By Kendra Hennis
The Villa Grove Board of Education meeting was called to order with all members present at 6 p.m. on June 18. To abide by current executive order, board members met in a closed meeting and streamed it on the Villa Grove CUSD 302 Facebook page.
The first order of business was a presentation by Kevin Heid of Stifel Nicolaus on the current state of the sales tax and the funding for the bond. Heid presented to the board that while sales tax was expected to be down 25 percent this year, the board does not need to have major concern because the revenue is expected to increase and that the numbers should all balance out.
Board President Jim Clark then said to the board, “Let me take a few minutes and tell how the Villa Grove school district has gotten to where we are now under Norm Tracy’s leadership. Go back to July of 2015, five short years ago. I had been the board president for about two months, we suddenly needed a new Superintendent, our finances were in horrible shape, we had just wiped out all of the working cash funds to make payroll, we did not have a budget for the upcoming school year, and morale for most employees was very low. I remember thinking at the time ‘what have I gotten myself into.’ At that time, the board selected Mr. Kestner and myself to select an interim Superintendent for the upcoming school year. We had interviewed a couple individuals, but I was encouraged to interview another individual when he returned from vacation. That was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, because that gentleman was Norm Tracy. After we spoke, I knew hands down that he was the person that we desperately needed for Villa Grove schools.
Let’s take a look at what has been accomplished under Norm’s leadership in five short years as the Superintendent of Villa Grove schools. These are not listed in order of importance, and it is not an all-inclusive list. In the last five years, he’s trained and mentored two new principals, installed high-speed fiber optics internet throughout the building, implemented take-home Chromebooks for grades 7 through 12, brought back a full-time band director, brought back a full-time buisness program and teacher, added new teachers and resources for curriculum for junior high and high school students, implemented a full-time student resource officer, upgraded the camera system, updated radio system, remodeled the office area to improve security, brought in new evaluation tools to streamline the evaluation program, implemented the Teacherease program, implemented the MTSS program, helped with getting a theater program started this fall, began the preschool for all program, reduced class sizes in the elementary school, added air conditioning system, remodeled many bathrooms and classrooms, the addition of a new gymnasium and new classrooms, improved staff morale and working conditions, and he has allowed and helped the staff with the switch to remote learning.
As important as all of this is for our district, I think more important is Norm’s philosophy on education and how he treats the staff. He walked into this distinct during a very tumultuous time, morale was at an all time low, fundamental support was alarming, and several staff members considered leaving the district. Norm took on the challenges of facing it all with grace, dignity, professionalism and integrity. Norm worked hard to turn this district into what it is today. For that, the community should be eternally grateful. It does not matter what job you do in this district, whether you are a teacher, aid, custodian, bus driver, cook, administrative assistant, or principal, Mr. Tracy treats everyone with the same level of respect and expects everyone to work together for the betterment of our students. We are privileged and blessed that Norm spent five years here. He shared many lessons, led by example, and considered kindness and fairness first in every decision that he made. Norm, you have personally taught me so much in our five years together. To me, this is so much more than a board president/Superintendent relationship. I consider you a mentor, a friend, and I am going to miss our lunch meetings, your advice and your guidance. To quote Shirley Badman, Villa Grove Office Manager, “of all the bosses in all the world, I am sure glad he was ours, even for a short time. He will be greatly missed.”
The board also went around to individual board members and principals to allow them to share their stories of Norm. As well as allowing Norm to speak to the board and reflect on the time spent with them and in the Villa Grove community.
Following the approval of new buisness, the board moved to Superintendent Tracy’s report. Tracy began his report talking to the board about the school’s current employee insurance policy under Egyptian Pricing, Tracy hopes that the board and Mrs. Munson can get out of their current policy and explore a different option for health insurance, as the current rates are very expensive and many employees have to look at other options. He also began the discussion on reopening schools in the fall after receiving guidance from the IASB. Tracy said that the principals and superintendent will need to meet to develop a plan for the fall once they recieve more guidance from the state. However, the school has been purchasing items like PPE and other cleaning and sanitizing supplies from the money received from the CARES Act for students and staff, and will hopefully be able to recieve the supplies soon.
Tracy also talked construction updates with the board. At this time, construction to the gym and new classrooms are on schedule. The classrooms are still on track to be finished by August 1. They are hopeful that the gym will also be almost finished by September 19 for the city to be able to include it in their celebrations. Tracy presented some items to the board for them to vote on, and the board voted to approve the purchase of a fire hydrant system for the new gym, the expenditure presented for gym floor graphics, and the playground renovation updates. The board then approved a motion giving the Superintendent the power to approve change orders as needed for the gym construction project. The board also discussed the Joint Annual Conference in Chicago and if they were still interested in attending, at this time they would like to give it a little longer before deciding and revisit it at the July meeting. Tracy ended by thanking the board for the plaque and their kind words.
The board then moved to junior high and high school Principal Sara Jones’ report. Jones began by talking to the board about the school handbook, and said that she made changes to reflect their input at the May meeting. She also noted that there will still be some kind of graduation event on July 26 and they are working on creating the best and safest option for the students and their families. They are also looking at the options of holding the event outside, or creating a video for families to be able to drive-thru and watch. Jones also congratulated Les Albert on winning the Illinois Space Society short story essay contest, Andrew McQueen on placing first place for the ACES for computer science competition, and the scholastic bowl team on their performance at the state competition.
Bobby Beck, elementary school Principal then gave his report to the board. Beck sent his thank you to the school staff for all of their hard work in finishing up the school year. He also announced that class lists and schedules are ready for the fall. Finally, he presented that they are currently working on developing online registration for the school year through Teacherease. He has hopes that this will be in place on August 1 for families to be able to register online for the fall.
The board also:
• Approved the minutes from the May 18 regular board meeting.
• Approved the closed session minutes from the May 18 regular board meeting.
• Approved the authorization of the payment of bills.
Approved the amended budget for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2020.
• Approved the fee schedule of $25 per activity (excluding choir and band) for the 2020-21 school year.
• Approved the Consolidated District Plan.
• Approved an update to the co-op agreement for basketball cheerleading to be removed from the agreement.
• Approved the first reading of the PRESS Plus 4:180-AP3 Administrative Procedure for Grant Flexibility and Approval of Payment of Employee Salaries During a Pandemic.
• Approved an agreement with Russell Leigh & Associates for audit for the year ending June 30, 2020 at a cost not to exceed $6,000.
• Approved a renewal of the Property/Casualty/Liability Insurance.
• Approved adoption of Resolution Establishing Prevailing Wages.
• Approved the 2020-21 board of education meeting dates for at 6 p.m on July 20, 2020, August 17, 2020, September 21, 2020, October 19, 2020, November 16, 2020, December 21, 2020, January 19, 2021, February 16, 2021, March 15, 2021, April 19, 2021, May 17, 2021, and June 21, 2021.
• Approved a motion for the expense of installing a new fire hydrant for the new gym.
• Approved a motion for the expenditure of the gym floor graphics as presented.
• Approved a motion for playground renovation upgrades.
• Approved the proposed changes to the high school handbook.
• Accepted a retirement from the cafeteria and transportation departments.
• Approved the hire of a junior high and high school cross country coach.
• Approved the hire of Ian Hudson as the high school Spanish teacher.
• Approved the appointment of Barb Alexander as district treasurer.
• Approved a 2 percent raise for all school support staff.
• Accepted the resignation of Betsi Orwick as the junior high cheer coach.
• Adjourned until the July 20 board meeting at 6 p.m.