Pawnee Schools, the backbone of the community

The Pawnee grade school, and junior and senior high school is the backbone of the Pawnee Community.  Local children are the next generation of Pawnee citizens.  Nicole Goodall, the Junior, and Senior high school principal shared some of the updates over that have taken place over the past two years she has been with the school.

Nicole came to Pawnee from the Waverly school district where she served as a K-12 art teacher.  “Before that I started in the penal system with an art therapy degree,” she said adding that she worked with juveniles.

Serving in Greene County and Decatur, she then turned to teaching and taught for 20 years before moving into administration.  “It was a calling to come here,” she said following her Christian faith.

Pawnee School History

Looking at history first, the first school in Pawnee dates to 1824 in the loft of Justus Henkle’s log cabin. Next came a log schoolhouse with Samuel Williams serving as the schoolmaster.  Construction on a new schoolhouse began in 1911, with differing opinions on where the location should be. On the Pawnee Village website it states, “However, construction was stopped on the building after only one story was completed. It was stopped by a court order obtained by an opposing faction who wanted the high school located in the center of Pawnee Township. The controversy went all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court, which ordered another election.”

Through compromise the school was built in city limits, and the school was finished for use in January of 1914. The school was used until it was destroyed by fire in 1923, they think because of a lightning strike. A new school was built immediately. Then tragedy struck again when the school was destroyed by fire in 1958.  The school was rebuilt, and dedicated May 1, 1960, in the same location as the two previously destroyed buildings. The Pawnee website states, “Robert Groh, a graduate of Pawnee High School – Class of 1947, was the architect.”

Today they are looking ahead to see what changes may need to be made to the school which is 64 years old.  “We have been talking about what to do. Whether to keep the framework, refabricate our building, or build,” Nicole Goodall said.

All discussion however came to a standstill with the untimely death of Tim Kratochvil, the beloved superintendent of the Pawnee School District who passed away on Saturday, September 23, 2023. A new discussion is waiting on the start of the new Superintendent Molly Uhe-Edwards who will start her new post in July of this year. “She is coming out of the North Mac School.  She was the Virden High Schol Principal,” Nicole added.

Pawnee School Pluses

Coming into the community from another district, Nicole Goodall has the unique perspective of seeing the school through fresh eyes.  She said there were several things that drew her here, especially knowing she would be bringing her 16-year-old daughter to the new school as well.  “I’m very selective about what school I choose for her.  The community has a lot of influence and the partnership within the school mimics what the culture of the community desires.”

In Pawnee, she said that is a good thing. Nicole said at Pawnee that the emphasis is on the “whole child” looking at social, emotional, and educational needs all as one. She said that at Pawnee besides great educational offerings there are also good extracurricular ones as well, art, music and what she referred to as “a growing collection of junior and senior options”.

Students at Pawnee High School have several post graduate paths they can follow.  “There are many different learning opportunities, through Pawnee High School as we are able to partner with so many educational resources both inside and outside of our school walls.” Nicole said.

Some students can attend college and high school at the same time.  “We have a partnership with Lincoln Land Community College.”

The partnership allows students to take college courses along with their high school classes. She mentioned one student last year that graduated and was only three credits shy of acquiring her associate degree at the same time. “We work with CACC, Capital Area Career Center. They are expanding.”

Students can go to the CACC and obtain a certificate in areas such as autobody, HVAC, nursing, cosmetology, daycare, cyber security and more! “In the morning, they go here and take the required courses, then in the afternoon go to CACC and at the end of the year receive their accreditations,” Nicole said.

A 3rd option for students she called the MC3 program. Pawnee partners with LLCC of Education and LLCC partners with Sangamon Menard Regional Office of Education 51to expand the current Multi -craft core curriculum (MC3) high school program. Under the expanded program this fall, high school students will attend LLCC for two hours each weekday to explore construction apprenticeships and network with commercial contractors, trade unions and industry leaders. The program includes hand-on lab and field trips to worksites. Students will work on a construction project throughout the school year and during the last quarter of the program, spending three days a week at a paid internship at the job site. (This information was gained from LLCC awarded $200,000 grant to encourage construction careers | Lincoln Land Community College)

The Sangamon CEO program is another option.  On the website it is described as “a nontraditional classroom experience for high school seniors, where young entrepreneurs are inspired to become leaders in their community.”

Nicole added, “CEOs of local communities speak to students.” These professionals offer a wonderful learning opportunity for students to learn at an early age.

The Pawnee High School also offers ready for work programs for junior and senior students. One example she shared was the nearby Refuge Ranch, which is one of the work program partners.

It is because of all these wonderful options Nicole said, “Is a big reason I choose Pawnee, I chose for my child.”

The Details and the future.

Last year the grade school had a total of 312 students, and between the junior and senior high there were 242 students.  One hundred one individuals work in the school district making this a big employer in the Pawnee community.

“We are strengthening our program pathways,” Nicole Goodall shared.  “Especially working in the career and technical area (CTE).  We went from two to five threads in the CTE area. Before that, it was just agriculture and business.  We have added family and consumer science, STEM, and more.”

Pawnee has a variety of sports options for students as well.  “At Pawnee, we co-op with a school for golf and soccer.  We do basketball for both girls and boys, track, volleyball, football, cheerleading, baseball, softball, bass fishing, and scholastic bowl.  We have band, chorus, and work with local partners.”

One local partner is the Pawnee Lion’s Club.  Students assist with the food drive at Christmas, and the students are the beneficiary of an academic breakfast.  The school also partners with the Pawnee Assembly of God, and other local community groups, and they are always open to partnering with other businesses as well as hoping to work with community members in the future in volunteer opportunities.  A lot of volunteer options ceased during COVID, but Nicole hopes these can be revived.

One new program directly benefiting the health of the students is the Sangamon County Farm to Table initiative.  The school received a grant to buy locally for the cafeteria from Nicole said, “Carrots to beef”.

Through the grant funds they are partnering with local farmers to provide fresh food and learning new techniques to prepare them.  It is a four-year plan that already has offered benefits.  “Vending machines sales have plummeted, and more students are eating hot meals at the school,” Nicole added.

Another new program that is healing the COVID separation is Indian Shoutouts where students are recognized.  This she said focuses on the whole child.

When a child has issues, whether with one another, or the administration, she said they are offering “restorative justice” where they try to right the wrong that may have occurred.  Using her experience in the past she said when problems arise the administration is trying to “find the heart of the issue and meet the child where they are at.  Behavior has a voice.”

And she is trying to listen.

At Pawnee, the school is more than just a place for students to attend.  Nicole Goodall said, “We are igniting a young adult into the community to make change.  How do we empower them to be different and do that?”

It is a community effort, and everyone is involved.