Twice yearly a "State of the District Report" is shared with the Board of Education and the public. The report focuses on financial, enrollment, curriculum and facility needs. Please click here to access this Mid-Year State of the District Report.
The Menard County Sheriff's Office and PORTA School District are pleased to announce the assignment of a full-time deputy sheriff to the PORTA district as a school resource deputy. Deputy Adam DeJaynes has been assigned as the school resource deputy and began his duties on December 17, 2018. DeJaynes comes to the sheriff's office from the Petersburg Police Department and brings with him a great deal of knowledge and experience.
Deputy DeJaynes will be assigned to the school district throughout the school year, and will rotate between all three PORTA schools. During non-school time, he will be assigned to traditional patrol duties for the sheriff's office. This position was made possible by the PORTA School District funding the cost of an additional deputy for nine months of the year. The remaining three months will be funded by the sheriff's office, as the deputy will be performing regular patrol duties during that time.
"I am pleased that we were able to work with the PORTA School District to provide this service to them", Sheriff Mark Oller Said. "It would not have been possible without the district's commitment to the funding, and I applaud their great interest in the safety of their students and staff".
November 7, 2018
Residents of Menard County:
On behalf of the PORTA Board of Education, I would like thank Menard County residents for passing the 1% Sales tax on November 6, 2018. Thank you to everyone who voted in this election. We take fiscal responsibility very seriously and are grateful for your continued support. These funds will go a long way in assisting PORTA Schools in maintaining and enhancing our facilities to help provide a quality education for all our students and community members.
As always we invite you to continue your participation in our Board meetings as an active member of our community so that everyone can be well-informed and confident that these valuable funds are being utilized to their fullest potential.
It is our belief that the PORTA District plays an important role in the success of our entire community. We hope to continue to build relationships with our municipalities to increase interest in our communities so that we can enhance opportunities for business and draw more families to our wonderful school district.
Most importantly, thank you for trusting us with your most prized possessions, your children. We believe the PORTA District is a very fine School District and one of the key reasons, aside from our amazing staff and students, is that we live in a very supportive, education minded community.
Matthew W. Brue
1% SALES TAX. PLEASE TAKE THE TIME TO READ THE LITERATURE ON THE PROPOSITION AND PLEASE EXERCISE YOUR RIGHT TO VOTE.
Menard County Schools place 1% sales tax question on November 6th Ballot as a step to help increase school safety and security. There are many questions about the 1% Sales Tax and as a result we have compiled many common questions and have listed answers. If you have a question you would like answered please feel free to contact Mr. Brue at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the Superintendent's office at 217-632-3803.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Why did Menard County school boards adopt a resolution to put the County Schools Facilities Tax on the November 6th ballot?
Most of the Boards of Education in Menard County wanted to give voters the opportunity to decide if a one cent sales tax should be imposed exclusively to pay for school facility purposes. The sales tax is a state approved alternative method to pay for school facilities instead of relying heavily on local property taxes. The PORTA Board feels having access to approximately $250,000 per year will allow the district to complete much needed facility needs without raising real estate taxes and will help reduce taxes in the future.
Why would individuals who pay property taxes in Menard County be interested in the County Schools Facilities Sales Tax?
Property owners bear the heaviest burden of paying for school facility maintenance, renovations, construction, and improvements. Currently, school districts must issue debt to pay for larger school facility needs which is funded through property taxes. The sales tax is alternative way to “share” the cost with visitors shopping and staying in Menard County, who will contribute to the annual Sales Tax revenue.
How will my property tax be affected?
The truth is that the 1% Sales Tax can reduce your property tax bill, either through utilizing the revenue to pay-off current debt or by replacing the need to incur debt to complete needed facility improvements. As exemplified by the Charleston school board in Coles County who promised to pay off (retire) Health/Life Safety bonds. They accomplished this during the 2014-2015 school year which resulted in the removal of the $1.03 bond/interest levy. 2015 property taxes went down $343 on a $100,000 home in Charleston because the school district paid its outstanding debt.
The school districts in Menard County can use the same strategy with money from the County School Facilities Sales Tax to pay off bonds relieving the burden from property taxes, and thus lowering property tax rates.
What is the difference between paying for schools through property taxes or paying for them through sales tax revenues? Schools are still funded through taxes. Why would I support a new tax?
The 1% Sales Tax is a fair deal for taxpayers because it is collected from all consumers, rather than just property owners. Home values rise and fall, subjecting local school districts to unfair budget turmoil. The 1% sales tax is spread over a much larger number of people including those who pass through the county, which proportionately decreases any impact on the local consumer. Also, depending on home values, what the average person spends in sales taxes on an annual basis is usually far less than their property taxes. The 1% Sales tax funding method will reduce the need for the school districts to rely heavily on the property taxes for school facilities.
How many counties in Illinois have passed the 1% Sales Tax?
Currently, there are 51 counties that have approved the 1% Sales Tax in the State of Illinois.
What items would be taxed?
Items taxed include “general merchandise” as defined by Illinois Department of Revenue.
Are services taxed?
Services are not taxed. Services include anything that is not tangible such as labor to repair something, dry cleaning, cleaning services, nail and hair salons, etc.
What items would not be taxed?
The following items would NOT be taxed:
§ Cars, trucks, ATVs
§ Boats & RVs
§ Mobile homes
§ Unprepared food (groceries)
§ Medications, drugs (Including over-the-counter and vitamins)
§ Farm equipment and parts; farm inputs; seed
Is PORTA Going to use these tax revenues to build a new all-weather football field?
§ Additions and renovations
§ Security, entrances, safety, disabled access
§ General maintenance
§ Fire prevention and life safety as required by law
§ Energy efficiency (HVAC, windows, etc.)
§ Parking lots
§ Roof repairs and replacement
§ Pay off existing debt and lower property tax rates
Since the sales tax is restricted, what can it NOT be used for?
The sales tax revenue can only be used for facilities. Revenue generated from the sales tax cannot be used for instructional costs (salaries), textbooks, buses, detached furniture and fixtures, computers, movable equipment, and operating costs such as utility bills.
What facility needs have been identified for our schools in Menard County, and would the new sales tax revenue completely pay for these needs?
Most of the school districts in Menard County have identified priority needs that would be funded through the 1% sales tax. Over the past several years, the school districts have deferred many needed projects due to budget constraints. These are not frivolous “wants” but desperate needs. The PORTA District lists the following facility needs as a priority:
· 1.02 million dollars of Health Life Safety projects which include:
· Tuck-pointing (JR/SR High, Central and Elementary)
· Sidewalk repair and replacement
· Water diversion at Petersburg Elementary
· Tile floor replacements at Central, Elementary and JR/SR High
· Entry and Exit improvement
· Redesign of entrances for increased security
· Installing vapor barrier under new tile at Central
· Façade improvements and repairs at Central and JR/SR High
· Parking lots repaired and blacktopped
· Additional immediate needs:
· Increase safety and security
· Track reconditioning
· Pool upgrades
· Roofing repairs
· Traffic redesign at the HS and Elementary
· Windows and the High School
· HVAC system upgrades at the Elementary
· Playground repairs at the Elementary
· Re-purpose or redesign of JR/SR High Tennis court area
· Athletic facility improvements
· Roof replacements and repairs (HS and Bus Barn)
Is it required to spend the sales tax revenue for facilities each year?
No. A school district may choose to save the sales tax revenue for a larger project.
I don’t have children attending Menard County schools anymore. Why should I support this sales tax increase?
Whether you are a senior citizen, a limited-income family, or have no affiliation to our school districts, all homeowners pay property taxes which is the primary funding source for the community’s public education. Anyone who pays property taxes in Menard County will reap the benefits of the shared sales tax, for other people living outside of Menard County are contributing toward public school facilities.
How will this impact our local economy?
Investing in school improvements and construction in Menard County has the potential to boost our local economy. Many projects funded by this sales tax will put people to work across the county. Excellent school systems with quality facilities and learning environments are a key factor in attracting families to live within our county.
§ School facilities: This dedicated revenue source will keep schools and classrooms maintained for safety, security, and sustainability.
§ Jobs and economic growth: Many projects funded by the sales tax will put local people to work and support local businesses throughout Menard County.
§ Local control of funds: Every school district will control how it uses this tax revenue through the elected school board members who represent each school community.
§ Shift away from property taxes: A sales tax represents a shift away from property taxes. School districts would become less reliant on property taxes with options to pay off existing bonds or avoid new property taxes.
§ Funding from outside our county: Visitors to Menard County will support schools with their spending. An estimated 30-40% of sales tax revenue comes from non-residents shopping, dining, and staying in Menard County.
§ Quality of life: Schools play an important role in attracting families to settle in our communities. Attracting new families and retaining our current residents help to ensure a positive future across Menard County.
How do school facilities improve the quality of education in our schools?
The revenue provided by the sales tax will mean an improved learning environment including an emphasis on safety and security for students across the county. Buildings will be maintained to increase their future years of service to our community. This revenue will allow Menard County school districts to provide the facilities necessary to support a 21st century education, which is critical to ensuring that our students have the tools they need to compete in a changing economy.
Who should I contact if I have questions or want more information?
You can contact Matt Brue, PORTA Superintendent by emailing at email@example.com
The PORTA Board of Education is accepting letters of interest to fill a member seat that was vacated as of August 31, 2018 by Board Secretary Jason Burris. Jason Burris has sold the family home and plans on retiring from the National Guard in the upcoming year and then joining his wife, Annette in the Washington DC area, where she had taken a position with FEMA.
The appointee would serve on the board until the April 2019 election, at which time the PORTA Board will have Four 4 year seats and one 2 year unexpired term seat open for election. Burris was re-elected to the board April 2017, leaving a two year unexpired term available for election.
The PORTA Board notes a board member must be a U.S. citizen, be at least 18 years old, be a resident of the district for at least one year prior to appointment, be a registered voter, must not be a school treasurer or trustee; and must not be a child sex offender. Those interested should submit a letter of interest to Board President Kevin Bettis either at the administrative office, 17651 Bluejay Road in Petersburg or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org by September 3, 2018. Applicants from the majority of the PORTA School District are able to apply, with exception to those who live in the township 18-7 (T18NR7W) which is essentially the City of Petersburg and the Lake area. Currently, the Board is comprised of three individuals, members Reincke, Kuehl and Turek, who reside in T18NR7W and by rule no more than three members of the Board can reside in any one Township district. If you are interested in applying for the open seat, but need more information about the township district you currently reside please feel free to call the District office at 217-632-3803.
Upon receipt of qualified applicants, the Board of Education will hold a special meeting to interview candidates and then will officially appoint the new member at the regular meeting on September 20, 2018 at 7:00 PM.
The PORTA Board of Education typically meets at 7 p.m. the third Thursday of the month at the Superintendent’s office at 17651 Bluejay Road, Petersburg IL 62675.
Twice a year the "State of the District" Report is delivered to the PORTA Board of Education and is also shared with the community. Please take a moment to look over the most recent end of the fiscal year report.
July 2018 State of the District Report
PETERSBURG TEACHER NOMINATED FOR THE HARRIS HISTORY TEACHER AWARD
WASHINGTON, D.C. –Ms. Patricia Marshall of PORTA High School was nominated for the Harris History Teacher Award by the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, administrator of the National History Day program in Illinois. The Harris History Teacher of the Year award is sponsored by James F. Harris and is awarded to one middle and high school teacher annually.
Each of the 57 National History Day affiliates may nominate one middle and high school teacher for this award. Marshall is the high school nominee from Illinois. The two $5,000 awards are presented to teachers who demonstrate a commitment to engaging students in historical learning through innovative use of primary sources, implementation of active learning strategies to foster historical thinking skills, and participation in the National History Day Contest.
“Teachers are one of the greatest resources children have to develop the skills necessary to be successful in both college and their careers,” said National History Day Executive Director Dr. Cathy Gorn. “The nominees for the Harris History Teacher Award have shown a dedication to teaching that goes beyond the classroom. I congratulate Ms. Marshall on her nomination.”
Dr. James F. Harris sponsors the awards in recognition of the pivotal role teachers play in the lives of students. The two national winners will be announced on #NationalHistoryDay, June 14, 2018.
The two national winners will be chosen by a team of teachers and historians. Nominees’ work must clearly illustrate the development and use of creative teaching methods that interest students in history and help them make exciting discoveries about the past.
About National History Day® (NHD):
NHD is a non-profit education organization headquartered in College Park, MD. Established in 1974, NHD promotes an appreciation for historical research among middle and high school students through multiple annual programs. More than half a million students participate in the annual National History Day Contest. These research-based projects are entered into contests at the local and affiliate levels, where the top entries are invited to the National Contest at the University of Maryland at College Park. NHD provides professional development opportunities and curriculum materials for educators of all levels. NHD is sponsored in part by HISTORY®, Jostens, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Park Service, Southwest Airlines, the Joe Weider Foundation, and the WEM 2000 Foundation of the Dorsey & Whitney Foundation. For more information, visit nhd.org.
The PORTA District has been working on streamlining donations and fundraising for the District and has added an on-line donation button on the PORTA Website, which can be found on the left hand side of the web-page listed as "PORTA Fundraising". As we develop the new link we hope to reduce and streamline the number of fundraising activities and focus on large items through sponsorship. All revenue generated through the fundraising link will go directly into PORTA activity funds and used to enhance individual programs and facility needs for those programs.
To kick-off the new web-link the PORTA Building Trades class was contracted to build a Gazebo for the Hudspeth Memorial Park in Oakford. This past Fall the Gazebo was delivered and as is typical in our amazing community many people came forward to offer unsolicited donations to the project. In a very short time half of the cost of the Gazebo was covered and now we are going to set a goal of raising $1500 dollars before Easter Sunday to pay for the remainder of the Gazebo and to help a great cause in honor of the tragic loss in our community.
Please take the time to look at our new link it is very simple and at this time the only option for donation is to the Gazebo Project. You will see there are various levels of opportunity to give including an "other" option for a denomination not listed. We hope to raise the $1500 in a very short time and to help the families complete the Memorial Park this Spring so that some joy and beauty can come from a tragic situation.
The PORTA Building Trades class and PORTA District Thanks all of you in advance for your generosity.
This Morning, February 22, 2018, the administration became aware of what is now known as a rumor of a threat of violence. This rumor is unsubstantiated and originated on social media out of Jacksonville Illinois and referenced the reported threat at SHS. The PORTA Administration and Menard county Sheriff’s office have interviewed students who perpetuated the rumor and are now working with Morgan County authorities to determine the origin of the rumor.
The PORTA District wants to make clear there is no direct threat to our students at this time and we very much appreciate all the help we have received from parents and students in this case to help us deal with this developing rumor. The only way we can keep all our students safe is to share information we see on Social Media. Please talk with your children and continue to monitor their activities so that you can help them make wise decisions about sharing even the most innocuous of threats. Nothing is too small to share with our first responders and District Administration.
Ask anyone who’s been in school, and they’ll identify some point at which they just didn’t want to go to school. Whether it’s a grade-schooler longing for a snow day or a high schooler wishing for one more day to polish that paper, we’ve all had those moments when staying home sounds great. For most of us, that moment passes, because we enjoy school, on some level, if only for the camaraderie. For others of us, the moment stays with us, and we need some extra help to get back on track. That’s where Heidi Jacobus comes in.
Jacobus, in her 19th year with PORTA, supervises the Student Assistance Program (SAP), a program for 3rd-12th graders finding themselves having difficulties with academics, attendance, behavior, or even extended illness.
As it is now structured, the Student Assistance Program consists of a coordinated team of teachers, led by Jacobus, who meet to develop plans to help struggling students overcome issues interfering with their success in school.
“Here at PORTA, teachers often take initiative to assist students even before SAP convenes,” explained Jacobus. “We’re privileged to have a good system of teachers already in place, so a lot gets done behind the scenes which may solve a problem before it’s referred to SAP. Teachers often request a student be assigned to their advisory, or come in for extra assistance during mutual study hall/prep period if that student seems to be having problems with only one class. When students are struggling across their classes or have an issue that’s affecting them overall is usually when SAP steps in.”
Students can be referred to SAP by teachers, parents/guardians, or even by themselves in a self-referral. Once referred, students can find a number of avenues of support, including referral to outside social service agencies, partnering with a peer mentor, specific teacher support, or other intervention that is appropriate for that student’s needs.
“The peer mentoring program at PORTA is outstanding,” Jacobus stated. High school students volunteer to give up at least two days of their study hall period to mentor students who may need anything from academic help, to social skills assistance, to organizational strategies. Central students assist with things such as checking planners to make sure homework is going home accurately or offering study assistance. “It’s not unusual to see an upper grade student, a 6th grader, for instance, helping out a 3rd grader who needs extra support.”
Jacobus suggests that parents and guardians check in with their child’s teacher(s) if they see a problem such as grades falling off, attendance becoming erratic, or behavior changing noticeably. “Parent/Teacher conferences are a great time for a quick check up, and parents and guardians are always able to contact a teacher.” Email information for teachers is on the PORTA website at porta202.org.
“Students who are struggling in school don’t find school to be much fun,” observed Jacobus.
“SAP is a program we have in place to help students find success when it’s eluding them.” She invites parents/guardians or students to contact her to learn more about the SAP program or to initiate a referral.
The PORTA District will alter its normal schedule for Parent/Teacher conferences in February so that parents will have more opportunity to meet with their teachers during the evening hours. It is our hope that holding conferences two evenings in a row will allow more parents to visit their children's teachers. Goal #3 in the PORTA District's Strategic Plan is to encourage, support and facilitate honest transparent communication to inform and engage the community. By offering more convenient opportunities for parents to visit with teachers we hope to increase the number of parent/teacher meetings, which will lead to better communication between our families and the School. We believe that education starts at home and a partnership between home and school is imperative if we want all our children to succeed.
Feb 7th 2:00 PM Dismissal and Parent/Teacher Meetings will be held from 4-7 PM
Feb 8th 2:00 PM Dismissal and Parent/Teacher Meetings will be held from 4-7 PM
Each year representatives from the PORTA and AC Boards of Education meet to discuss the Athletic Coop. These discussions are driven by current perceptions of the Coop and individual district's expectations of the cooperative. The PORTA Board has decided to hold a special meeting on January 29th at 6:30 in the High School Library to discuss who will represent PORTA at this annual meeting, share concerns and positive aspects of the COOP and to solicit public input. The PORTA Board seeks to facilitate honest transparent communication with the community in any and all issues that the district may face. If you have a perspective you would like to share please feel free to attend and participate.
January 29, 2018
1. Call to Order
2. Roll Call
3. Recognition of Persons Present:
4. Old Business:
5. New Business:
A. PORTA/AC Coop renewal Discussion
6. Additional Business
PORTA Will be in Session on Thursday January 4th. The temperatures predicted at 8:00 PM for the early morning hours do not meet the -20 wind chill standard the district follows. Please dress your children accordingly and as always, as a parent you have the right to keep your children home if you feel the conditions are not safe.
Guidelines for Temperature-Related School closings by Sangamon and Menard County School District Superintendents.
While individual districts must consider road conditions prior to making decisions about weather-related cancellations, the following will serve as a common guideline for cancellations due to extreme cold.
Districts will use www.accuweather.com to obtain an hour by hour forecast of air temperature and wind chill at 8:00 PM the evening prior to any decision about school cancellations due to temperature.
Springfield will be the central location used for all schools housed in Sangamon and Menard counties when determining the predicted temperatures.
If the combination of air temperature and wind chill is predicted to exceed -20 during the two hour window between 7:00 AM and 9:00 AM School will be cancelled.
Example—At 8:00 PM the accuweather predicts that the wind chill will reach -21 at 7:00 AM and -19 at 8:00 AM- School will be closed.
These guidelines assume roads are clear and that temperature is the sole factor for determining whether to conduct school.
The holiday season is often referred to as the “season of giving,” and PORTA Elementary’s second graders have had the opportunity to learn just what that means recently. The second grade team of Brent Davis, Darcy Hacke, Mary Kate Smith, and Stephanie Wankle put together something special this year to help the students understand and embrace giving.
The team explained they wanted to get away from the typical gift exchange at the grade school, noting the extra stress it puts on parents and guardians during an already busy time of the year, and because they wanted the students to see how grade schoolers—“little people”—could make a big difference by donating to charities.
Students began the unit by doing research about the various agencies in the area that help people in need. Smith details how her students began by reading the book, Wonder. For those who haven’t read it, Wonder, the New York Times book review says, is a story about Auggie, an unusual child, born with genetic abnormalities whose “facial disfigurations are so pronounced that people who see him for the first time do ‘that look-away thing.’” The book recounts Auggie’s journey to fit in to a society that, at first, doesn’t want to accept him. Smith’s students were so moved by the book, they decided to take the Children’s Craniofacial Association as their charity and raise money for it. More information on the association can be found at https://ccakids.org/.
All the teachers wanted to keep their giving local, and Hacke’s class opted for Helping Hands, an agency that, according to their website, “was founded 28 years ago in Springfield to address the problem of homelessness and help those with the threat of homelessness to build lives of stability, security, and hope,” More information about Helping Hands can be found at http://www.helpinghandsofspringfield.org/.
Another agency the second graders chose, and Smith emphasized that the children made the choice of agencies, St. John’s Hospital, had close ties to the classroom. Some of the children had actually been born there, and others had family who work at the facility.
Raising money to support the various agencies has added to what teachers fondly call the “Holiday Mayhem,” but the drive for donations has been quite successful. Wankle described a “change war” in which the classes went to “war” with each other to see who could bring in the most change.
The donations were made to the charitable organizations on Wednesday, right before the holiday break. When the students return to school in January, they will enjoy a trip to the Mason City cinema where they will view the film, Wonder, which was just released in November and stars Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson, and Jacob Tremblay.
The National Education Association details some of the duties performed by school secretaries as being “public relations specialist when a parent has a complaint; school accountant; monitoring school clubs; nurse to ailing students; receptionist-hostess for guests; counselor to students and sometimes colleagues; administrative aide to faculty members; clerk to teachers; and communications officer to journalists.” At PORTA, secretaries do all this and often more.
Julia Territo, secretary at PORTA Central, describes her job as being “much more than a message taker. Some of our job requirements are technical and deadline oriented, such as state attendance reporting.” Given that average daily attendance figures have a direct effect on state aid the district receives, accurate record keeping and timely reporting is an absolute necessity at PORTA.
Jessica King, secretary at PORTA Junior High adds “Something that most people don't realize is that we take care of more than just the students and their paperwork. We take care of the staff and parents too! So at any given time, we are needed by at least one person (student, parent, staff member) for any and every thing school-related. We are thought to be the owners of all knowledge, and we do our best to be just that.” Robin Wheaton, secretary at PORTA Elementary agreed, saying, “I'm being pulled in many different directions, not just with one class of 20 students but with the entire Elementary student body. While I love all aspects of my job, I'm sometimes trying to focus on one thing in particular so I worry I may come across as scattered when asked a question!”
PORTA’s secretaries come from a variety of backgrounds and often had jobs in the district prior to taking on secretarial duties. Wheaton, for example, “began at PORTA as an individual aide. My desire to work in the district started as a need to be close to home to easily handle ‘mom duties.’” King, a past PORTA attendee “needed to transition from stay-at-home mom to a working mom of small children, I wanted to have a position that still allowed me to be close to them and on a similar schedule.” Territo points to having begun “as a volunteer and office sub.”
Being a secretary often means adapting to changes that, as King states, can make the “job easier and harder at the same time.” She says technology can make tasks “easier and less time-consuming, [while] others are complicated and come with more responsibility with the addition of new devices, programs, and even social media.” Territo reports, “The biggest change I notice is the emphasis on and need for safety. The district conducts safety drills so that the staff of each building is as prepared as possible for an emergency. The emphasis on safety is a sad development, but so necessary in this day and age.”
Being a secretary at PORTA often means being the recipient of student “gifts.” Wheaton identified one of her “favorite things as when the students bring me handmade artwork made just for me. My name has been spelled many different ways & I love each and every one!” At Central, Territo often receives “notes from the students thanking me for what I do. Often, their impression of my role is humorous but always sweet!”
At the heart of the job, school secretaries make a huge difference in their buildings. King expressed her delighted surprise to see “the impact I actually make on our students. We know that every adult in the building affects our students both positively and negatively, but I didn't think that the school secretary could mean so much to some of our kids.”
Picture: Robin Wheaton’s “gift”
This being the week when turkeys are nervous while families and friends gather closer, it seems appropriate to take a pause from the hustle and bustle of school life to think about the things here in the PORTA District for which we are grateful.
First and foremost, staff in the district are grateful to parents and guardians for supporting the students who attend PORTA, because education is not, nor has it ever been, a one-person job. When students come to school ready to learn, it’s because they’ve been sent that way from home. That can be hard to do, especially in this modern world, when parents/guardians may be doing it alone, doing it working multiple jobs, or doing it while building a career or a marriage. Honestly, just parenting, with no other issues plaguing us can be a challenge. So many of our PORTA students come to school ready to learn, and a foundational aspect of that is the preparation at home. Thank you to all the parents and guardians this Thanksgiving season.
Of course, we would be remiss if we didn’t express gratitude to the teaching staff. In addition to teaching every student, every school day, they spend time outside of the school day planning lessons, grading papers, pursuing professional development, coaching and/or sponsoring an extra-curricular or an enrichment activity, and many of them fall into the category of parent/guardian as well. They serve not only as educators, but often as mentors for students who need some additional adult guidance or role model. They help students in need, whether it be a student who needs glasses, but may be struggling to afford them or a student who is in crisis and needs professional support. Teachers often help students make connections between services they and their families may not know are available, one of the many tasks they do that isn’t in the “job description” but is a part of doing the job well. .
The PORTA support services--bus drivers, cafeteria workers, speech pathologists, social workers, custodians, and office staff--also deserve our gratitude during this season. These are the folks who make sure everything runs smoothly so the teachers can do their job of teaching. Having a neat classroom to do it in, having kids safely bussed in so they can attend school, helping students who have physical or emotional issues, offering students nutritious meals, and doing all the paperwork that needs to be done to keep a school functioning are tasks most of us assume happen magically. These are the magicians who get it done, and PORTA does its job as well as it does because of the foundation the support staff builds.
Our administration, building principals, superintendent, athletic director, and school board play key roles in the district climate and direction. They are the liaisons between the state statutes and mandates and the work we do on a daily basis educating children. When a building runs well, teachers and staff can comfortably go about their business without worrying about the minutiae that are an everyday part of an administrator's life. Compliance documents, changes in the school code, the latest news on funding and budgets are all vitally necessary parts of education. Administration not only make sure PORTA stays on top of those changes, they make sure PORTA staff know what’s going on and how it will affect them. Those of us who have worked in a district in which this doesn’t happen know how important it is to be in a district in which it does.
And finally, how could we not give a sincere thanks to the community which supports the schools? Each of elements of PORTA--Petersburg, Oakford, Rock Creek, Talulla and Atterberry, and all the countryside in-between--never fails to support the schools when asked. From buying puffins for History Club to support Honor Flights to donating time or expertise when PORTA Elementary and/or Central puts on a Family Fun Night, our community steps forward to support the students by supporting the district.
We all know the efforts put forth to support education at PORTA are targeted at students. And, when we stop to think about what that means, we must acknowledge that means we are all thinking toward the future. How grateful we are to live and/or work in a community that believes the future is so important. How important that we take the time this Thanksgiving Season to remember it.
Most of us did some cooking or sewing when we were in junior high or high school. Some of us likely have fond memories of baking cookies in junior high or high school, but things have changed so much since “back in the day.” It’s not “Home Ec” anymore; it’s Family and Consumer Science—FACS in acronym—and PORTA High School offers a rich array of opportunities under the FACS umbrella.
Britney Jones, FACS teacher and club sponsor, joined PORTA after searching for a Family and Consumer Science Teaching position in Chicago, only to find there were not many openings. When she saw the opportunity at PORTA, she jumped at it, delighted to be living her dream of being a FACS Teacher. As she stated, “I am a huge Disney fan and I believe dreams do come true because here I am, proud to be a Bluejay.”
As the teacher of the many FACS classes PORTA offers, Jones has seen the approach to teaching about food evolve over the years. Whereas cooking used to be the province of females, Jones has “a lot more males taking my classes than females.” These students are also in the kitchen two to three times a week.
Of the many classes PORTA offers, such as Foods, Parenting, Housing, Child Development, or Culinary Arts, Jones recommends that students take Foods I and II and Child Development, if nothing else, from the FACS curriculum. As she argues, “Foods I and II are crucial life skills classes to have in your life. Everyone needs to know and understand the importance of reading a recipe, cooking your food thoroughly, practicing safety and sanitation in the kitchen, and understanding nutrition to maintain a healthy lifestyle.”
Jones also recommends Child Development since everyone will encounter children, whether or not they become parents. Child Development explores caring for children from newborns to teenagers, so when students learn about the emotional and social development of children, they’re also learning about themselves. Jones “loves to talk about [her students’] childhoods and use their real life experiences to learn from.”
FACS classes integrate well with other classes students take, as well. Jones explains, “We incorporate FACS with math every time we double and divide a recipe; with history when we learn about the history of food and different cultures of foods; and with science when we understand the sciences of cookies and why we get crispy, puffy, or chewy cookies.”
Students who are interested in pursuing a career in Foods can take Culinary Arts, which is an advanced class. In that class, students pick their own recipes and make their own grocery lists. They prepare Sweet Treats for Teachers once a month, a highly regarded and much-anticipated event for the school faculty. They plan and prep a theme for each month, covering some twenty-two units of study in the first semester. These units include learning about the roles of people in the kitchen, creating a menu, etiquette, catering, restaurants and drive-thrus, as well as a thorough grounding in various meals/food such as breakfasts, appetizers, salads, and pasta. In the second semester, the students explore American food, then “head overseas” for International Food Studies.
FACS Club, a companion extra-curricular club to the FACS curriculum, gives students the opportunity to take the skills they’ve learned in FACS classes and put them to work in the community. Jones described, “FACS Club is a volunteer club that helps pay it forward to the community. We volunteer at Roots on Thanksgiving for the Community. We also write a nice check to help them purchase food for it. We donate time and toys to the Menard Animal Shelter; we make blankets for Project Linus and donate them to St. John's Children Hospital; we always help other clubs by baking goods for them to sell to help make a profit for their clubs; we cater for the musical cast and crew. We do a lot of behind the scenes for the school and community.”
Community members who would like to support FACS activities are invited to donate new canisters for flour and sugar. Contact Britney Jones a email@example.com if you or your organization would like to help.
PORTA School’s Veteran’s Day Programs are a point of pride for the district, and a major reason for that is the musical education programs in the schools. Three teachers: Melissa Blankestyn, Stephanie Everson, and Raquel Reid oversee the musical education of PORTA’s students.
At PORTA Elementary, Stephanie Everson, who began teaching part time at PORTA when she and her husband, Justin, the pastor of St. Paul’s Church, moved here from California three and a half years ago. Everson teaches K-2 music, having earned her Bachelors and Masters of Music from the University of Southern California.
Everson sees each PES classroom for thirty minutes, twice a week, teaching them the elements of music reading. She also instructs the students in learning to sing on pitch, an accomplishment she explains is fundamental to music making.
Everson reports the second grade is involved in a lengthy music project this year, having listened to John Lithgow’s book The Remarkable Farkle McBride, for which the Cincinnati Symphony added music. Everson directed the children write stories and act out those stories using the Sock Puppet app on their class iPads and details the students “have written and notated short tunes to be played in the background while their video is presented.” Both she and her students look forward to sharing those projects with the community.
Melissa Blankestyn serves PORTA by teaching 3rd and 4th general music, and 5th, 6th, junior high and high school band, as well as directing the fall play. In her first year at PORTA, she targets the “tradition of excellence in the music program and the visible parent/administrative support” as deciding factors in her decision to join the Bluejay family.
Bringing a Bachelor's of Music Education from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a Master's of Music Education from VanderCook College of Music in Chicago, Blankestyn literally walks the musical walk throughout her life, as she can be found conducting and playing reeds for the Springfield Muni, Theatre in the Park, and the Springfield Theatre Center.
She credits the students for making the challenge of a fast-paced, high-energy job a little easier. “I think I am most proud of the openness of my students. Adjusting to a new band director is not an easy thing and they have been open to new ideas and have rolled with change.” For Blankestyn, “The most rewarding part of music education has to be the light of excitement in a student's eyes when they have accomplished something they deemed impossible.”
Raquel Reid, who began at PORTA as a student with Kris Cox as her band director from 5th grade beginner band all the way through high school “jumped at the chance to work with Cox and for this great school.” In her fifteenth year with PORTA, Reid attended Blackburn College, the University of Southern Mississippi, and Western Illinois University.
At PORTA, Reid teaches 3rd-6th General music, 6th grade choir, Jr. High Choir, High School Choir and Jazz Choir. She’s also the vocal director for the spring musical and contest manager for IHSA Solo & Ensemble contest and Organizational contest.
Reid acknowledges the challenges of “balancing planning time between the three different levels of students” she teaches, but highlights the reward of “hearing the beautiful sounds that all ages can create together when given the chance.” She notes that since “half of the choir participates in both band and choir and therefore are only in my class two to three days a week,” that preparing for performances such as the Christmas music for the Channel 20 recording for Christmas Eve, the Festival of Trees performance, and the winter concerts at all levels makes for a lofty goal..
All the PORTA music staff emphasize the importance of home support for students involved in music. Simple things such as encouraging students to “practice at home and support them by attending their performances” or “getting involved in the Music Boosters” can make a difference in a child’s musical education, Reid says. Everson concurs, echoing the importance of “being involved in children's school work and activities.”
That’s a fairly easy request to fulfill, as the music staff’s “season” never ends. Reid explains, “We are continually working towards another performance with our groups. We rarely have a weekend that doesn't include some type of school music activity or performance.” The community is, of course, welcome to attend all of them.
Teachers at PORTA certainly are excited about what happens in their classrooms, but seeing students outside the classroom gives them a new perspective on those students and opens opportunities for those students to shine in a different arena.
At PORTA High School, one such opportunity is Student Council. Sponsored by English teacher Andrea Hart, student council presents annual events such as Homecoming and Teacher Appreciation Week. “I enjoy seeing kids outside the classroom and especially enjoy getting to know them when it’s not directly affecting their grades,” Hart stated.
One of student council’s primary purposes is to foster camaraderie between and amongst students, and Homecoming is all about getting kids together, especially kids who might not typically interact much. The themes, games, and class challenges during Homecoming offer students an opportunity to bond with classmates as they come together and feel more a part of their respective classes.
Student Council President senior Brooklyn Kesler, a student council member since 7th grade, enjoys both Homecoming and Teacher Appreciation Week. In speaking of the latter, she reflected, “They [teachers] do a lot, and it’s a wonderful chance to say ‘thanks’ to the people who work hard every day for us.”
Hart and Kesler agree that Student Council can be stressful when activities are going on, but point out that membership in Student Council is a great way to meet new people and to learn how to work together with those people. Kesler identifies the biggest challenge in Student Council as “finding a time for everyone to meet because Student Council kids are very busy. Still, as president, I’ve learned how to lead a group of people to get things done.”
Student Council also serves the school as a whole. Members of Student Council have served on the handbook committee; helped adjust dress codes; developed requirements for attending Homecoming; provided mediation between students; and approved new clubs. “Student council members have a chance to offer input on things that go on at school,” commented Hart.
Hart also pointed out that being in Student Council is not as time consuming as people think it is. “We’re not busy every single day of the year. Our work comes in events or specific activities, and students can pick and choose which activities or events coordinate with their schedules. Except Homecoming and Teacher Appreciation, of course,” she grinned. “Everyone is on board for those.”
Hart encourages students to think about joining Student Council. Each year, students may submit a petition for election in one of the forty spots—ten from each class--which are available for membership. The petition consists of twenty student and six faculty signatures and requires a 3.0 GPA.
“We have fun; and, any role that you take on that shows your ability to function as a leader looks great on resumes. All of us need to have leadership skills—here’s a place to develop them,” said Hart.
Many years ago, schools were bastions of the three Rs—“readin’, ‘ritin’ and ‘rithmetic,” but moderns schools offer a much broader curriculum, especially in electives. One of the electives available to PORTA high school students, Spanish language classes, actually begins with an Intro to Foreign Language Japanese class in junior high.
Douglas French, the junior high foreign language teacher, describes his class as a beginning level language and culture class. He introduces the students to Japanese culture, then helps them learn the alphabet so they can write their names. Interestingly, there are two Japanese alphabets—one for foreign words and one for native Japanese words. The students learn to use the alphabet to write their names, then they begin to learn colors, days of the week, and useful conversational phrases.
Rod Helle, the high school Spanish teacher, offers up to four years of Spanish for students, using what he terms an “old school approach to teaching Spanish. I work the grammar day in and day out from Spanish 1 through Spanish 4.” He explains the need for his approach, saying, “I have never seen a language learner succeed without understanding and mastering grammar.”
Both teachers have wide-ranging experience in foreign countries. French, in his second year at PORTA, taught English in Japan for two years, where he also met and married his spouse, Tomoko. Helle, who is in his eleventh year at PORTA, studied at universities in Bayreuth and Mannheim Germany, Salamanca, Spain, and Guadalajara, Mexico, and has also studied woodworking in Brienz, Switzerland and Elbigenalp, Austria. He brings a wide array of teaching experience to PORTA, including three years at Miami of Ohio, one year at the University of Cincinnati, six years at O'Fallon Township High School, and seven years at Pleasant Plains.
Helle and French came to foreign language teaching through very different paths. French reports being drawn to teaching Japanese language through his love of karate, an art project based in Taosim, and a college lab partner who spoke Japanese. Helle identifies “the beauty of languages, the structure and the rules; the fascinating exceptions to those rules; and, of course, the musicality of language” as the siren song that led him to teach.
PORTA’s foreign language teachers encourage students to undertake learning a second language, pointing out the importance of seeing the world from a non-US perspective. As Helle puts it, foreign languages enable students “to be able to see the world and their lives from a different angle. History and philosophy change and become wider and deeper.”
French would like parents of students to know there are many ways to foster an interest in non-US culture and language. He suggested watching foreign films, such as Spirited Away, or Ponyo as good introductions to Japanese culture. “Many students are drawn to anime and manga, as well.” he added.
Of course, not everyone will take foreign language in high school, as Helle noted, “Foreign languages are essentially a niche aspect of education in the US and that's probably not going to change any time soon.” He was quick to add, however, that “A niche can be a fascinating and productive place.”
In a small school district, such as PORTA, teachers may be assigned to more than one building. In the case of Geri Bell, the district librarian, all three buildings benefit from her formidable expertise.
Bell serves as librarian at PORTA Elementary, Central, and High School, which means she has the opportunity to meet students when they come into pre-K and say good-bye when they leave as graduates. Seeing the span of the students’ lives is only one of the perks in what Bell calls “the best job in the world.”
Before coming to PORTA, Bell worked overseas, with the Department of Defense (DoD), when she was directed to pursue a Master’s in Library and Information Science (LIS), a field in which the DoD needed personnel. She took a sabbatical from her work and pursued her education, only to find she would be writing the program for the degree. University of Illinois professor Dr. Christine Jenkins recalls, “I was an LIS professor who was making what seemed to be a last-ditch effort to get the program off the ground” having been given the task of creating a K-12 library certification path for people who were not already certified teachers. When Bell (then Dee) came to the program, Jenkins leapt at the opportunity to work with her, and they “produced a 100+ page proposal [for the program]. In April 2001, after decades of frustration, our program was approved by the Illinois State Board of Education.” So, not only do PORTA schools enjoy the services of a top-notch librarian, they have the privilege of having employed one who literally “wrote the book” on being a high school librarian.
Fostering a love of reading at home is a critical first step for students. Bell advised reading at home, but in a variety of ways. She suggested modeling reading as an adult, so children see their parents/guardians engaged with text; taking turns reading; reading often, in short bursts as younger children may not be able to sit for longer stories; and reading the favorites, again and again and again. Bell underscored the importance of helping children see that reading is “what people do” regularly.
Being a librarian for so many different age levels requires tailoring the library experience for each age group. At PORTA Elementary, Bell focuses on finding books that fit a students’ skill set. Often, the students may want to walk around with a book such as one of the Harry Potter series, but “not every student is ready to read at that level,” Bell explained. “My job is helping students find books they love and can read. When a student finds that book that is just the perfect fit, it makes my heart sing.”
At PORTA Central, Bell has no shortage of students wanting to read regularly and even maintains a “go-to” yellow tablet on which she writes students’ reading requests. “Kids tell me what they want,” she stated, “and I always have a lengthy wish list of books.” Community members and organizations are more than welcome to donate books or money for books. Bell tapped graphic novels as one of the most innovative ways of combining text and images in a way that engages young people and reinforces their desire to read.
PORTA often uses interlibrary loan, especially at the high school, where Bell noted the physical demands of being a librarian. “It’s not unusual for me to load of seventy-five pounds of books to deliver to the high school when research projects are in progress.” Even without the impetus of research projects, high school students check out a lot of books, “one hundred in just the first week of school,” Bell said with satisfaction. “Reading is vibrantly alive.”
For adults of a certain age, the words “student council” may bring up fond memories of homecoming and float-building. However, for PORTA Junior High, student council is about much more than homecoming week. PORTA Junior High Student Council (PJHSC) serves the school community year round.
Lora Puckett, the current PJHSC advisor began her work with the group seven years ago, following the previous advisor’s move to a new school district. Puckett, entering her eighth year of leadership, adheres to the Illinois Association of Junior High Student Council’s vision of “develop[ing] the leadership qualities of junior high/middle school students.” When asked about the benefits students gain from developing those leadership qualities, Puckett stated, “learning to believe in yourself by developing leadership skills and being a role model for the students in your class create genuinely positive feelings both for the student council members and the student body as a whole.”
Students who join PJHSC become part of one of the most active student-led organizations outside of sports for junior high students. PORTA students engage in activities such as attending a summer camp at the beautiful Allerton Park in Monticello, IL, as well as two leadership workshops during the school year, and the annual State Convention in April.
Puckett has a personal connection with student council, as her daughter, Ashleigh Smith, a 2016 PORTA graduate, served as a senior staffer at leadership camp while completing an internship with the camp nurse. Puckett, herself, is currently serving her second three-year term as the Adult Director for the Midwest District of Illinois and has also served the last six years as a senior Staffer at the summer leadership camp.
PORTA has a robust history when it comes to serving the state-wide organization, as several students--Wyatt Robinson, Skylar Bumgardner, Addison McMahan, and Anna Foster—were elected as Midwest District Representatives. Puckett remembers the moment Skylar Bumgardner was elected with special pleasure, as Bumgardner was elected in the early years of Puckett’s sponsorship. Puckett noted, “I felt so extremely proud to have had a student of mine from PORTA selected for such an important role in my second year as an advisor.” When considering what she’s learned as the PJHSC sponsor, Puckett tagged learning “that you have to let students have successes and failures to learn to become a great leader” as a critical lesson, but adds, “It can be really difficult to step back when you know from experience something is about to backfire.” In the end, the leadership skills the students learn are absolutely worth it.
Last year, PJHSC sponsored Pack the Place Nights in September; Trick-or-Treated for canned goods to donate to the Menard County Food Pantry in October; hosted a movie night in November; led a Deck The Halls Party in which students decorated their lockers in December; coordinated Spirit Week in January; spent Valentine’s Day at Sunny Acres, which included the student council donating a new calling board for the residents; and held a variety of fund raisers for charity throughout the year. Puckett pointed out that the PJHSC was recognized at the State Convention “for its contribution to the State Wide Service Project, Let It Be Us, an organization that helps foster kids go to summer camp and become adopted.” PJHSC looks forward to an equally busy year this year.
“What Can I Do To Help?”
It’s a question we always ask, and sometimes it’s hard to find the answer.
These teacher-led workshops are designed to give you some insight into school based activities that you can use at home to help your student.
Held on the first Wednesday of each month, you are invited to come to our classrooms and work with us to come up with new and exciting ways to advance your student’s first classroom – your home!
Please come out and support your classroom teachers. They are giving their free time to help ensure your children succeed.
First Wednesday of Every Month
Petersburg Elementary School
6:30 – 7:00 PRE-K and K
7:00 – 7:30 1st and 2nd
(All are welcome to attend regardless of age group!)
“Getting to spend time in my child’s classroom opened my eyes to things I can try at home without making it seem like work!”
-Second Grade Parent (2016-2017)
INTRO TO DOJO AND BACK TO SCHOOL Q&A Join Mrs. Kyes, Mrs. Wankel and other members of our staff for a night of getting to know our schoolwide behavior management program, ClassDojo. This night of fun will help you make the most of the Dojo connection as well as give you a chance to ask staff any questions you might have!
FLUENCY FUN! Fluency isn’t just about speed, it’s about building strength as an oral and independent reader. Learn how to find texts that are appropriate for your child, different skills to build their confidence as a reader and observe some classroom strategies that you can use at home or on the go. Pre-K and K families will learn how to master the alphabet and reading fundamentals, while families with older students learn how to develop speed and comprehension! Mrs. Garner and staff will present this workshop.
MASTERING MATH FACTS Join Miss Mountain and Miss Rita to brush up on fun and engaging ways to build math mastery at home. You may even go home with supplies to help engage your child while helping them gain skills by using math everyday! Math isn’t scary…come learn how to make it fun!
SPELLING TIPS AND TRICKS! Spelling is one of the most common ways we teach our students to study and learn at home, and something that will serve them well their entire lives! But we can only write those words so many times. Come to the classroom and play fun spelling games and activities that arm you with a bag of tricks that make spelling study feel like game time! Join Mrs. Smith and staff for a night of spelling challenge fun!
THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX! Sometimes our students learn in ways that don’t fit into reading or math. They are learning all the time and sometimes a challenge is just what they need! Mrs. Hacke will discuss ways to encourage and enrich thinking in your student: create home-based projects and challenges and get them learning in their community.
TECHNOLOGY HACKS! We all know the struggle of limiting screentime, but sometimes we can use technology to our advantage! Come play on our smartboards and ipads with Mrs. Thomas, and try your hand at some apps and websites that you can access at home to make the most of your students screentime. Link your home technology to school and open up endless possibilities.
BUILDING RESPONSIBILITY! Some students work well when you are looking over their shoulder, but struggle to work independently. How can we help them go out on their own to gain pride in their own work? Join Mrs. Beckerman and Mrs. Vincent to look at some different ways you can encourage growth in your student both academically and emotionally and let them show you what they are capable of!
SUMMER SLIDE STOPPERS! All students struggle to retain what they learn from year to year after taking a three month summer break! Learn some ways you can engage them over the summer! Find some resources that you can use to get materials at home or at school that will give you the tools to teach at home in ways that keep them excited about learning.