained, the district would purchase, with Board approval, equipment which would be attached to heating, air conditioning, and ventilation equipment at all of the district’s 17 schools. The equipment, Dr. Weikle said, “Will help with the air quality to kill a number of viruses.” She said the system to be purchased has been tested against the COVID virus “and proven to have a high level of efficiency” in fighting it.

She added Illinois Department of Public Health is requiring schools throughout the State to continue to mandate use of masks through until the end of the school year. Dr. Weikle added she has not heard any information from IDPH regarding the status of the use of masks for the 2021-22 school year. As a result of that, Dr. Weikle told Board members, “We’re preparing for all possible

She explained the district hosted two vaccination sessions for students and that district employees have been getting their shots of either the Moderna or Pfizer created vaccine. Currently, the Superintendent said, 70 percent of district employees have received their shots.

Dr. Weikle then quoted a resolution passed by Illinois State Board of Education which states, “All schools must resume fully in-person learning for all student attendance days provided and pursuant to” COVID.” She then told Board members, “So basically, that statement right there means we have to provide in-person instruction to our students.”

She said ISBE added that as a result of its resolution, at-home learning may, may, not will be available for remote instruction. That would also mean a student who meets “specific medical criteria” may be able to continue remote learning. She said the district would need to see doctor’s information before granting a student approval to continue remote learning. How many students fit that situation, Dr. Weikle said, will determine the staffing level the district will need to provide.

She added remote students may be kept together under one campus. Doing this, Dr. Weikle explained, “helps the parents find one common place to get information from.” She added this gives “families, students, and staff one administrator, and support staff to go to should they need further assistance.”

Dr. Weikle told Board members and cautioned parents wanting to continue to exercise the remote option that should they change their mind and want to put their student back into a physical classroom, such changes will not be permitted to take place after one month but changes can take place at the end of the semester. She added students in 6th through 12th grade who opt to do remote learning will not be permitted to participate in extra curricular activities per a State School Code.

Human Resources Update: Board members were informed by Roger Baldwin, director of human resources for the district, that among the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic has created for the district included issues revolving around sick leave and family leave matters, and various staffing issues.

Budget Update: Among the highlights District Chief Financial Officer Marty Hickman presented to Board members were that the district experienced less income from food service due to fewer meals being served by schools because of the pandemic. Countering that, the district received more Federal revenue from Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) Grants. Conversely, district teachers encountered lower than expected salary and benefit expenses due to online learning.

He added the district’s spending laid out as anticipated in the last fiscal year resulting in a $3.5 million surplus for the 2020-21 school year. The district had a budget of $202 million in all of its funds.

Hickman added the savings were primarily due to unneeded positions which weren’t filled for online learning. In addition, Hickman explained the district mended budget for the current fiscal year includes $13 million abatement from Working Cash into Education Fund. He said the actual amount could be lower and require Board approval at their June 9 meeting.

Public Comments Continues To Revolve Around Masking Children: While the district continues to abide by State mandates regarding masking students, seven citizens spoke during public comments again protesting needing this to be done to students. Katie Lavoie, a parent of future Towanda Elementary School students, told Board members she will not mask her children in public and said she believes masking children who have no illness is wrong. She said she was speaking out on behalf of those who do the same and fear retaliation on the part of the district.

Resident Larry Dibway also addressed Board members, calling the policy instituted by the District, which was following a State mandate of requiring masks, “cruel, unnatural, and unneeded and capricious.”

Dawn Bergeron, parent of a Normal West student, became emotional as she explained her son “wants to come to school, he wants to see his teachers, he wants to see his friends, he wants to see smiles.” Adding that she takes part in natural health, she said the policy of wearing masks “has never made sense to me from day one.” Saying she is employed in holistic health care, she told Board members, “There are plenty of ways to heal the body and build the immune system.” She added school lunches feed chemicals to students.