THUMBS UP TO… moving forward. There has a degree of uncertainty at Lincoln Elementary School in Ottawa ever since the school district put former principal Ryan Lemberg on paid leave in May before eventually accepting a resignation letter and finalizing the terms of ending his contract. But last week the school board took the positive step of elevating Melanie Conley from interim principal to a permanent position, approving a one-year contract, an excellent example of promoting within and being prudent with taxpayer resources by moving swiftly toward a logical decision.
Conley is well known throughout the Ottawa Elementary School District, having logged 14 school years, starting as a sixth-grade teacher at Central Intermediate School. She’s also served as dean of students at Central and assistant principal at Central as well as Shepherd Middle School and Shepherd’s athletics director. Here’s hoping that cementing her in the top job at Lincoln close to the start of summer gives her the time needed to become fully established with her staff before students return in August, and that it’s smooth sailing for the remainder of the school year.
THUMBS DOWN TO… screaming into the void. That may be a bit overdramatic, but some issues seem to never get the traction they need to turn from problem to progress, and one such example is the lack of attention to the quality of high-speed internet access in rural areas. Last week every member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Illinois sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission chairman and board urging them to improve the nation’s broadband maps, according to Capitol News Illinois.
While we’re absolutely thrilled to see Republicans and Democrats come together on the issue, it’s bordering on insulting that rural residents still have to pursue this crusade. As the Congressional letter explains, having reliable, fast internet access is important to virtually anyone trying to run a business in 2019, and it also makes possible significant efficiencies in government services such as public education, as well as vital private sector efforts like health care. The FCC itself recently found more than 21 million Americans still lack access to high-speed internet service, an estimate the Congressional delegation suggested could be too low. It’s long past time to solve this problem.
THUMBS UP TO… a discipline decrease. At last week’s Streator Elementary School District board meeting, principals talked about improved student behaviors with some eye-opening statistical support. While leaders at Kimes and Centennial elementary schools reported students seem to be behaving better, Northlawn Junior High observed a 25% reduction in referrals and a 34% reduction in suspensions over the previous year. That’s a good sign for both the students who contributed to a healthier classroom culture, but it also means teachers and other staff members have more time to dedicate to their most important task: providing a quality education.
Some of the success at Northlawn is attributed to the consistent presence of a school resource officer, and Principal Gail Russell also spoke about a proactive attitude among teachers and staff, including the school social worker. Assistant Northlawn Principal Jeremy Jenkins said last year included much better communication between students and faculty, and it also appears the elementary schools’ adoption of a Behavioral Intervention Support Team is paying dividends. These types of improvement don’t happen by accident, and with the success seen this year we expect even more effort channeled this direction starting in August.
THUMBS DOWN TO… a washout. Anyone looking forward to the annual tradition of basking in the beauty of a Matthiessen State Park sunflower field is going to have to put that dream on hold for at least another year. A few weeks ago the people who tend the 60 acres dedicated to sunflowers came to the sad realization there was just too much rain in May and early June to safely seed the ground. That’s bad news to tourists and photographers who flock here each July to take advantage of a truly stunning site, having done so since the first seeds were planted about 25 years ago.
This isn’t just superficial. Sunflowers are beautiful, but a field that large attracts doves for hunting season while also bringing pollinators needed for other local plant life and providing ground shade for critters like deer, opossums and raccoons. It’s another casualty of an unusually wet spring, and those effects are being felt throughout the agriculture business community. Here’s hoping 2019 is but a blip and everyone can get back to normal planting in 2020.