THINK: Manteno schools build base for bright future
A couple weeks ago, Manteno Community Unit School District 5 Superintendent Lisa Harrod welcomed the community to Manteno High School for the district’s first ever Excellence in Education Showcase.
Harrod highlighted how the high school, Manteno Middle School and Manteno Elementary School have improved throughout the years and gave an overview of several programs.
She also shared that every high school student will have a school-issued Chromebook to take home and use in class as part of the district’s 1:1 technology initiative.
On the athletic side, she announced the middle school will have a co-ed soccer team next spring as part of a long-running campaign with Bourbonnais Elementary School District 53.
Now in her sixth year as Manteno’s superintendent, Harrod sat down with the Daily Journal for a question-and-answer session about her district’s present and future for its nearly 2,000 students.
Here is what she had to say:
This is your sixth year as Manteno school district’s superintendent. How has the district changed during your tenure here?
I am really proud of the improvements we have made to our culture and climate. Having a culture of gratitude and taking care of the people around you. We have a contagious passion and energy for what we do. That means great things for kids and everyone in our community.
What are some the challenges your district faces?
We are always trying be progressive and stay ahead so that when things change at the state or federal level, we have put enough plans in place so that those changes are not scary for us. Continuing to advocate for state funding is very important in this day and age. We also need to adapt to the needs of our students. We have to have high-quality professional development so we can assist students with their specific challenges.
At the Excellence in Education Showcase, you talked a lot about social-emotional learning. What is Manteno school district doing to improve that aspect of education?
We have to educate the whole child. Academics are very important, but we also have to look at social and emotional health. We have created a couple out-of-the-box positions that involve supporting and mentoring students.
We have a new support position at the middle school this year. It’s a hybrid of a guidance counselor and someone who provides emotional support. We also have our school resource officer, Officer Aaron Tobeck. He is proactive in working with the kids.
We have therapy rooms in addition to our traditional occupational therapy rooms. And, we recently decided to hire two district physicians.
Technology has become more popular in schools throughout the years. How has your district implemented technology into your curriculum?
Technology is a big part of education. It’s not a replacement to having quality teachers in front of students. But it definitely is a supplement that everyone heavily relies on. We want to make sure our students are ready for college and careers ready. So, we want them to have that technology.
The board of education approved 1:1 at the high school on Monday night. So, next year, we will be 1:1 all the way from first grade through senior year. The middle school and high school students will take their Chromebooks home every day, while the elementary school has carts.
How has your district maneuvered around Illinois’ school funding issues in recent years?
Four years ago when we were hearing the state finances were not robust, we did everything we could with the school board to understand those challenges and find a way to do more with less. We have healthy fund balances and have been able to balance our budgets. Our business manager Jake Emerson does a phenomenal job with strategic planning and budgeting. His management has done well for us. We have 12 months worth of reserves in case funding becomes a problem.
The state was behind on some payments, but we just received a big payment for special education.
Your district has continued to fund its pre-K program even though the state withdrew all of its funding. Why is that program important to your district?
I have to give credit to our board of education. They are our heartbeat. We don’t get to do what we do without them. When we got word our pre-K would not be funded by the state, our board stepped right in and allowed us to keep the program running.
That program is the start of a child’s education. Our teachers are so skilled with the academics and social-emotional aspects to give students a strong foundation at a young age. That is the first view of school for kids. If we can give them a positive start, it will carry over.
You just had your first Excellence in Education Showcase. How else is the district trying to draw community members into schools?
We want parents and students to feel comfortable coming to our schools. We want our teachers to be excited to come to work every day. That is our culture and climate here. Our expectation is to do whatever it takes to do what is in the best interest of our kids. When we came together as a team, we made a promise that our mission statement wouldn’t just be words on paper. We are showing that in action. We have administrators promoting leadership to students. We want our parents to come in and get to know us.
Next year, we are having a “Come Learn with Us Day.” We have a planning committee for it. We are going to provide an inside view to the parents so they can see how the school looks on a daily basis. We are going to showcase our 1:1 at the high school. The middle school has a character education service called “The Panther Den.” We also want them to see our teachers in action.
For the past couple years, we have had a senior citizens breakfast. They come in for breakfast, and we show them some of our programs. It gives them a chance to get to know our students.
You recently announced that the middle school will have a soccer program next year and that the high school’s football field entrance is getting a facelift. How did that all come together?
We are going to have middle school soccer next spring. Dan Hollowell, the superintendent of Bourbonnais Elementary school district, and I had a conversation six years ago. A coach from Olivet Nazarene University came out and gave a presentation. It has taken us six years of conversing and planning, but we will have a sixth- and seventh-grade middle school co-ed team next year. Thanks to Bourbonnais for taking the lead on that. We are going to try to play local teams, but we know we can play teams up north as well.
Thanks to a partnership with HomeStar and Midland States Bank, we are getting a new entrance to our football, soccer and track facility. It’s going to be very nice to see an aesthetically pleasing entrance that shows the Manteno pride.
“My vision for Manteno School District going forward is to help our students be successful — whether they want to attend a college or university or go to vocational school or into a trade. We embrace and understand that there is an opportunity for students who are not college-bound.
It is up to us to make sure we work with the Kankakee Area Career Center and Kankakee Community College as much as we can so we can make sure they achieve their career goals. That has been evolving. Education used to be about preparing students for college. I love that our minds are shifting based on what the kids need.