Thumbs up to New Simpson Hill elementary school in Tunnel Hill, which was recognized with the prestigious National Blue Ribbon School award. The small Southern Illinois school was one of 367 schools nationwide and one of 21 schools statewide to receive the honor. Molly Parker wrote in The Southern this week that the federal program is considered the holy grail of education awards, and is awarded based on a school's overall academic excellence or their progress in closing achievement gaps in student subgroups. At New Simpson Hill, students overall saw improvement in testing scores between 2018 and 2019, and low-income students and those with individualized education plans made huge year-over-year testing gains. Superintendent Joe Nighswander said of the honor: "It reinforces that we have high-quality teachers here and they're doing a good job teaching the kids." Here, here.
Thumbs up to our local county clerks' offices. County clerks around the region, and their employees, are working hard in the lead-up to the Nov. 3 general election. Isaac Smith wrote in The Southern last week about the clerks' efforts to ensure those who want to vote by mail receive their ballots in a timely manner, and are able to return them and feel confident that their votes will be counted. In Jackson County, County Clerk Frank Byrd installed a ballot retrieval box outside of the courthouse, and is offering curbside voting for those concerned with COVID-19. In Union County, Clerk Lance Meisenheimer said there has been some confusion with the expansion of mail-in voting this year. "I'm constantly working to put out those fires," he said. We see the extra work clerks' offices are doing to ensure the security and safety of voting in this election, and we thank you.
Thumbs down to another Southern Illinois county being included in this past week's Illinois Department of Public Health warning list for COVID-19 spread. On Friday, IDPH added Hamilton County to the list, which is intended to help local people and officials make decisions about COVID-19 risk in their local communities. A county is added to the warning list if it meets two or more risk indicators. While it is disappointing that any Southern Illinois county is on the warning list, there was some good news last week as Williamson County was removed from the list after being at warning level for several weeks in a row. And, in past weeks, several Southern Illinois counties have been listed at once, so this appears to be a sign of progress. This progress is a sigh of relief, but we're by no means out of the woods. Let's remember we are one region, and we are all in this together. Continue wearing your mask, maintaining social distance, and washing your hands.
Thumbs up to the news that home sales are up significantly in Southern Illinois. Teresa Camarato, the designated managing broker/owner of Property TLC in Herrin, said real estate trends here resemble those in fast-growth, competitive urban markets, according to Molly Parker's story last week. Jackson and Williamson counties in particular are seeing an uptick in activity. Some of this is attributable to the pandemic. The Federal Reserve in March announced it would buy billions of dollars worth of mortgage-back securities, which escalated demand and dropped mortgage rates. Southern Illinois is outperforming state home sales numbers, and a surprising number of people shopping for homes here right now are out of the area. This is exciting news for Southern Illinois. We know what a great place this is to live, and we're excited to share it with newcomers.
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