By NICK MARIANO
MT. VERNON —
More than 1,300 educators across Southern Illinois filled classrooms at Mt. Vernon Township High School on Thursday not as teachers but as students.
As it has been for 33 years, the high school was the site of the Mt. Vernon Conference, a two-day in-service organized by regional superintendents representing schools in 15 counties from Pope County in the south to Marion County in the north. The conference concludes today.
It’s safe to say the conference offers something for most educators: From pending legislation on teacher performance and other employment issues to teaching the Holocaust and genocide, or watching demonstrations on technology or in-school bowling or, well, the list goes on.
“They always, always have quality presenters here. There’s always a little something for everybody. Whatever the latest and greatest thing is. Information, information, information,” said Mt. Vernon High School teacher Mary Beth Mezo.
Her first year in teaching was the same for the first conference in 1980. On Thursday she was on her way to learn more about the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund.
Mark Goodheart, who oversees the in-school suspension program at MVTHS, enjoys the conference for the networking opportunities, he said. He also enjoys seeing how his peers have grown in their careers regardless of where they work.
“This is my 17th year and it’s just a good time to get recharged and see some people you haven’t seen in a long time. You get to see teachers develop or who may have moved into administration,” said Goodheart just before starting a session led by his former football coach.
Joey Rhodes has been presenting his program on “discipline for success” at the conference since the mid-1990s. Thursday’s session focused on teaching students about establishing and maintaining a healthy credit score and history. He also led a session on identity theft.
“That’s a lot of what this conference wants to do. It’s a lot of teaching teachers how to go out and instruct students but it’s also time for teachers to be taught,” said Rhodes, a Salem school teacher and former administrator.
The conference had plenty to offer administrators, as well, whether a superintendent, principal or bookkeeper. J.L. Buford Intermediate Education Center Principal Ryan Swan was found Thursday at a keynote address on helping educators cope with the reality of limited resources especially when challenged to meet students’ modern day educational needs.
“He is right now showing us ways to utilize technology and to challenge kids in ways that are just as cost effective as buying say traditional textbooks,” Swan said.
Those alternatives include tapping into the e-textbook or online textbook market in place of the more costly traditional book. E-textbooks, Swan observed, do not wear out, and updates are easily added online.
Ron Daniels, regional superintendent for Hamilton and Jefferson counties, noted that while the size of the conference offers variety and a larger networking pool, it also provides area educators an affordable path toward required re-certification.
“This is a great setting for a low cost for some of our small rural schools to get some quality programs and bring in some great speakers,” Daniels said. “A lot of our school districts don’t have the funds to provide the professional development teachers need.”
He added that his office covered the cost for all educators within his district attending the conference, at about $20 per person for the entire two days. He could not immediately say what the final bill came to though the cost is paid from teacher certification fees, sponsorships and vendors at the conference.
Other regional school offices sponsoring the conference include: Franklin-Williamson counties; Edwards, Gallatin, Hardin, Pope, Saline, Wayne, White and Wabash counties, and the regional office for Clinton, Marion and Washington counties.