Staff Writer
Aledo Times Record

SHERRARD — School officials impressed state Sen. Chuck Weaver, R-37th District, with Sherrard’s vast opportunities Thursday when he toured the high school and junior high facility.

“I ran restaurants my whole life, had about 30 stores I operated; I get pretty good at walking in and getting a pretty quick feel for how things are operating,” Weaver said. “When I walked in the front door I told these guys they’re running a good school.”

It was the facilities that first impressed him, then he heard the array of programs offered by the school, but it all comes down to numbers.

“This district is doing a lot more with a lot less money than many school districts in our state,” Weaver said.

He said in comparison Sherrard’s per student costs are about $8,500 per year, while districts in Peoria are around $13,500 and Chicago public schools are spending over $15,000.

He said the numbers tell a story.

“There are dollars out there, the biggest dilemma we’re fighting is the family structure, and home structure, the support system these kids have,” Weaver said. "When you have a community like Sherrard with solid families, they’re able to educate a kid very well for less dollars. Education isn’t our only solution, we’ve got to also be figuring out how we can stabilize families for kids.”

School Board President Rhys Fullerlove extended the invite to Senator Weaver last month. He said it has been many years since a senator has visited.

“I think it’s important for us to have good relationships with our state elected officials,” Fullerlove said.

He added, “Having these connections (is) going to be important because understanding where the state of Illinois is going — will help better position us as a school district.”

Representative-elect Dan Swanson attended the board’s last meeting.

National Honor Society President Tyler Roling and Vice President Jean Ericson helped lead the tour with SHS Principal Tim Wernertin. Roling said it was an unexpected and amazing opportunity afforded to the small town school. He hasn’t chosen a college yet, but plans to go into engineering.

The students spoke on the many opportunities available at Sherrard. Ericson plans to attend Loyola University in Chicago as a pre-med student following graduation. She said teachers and counselors have been “super helpful in choosing classes for students to go in the right direction with their career plan.”

During his visit, Weaver also heard updates on the Chromebook 1:1 program, learned about various programs from math teacher Luke Fritch, and had discussions on state educational issues with Matherville Principal Polly Dalhstrom, Superintendent Alan Boucher and Fullerlove.

Agriculture/vocational teacher John Rasty demonstrated the new equipment purchased for the department, MIG and TIG welding systems, and a new plasma cutting table.

“Welding right now and industrial arts are very important to our industry, to our businesses, and there’s a shortage of workers in those areas,” said Boucher. “We feel if we can give the kids a taste of that industry perhaps they’ll enjoy the experience and want to pursue it after high school.”

Growing up on a farm in Peoria, Weaver recognized the steps taken by the school to provide progressive opportunities for students interested in agriculture.

“As a major industry it’s Important we continue to teach our kids here to be prepared to go into ag,” Weaver said.

He said he’s the only senator right now with a farming background,

“Even though I don’t farm currently, I still live on the farm I grew up on,” he said.

As a kid he showed Angus cattle, and his family farmed corn and beans.

He said Sherrard leadership understands the concern of preparing students to advance technologically, and equip them with the necessary tools and knowledge to remain competitive and keep jobs in the United States.

“Are we preparing kids for jobs that don’t exist now, because the job is already past, and are we preparing kids for jobs that might be coming?” he said.

Fullerlove agreed: “We want to make sure we’re preparing them for anything they want to do.”

When asked about his top priority going into the legislative session, Weaver replied, “Our budget impasse better be everybody’s top priority.”

He said there was movement Thursday morning with regard to Senate Republicans and Democrats possibly coming forward with some proposals, “It’s encouraging that our (minority) leader (Christine) Radogno and the President (John) Cullerton of the Senate, are both talking about those things and how we can try to bring something forward — some bills that we may pass that we can then forward to the governor and Speaker Madigan to get passed.

“The best opportunity to pass something is during ‘lame duck’ which is over next Tuesday, but then we’re going to our spring session.”

Regarding the high number of people leaving the state he said it’s not about the weather, it’s about jobs.

“We have got to reform how we do business in our state,” Weaver said.

Superintendent Boucher said, “We’re very grateful for Senator Weaver’s willingness to come up to the Sherrard School District and take a look at our programs and our facilities. ... We’re proud of a lot of the things we’re doing, and we’re looking to improve. We wanted him to hear the Sherrard story.”

“I think he will do a great job representing us,” said Boucher.