Alumnus Kyle Varnold to Speak at Graduation

This year with the winter weather and frustrations we experienced, we only thought it appropriate to ask alumnus Kyle Varnold back to speak at our graduation.

Kyle was born in the Summer of 1982 and hails from the former Potawatomi village of Maquon. The son of Rick & Pat Varnold, Kyle has an avid love of “all things Weather” since he spotted his first funnel cloud at the age of five, growing up on his family farm. A WGN AM-720 Weather Watcher at age 13 and self-described “geek” all throughout his time at Valley High, Kyle also played Football (poorly) and Basketball (bench team) for the “then” Valley Vikings his JV years and was on the award-winning Speech Team and Scholastic Bowl all four years of High School as well as Co-Captain his Senior Year. Thanks to Speech Team, Kyle revealed his secret passion and upbringing on Musical Theatre and Mr. Knox, Ms. Helle & Mr. Baxter took full advantage of those (non-weather related) hidden talents. When not attending school, Kyle worked as a Weather Graphics Technician at WEEK-TV in East Peoria, and still holds the distinction of being the youngest person ever to be employed at WEEK at the age of 16. Kyle graduated from Spoon River Valley High School on May 26th, 2000.

Kyle then attended Northern Illinois University in DeKalb to pursue his interest in Meteorology. Kyle became very involved with the MET program at Northern and worked closely with Dr. David Changnon and Dr. Charles Bentley in the expansion and development of the Weather segments at the university based, NTC News under the direction of Dr. Allen May. Kyle interned at the National Weather Service Central Illinois office in Lincoln, IL during the Summer of 2002. That fall, Kyle became Weather Director at NTC News and was immediately singled out by his prefessors and recognized for his “Witty, Weather Reports” as well as ILLINOIS BROADCASTER (STUDENT) ASSOCIATION award winning local news reports, which Kyle received the NIU REPORTER OF THE YEAR award one year later for his excellence in Broadcast Journalism. Kyle graduated from Northern on May 10th, 2004 with his B.S. in Meteorological Sciences with an emphasis in Vortex development and a minor in Broadcast Journalism.

After that, Kyle volunteered his time at the NWS-Lincoln office with the hopes that a salaried position would become available. Kyle was actively involved assisting with Spotter Training Classes and was Field Commander for the NWS Lincoln Storm Spotting Team. Kyle worked as a “Schwanman” from 2006 to 2011 and built sales routes for the Company, and received the prestigious Chairman’s Club Award for being one of the top 1% of Sales Managers in the company. After discovering a “knack” for sales and a desire for a non 14-hour/day job, Kyle entered the world on Insurance in the Spring of 2011 working at State Farm Insurance in Bloomington. Kyle started in Internal Sales Support and later Agency Internship, based in a Peoria Agent’s Office. In 2014, Kyle moved over to the independent agency world when he signed with Peoria-based, FORTNER INSURANCE as their Life & Health Agent/Specialist. “I don’t Love Insurance and any person that does is clearly not right in the head, but I do love helping people and providing peace of mind and Insurance is just that.” Kyle has since been awarded the PEKIN SILVER KEY award for excellence in Life & Health Sales and is a top 1% Agent with United Healthcare.

When not matching clients with appropriate coverage, Kyle still finds time for his true passion, weather through his locally loved and recognized “Weather Reports” he posts on FB to his “Weather Wisdom” classes he gives to local area schools. Kyle also can be seen on the stage at Peoria Players Theatre in local productions, most recently “Les Miserables”. Kyle currently resides with his beautiful bride, Kendra and their son, Kellan in Washington, IL.

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The Valley Continues to Go Green

As a school district, we continue to try and find ways to better utilize the resources our tax payers provide us with as well as do what we can to help our environmental impact. We’ve had two major projects in the past year that should have a pretty major impact on our energy use. Last summer we reduced our energy consumption by switching to LED lighting and we’ve been working the past year or so on making a deal to include solar energy.

Last summer, we replaced all traditional fluorescent lights with LED lighting tubes. This has had a significant impact on our energy use. There was some investment in the tubes and then the labor to install them, however, this project should pay for itself within a year or so based on calculations of energy savings. Quite frankly the most difficult part of the project has been trying to find businesses or individuals interested in taking the fluorescent light tubes that still have life left in them.

If you’ve been out past the school within the past week, you will notice a lot going on in the grassy area north of the school. We’ve been working for about a year now to reach an agreement with Eagle Point Solar. The agreement has been reached and construction started this week. Essentially the project has been done with absolutely no financial investment from the district. The solar company installs the solar field that is sized with the calculations to generate enough energy for an entire year for the school district. The district has entered into a power purchase agreement that allows the district to then purchase the power the field produces at a rate much less than we are currently paying the power company for power. This will result in a significant savings in power costs over the years.

There is no power stored at the district from the solar field. Obviously during the hot summer months, the solar array will produce more power than will be used at the time. That power goes back into the power distribution system from Ameren and they credit the district for that power. In the winter months when we use more power than is produced, we then utilize those banked kilowatt hours.

This agreement also provides the information and equipment to place a monitor in the school building that allows anyone to see the power being generated by the solar array at any given time. This allows this to not only be a money saving project, but also a learning experience for our students and community as they can see the power being generated by the solar array currently. As a district we also see this project as an opportunity to do what we can to help conserve our fossil fuels by generating energy through a clean and efficient method.

Once completed, we hope to have an open house and ribbon cutting where we can answer any further questions people may have and let them see the array in action first hand. If there are any current questions, please feel free to contact Chris Janssen, Superintendent of Schools at or 309-778-2201.

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The Many Factors of School Cancellations

January has been a bit of a rough one in West Central Illinois this year. We’ve had numerous cancellations of school as well as days where due to snow, ice, dangerous cold weather, etc many things including school and businesses have come to screeching halt. We realize the cancellation of school is a major disruption to our families. The decision to cancel school is never an easy one and often involves many factors.

The process of cancelling school almost always starts at least 24 hours before the weather event occurs. It often involves pouring through multiple weather forecasts and the hourly forecasts are often most helpful. You and I both know, a few hours can make a huge difference in how we handle a weather situation. There are also a wide variety of other factors that are involved in deciding if we have school or cancel. A few of those factors include:

  • Information on current road conditions throughout the district. This involves driving state, county and township roads often starting at 4 am to get a current idea of current conditions.
  • Amount of snow and/or ice accumulated on roads.
  • Current and predicted winds that may create drifting conditions.
  • Duration and timing of the snow and/or ice event.
  • Temperature and more importantly wind chill. We realize all of our students ride the bus, but we need to make sure conditions are safe for those students waiting on buses. The breaking point with wind chill is -20 or sometimes close based on other factors.
  • School building conditions such as electricity, heat, water.
  • Ability of buses to start and run in the given conditions.
  • Consultation with county and township road crews as well as consultation with other local school superintendents.

All of these factors are considered and a decision is made as soon as possible as we know a school cancellation is a major disruption for families, especially those with young children. If at all possible, a decision is made before 6:00 am so families can be notified. We attempt to use all the notification methods at our disposal to make sure everyone is aware of a closing as soon as possible. We send out a broadcast to all of our families through SchoolMessenger. Through that system we send a call, a text message as well as an email. We also make posts on social media such as Twitter and Facebook. Traditional media outlets are contacted so it is broadcast on radio and television as well.

Our goal is to have school whenever possible as we realize education of our students depends on them being involved in the educational process. It’s not something that just happens. However, the safety of our students and staff are always a top concern and if we don’t feel we can get students and staff to and home from school on a given day, then we cancel school. We realize the ultimate decision if you can safely send your student to school or not, is the decision of the parent. We obviously can’t know current conditions of every road in the district. We always try and make the decision in the best interest of everyone involved.

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An Extra Cup of Coffee

Well, winter sure has decided to come all at once this year. This week I had the privilege of having an “extra” cup of coffee four days out of the five. Essentially the reason was when I leave the house at the wee hours of the morning to check weather and road conditions, I always grab a cup of coffee and my phone. The coffee gets me going and the phone is essential for staying in touch with other superintendents as well as road officials and others important in the decision on school that day.

Ask anyone that has been a superintendent of a school district and inevitably they will almost all agree the most difficult decisions you make often involve the weather and if there will be school or not. The reality is we are trained as educators, not weather forecasters. The decision is also further complicated by the fact that we often feel these decisions can be life and death decisions because if we have school and the unthinkable happens, then we always feel at least partially responsible.

On mornings when the weather is not perfect, the anxiety often starts the night before in watching forecasts and checking in with others including emergency officials, county officials as well as local road commissioners. Then in the early morning hours, the same is repeated while getting ready to go drive roads and check conditions. Unfortunately its a decision where there is no black and white and inevitably you can’t make everyone happy.

The decision for all superintendents, including myself, is always rooted in what is best AND safe for our students and staff. Yes, we are human and sometimes the call we make is not perfect. There are times when our crystal ball is slightly off for some reason and we cancel only to have the weather take a turn for the better or vice versa. If only the decisions were easy.

So, this time of year, an extra cup of coffee in the morning is not unusual. Just understand the human making those decisions is trying to do what is safe for everyone involved.

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Meet the New Guidance Counselor

As you may be aware, we started this year without a guidance counselor at Spoon River Valley. We recently filled that position and are very happy to have Mrs. Brandy Nolan filling the role this year. Here is just a little bit about her. As you can see she brings some great experience and knowledge to help our families.

My name is Brandy Nolan and I am the new counselor at Spoon River Valley Schools. This is my twelfth year working as a school counselor. I have spent 4 years at the high school level, 4 years at the junior high level, and 4 years with elementary students. Being able to work in a district and serve pre-K through 12th grade students is the perfect culmination of my past experiences! I grew up in the neighboring community of Knoxville, IL where I graduated in 1994. I went on to Western Illinois University where I earned my Bachelor of Science degree in December of 1997 with a double major in Law Enforcement and Justice Administration and Psychology. Before receiving my Master’s in Education in School
Counseling in 2006 (also from WIU), I worked with troubled teens providing crisis intervention services. I have also worked for the Department of Corrections Juvenile division.

I reside in Knoxville with my husband Waylon and our three children; Isaac (13), Macy (11), and Mila (4). I enjoy watching my kids play sports, fitness, and spending time at the beach!

I am excited to be here and have the chance to build relationships with your children. I hope to be an additional support to students and families. My goal is to equip our students with skills they need to face challenges and to help them navigate a personal plan for success! If I can be of any assistance, please feel free to contact me.

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Sportsmanship – It’s Important to be an Example

As I was walking through the gym this morning I found myself drawn to this banner hanging on the wall as well as events over the past few days as we hosted a basketball tournament here at Valley. We often talk about sportsmanship and expect “good sportsmanship” from our student athletes, but how well do we as adults model it? Over the years I’ve seen fans not displaying good sportsmanship even to the point of being ejected from games. I’ve seen coaches receive technical fouls for poor displays of sportsmanship. Then we wonder why I’ve also witnessed players not displaying good sportsmanship?

Many of us over the years have probably heard the quotation “Your actions speak so loud I can’t hear what you are saying” that is credited to Ralph Waldo Emerson. Many of us have heard it, but do we really take it to heart? As adults it is important for us to set good examples for our young people. I understand getting involved and passionate when your team is playing, especially when it is a son or daughter on the floor. However, as adults, there also needs to be some self-control in the situation. Don’t we want to teach our young people how to properly conduct themselves in these situations?

I can’t even express how disappointing it is when I see our young athletes playing so hard in a game that they have invested hours of practice into only to see the event tarnished by adults that can’t seem to figure out how to properly behave and set a good example. Yes, we often see it all the way up to professional athletes and their events, however that doesn’t necessarily make it right or even acceptable.

It would be my hope that as adults we could all come and watch our athletes play and be proud of our athletes and our school, but also proud of our behavior and example as adults. Are we the positive example we should be for our young people or are we the one that causes potential conflict at a student sporting event?

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Future of North Fulton Football

There have been some questions about the discussions taking place at both Spoon River Valley and Cuba school districts regarding football.

First of all, the timeline that has gotten us to this point.

  • The past few years there has been concern regarding the declining numbers in Junior High football. These numbers obviously have a direct effect on High School numbers in the future.
  • High School football numbers are also declining.
  • Summer 2018 – The joint meeting of the two school boards were presented with a concern from the Cuba Athletic director regarding the declining numbers in High School Football.
  • Since that meeting, the respective school boards have been gathering information and having discussions about options for the future of North Fulton Footbal

Right now there are three options on the table:

  • Keep doing what we’ve been doing knowing that it may mean a limited JV schedule due to numbers
  • Change to play 8 man football (as of this point there are no local teams participating in this so it will mean travel for games. At this point 8 man football is not an IHSA recognized sport.)
  • Explore options of adding another school to the co-op.

*These are by no means the only options, but rather the options on the table right now. If another viable option were to be suggested, it could certainly be entertained.
*You will also notice none of these options include terminating the current co-op in place.

At this current time (October 2018) both boards are still in the discovery phase of gathering information regarding the options. They are not yet in a position to make a definitive decision on the future of the North Fulton Football program.

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2018 Graduation Speaker Announced

It has been a long tradition at Spoon River Valley to select a distinguished alumni to return each year in May to give an address at the High School Graduation Ceremony. This year is no exception. This year’s alumni speaker will be Dr. Zac Chatteron, class of 1995. The ceremony will be held May 18, 2018 at 7:30 pm in Hendry S. Bennett gymnasium at the school.

Dr. Zac Chatterton grew up near the family farm just west of Ellisville where his parents, Rod and Suzanne still live. He attended Spoon River Valley School District through all grades graduating in 1995. Deciding to play football in college and study education made Monmouth College the perfect fit. After being a four-year letter winner and having had many leadership roles varying from football team captain, to dorm president and student fitness center director, he graduated with a degree in Physical Education. Most importantly, he met his wife Julie while at Monmouth College, and also established very close friendships and professional connections that have assisted him throughout his career.

Having the opportunity to student teach in Galesburg during the spring of 1999 served Dr. Chatterton well. He began his teaching and coaching career in Galesburg where he taught at all levels and coached a variety of sports before becoming the head football coach in 2003. During that time, he continued his education and earned a Master’s Degree in Educational Administration. He also served on various local and state committees mostly of the curricular nature, but also including leadership advisory work.

In 2006, he moved to Macomb in order to begin his administrative career at Macomb High School as assistant principal before becoming principal. While in Macomb, Dr. Chatterton began working on his Education Specialist Degree. In addition to being a certified trainer in poverty awareness, he provided training for area schools on state testing analysis, served on Volunteer Now and McDonough County Teen Court board of directors. He was also an elder in his church.

In 2009, Dr. Chatterton accepted the principal position at Dunlap Middle School in Dunlap, IL. Upon finishing the Education Specialist Degree from Western Illinois University, he returned to school to earn a doctorate degree through Aurora University. During his tenure at Dunlap, the enrollment nearly doubled with students coming from all over the world. With this growth, came a multitude of professional obligations both in the area of curriculum and facilities. Professionally, Dr. Chatterton has been published and presented nationally on such topics as continuous improvement in the classroom and teacher education portfolios. He has done public speaking and been a featured speaker on a variety of topics, but most recently the topic of school safety has been an emphasis. While in Dunlap, community involvements included serving on the Pediatric Critical Care Center board of directors through the Children’s Hospital of Illinois, fundraising activities for St. Jude Research Hospital both locally and in Memphis, and volunteering as a coach of local youth sports.

In 2017, Dr. Chatterton was selected by Farmington Central CUSD #265 to be their superintendent. He has guided the district through navigation of the Illinois Evidence Based Funding formula and provided leadership in understanding the political implications that impact schools today. He has relished Farmington’s single campus school district which is similar to Spoon River Valley’s layout. Additional accomplishments include the expansion of renewable energy usage, technology advancement, and community engagement.

Zac and Julie have three children (Jackson 16, Brooklyn 14, Olivia deceased) and enjoy spending their free time attending their children’s varying activities and traveling. They wish all the graduates of Spoon River Valley a well-deserved CONGRATULATIONS and encourage you all to never stop dreaming.

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The Dehumanization Of Our Culture

I guess every generation looks at the way things change and always has items they look at and refer to the “good ol’ days”. There have been some things through the years where I thought for sure I was just born during the wrong decade or even century. However, in really taking a look at things, there is a change that has concerned me for quite some time. I’ve tried to figure it out for a while now and have come to the conclusion its the dehumanization of our culture.

If you spend any time at all working with kids these days you’ll find a strong reliance on social media and being connected through the variety of electronic devices many of us now carry on an almost constant basis. In sorting out conflicts and working with teenage situations, I’ve found a very high percentage of these instances, at least at some point, involve social media, texting or some other form of electronic communication. In the beginning it was very easy to point to that and think that was the issue at hand. However, in really taking a look at things the last few years, I’ve come to a conclusion that those are just a tool and the problem is actually a much larger problem. We have become a culture that has rather quickly turned into one that is removing the human factor from our culture.

We have moved away from direct human interaction. We text, we facebook, we message, we snapchat; but rarely take time to have real conversations. In talking with young people and looking at my own family, I can see that happening in the home and other places as well as school. In our culture today, we certainly don’t all sit around the table and have meals together like we used to in years gone by. We don’t sit on the porch swing and just watch the sunset while sipping on sweet tea. We don’t spend time at the coffee shop talking about the latest corn growth or beef prices. Heck, when was the last time you called someone and just had a social phone call? The bottom line is we have resorted to communication that conveys facts, but limits the real human interaction.

This has an even larger impact than it appears on the surface. This leads us to not have that human interaction and in turn empathy for the person on the other end of the “conversation”. We deal in facts and electronic messages rather than dealing with people. That in turn makes it much easier for us to get upset at that person on the other side of the conversation. We don’t see that person as a person, but rather just a fact conveying piece of the universe.

Have you watched the new lately? Trust me, I try and avoid it all costs myself. However, I would venture to say the incidents of news worthy events from people being upset at others has risen significantly. I attribute much of that again to this dehumanization in our culture. There is something to be said about human connection. If you look at the research there are study after study about the connection between an infant and their parents. Humans need that human connection and interaction.

The next time you get upset at that person behind the counter for following company policy, take a minute to think about the fact that person is a human and has a life as well. They may have a spouse, significant other, or even kids of their own believe it or not. Rather than a culture that is super-critical of others and the way things are handled, is it possible we could become a culture that works together to solve situations or problems rather than create news items because of them? Yes, there are situations where people’s actions need to be examined and perhaps even corrected, but what used to be the exception is now becoming the norm.

I would challenge you as we get ready to enter into this summer season where schedules are often a little more relaxed, to work toward meaningful human interactions. Get to know that neighbor down the street. Spend a little more time talking with that teacher your child spends every day and work together for the benefit of your child. Put the electronics away for a while and have some meaningful conversations with your child, your spouse or a friend. Take time to remember what it’s like to be human aside from the constant information and busy schedules we all keep. Most of all, take time to do this for yourself and see what kind of difference it makes in your outlook on things.

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Quick and Phelps Honored at Scholastic Art Show

Each year scholastic holds an annual art competition. This is the 95th Annual Art Show. This weekend the awards ceremony was held at Springfield High School and the exhibition was opened at the Springfield Art Association. This show is a juried show which means not all pieces that are submitted are chosen to compete and be displayed.

This year there were 944 pieces entered into the show from 38 schools (many which are much larger schools with specialized art programs). The submissions are submitted electronically and judged through a “blind” system where judges select pieces to be included in the show. Out of the 944 submissions, approximately 300 were chosen to go on through the judging process. Each of these pieces is then chosen as an Honorable Mention, Silver Key or Gold Key status. Out of those chosen for the show, there were 90 Silver Key recipients and approximately 140 Honorable Mentions. Faith Quick received 3 SILVER KEY awards for her submissions and Meghan Phelps received an HONORABLE MENTION.

This is a HUGE accomplishment for our students, our art department and our school. Congratulations to Faith, Meghan and Mrs. Knox for this huge accomplishment. We are very proud of you.

 Faith Quick – “Dyslexia” (Silver Key winner)

 Faith Quick – “The Other Side” (Silver Key winner)

 Faith Quick – “F.J.Q.” (Silver Key winner)

 Meghan Phelps – “Benny the Turtle” (Honorable Mention)


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