Union School District 81 in Joliet, which has students from New Lenox and Mayor Tim Baldermann as superintendent, received No. 1 rankings from Niche in multiple categories for 2020-2021.
Niche ranks nearly 100,000 schools and districts across the country using data analysis and opinions from parents and students.
Union was ranked as the No. 1 elementary school in Will County, No. 1 in public elementary school teachers in Will County and No. 1 in public middle school teachers in Will County. It was also ranked the No. 71 best middle school out of 1,381 in Illinois and No. 138 best elementary school out of 2,250 in Illinois.
The teachers were also ranked in the top 5% in Illinois for elementary and middle school.
“It starts with the board,” Baldermann said. “Our school board has a unified philosophy that they want our kids and staff to have the best resources to provide greater education and in a safe environment.”
Baldermann always has spoken highly of the board, faculty and students, but to have their work validated is rewarding, he said.
Union School District 81, which houses grades K-8, has been in school for 10 weeks.
“We have teachers that are really dedicated to the profession,” Baldermann said. “Every single one of them told me they wanted to be in school. They wanted the kids there and wanted to be in school. It’s a calling for our teachers. It’s more than a job.”
And the teachers have shown that commitment to their students.
“All you have to do is show these kids that they are important to you and motivate them with a positive mindset,” Baldermann said. “Once they know you care, they will work hard for you.”
The district used to be in the bottom 10% of schools in Illinois and financially, had to borrow money every March just to pay the bills.
“We’ve made a lot of changes over the last nine years that I’ve been superintendent,” Baldermann said. “As a board, we’ve retained some teachers, dismissed some and hired the very best support staff. That has made a huge turnaround. We know every one of the kids by name, talk to them personally and are adding a preschool program.”
The district has just 103 students, which has allowed the district to have the students’ parents involved with the education process.
Teachers are actually able to communicate with the parents during class by using ClassroomDojo and sending them texts updating them on activities or projects they just did in class.
“And if a kid is struggling, we’re on the phone right away and getting to the bottom of that,” Baldermann said.
The district’s financial turnaround has also allowed the district to rebate 55% of the taxpayers’ school tax this year. It is the fifth year in a row the district has done that and could possibly rebate 100% in two years, Baldermann said.
And that goes for all taxpayers, not just the ones who have a child in the district.
The district also plans to be debt free by 2024, paying it off five years sooner and saving $162,000 in interest for the taxpayers.
Now that the district received these rankings, Baldermann and the board are finding ways to keep moving forward by adding programs, homework help and will continue to push the teachers and students even harder to stay successful.