NORMAL — Modern teaching techniques and financial challenges were some of the topics reviewed at McLean County Unit 5’s State of the District presentation Wednesday night.
The presentation was at Normal Community High School, followed by the regular school board meeting.
Unit 5 Superintendent Mark Daniel explained the district’s achievements, goals for the future, financial outlook and student achievement data.
“In 2007, our graduate rate was 87 percent and now we’re at 91 percent. It’s an upward trend, but we’re not satisfied with that rate. We’re looking at alternative education programs and ways to engage our students in real-world activities to keep them on the track to receive a diploma,” said Daniel.
Over the last year, the district has implemented virtual classrooms, increased community partnerships and created an opportunity for high school students to earn an associate's degree through Heartland Community College.
“For the next generation of students, we expect to offer more STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) related activities and more collaboration by bringing the real world into the classroom. Things will become less and less restrictive in terms of opportunities,” said Daniel.
Daniel said the district also is working to diversify its staff.
“Thirty percent of our student body is different than me. Those students need to see a model they can relate to and we’re working very hard to do that,” he said.
Daniel said “factors beyond the district’s control” have resulted in a structural deficit of $1.2 million for Unit 5. They include the state budget impasse, economic recession and not seeing an increase in general state aid since 2010.
“It has all been part of the perfect storm,” he said. “Because of that, we have to figure out how we’ll maintain the programs and achievements discussed tonight.”
Daniel also noted that Unit 5 was recently named by Box Clever Education as one of the top 10 school districts in America for its use of social media. The district is launching a new website design this week.
At the subsequent school board meeting, James Harden, executive director of human resources and student services, presented an enrollment report that showed a 1 percent decrease of students compared to last school year.
“Twenty-two percent of classes are under the (class-size) range we’re looking for, almost 69 percent are spot on and nearly 10 percent are over,” said Harden. “The main question is how will that impact staffing and programs at schools in future years. We have to use this as trend data to make sure we’re staging classes appropriately in the future and identifying specific needs of the staff."