Tuesday, December 24, 2013

My prayer this Christmas Eve

Dear Lord,

First of all, I thank you for all the blessings you have given me this past year that I often overlook. The blessings that many don't have - like healthy kids. A solid roof over over my head. A job that interests and challenges me each day. Enough money to make ends meet on most days. And about a billion other wonderful,basic things that I have that some don't.

Deep down, I know I'm blessed beyond measure. But on this Christmas Eve, when my emotions seem to be running amok, if you could find it in your heart to afford me a few more. 

Please bless me with the ability to be happy for others. Please don't make me so jaded that I look upon the success of someone's child, the loving thoughtfulness of someone's spouse or significant other or the realization of someone's career dream with envy instead of congratulations.

I have realized long ago that I am not going to be the other half of that happy couple. Nor will I be proudly wandering around prestigious colleges looking for "just the right fit" for my scholarly son. And there will always be that fire inside me to do a certain job that my life just doesn't fit into right now, and probably never will. Please grant me peace with this.

Please make me appreciate the fact that my kids can spend each Christmas day with both their mom and their dad, even though each year I wonder, "When will I get to spend it with my soulmate?" In that same vein, please help me stop the feelings that make me wistful for days gone by. My mom and dad are still here to celebrate Christmas as a family. That is a fact. Please help me to not feel so sad that mom is not bustling around the kitchen this year, making sure the bows on the packages are tied just so, and ensuring we all come to the house at the appropriate time.

Please give my dad, my sister and I patience with her confusion as we almost desperately struggle to correct her in the hopes that she will somehow realize reality all the time. Please help her realize that her move from skilled care to assisted living is a bridge to home, not a barrier. And Lord, please, let her come home soon.

Please give me the strength that my dad has, and give him all that he needs and more. This is tough for him, Lord, and there is only so much we can do for him. He feels the loss, especially this Christmas, as he struggles to try to make everything as normal as possible, down to being hell bent on making Mom's traditional Yule Log. Let him know we don't need all the traditions to make it Christmas. We just need to be together.

Give me patience when it comes to my children, Lord. Just because I am neurotic enough to think that I can make a perfect Christmas doesn't mean they're on board, too. Please keep me well in the boundaries of understanding their limitations, and stop me from expecting capacities beyond their means. Help me to be flexible enough to switch from one child yelling at me one moment to asking me for a plate of cookies in the next breath. Slow me down when they finally ask if I'll sit down and watch The Polar Express in the middle of the afternoon, even though I have a thousand things to do, all of which will make no more of a perfect Christmas than they would if I didn't do any of them.

Give me understanding of my family, Lord, and those who have chosen for whatever reason not to be with us on Christmas Day. Let them know I love them and I wish them peace. Help me keep my few strong family bonds strong in the next year, especially with my sister and older brother, for they mean the world to me.

Also help me in the coming year, Lord, to come to terms with my life and what it is, good and bad. Help me to learn to put my problems in their place, and when someone asks "How are you?" to simply say, "Fine." Keep me from dragging others into my pain, help me keep it in check, and realize that everyone has their crosses to bear. Help me to offer my shoulder to them, for I know that nothing helps one who is struggling more than being there for another who is struggling.

Finally, Lord, and I know this is a lot to ask, but please just give me a teeny, tiny glimpse into your plan for me. I am trying so very hard, Lord, and this year has been a true test of my strength and my faith. Show me that my work and sacrifice has not all been for naught. Bless my mother with her memory and her health so she can go home. Bless my father with continued good health so he can take care of himself and of her. Bless my older son with the ability to make conscious, good choices and to come to the realization that I do what I do for him because I love him. Bless my younger son with peace to overcome his worry and anxiety; burdens too big for a child.

Bless my sister and give her moments of peace as she works so hard for my parents, at her job, and with her family. Bless my older brother as he moves through life so far away, because deep down I know he'd like to be closer during this time. Bless my younger brother that he will find a way to manage the feelings he has about everything that has happened this past year, and give him the realization that family is now and forever.

Help me to stop thinking back to where I was a year ago, and look forward to where I may be a year from now. And most of all, please, please, please stay with me, Lord. I cannot do this without you.

With Love,

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Principal John Wetterauer: A man of integrity, compassion and honor

To: Peoria District 150 Board Members Rick Cloyd, Debbie Wolfmeyer, Rev. Linda Butler, Chris Crawford, M. Lynn Costic, Laura Petelle, Martha Ross

So what do I say to cut through the clutter of the hundreds of emails you as District 150 Board Members are receiving over the past few days? How do I eloquently reiterate what supporters of John Wetterauer and friends of Charter Oak School have been trying to say over and over? What can I do to get through to anyone who has any sort of power over this “force” that is from what I can see causing WAY more harm than good? 

I’m going back to the basics. 

I was a Charter Oak parent back in the days of Dr. Thom Simpson. Remember him? Wow, yeah, he was pretty awesome. He had that school running like a well-oiled machine and his reputation certainly preceded him. He knew every child’s name. If he turned out the lights in the lunchroom, you could hear a pin drop. He was accessible, intelligent, knowledgeable, forward-thinking, and incredibly well-respected and liked by both parents and children alike. 

When Dr. Simpson moved on to an administrative job at the district nearly a decade ago, I was not alone in my concern. Who could possibly fill that man’s shoes? And even if he or she could, how long would it take for the parents and children to “warm up” to him after having a leader like Dr. Simpson, who had made Charter Oak such a jewel of a quickly tarnishing District 150? 

That person was – and still is – John Wetterauer. 

I heard he had made great strides at Greeley School in the inner city, but it made me wonder what his attitude would be coming into the "if it ain't broke don't fix it" atmosphere of Charter Oak. What kind of guy was this? What would be on his agenda? What would he think of this posse of PTC members who were all very vested and involved in the school already? 

As he worked the room, wearing a Hawaiian shirt and shorts and providing lunch for the PTC meet and greet in the Charter Oak teachers’ lounge, I got the sense he realized he was walking into OUR school, and he knew he may have something to prove. He was humble, friendly, and very approachable. But my cautionary self said, “Wow, this guy really has a learning curve. We’ll see.” 

Short story long, Mr. Wetterauer in very quick fashion endeared himself to school staff, the PTC board, parents, and most importantly, the students. I was consistently amazed at how quickly he learned EVERY CHILD’s name, and he calls them by name, prefacing usually with a “Miss” or “Mr.” I would imagine standing at the front door every day holding it open for students and serving meals in the lunchroom helps quite a bit. Visiting each classroom every day and having an open-door policy probably doesn’t hurt either.

Mr. Wetterauer never needed to demand respect – he earned it – from everyone. Staff embraces him because he is open to their ideas and diligently works with them to improve teaching methods, curriculum, after school activities, in-school events, fundraising, parent participation and student achievement. 

When my children attended Charter Oak, from 2000 until 2011, I walked my sons to school every day and got to know many of the students. In fact, it wasn’t uncommon to hear “Mrs. Kennard!” yelled to me and to be hugged multiple times as I walked down the class line, while I zipped up coats and backpacks and asked where their hats and gloves were. It occurred to me – in such an economically diverse environment, coming to Charter Oak School was the BEST PART of some of these kids’ days. And why? Because of Principal John Wetterauer. 

Let’s look at who this whole debacle really affects. The kids. The parents are trying to disseminate the ridiculously little amount of information that has been provided to them, as well as the staff, who have to continue to teach and nurture these children. Don’t think for one second that these kids don’t sense something’s not right. 

I’m not here to list out the facts, or the lack thereof. I’m not here to ask why John Wetterauer is not sitting behind his desk in the principal’s office at Charter Oak School right this very minute. I think we all know why, and I think it’s time to stand up to it. What we all need to do is embrace leaders like John Wetterauer, and use them as models for all schools in District 150, not use them as a scapegoat to cover up for an administrative leader's inadequacies. 

I stand with a mountain of supporters of Principal John Wetterauer when I say, “We demand he be reinstated, for the good of the district, the school, and MOST importantly, the children of Charter Oak, present and future.” 

Dig deep on this one, District 150 Board Members. There’s more to this than meets the eye. But in the meantime, let’s get John Wetterauer back where he belongs – immediately.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Charter Oak School a Diamond in District 150's Rough

This post was written in September of 2009, but I felt it should be reposted today. Charter Oak parents and children, past and present, stand with Principal John Wetterauer through this difficult time. We apologize to him on behalf of Superintendent Grenita Lathan. We hope the Board will be able to see through the ruse and place Principal Wetterauer back where he belongs - continuing to run Charter Oak as a Blue Ribbon school, where he knows every kid's name like they were his own.
 September, 2009

There's a lot to complain about these days in District 150.

But as I referenced in a previous blog, parents need to become more involved in their child's school in order for it to succeed.

Charter Oak Primary School teachers, staff and parents have seen the fruits of their labors and definitely have something to cheer about these days.

The 2009 ISAT scores were recently released. The ISAT (Illinois Standards Achievement Test) measures individual student achievement relative to the Illinois Learning Standards and is administered yearly to students in grades three through eight. The results give parents, teachers, and schools one measure of student learning and school performance to determine their AYP, or Adequate Yearly Progress.

This year, Charter Oak ranked second only to Washington Gifted Middle School in Math and Reading ISAT scores, with a 91.2% Reading score (up 5.7% from 2008) and a 97.6% Math score (up 3.2% from 2008).

One must note that the makeup of Charter Oak students is quite diverse. According to the District Dashboard, 46.1% of Charter Oak students are "economically disadvantaged", compared to 14.5% at Washington Gifted and 29.7% at its closest "rival" in testing, Kellar Primary School.

This is a HUGE coup for Charter Oak, and a true testament to the leadership of Principal John Wetterauer and his dedicated teachers and staff. The children at Charter Oak are from all races, all walks of life, and all socio-economic backgrounds. The fact that they have come together to make such a statement in a fledgling school district is a success beyond measure.

Charter Oak School is definitely a diamond in the rough. In addition to its outstanding teaching and administrative staff, it has an incredibly involved PTO (Parent Teacher Organization), which I have seen firsthand make a true difference in my eight years there. These parents - and the countless volunteer parents who may not necessarily be on the board but serve their school in various ways - have made huge strides in improving the educational opportunities of these students.

Laptops and projectors for 2nd-4th grade - all part of the Smart Board system they are working toward. A new computer lab. A new playground. A computerized Accelerated Reading (AR) program and incentives. Classroom supplies for teachers. The list grows and is attended to by this group of people who have made the decision to be a driving force in their child's school.

I have seen firsthand that involved parents CAN make a difference. Teachers who care CAN make a difference. An administration that puts the child FIRST can make a difference.

Let Charter Oak Primary School be a positive example for what the whole of District 150 should - and can - be.

Click on the link below to see District 150's Adequate Yearly Progress standards chart from 2003 - 2009:

AYP Progress Chart

Sunday, December 1, 2013

A vote for Superman is a vote for all Unsung Heroes

A few weeks ago, my sister emailed me a link with the message, "We HAVE to do this for Dad."

The link was to a contest called the CEFCU Payback Project, where individuals could nominate their "unsung hero" with the potential of 1) raising money for one of three charities and 2) winning a grand prize.

A few weeks later, we submitted a video story of my dad, not realizing the emotion it would take out of both of us to compile it, and never anticipating the outpouring of support we would receive as a result.

I could take this opportunity to tell you why we feel my dad is so deserving of this award. But the truth is, he is a representation of all the people like him who are just as deserving. My dad, and the way he has chosen to live his life, is the epitome of strength, giving and humility - all great characteristics of the heroes of old and the heroes of modern day. He gives EVERY DAY - quietly, and with grace and honor, no matter what he does.

Dad didn't know we created this video. My sister and I knew he wouldn't necessarily welcome the attention. He found out about it while volunteering at Habitat for Humanity ReStore, when a couple of ladies working there were shedding a few tears while watching it. But as much as my dad shies away from any sort of recognition or accolade, I think he appreciated it. Because deep down, I think it made him realize that he is an inspiration - not only to his children, but to anyone who has the pleasure of knowing or meeting him.

Please take 90 seconds to watch the video and you'll see what I mean.

CEFCU Payback Project: SUPERMAN

I'd love for you all to cast your vote for Jack Talcott, aka Superman, which you can do every day until December 12. Every time you vote, you can designate one of three charities and CEFCU will donate $1 for every single vote. My dad has given much of his time over the past decade to Habitat for Humanity, so that's where my designation is going, but that is up to you.

And if we win? First of all, the monetary prize will go toward my mom's care at Liberty Village, as she recovers from this past summer's aneurysm and brain surgeries. For now, that bill is being footed 100% by my dad, and it's a pretty hefty sum. But above and beyond any dollar amount, what we win is the chance to inspire others to "Be Like Jack." To be great. To be humble. To be a hero every single day. And God knows what the world needs now is a few more heroes.