What's new and exciting in the Mount Pulaski School District
MPHS named one of America's Best High Schools
Educators and Support Staff for the 2017-18 school year

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[November 06, 2018] 

Today is the day residents in the Mount Pulaski School District have the opportunity to vote for the improvement of their schools. There is a lot of public opinion on the issue and the discussions to clear up any misconceptions have been made available time after time to those willing to take part. Tours of the over 100-year-old high school building have been offered over the course of the last year and concerned citizens in the community have really stepped up to educate others about the much needed improvements to both Mount Pulaski Grade School and Mount Pulaski High School.

No matter how a person votes, here are some of the highlights of the school district that any and all residents should be proud of.

According to U.S. News and World Report, Mount Pulaski High School is one of America’s Best High Schools. On niche.com Mount Pulaski High School is the fifth rated school in the Springfield area, according to MPHS principal Terry Morgan. One can easily access the school’s website to see the academic success of the students.

The Mount Pulaski High School Trap Team also just won a state championship in May.

Over the years Mount Pulaski volleyball and basketball teams have won state championships, made state appearances and numerous post-season runs. Overall sports has brought together the community that makes up Mount Pulaski CUSD #23.

The high school also boasts terrific agricultural programs that turn out record numbers of FFA members, and excellent music programs that allow students to excel in band and choir.

Clubs and activities are abundant at MPHS, with FCCLA (Family, Career and Community Leaders of America) leading the way as MPHS students have held state offices over the years. Spanish Club, Drama Club, Art Club, Scholastic Bowl, WYSE, Science Olympiad, and National Honor Society are also successful programs at MPHS that have involved highly-motivated students who strive each and every day to perform their best. While there is no Academic or Sports Hall of Fame for graduates of MPHS, if there was, the list would be long of those successful individuals who have gone on to make a huge difference in the world.

The beginning of making a difference in the world starts at the lower level of education, and for these public school students, that is Mount Pulaski Grade School. According to MPGS Principal Gene Newton, the grade school has adopted a new Reading series this year. “We are now using Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's Journeys for K-5 and Collections for 6-8,” said Newton. “Each curriculum is fully aligned to the Illinois Learning Standards and can be accessed online as well as in hard copy.”

Newton also mentioned that both Mount Pulaski Grade School and Mount Pulaski High School have been rated "Commendable" in the recently released summative designations from Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Illinois schools are ranked in one of four categories Tier 1 - Exemplary, Tier 2 - Commendable, Tier 3 - Underperforming, Tier 4 - Lowest Performing. The rating is based on several subgroups including Student Growth and Graduation Rate.

According to the school website, the school board took action at the September 24 board meeting to begin the process of air conditioning MPGS. The project will be started in this school year and be completed in phases. Local school district funds will be used. The first phase will be air conditioning for the elementary “pod” classrooms and the learning center. This project is to be completed without any tax increase. This is a separate project from the high school addition. This is certainly a welcome addition to the building.

New staff members were also hired at both schools this year, with some teachers retiring and of course some making job changes to better suit their personal needs.

Calob Pluhm took over Band and Music from the ever-popular David Helm, who moved on to take a position at Lincoln Community High School. Pluhm teaches students at both buildings.

Kayleigh Parker is the new Music and Band teacher at MPGS.

Jamie Whitwood is a new Special Education teacher in both buildings.

Anthony Lisenko is the new math teacher at MPHS, taking over for Denise Farnam, who also went to LCHS to be closer to her family.

Leah Varvel is the new Guidance Counselor at MPGS. This move allowed Melanie Hinson to concentrate solely on the counselor duties at MPHS.

Ashley Burgard is in her first year as the Early Childhood Education teacher at MPGS. Her husband, Troy, is the Industrial Arts teacher at MPHS as well as the junior high baseball coach and assistant high school baseball coach.

Kristen Davis

Jessica Awe

Kristen Davis was hired as the new first grade teacher and Jessica Awe, a 2013 MPHS graduate, is the new fifth grade teacher.

These new teachers have been a perfect fit among the existing staff and students have learned the new faces with ease.

Finally to wrap things up, there needs to be focus on six staff members who received awards during the 2017-18 school year. These staff members were either awarded Educator of the Quarter or Support Staff and were nominated by either their peers, students or parents of students for their outstanding work in the classroom and building.

Megan Jones ~ Educator of the Quarter 2017

As a little girl, Megan (Allspach) Jones knew what she wanted to be when she grew up. “I played school a lot,” laughed the third grade teacher. “I always knew I wanted to be a teacher. Illinois State University was a good choice for me.” Jones was a 2005 graduate of MPHS and as she joked, “No 5-year-plan for me, I graduated from ISU in 2009.”

Jones taught in the Sangamon Valley School District for two years before taking over for the retired Mrs. Cunningham at MPGS. Jones teaches in the 3A classroom. “Fun fact,” she said smiling, “I was a 3A student.” 3A is the class that takes care of raising the flag every morning and as Jones put it, “We’re still working on that every year. Sometimes the flag is upside down and we have to change it.”

Jones has been teaching seven years at MPGS and by the smile she flashes, one can easily tell she loves her job. “The highlight of my day is just seeing all the kids and letting them know that I want them to be here and I want to be here. It just makes the day go easier if they know I want them here and I do.”

Jones and her husband, Michael, have three children, Jase, Grant and Leah. The family makes their home in rural Mount Pulaski.

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Melanie Hinson ~ Educator of the Quarter 2017

Hinson is the Guidance Counselor solely at MPHS now, but she was pulling double-duty for a time at both schools and she was doing so as the community was going through tough times. The loss of three lives (Micah Wakeman, Evan Connor and Caleb Coogan) shook the students, staff and the entire community and Hinson was there to provide support to everyone. Hinson’s hometown is Tinley Park and she admitted when she took the job, she didn’t even know where Mount Pulaski was. She now considers the little community her second home and Mount Pulaski folks consider her one of their own, too.

Hinson went to Governors State University in University Park just south of Chicago. Hailing from the big city, Hinson says of Mount Pulaski, “I love that we get to know the students and they get to know us.”

Louis Volle ~ Support Staff 2017

Volle is a familiar face around the Mount Pulaski community but pretty new to the school’s payroll. Volle has farmed in rural Mount Pulaski and operated his own business, Volle Plumbing and Heating for over 25 years in the community. He was hired by the school district nearly two years ago as the Building and Grounds Supervisor. He oversees mechanical, maintenance and security issues at MPHS and MPGS as well as the Bus Barn. Volle is also in charge of all mowing in the school district.

When asked about his job, his answers are pretty straightforward. “I love it. I love everything about it. The people, the staff, the kids, it’s all good.”

Volle and his wife Becky make their home in rural Mount Pulaski. They have three children, Andy, Jacob and Megan, who all have chosen to raise their families in Mount Pulaski. The Volle’s have five grandchildren.

Wyatt Waterkotte ~ Educator of the Quarter 2018

What an asset this teacher has been to the school and the entire community. Waterkotte has been at MPHS for eight fabulous years now and he makes an impact each and every day in the lives of students.

In his own words, he tells his story.

“I grew up in Camp Point, Illinois where I attended Central High School. I was active in the school activities including FCCLA, FBLA. and FFA as well as Drama Club and the Camo Nation (our version of Spirit Squad). Following my graduation from high school in 2005, I attended Eastern Illinois University where I majored in Career and Technical Education with a concentration in Family and Consumer Science (CTE/FCS for short). I did my practicum teaching at Oakland High School and my student teaching at Shelbyville High School and then started here at MPHS in August of 2010.

"I just finished my eighth year at MPHS where I teach Nutrition & Culinary Arts 1 and 2, Textiles & Design 1 and 2, Child Development/Parenting, Adult Living, and Introduction to FACS. I also advise the FCCLA (Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America) chapter at MPHS.”

Waterkotte’s enthusiasm caught on quickly with the students and he offers this reasoning. “Perhaps I jumped in with both feet, but that was only because I have had students that were ready to take on new challenges and a principal who believes in giving those students opportunities. Both my classroom and the FCCLA have seen a lot of change and growth in my time here, but I am not the only driving force behind that. I have had some outstanding students who have had some great recommendations for changes in both FCCLA and my classes.”

Waterkotte continues with the upmost enthusiasm. “Generally, I just love being a teacher. I make a lot of jokes with the students, but I love being around them, teaching them, and learning from them. I especially enjoy my curriculum because it is "real life lesson" based and allows for me to share information with my students that will be 100% relevant to them beyond high school no matter what path they choose to take. Regardless of whether they become a welder, nurse, lawyer, homemaker, mechanic, or anything else; they will need life skills like meal preparation, money management, and likely child rearing. I have the joy of teaching those types of lessons. It absolutely makes it easier to teach when I am able to see the lessons connect to the personal experiences of the students. Nothing brings a teacher more joy than hearing from a graduate or parent of a graduate that they not only enjoyed your class, but that they learned something that the continue to use in their adult life.”

Jenna Kloba ~ Educator of the Quarter 2018

Kloba was not born and raised in Mount Pulaski, but many will recognize her maiden name (Zimmerman) and some might hold their breath and try to think back, “Was I ever in his office?” Kloba’s dad was longtime high school principal, Mr. Joe Zimmerman, who served the Mount Pulaski School District for around three decades.

Mrs. Kloba is the current Junior High Reading teacher at MPGS after serving in several capacities during her tenure in the school district. She grew up in Sherman and graduated from Williamsville School District in 1998.

“I then attended Lincoln Land Community College for two years and then transferred to Illinois State University where I graduated in 2002,” said Kloba. “I began teaching in Mount Pulaski in 2002 as a Reading Recovery Teacher. I completed my masters from Western Illinois University in 2012 as a Reading Specialist.”

Telling her story, she says, “I married my high school sweetheart in 2003 and we have two children, Madison (12) and Alex (4). We live in Sherman and my husband is the P.E. and Health curriculum facilitator of District 186.”

“Since 2002, I have taught Reading Recovery, third grade, first grade and Junior High Reading along with Title I. As a Title I teacher I am in charge of collecting data in reading for all K-eighth grade students and facilitating reading interventions for students who struggle in reading. Along with teaching, I assist in writing Title I Federal grants for the district.”

She is a chip off the ole block so to speak. Jack of all trades.

Yet another new challenge awaited Kloba this current school year. “In the fall of 2018, I will be doing full time junior high reading. Even though I will miss working with the younger students, I am looking forward to this change and the continuity in the reading program. I am also looking forward to seeing the sixth through eighth grade students develop in their reading and carrying their skills over to other subjects.”

“Not everyone can say that they look forward to going to work each and every day. I however, look forward to my job each day. I truly believe that it is a testament to the kids we have and the staff I work with. I am blessed to be in such a great community,” Kloba concluded.

Sam Brown ~ Support Staff 2018

Last but not least is the final award winner of the 2018 school year ~ Sam Brown.

Sam is in her third year as an aide at MPGS. “I love this job,” said Brown. “It’s as good as being a stay at home mom but still getting paid. All the students become your kids and you care for them and want them to succeed like your own. I love mentoring the pre-teenage years. I feel that’s when kids need guidance the most. I can remember all my coaches I had in middle school and they all impacted my life greatly. I wanted to be the same. I have coached track for two years and MPHS Scholastic Bowl for one year. They both have been very rewarding and have taught me a lot about myself as well. I also love being in the same building as my kiddos. My youngest son, Callen, is in pre-school. Addy is in fourth grade and Tanner is in Junior High. Alanea is in her first year at MPHS.”

“I absolutely adore my coworkers,” raved Brown. “Educators really define the term, 'It takes a village.' We all work together to help mold and shape these humans and inspire each other. Last year I started training to be Cori Clark’s aide. I had previously worked for years at Vonderlieth Living Center as an aide so I knew I was qualified. This year I have experienced so much with Cori and her family. They are truly an amazing family. I’ve been fortunate to significantly be apart of several other students’ lives. It’s a job that’s extremely humbling and satisfying. Jeanie Beccue really took me in the first year and has continued to be a great mentor to me. I am very thankful for her for making me feel comfortable, confidant and needed. I look forward to sticking around the Mount Pulaski School District as long as they will have me. It’s truly amazing job to have.”

Brown is from Lincoln and when Alanea and Tanner were little, she says her and Chris decided they wanted to find a good school district for the kids. “We found our forever home in Chestnut and have enjoyed every bit of the decision. We love raising our kids in this community. It’s supportive, closely knit, we know everyone who surrounds our kids and it helps that we love sports, especially Mount Pulaski sports.”

“I’m just over here in the exact center of Illinois ~ Chestnut ~ living my dream,” said Brown with a huge smile.

Congratulations to all the 2017-18 award winners of the Mount Pulaski School District 23.

[Teena Lowery]

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