Schermerhorn: One-year anniversary at the regional office of education

May 1 marked the one-year anniversary of my service as regional superintendent of schools for McHenry County.

What a year it has been. Obviously, it has been a tremendous learning experience and one of solid and rewarding work. Whenever one works for the betterment of our youth, you feel you’ve contributed to the future and are hopeful for the next generation.

I have found this position expands to address issues important to McHenry County residents, in addition to the primary responsibilities specified in the Illinois School Code. Over the past year, I have been amazed by the range of duties for which this office is responsible. The regional office of education conducts five comprehensive district audits each spring. These audits cover all aspects of school administration, finance, curriculum, regulation and safety.

My priority as superintendent is ensuring that our students are safe from harm, be it building emergencies or predators. The regional office of education conducts annual health/life-safety inspections of each of the 84 school buildings in the county. Mobile classrooms also are inspected. The office ensures each school holds five safety drills each year – three building evacuation/fire drills, at least one with local fire officials; one shelter-in-place/tornado drill; and one lock-down drill with local law enforcement.

Given the tragedy last December in Sandy Hook, Conn., most of the schools in the county held additional drills with local law enforcement. The regional office of education held a vigil in December to commemorate the lives lost and to raise awareness about the need for greater safety measures.

An additional safety measure is that every adult who works in a school building in McHenry County is fingerprinted at the regional office of education. This service permits a background check to be done by the Illinois State Police and the FBI. Those checked include teachers, student-teachers, custodians, support staff, coaches and construction workers. 

Many of the office’s regulatory duties are expertly handled by the support staff in the office. Educator licensure is handled by Kim Ramlow. She’s the best in the state and a hawk for detail. She ensures all teachers and administrators in McHenry County schools have the qualifications required for their positions. Ramlow currently is getting McHenry County educators through the state’s transition from the old certification system to a new on-line licensure.

The office provides bus-driver safety training, GED registration and county spelling bee coordination, all of which are expertly handled by Connie Proch. Essential to efficiency and operations at the office is Barb Murray, the highly experienced bookkeeper and office manager. The office also employs one full-time and one part-time truancy officer. Bob Diviacchi, who works full time, is a former police officer and motivated to get kids in school. He knows from experience what happens to children who aren’t in school. Amy Buchanan has been working part time at the office, seeking social services for truant students in need. Judge Maureen McIntyre in juvenile court has been firm in her support to get children in school on a regular basis. 

In the spring, I reviewed all summer building plans in consultation with the project architect and the district’s building manager to ensure the plans are in compliance with school building codes. Also members of the office go out periodically to monitor the progress of these projects. Diviacchi is picking up most of the building inspection responsibilities. This summer, most school building projects are for increasing building entrance security, and upgrading windows, doors and heating and air conditioning systems to provide better energy efficiency. Some schools are getting much-needed roof replacement.

The two biggest projects are in Huntley, where they just received a grant applied for several years earlier, and at Harvard High School, where the main floor is being updated and a second floor is being added to an earlier addition.

The office is responsible for Great Expectations, the county’s alternative school in Union. This small school serves seventh- through 12th-grade students who have been, or about to be, expelled from their home school district because a violation(s) of school rules.

My eternal gratitude goes out to the two interim Assistant Superintendents I’ve had over the past year – Mike Anderson, who taught me about school-building safety, and Amy Narea, who was invaluable in writing the many grants.

I look forward to year two in the regional office. I am confident that it will be a busy time implementing any grants we receive, fulfilling all statutory responsibilities, and finding new ways to enhance the education our students are receiving in McHenry County.

• Leslie Schermerhorn is regional superintendent of schools for McHenry County.

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