The Independent Project

“If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow” – John Dewey

One of my last blog entries was “Why I Voted No on the Exploration Academy.”  For those of you who haven’t followed the happenings within our school district lately, a new charter school was proposed at the high school level that would allow students the opportunity to personalize their education and offer a curriculum to students we really haven’t ever seen in our district.  There was a part of me that was skeptical about how it would work and how quickly it could be implemented to not only give students the best experience possible, but also that our staff working with the program would feel supported.  I was also concerned about the budget impact and the future financial impact to the district.  At the heart of the budget concern was whether the at-risk students originally targeted by this program would have their supports cut as a result of shifting funding.  I was also worried about their access to this program.

Ultimately, I voted no on passing the charter.  I was the only no vote.  Even though I voted no, now that it is going to be a program in our district, I want it to be successful.  In an effort to educate myself on opportunities in personalized learning, I did what I normally do which is to research the issue.   I regularly read a lot of different blogs and scholarly articles.   However, it was an article on “LinkedIn” entitled “What I learned on Day 1 of TED…” that led me to the following link.  Sugata Mitra has done a lot of research on self-directed learning.  I would encourage you to read about his work and watch his numerous TED talks.  His work alone made me start to rethink a lot of what I believe about education.    But then, in the comments of the article about Dr. Mitra, I found a link to a YouTube video by Charles Tsai.  Mr. Tsai wrote: I recently visited a public high school in Massachusetts where students have created their own self-organized learning environment. You can tell their thinking is very much aligned with what Sugata Mitra describes. The revolution has begun.

Is it a revolution or is it the beginning of a new educational era?  Maybe it’s both? I am not sure what it was about that video, but something really spoke to me.  As a parent of a second grader who hates math and struggles in the traditional school setting at times, I instantly connected with the video, specifically with Sergey who says that as a dyslexic student, if it weren’t for “The Independent Project” that he would likely not have survived our education system.  That scares me.  What does that mean for my daughter?  Can we create a program that serves as a lifeline for her?  I love learning and so does she but there is definitely a difference at this point about what motivates her.  How do we create a system where students motivate themselves and stay engaged in the educational process?

My initial reaction to the video was a tear, and a feeling of “WOW”!  The video really grabbed me.  I wished I had had the educational opportunity that these young people were given. More importantly, it reframed for me how I as a teacher or counselor could help facilitate such an impactful experience.  The video gave me a small a-ha moment as it could relate to the Exploration Academy.   The reality is that our educational system is changing.  I just attended a two day conference talking about how higher education is changing.  I think it only makes sense that as our education system changes it changes at all levels.  The larger issue is whether or not there is buy-in to the changes that need to be made to allow our educational system to survive.  I would ask you to watch the linked videos.

Please review the white paper developed to detail how the Independent Project was conceived and then implemented.  Finally, I would ask you to start a dialogue with your family, your friends, your local educators, your school board, and anyone else who might listen.  I think we need to start talking about what is possible; much like Sam Levin did when he came up with the idea of the Independent Project.   The Independent Project continues to evolve each year which speaks to me volumes of the power of this concept.  As new students engage in the project they bring new ideas and passions to the table which allows the project to expand, grow, and evolve.

I do think education in its current form will change.  It has to.  Technology, funding, and societal demand will require it to change.  We can wait for the change to sweep us up or we can look to be the change makers.  I have linked you to videos about the Independent Project, and to its website.  There is also an Independent Project Facebook community out there.  I think our Exploration Academy can do this.  I think we have great resources within our district and a community that values progressive ideas.  I would love to see this concept tried with our Exploration Academy and see where it takes us.  In the meantime, since the Independent Project focuses more on High School age students, I will keep working on with others to find out how we can engage young learners and ensure we help them stay connected to learning throughout their educational process.

I welcome your thoughts and I hope that you always feel comfortable contacting me with your feedback.

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Why I voted No on the Exploration Academy

On Monday, January 7, our School Board voted 6-1 in favor of expanding the Charter School offerings within our school district.  The Exploration Academy (EA) is a Charter High School that will be housed within our existing Verona Area High School.  The plan is to use a portion of the K-Wing as a home base.  The EA is based off the concepts of competency based learning.  It focuses more on real world application of knowledge and goes outside the traditional structure of the high school experience.

It is hard to explain the conflicting thoughts and feelings I had about EA.  I knew that the Charter was going to be approved regardless of my vote so I didn’t ask questions prior to the vote.  I feel I should have briefly explained my vote, so I will attempt to lay out my reasons here.

The development of the EA began over a year ago with ideas of improving the current VIP program.  If you check the VAHS website you find the following information about VIP:  Not all students are successful in the traditional classroom. One of the hallmarks at Verona is the respect and accommodation for different styles of learning and needs. VAHS offers the Verona Individualized Program (VIP) which encourages a new feeling of success with a renewed sense of self. Students are provided the opportunity to be successful where more one-on-one attention can be provided. This unique opportunity emphasizes creativity and learning. With dedicated instructors, students can find within themselves the ideals of individual potentials, respect and healthy relationships. 

Then in another location I found:   Students have an individualized curriculum that can include project-based learning, on-line courses, social-emotional groups, and work experience.

The traditional academic experience, bell schedule, seat time, and grading structures were proving to be challenging to supporting students who qualified for the VIP program.  So Michael Murphy our HS Associate Principal, along with others began to look at ways to enhance this program.  The wanted to reach out to more students as the current program limited who they could include.

The result of the workgroups efforts is a unique blend of experiential and project based learning that does not follow a typical school schedule.  There will not be academic grades or class ranks (I think), but instead identification of key competencies that students need to be successful in the future beyond high school.  Students will work with parents and educators to set up individualized learning plans.  Each student will be able to personalize the educational experience therefore making it more meaningful and more impactful.

Sounds good right?  It is good.  It is a brave concept and deserves applause for the efforts behind it and the work done to this point.  I think an individualized lesson plan is something that should be implemented much earlier than HS.  However, based on the population initially targeted and the scope of initial implementation it is a good concept.   So why then did I vote against it?

My no vote centered on one main idea which I feel is supported by various reasons.  The cake wasn’t done.   I just didn’t feel that all of the details had been worked out.   Some of the details relate to what the program will actually look like.  Some of the details relate to the cost.  Some of the details relate to who is accepted and eligible for the program.

The VIP program was serving students who had not seen success in our current classrooms.  They were in need of a different and unique approach that would give them the opportunity to find success.  In that sense had EA solely focused on VIP and self-identified at-risk students, I would have supported it and been one of the biggest cheerleaders.  However, by expanding it out to students who didn’t need the alternative structure but want it as a matter of convenience or preference, EA I think jeopardizes the service to the population that needs it most.  In trying to address achievement gap issues and graduating students with vital life skills, VIP is a vital program.  I am concerned that the resources desperately needed by our at-risk students may be diminished due to serving students who have been successful in traditional classroom settings.

The second sub-reason related to the evolution of program development.   Verona Area 4-K took over five years to become a reality.  There was a move to approve a 4k program when I first moved to Verona.  Then it was tabled, then there were more committees and research and site visits and finally it was implemented this past fall after 5-7 years.  Now at first blush, one may say that this program doesn’t have the same financial or service impact that 4K did.  You would be correct.  However there is a belief that the EA could someday be the model for how VAHS operates.  To me that sets up a very steep departure from traditional educational systems and models.   Is that a bad thing, not necessarily?  But it is important to have a solid plan to ensure that implementation and transition go smoothly.  I just feel that more time was needed to truly understand what this is going to look like both in the short term and long term.

Finally, my vote of no was very much related to who I represent.  My colleague on the board often refers to the three legged stool analogy.  We have a duty to serve students, be mindful of the needs of the district, and to be a good employer.  As an elected official to the board I didn’t feel I could vote yes without seeing a budget.  When I asked to see one at the first reading of the Charter I was told that VAHS and EA would be working very closely together and there would be a lot of “fluidity” (My word).   I never saw a budget.  I am not sure about many of you out there and how you manage your finances for your family, or for a business, but as an elected representative of the school district before I commit financial resources that affect your tax dollars I feel like I should have an idea of how those dollars are being spent.   At minimum there should be a pro forma process to say this is what we anticipate the budget to be, this is how we see the budget being allocated, etc.  It’s not that I don’t trust those involved.  When they apply to the DPI for additional grant funding, they will need to provide a detailed budget.  Therefore, why couldn’t we have seen something?   I have the utmost respect for Pam Hammen, Michael Murphy, and Superintendent Gorrell.  I just feel that as someone elected to represent all families and taxpayers in the district, seeing a budget should have been part of the process.

I will close by saying, that I wish the EA nothing but the best and I am excited to see it benefit students who truly need it.  I thank Michael Murphy and the rest of the working group that put the time and effort to bring the proposal forward.  It shows how strong a commitment that group has in wanting to do what’s best for students.  Time will tell if this model is the model of the future.  In the meantime, I look forward to hearing the success stories of the students who utilize EA.

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Why is Dr. Willard Daggett Speaking in Verona and Why Should You Attend?

Dr. Willard Daggett will appear Wednesday, December 12, 2012 in the Verona Performing Arts Center from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.  He has been invited to come and speak in Verona to help kick off the rebooting of the strategic priorities for the Verona Area School District.  The board and administration have been working on revisiting our past strategic priorities and amending them to meet the needs of our current and future students.  Dr. Daggett, who is a very engaging speaker, will be talking to community members about the need for change.

I had the opportunity of hearing Dr. Daggett back in July as he talked to our board and administrative team of how a good school district like Verona can become a great school district.  Great schools don’t settle for being good, they continually re-evaluate and adapt to ensure that students are getting the best educational opportunities.  With the changing of evaluation practices, shifting from the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam (WKCE) to utilizing National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Scores along with a Common Core Curriculum, student performance is anticipated to nosedive.

In Verona, 91% of our high school seniors last year indicated that their future planning included College or University study.  I could be off on the statistics but I believe our graduation rate was at 94%.   Both of those marks would seem to reflect that we have a very good school district.  Personally, I think we have a great school district.  However when you look at the new report cards that were issued by the state we did well, but not great.  Even the numbers above make one beg the question, what about the other 9% and 6% respectively?  If you look at multiple measures across our district over the past year we see a distinct gap in student performance between our white students and our students of color.  We also see that poverty impacts the performance of students in our district.  So how do we ensure that all kids, regardless of color, economic status, sexual preference, gender identity, etc have equal educational opportunity as well as equally high expectations for their performance?

Dr. Daggett will talk to us about rigor and relevance.  There is a third R, but I tend to forget that one.  Rigor refers to material that is challenging but believing that all students are capable of meeting the challenge.  Relevance is how we make the content appealing to a student and show them real life value for what they are learning.  Seeing the practical application of something often impacts the student’s interest level and desire to learn a concept.  There is a belief that our current curriculum doesn’t do enough to engage students in the area of rigor or relevance.

There is a belief that nationally we don’t do a good enough job anymore in preparing kids for life beyond High School.    Dr. Daggett will cite statistics that reinforce this concept and highlight differences in why he believes students in Singapore or Sri Lanka are doing better in math than our students.  Dr. Daggett will also highlight the problems that exist in the language arts and the fact that our current system is failing students.  You will hear about the need to expand the time spent on math instruction and language arts instruction.  You will hear about embracing the use of technology in the classroom.

One idea I liked from my previous opportunity with Dr. Daggett was on the concept of looping.  Some of the biggest jumps in educational rigor happen for students between Kindergarten and 1st grade, 4th grade and 5th grade, and 8th grade and 9th grade.  Research suggests that “looping” teachers may have a better impact on student learning as teachers would have a class for two years.  The second year of the cycle, the time needed at the beginning of a school year getting to know ones students would be eliminated since you would have the same class as the previous year.  It would allow for more opportunity to jump right into educational material and maximize learning.

You will also hear thoughts about extending the school day, extending the school year, and alternative models of learning.  As a side note, the La Crosse school district has implemented a year round school program at one of their elementary schools for the current school year.  Whether you believe in your round school or a longer school day, the main goal is to start thinking about ways to enhance the learning opportunities for students.  Questions to think about are if we have longer periods of math and English instruction, where do we introduce art, music, physical education?  If we go to a longer school year, how much longer should it be?  How many days, hours?  How do we pay for that?

I would like to think that my education in elementary and high school was a good one.  It has been almost 25 years since I walked across the stage and received my High School diploma.  Dr. Daggett may highlight in his presentation the evolution of the changes in education. The evolution can be summarized as essentially the same ideas renamed and repackaged each decade with little or no substantive change in result or performance.  Teaching as a profession has been under fire from both the right and the left.  Teachers Unions have been blamed for all that is bad in education but seldom ever credited for anything good in education.  Many people want to parse out that teachers can be respected and treated well but the union they have chosen to belong to is the problem.  You will hear some of that in this presentation.  It may not be as overt as I just stated it, but if you listen you will hear it.   However, Dr. Daggett will also tell you that we can’t improve or become a great school without great teachers.  We need our teachers to be champions for all of our students.

I welcome Dr. Daggett to our district to speak to our staff, our families, and our community members not because I agree with everything he has to say.  I welcome him because he delivers a strong message about the need for change.  I welcome that message because I believe it will help us create dialogue about what we really want for our district.  I welcome the message because I believe the ensuing dialogue will drive us to action.  I welcome the message because the action we take will be a result of the involvement and energy from those who are invested in the futures of our students and our community.

Dr. Daggett has his detractors and if you google him you will find a number of things that reflect who he is and how some have challenged his message.  I encourage you to do your own research and draw your own conclusions.  The best way to draw your conclusions is to attend the presentation.  It is free to anyone, so please share and plan to attend.  I close with a tribute to a remark from Dr. Howard Fuller this past Friday.  I have adapted it a bit.  In education we like to say “It takes a village to raise a child”, well the presentation tomorrow night is a reminder of where the village is, who the villagers are, and what the village must do to survive.  I will be there and I hope you will be too.

My contact information is listed here on my blog.  Please feel free to contact me if you have questions, comments, or want to have a dialogue about what I have written.

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Back to School Night – an Opportunity for Families

Starting last week already each of our Verona Area School District Schools has been hosting “Back to School Nights”.  These are opportunities for families to come to school after traditional hours and meet with teachers, tour the school, and become familiar with much of what a student’s life is like during a typical school day.  I think it is important to attend these events as it not only gives parents more info about the school, specifically their child’s class, but you also get to meet other families who are part of our district.

The past two years, I have attended the event with my wife in an effort to learn more about our neighborhood elementary school.  The evening usually provided an opportunity to meet with our daughter’s teacher who reviewed classroom policies and procedures.  The teacher also gave each family a brief update as to how the first week or two has gone.  I especially like meeting the teachers and talking with them at these events as it helps build a team that is committed to finding ways to keep my kids engaged in their education.  The teacher can’t do it alone, nor can my wife and I.  We need to work with the teacher to establish clear lines of communication so we know if there are problems occurring.  We also need to work on things that we can do at home that will reinforce and enhance what is being done in the classroom.

I think a challenge for many families is trying to determine when am I being too involved with my child’s education?  Working in higher education, I have had a lot of experience dealing with “helicopter parents”.  Helicopter parents are usually parents that hover over and around their child through every interaction they have and at the first sign of challenge the parents swoop in to try to drive the situation.  Somewhat understandable when the child is in elementary school, not as cool when the child is a freshman or older in college.  I used to think that this was a growing phenomenon for higher education only.  When I think of my oldest daughter I wonder if I have been a helicopter parent regarding her education.  She is only in second grade and there are some places where she has trouble articulating what her issues or concerns are so being an involved parent is good.  However, there is something to be said for letting her take control of the situation and trying to see what solutions she comes up with first before getting involved.  It is also important to trust that the teacher is on top of what’s happening.  We have outstanding teachers in our district and they are well trained to handle a variety of issues and concerns.  This is where rapport with the teacher and open communication are vital.   Instead of being a helicopter parent, a good relationship with her teacher will help me stay engaged in her learning, but in a way that is supportive to her and not a detriment.   I want my child to love education and to embrace the opportunities it provides.  Therefore it is paramount to find ways to be involved but providing room for her growth.  And while I have been talking about my daughter (singular), I would want this to be the case for all three of my kids as well as any child in the district.

I think one of the other things that I have found very beneficial about the “Back to School” night activities are meeting the parents of your child’s classmates.   I think there are a few reasons I enjoy this.  First, it is nice to meet others who are sharing the 2nd grade experience or the kindergarten experience for the first time.   Second, you may meet people who have similar work or life experience as you or you may meet people who have a very different life situation.  Either way it is an opportunity to engage and learn about others.  Finally, you may meet the parent of your child’s “boyfriend”, “girlfriend” or “bff”.  While we can work with teachers to manage the learning environment, social challenges will become an increasing part of our kids’ lives.  Why not find others who share the experience or who may have some insight from their end of the issue.

Another added benefit of attending “Back to School” night is the opportunity to tour the school.  For some parents with older kids that may be old hat, but for new families just starting the journey it is helpful to see not only your child classroom, but also some of the other parts of the school that they utilize.  My daughter was very excited about showing me the Library and Media Center a few years ago.  I think what I get out of the tour is the appreciation I have for the facilities we have in our district.  Our kids are fortunate.  We are also blessed with good custodians and maintenance personnel and actually all of our staff who work hard to make sure are buildings are clean.

Finally, I think it is important to attend the “Back to School Night” because it shows your child that you are invested in their education and that you find it important to learn about what their life is like every day away from the home.   Please don’t get me wrong, if you can’t make it to the event, you can’t make it.  There are still plenty of otherwise to be involved and be there for your child during their education.  If you are going to the event at Country View next week, I’ll be there.  And as a previous blog asked, if you haven’t signed up for PTA, please consider it.

These are the upcoming dates and times for our schools.

Sept 13 – Sugar Creek –                                                 6-6:45pm – Grades 1-3

Sugar Creek –                                                6:45-7:30pm – Grades 4-5

Sept 13 – Verona Area International School –          5:30-7:30

Sept 20 – New Century –

Sept 20 – Stoner Prairie –                                              5:30-7:00pm

Sept 20 – Country View                                                5:00-7:15pm

Sept 27 – Savannah Oaks

Sept 27 – Badger Ridge –                                              7-9pm

Sept 27 – Core Knowledge (middle) –                        7-9pm

Oct 4 – Glacier Edge –                                                   5:30-7:30pm

Already Completed:

Sept 6 – Core Knowledge (elementary)

Sept 10 – Verona Area High School

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Kick Off to a new School Year

Sorry that my timing is off.  I left town Friday after the following meeting and then was sick the past few days.

Friday morning I had the privilege of joining the Verona Area School District staff for their annual kickoff to the new school year.  As the new board member, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  In the end it was an extremely rewarding experience that I was so happy to have experienced.  Following are my thoughts and reflections on the four hours I spent.

The morning started with breakfast.  I must admit while I haven’t been a high-schooler in almost 25 years, I felt every bit as nervous as I did back then, not knowing which table I should sit at and who would be sociable.  Being an introvert, I picked a table that was empty.  Eventually others sat down and things were just fine.  It really hit me though as to how real those feelings are and that our students experience these feelings regularly.  Hopefully they have someone in school that makes them feel welcome, makes them feel a part of the family.

The first presentation in the PAC was by Tee Leffin and a pair of doctors from Meriter/ Physicians Plus.  They were promoting fitness and healthy living.  The doctors did a great job of presenting a quiz on nutrition.  Nutrition will be an area of emphasis for staff who participate in the V-Fit program this year.  I think the key take away is that it is hard to help others if you aren’t looking out for one’s self.    Teachers can’t be effective teachers day in and day out if they are not taking care of themselves physically, mentally and spiritually.

Then there was a trio of addresses given by Mariann Kropp, president of VESPA; Jenny Braunginn, president of the VAEA; and Dennis Beres, president of the Verona Area School Board.  Of the three “speeches” I need to give credit to Marian Kropp.  I thought her speech was spot on.  She used an analogy of the Olympics and a relay team to demonstrate how important every person is in their role within the Verona Area School District and it is important to know that when an individual is not performing, it affects the entire team.  I found it to be very clear in message and on point for reminding people why we are all here.  We are here to support and educate students and it takes all of us working as a team to provide the best education possible.  Well done Mariann.

Michael Johnson, CEO from the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County was a last minute addition to the presenters.  Despite being on family vacation, he stepped in on short notice and brought his lovely daughter Mikayla (hope I didn’t butcher the spelling).   Mikayla stole the show in the cuteness department.   She eventually got her own microphone.  But I don’t want to take away from Michael’s message.  I think the most telling thing he shared was that growing up in Cabrini Green on the south side of Chicago, he was fortunate.  He had a mother who was a strong presence and kept him on a straight path.  He had his faith and his church to help him when questions arose.  He had a strong mentor and he was heavily involved in after school programs that kept him out of trouble.  So many kids from troubled homes, with little in their lives, need someone at school to take an interest, to show them support and caring.  Each person in that auditorium could be the one who makes an impact.  Every interaction can go a long way to making an impact.  The question we were all left with, what impact do you want to make?

Our Superintendent, Dean Gorrell was our last speaker of the day and I found his speech to be equally impactful as the others before him.  He again brought together the main theme of how we must all work together to make our school district the best possible school district.  He talked about how important it was to recognize one another for the amazing things we do for the district.  He shared a personal story about why we all matter.  We all matter and have an impact on lives every day.  While the past year has been difficult in our state, we still are a family, a team.  We will support one another and bring our best to the district every day.  We will pick each other up and help our colleagues because we care.  Ultimately we will continue to put students first and work extra hard to ensure they get the best education we can offer.

There was a great video put together of those who have achieved 25 years of service to the district and are still working for us.  We are very fortunate to have these folks.  We have lost a lot of great people over the last few years.  However, we still have a lot of outstanding professionals in our district.  They had great advice for our new hires and they showed why they have made significant contributions to our district over the past twenty five years.

In summary, I think back to the theme that emerged throughout the morning and it reminds me of a speech from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“All I’m saying is simply this, that all life is interrelated, that somehow we’re caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. You can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”

Think of it this way.  A great teacher is never a great teacher unless they turn out great students.  Great students are never going to be great students without great teachers.  Our district will never be a great district until we address our achievement gap, and find more ways to work harmoniously to the betterment of all of our students.  After the meetings on Friday, I feel we are off to a good start.

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Parental Involvement

I remember the feelings I had right before my oldest daughter started kindergarten.  I wanted to be involved in her education or at least be there for her at times when she may need extra help.  I was very fortunate to have a work schedule that allowed flexibility her first year of school.  I was able to volunteer an hour of my time every Tuesday to go into her classroom and help out.   While there, I might provide assistance to students who needed some extra reading help, I might participate in a project students were working on, or I may just hang out and observe the interactions of the kids.  It was a great experience and I am very thankful my daughter had a teacher that welcomed me to the classroom.  I think there can be a fine line between wanting to help and being a distraction and hopefully I was more help than a distraction.

Whether you are the parent of a kindergartner or the parent of an older student, I would encourage you to look into spending some time in the classroom.  I think there are a number of benefits.  I think you gain insight into your child’s world.  You learn about the daily things that they do and experience.  I also think it can help build a bond with your child’s teacher(s) which helps open lines of communication in case there are issues or concerns.   As a board member I don’t want to infringe on teachers rights to regulate their classrooms, but I would encourage them to welcome parents into the classroom if possible.  The more connections we build within the classroom, our educational community will be stronger.

Volunteering in the classroom isn’t the only place a parent can help.  We also have PTA’s and PTO’s at each of our elementary and middle schools.  These parent-teacher organizations do a lot of work behind the scenes helping to coordinate, and execute numerous events that help raise funds for their respective schools.  If you haven’t signed up to participate in the PTA, please do.  They are always in need of new ideas and fresh faces to help carry out such an important mission.  If you aren’t sure who to contact, check your schools website via the District’s website.   If you are still unsure, contact your building principal and they can put you in touch with the PTA/PTO president for the school your child attends.

There are many other ways to stay involved within our district.  As we launch our new Talents and Passions initiative, we will be seeking assistance from community members who may have talents and passion that they wish to share with small groups of students.  We are always looking for classroom literacy assistants.  Ensuring children have ample reading practice is critical for them to develop and grow.  Literacy assistants sometimes read to students, sometimes they listen to students read.  Sometimes individuals are needed to chaperone trips, or help out with events at the school.

As I was reflecting back on my volunteering experience, I began to think; maybe this was too much of a one way street.  I asked to inject myself into the teacher’s classroom, but did I ever ask if that teacher wanted to come join our family for dinner? Or participate in a family activity?  Or make it known that anytime she might have a concern about my daughter that she could come to my home if needed to talk with me? Outside of the two parent teacher conferences a year, how often did I make efforts to connect with teachers to share concerns and make sure we were on the same page?  I guess I am trying to say that it is great to go help out in a classroom, but perhaps had we invited my daughter’s teacher into our home; maybe she would have gained insight about my daughter’s world outside of school.  Perhaps the teacher could have gained some insight about daily routines or issues that affected my daughter’s ability to learn which in turn would have helped the teacher modify lessons to meet the needs of my daughter.   As the year goes on a teacher picks up on issues that affect their students, but it takes time and if you have a child who may have special needs, taking a year to figure out that what was happening in the classroom didn’t work for the student is way too long.  So my thought is, invite your children’s teacher over for dinner, or for a visit.  Helping define a clear picture of educational outcomes is great for students, but it is also helpful for parents.

Being an involved parent can take many forms and I have appreciated being involved in my daughter’s education.   I would encourage you to look into some of the above opportunities if you haven’t already.

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Annual District Meeting

Hello everyone, It has been a while since I have updated the blog.  I apologize for the tardiness, but since it has been summer, I have been on a bit of a break.  That doesn’t mean that there isn’t work to do.  We have had four board meetings, two work sessions, and I have attended a conference on educator effectiveness. 

But the real reason I write is that next Monday, Aug 20, 2012 at 6 pm is the Annual District Meeting to review the preliminary school budget for next year and to welcome community input.  Now some of you may ask why this is important.  Here is why I think you should come to the meeting.

1)      It is a review of the school districts operating budget.  Many people get upset over tax increases.  Our budget is slated to increase local property taxes for homeowners 1.5% for the school district portion.  Originally it was a 6.5% increase.  We are still not sure why the estimates we originally received were so different from what the state quoted us in July.  A lot can happen between now and mid-October, but the increase is very manageable.

2)      It is an opportunity for you as a parent, student, tax-payer, teacher, etc. to come and see where the dollars are being spent in the district.  It also is an opportunity for district members to come in and share their thoughts on the district and provide feedback. 

I think our entire community has a vested interest in the success of our schools.  The school board and the administrative team are working on strategic planning goals.  Our district does have its share of challenges.  As we have begun collecting more data we are beginning to identify some clear needs.  The question becomes, how do you address the need?  Is it a minor tweaking of existing practice and policy?  Does it require we blow up the current system we have and start over?  Or does the solution lie somewhere in between?  Again, it would be helpful to hear from community members input on how to move our district forward while addressing needs.   

There are three resolutions that will be voted on by the public during that meeting.  The resolutions are as follows:

1)      Raise the salary of board members at the same rate of increase that was provided to administrative staff as well as teachers and support staff. 

2)      Set the tax levy for the coming year based on the annual budget.  Based on preliminary numbers it looks to be a 1.5% increase over last year.  Again, this is what the larger portion of the meeting will be about as the annual budget is presented and reviewed.

3)      Permission to sell off surplus equipment.

Each of these resolutions will be presented and asked for community action. Just as a note, the request for the increase to board member salaries was not voted on by the board.  It was a proposal that was worked on and presented to members.  It can only be approved or shot down during votes taken at the Annual Budget meeting.  If my calculations are right, my position (non-officer) would see a $75 increase in pay for the year.

So, next week Monday, August 20, 2012 at the District Administration Building starting at 6 pm, I hope to see you there.  If you have questions between now and then, please don’t hesitate to contact me at mccullej@verona.k12.wi.us .

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