Monday, February 20, 2017

The Story of Two Minds


Guest Blogger: Dr. Kim Ehrhardt, Director of
Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment

Currently the Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment (CIA) Team is conducting visits to each school in the district to conduct an on-site review of the implementation of School Improvement Plans. A topic that is getting a lot of attention is growth mindset.  So I thought I would blog about what we are learning.  

We know that too many of our students don't believe they can learn or grow.  During our school visits to date, we are finding many teachers in our district that actively embrace the challenge to help our students change this belief by teaching students in a way that helps them grow their minds. 

Central to the topic is the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. As Carol Dweck explains, a fixed mindset assumes that our character, intelligence, and creative ability are static and cannot be changed. A growth mindset, on the other hand, adopts the perspective that our intelligence, creativity, and character can change and grow over time. 


These two views have a tremendous impact on teaching and learning. If a teacher believes in a fixed mindset, then he or she is saying there is no potential for growth.  If a child is intelligent, they will continue to be so. If a child is struggling, it's because he or she just isn't "smart enough". On the other hand, if you believe in a growth mindset, you believe that students may start with a certain amount of ability, but that can change over time with effort and persistence. This powerful disposition by many of our teachers is showing up over and over again in a number of our schools. 

For students, which of these mindsets they believe also matters. Students with a fixed mindset typically avoid challenges, feel threatened by others' successes, and give up easily. They want to look smart, and believe that working hard at a task means they are not smart. Students with a growth mindset believe they can learn and become better. They embrace challenge, view effort as a positive part of learning, and persist through difficulties. How can we develop a growth mindset in our students? Here are six strategies that are commonly recommended in the literature: 

Six Strategies to Develop a Growth Mindset in Your Classroom

  • Build a learning-oriented mindset.
  • Focus on process as well as product.
  • Emphasize mastery and learning.
  • Reinforce effort.
  • Decrease learned helplessness.
  • Provide multiple opportunities for success.


Monday, February 13, 2017

Student Safety Our Top Priority

Superintendent Dr. Karen Z. Schulte

The School District of Janesville (SDJ) is the tenth largest district in Wisconsin (by enrollment) and one of the largest employers in Janesville and Rock County. Every day, thousands of people enter our buildings, either to attend school, to work, or to pick up their children. Without question, we have an obligation to make sure all of our students, employees, and visitors are safe when they come to our facilities. Due to a recent “Our Views” in the Gazette concerning the district’s response to a bomb threat, there may be some questions about our process and our commitment to safety. It is important to know that the school district is a partner and integral member of the greater Janesville community, and we take very seriously our role in keeping our students, schools, and community safe.

With any safety threat that presents to our schools, the school or district administrators immediately contact the Janesville Police Department. Each safety threat is unique, and must be evaluated and assessed. If that safety concern is a bomb threat, the law enforcement and safety hazard preparedness protocols (including those from the Department of Homeland Security) state that they should be treated as genuine and investigated. To be very clear, a safety threat assessment is not done by school district officials alone, but conducted with the full collaboration of local law enforcement. The district appreciates the dedication and cooperation the Janesville Police Department provides us in these matters.

Despite what may be portrayed in national media, violent acts such as bombings or shootings remain relatively rare, but sadly, they do occur. That is why all schools in Wisconsin have response plans and practice their drills. Even if violent events are not common, they have happened in our state. We only need to look at Weston High School in Cazenovia, Wisconsin where, on September 29, 2006, a student shot and killed the school principal. We cannot afford to be complacent on any threat to students and schools.

We also know that our district and community are not alone in ensuring the safety of our students. We must rely on parents and their vital role in the education and safety of their children. We do our best to provide parents with the information necessary for them to make informed decisions for their family, and that is why we use various tools to communicate with parents. In our communication to parents on January 24, it was reported that the SDJ’s message indicated it was OK for students to miss class if they didn’t feel safe. We want to be very clear—there was no “OK to miss class” message. Parents were notified of the situation and the procedures that would be in place the following morning. Ultimately, it is the parents’ decision to keep a child home or to send them to school.

The business of conducting school is complicated, and we rely heavily on parents, and our community partners including the Janesville Police, Janesville Firefighters, Emergency Responders, and many more. Parents are the first and most important teachers of their children and play an essential role in educating and keeping their children safe. The SDJ remains a dedicated partner in this effort, and we remind everyone of the P3 mobile phone app students, parents, or others may use to submit anonymous tips or report safety concerns. Student and school safety is no laughing matter, and I want you to know that the School District of Janesville will continue to work with everyone in the community to make it a safer place to live, work, and play.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

MLK Day: Not a Day Off

Please see this great blog post about Going the Extra Mile for MLK Day found on the Teaching Tolerance website.  It was written by fourth-grade teacher Leslie Willis-Taylor, one of five recipients of the 2016 Teaching Tolerance Award for Excellence in Teaching and is an excellent resource for teachers and parents.


Leslie Wills-Taylor on January 9, 2017
Blogs and Articles: Activism Civil Rights Movement


Walking and other types of physical movement played a critical role in the progression of the civil rights era. But the physical movement started well before the civil rights movement, with such notable examples as Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad—first called the “underground road” since most people traveled by foot, not train.

Years later, in late 1955, civil rights activists launched and participated in the 381-day-long Montgomery Bus Boycott, opting to walk or travel in personal or charted vehicles instead of riding segregated city buses. In 1963, around 250,000 people participated in the March on Washington, using their presence and voices on the National Mall to call for civil and economic rights. And two years later, in 1965, civil rights activists marched 54 miles from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, calling for the basic right to vote.

The underlying themes of these examples and the civil rights movement at large were sacrifice and purposeful, organized action. How do educators build a deep, conceptual understanding of such abstract ideals? The first step is to set the scene.

When I was in elementary school, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was not established as an official day off from school. However, I had a mother who believed that this day should be dedicated to serving the community and learning about the dynamic life and contributions of Dr. King. My mother pulled me out of school in order to visit museums and engage in community service, and those childhood experiences imparted an important lesson in activism. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day is not a day off. It’s a day out in the community where we exercise the original missions of the civil rights movement while using our voices and actions to stimulate necessary changes.

Since 2015, the school I work at has opened its doors on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day so that families can gather together and walk for causes that are personally significant to them. Our district has walked 775 miles over the last two years. Each participant arrives, writes their personal cause on their nametag and then proceeds to our outdoor track for a minimum stretch of five laps. Some people have walked to take a stand against educational inequity, health disparities and bullying, just to name a few. The idea is that it’s an individual’s choice to identify an area of passion and purpose. As I scan the nametags and causes, I always gain a broader perspective of the diverse cultural values that exist in our community. And the lessons learned on this day—for students, families and educators—can be transferred back to classroom discussions and activities.

With Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day around the corner, here are some steps educators can take in their classrooms to prepare.


Don’t assume. Ask your students what they know about Dr. King:

Activate background knowledge using developmentally appropriate tools. For primary grades, use a KWL chart. For upper elementary and beyond, create an anticipatory set. Note that students who have immigrated to the United States may need additional scaffolds, including bilingual learning tools. Ask these students to compare and contrast the civil rights movement in the United States with the progression of civil rights in their native countries in order to build background knowledge.

Incorporate action-based activities:

In addition to teaching about how critical physical movement was to the civil rights era, offer opportunities for students to participate in hands-on civic engagement. It might be a school-wide event, a classroom-based activity or community service opportunity. For inspiration, see the “Do Something” tasks in Teaching Tolerance’s curriculum tool, Perspectives for a Diverse America. (Free registration required.) These tasks build civic engagement and critical literacy skills.

Use historical primary resources:

Incorporate primary sources into your instruction, such as a virtual tour of Dr. King’s childhood home and documents and photos that require inferential thinking. For tips and suggestions for teaching with historical primary sources, see the Teaching Tolerance feature story “National Treasures.”

Let students choose an area of research:

Instead of designing a teacher-centered unit where everyone in the class studies the same topic, create a topic list based on class discussions and questions. Then, students can develop research teams for further investigation of the topics. This approach increases engagement and promotes reciprocal learning on a larger scale.

Infuse technology and Maker work:

Produce podcasts with students interviewing each other about the power of Dr. King’s legacy. Publish student-created web quests that chronicle the civil rights era. Ask students to create a mathematical replica of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial using hands-on materials.

Invite local members of the community:

Use the resources in your community. Find out who lived through and participated in the civil rights movement. Ask them to bring in artifacts and to orally share their experiences. Allow students to create discussion questions for a local panel, and then follow up with a writing prompt for students to reflect.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Students Giving Back Through Service Learning


Guest Blogger: Tom Heiss,
Technology Engineering Teacher and
Youth Apprenticeship Coordinator

I was born in Madison, Wisconsin and am from a large family of seven kids.  One of my older brothers is developmentally disabled and set the bar for me and my family to engage in community service projects in Madison. One such event was a 150 mile bike-a-thon for ARC of Dane County fundraiser to help support people with disabilities.    The ARC of Dane County’s mission is to create opportunities for children and adults with developmental disabilities to reach their full potential by creating acceptance, respect and participation in daily living skills in the community. 

This cause allowed me to develop a passion for teaching and giving back to others in the community who are struggling and are in need of help from our community.    In my teaching career of 29 years, 25 in Janesville I have been trying to pass on to my students the passion of community service and the benefits of giving back to others in our community. 

I am grateful that the School District of Janesville holds to the same value and commitment.   We have implemented service learning into the fabric of a child’s education at SDJ.  Our mission “to serve our community by educating every child” reflects perfectly the correlation that exists between community and education.

In 1993, one such service project that helped support community and our students was the construction of the Camden Playground. At that time, Craig and Parker High School Construction classes under the leadership of Mr. Jim Adams and Mr. Ron Brown helped build the original park.  At its completion, Camden Playground, became the most accessible playground in the world at that time for people with special needs.  Now in 2016, Camden Playground has been refurbished by Janesville community members and organizations,  including School District of Janesville students. 

Mrs.  Stephanie Davis, Dean of Students at TAGOS Leadership Academy, and her students volunteered to help to rebuild the playground with adult mentors.  They assisted by digging holes, spreading gravel, drilling and securing parts together.  The Camden project took several days and service hours to rebuild.  The final stage of completion is the engraving of pickets that surround the park perimeter to create a fence.


One of my students, Michael Hounshell, is a junior at Parker High School taking many Design and Engineering classes and is also part of the Robotics Club assisting with the building of our Robot for competition. Michael has the same passion to give back to the community through service.  Last year, Michael took a class in Technology Engineering class called MasterCAM with Mr. Joe Kapugia. Thanks to Mr. Kapugia, Michael mastered the program. Master CAM brings  the power of  computer aided design software to enhance machining to cut parts directly on a Computer Numerical Control (CNC) Router. This process and machinery is used by companies in Janesville and across the globe. The CNC Router is the machine used to fashion the Camden pickets.

The Camden Pickets are a fundraiser and still for “purchase” at $50.00 each.  Michael engraved the picket for the SDJ which will be part of the fencing at Camden. If you would like to still purchase a picket through your donation, please click here: Camden Playground Picket Donations.

It has been rewarding for me to see Michael grow and give his time back to the community through an amazing Camden Playground project.  I think the power of service community learning projects empowers success in our students now and into the future.

To read more about ARC of Dane County: http://arcdanecounty.org/

Click here for photos of TAGOS assisting with the Camden Restoration: Students Help with Camden Restoration

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

A Culture of College and Career Readiness


Guest Blogger, Patricia Hernandez
College and Career Readiness Coordinator

The School District of Janesville is dedicated to providing a college and career readiness culture by leveraging relationships with local businesses, community leaders and college and university representatives to ensure that all students graduate college and career ready.  To ensure success upon graduation, we help prepare students for their post high school careers as early as elementary school. At the elementary level, we offer a career guidance tool called ccSpark!, an engaging computer game where students interact within a virtual community.  At the middle and high school levels, students are provided with tools and resources to explore options, including access to resources like ‘Career Cruising’ (through Inspire Rock County) allowing them to explore professions that match their skills and interests.

The following is a snapshot of recent opportunities provided by the School District of Janesville to educators and students supporting our efforts in bolstering the culture of college and career readiness:


PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT for EDUCATORS:

On October 26, 2016, eight area businesses welcomed over 85 educators from SDJ providing tours and a discussion on career opportunities for local students. The businesses included: The Morse Group, City Hall, the Police Department, the Fire Department, Blackhawk Technical College, Mercy Hospital, the Student Build Construction Site, the Art League and Raven’s Wish Gallery.  Educators were able to: 
  • Gain an understanding of the working environment related to a specific industry;
  • Learn about careers available within a specific industry, and how they are interrelated;
  • Connect the knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary for success in careers within a specific industry;
  • And, connect their curriculum to careers in a specific industry so they will be better equipped to share their new knowledge with their students.


Educators were surveyed after the experience and 86.8% indicated that the business tours gave them an increased awareness of the educational requirements for that particular job/career.




Business and school partnerships are a win-win for all. Educators need informed support from the community and business leaders that provide the awareness of the workforce. Employers need a workforce that can help them anticipate and meet the demands of a constantly changing marketplace. And, students need an earlier, more informed sense of how best to achieve their career and life goals. 

On Tuesday, November 29, Prent Thermoforming opened their doors to our educators for an informational tour hosted by Senior Vice President Mitch Benson.  This tour provided an opportunity for our educators to see Prent and speak candidly with management personnel. The tour began with a brief meet and greet highlighting Prent’s business, followed by a tour, and finished with an open discussion with Benson.  Headquartered here in Janesville, Prent Thermoforming is the global leader and the largest medical and hi-tech thermoforming company in the world.  They employ nearly 2,000 people in nine manufacturing plants worldwide. 


CLASSROOM VISITS by AREA BUSINESSES:

Friday, November 4 Edison Middle School hosted a Career Day inviting businesses to the classroom.  Students heard from people employed in four of their top career choices from a list of over 35 different employers/career representatives present. Students learned about careers in construction, tattoo artistry, radio, computer programming, entrepreneurship, firefighting, military, law, culinary, radiography, banking, acting, reporting, political science and more. The purpose of the Career Day was to develop a foundation for what students need to know and be able to do in order to pursue their career goal.  When students see the relevance of their education, they will strive to work to achieve success. 


Click here for the Edison Career Day Facebook Video Post 

That same day, Parker High School hosted a robotics seminar. Robotic students from Craig and Parker were separated into different groups attending four breakout sessions to learn more from businesses in automation and electrical industries.  Students interacted with and programmed a life-size collaborative robot, spoke to automation college representatives, and interacted with local employers who offered apprenticeships and skill development.  There is a shortage of engineering students in colleges today, and many engineering fields are unknown to students.  Braas Company, Blackhawk Technical College, Automation Solutions of America, and the Local 890 Electrical Workers were eager to work with our students.  


BUSINESS TOURS for STUDENTS:

November 10 and 17, Seneca Foods Corporation opened their doors to 100 Janesville middle and high school students giving them a glimpse of the assembly line magic.  The tour started with a highlight story about Seneca, followed by a plant tour that allowed them within inches of some of the equipment and assembly lines. Students saw various areas where raw materials are received, prepared, and machined for production. Seneca’s tour guide explained that programming and operating complex machinery requires a solid knowledge of mathematics, geometry and even physics. 



If you know of someone interested in being a future guest career speaker, mentor, career fair representative or would like to open their doors for a company tour please have them sign up on www.inspirerockcounty.org.  A partnership can make a HUGE difference.  Help us help our students. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

School Bus Safety

We mourn for the students, families, and colleagues in Chattanooga, TN.

Children going to school is such an ingrained element of our culture, and we expect that they will be able to get to and from school without incident. Yesterday, we saw the tragic images of the aftermath of a school bus accident in Tennessee which needlessly took the lives of five young school children.

At this time, not much is known about the incident except that the bus was traveling at a speed much higher than what is posted for a residential area. We do not know if the bus in Tennessee had restraint systems in place for its passengers, nor if the driver was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. We join everyone in praying for the families that have been affected by this horrible situation.

Here in the School District of Janesville (SDJ), we take the health and safety of all students, staff, and visitors to our schools seriously. On any given day in Janesville, our partner, Van Galder Bus Company, will transport roughly 700 students out of the total 10,000+ in our schools (less than 10%), not including transportation for student field trips and athletic events. Our school board has long supported many safety measures, including the phasing in of passenger restraint systems in the bus fleet for our students. 

For our students who are transported daily by bus to and from school, there are several safety measure in place. As our contracted transportation provider, Van Galder does screen its drivers, including drug testing and random screenings. They also have monitoring systems in place that can identify if a bus has travelled at an excessive rate of speed, or if a bus had a sudden acceleration or deceleration.

Additionally, when Van Galder purchases new buses to replace and upgrade their fleet, they do so with restraint systems (seat belts) for the passengers. This adds around $15,000 (on average) to the cost of the bus, which the SDJ has covered. Among the buses used to transport our students daily, there are 10 traditional buses, and 19 buses used for students with special needs.  Of the 10 traditional buses, 5 have been upgraded to have passenger restraint systems. All 19 buses used for students with special needs have passenger restraint systems in place.

We don’t know if seat belts on the bus in Tennessee would have made a difference or not. While we are saddened by this event, we can be comforted somewhat by the precautions we have taken to keep our students safe.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

2016-17 Inclement Weather Information


We are fast approaching the start of the winter season, and because this is Wisconsin, it is a good time to remind everyone of the procedures the School District of Janesville (SDJ) has in place for dealing with inclement weather such as heavy snow and/or extreme cold. Should it become necessary to delay the start of school or to cancel school, SDJ will use the Infinite Campus system as our primary means of notification to parents and guardians. 

Since Infinite Campus Messenger will be our primary method of updating parents on school delays and closures, we urge parents/guardians to make sure their contact information is correct in the system. Because all weather related messages will be sent out as “Priority” messages, please make sure you have one of the boxes checked in the “Priority” section (Click here for Instructions on How to Change Contact Information).


WCLO AM 1230 radio, the Janesville Gazette, and other local radio and TV stations will post school closing or delay information. The SDJ Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/SDJK12/) and the district website (https://www.janesville.k12.wi.uswill also be updated to reflect the closing or delays.  Closing and delay information will be communicated to the public the night before (if possible) or no later than 6:00 a.m. on the day of the closing or delay.




In order to keep district telephone lines open for general operations, we ask parents/guardians not to call the district for closing information/confirmation. 


The School District of Janesville does not close early to avoid incoming snow or ice storms.  This policy is to protect children who may get home before their parents and have no access or supervision.  If a parent/guardian is concerned about incoming weather, they may come to the school to have their child released early.  

There will be no athletic contests and practices on days school is canceled due to weather related reasons.  On days when school is in session, but weather has progressively gotten worse, cancellations for after school or evening athletics and/or extracurricular activities will be announced by 2:00 p.m. on WCLO.

Decisions to cancel school are made in coordination with both the Janesville Transit System, and Van Galder Bus Company.  They are also based on the passage of city streets, safety of rural students, and information from the county highway and city street departments. The SDJ also consults with a meteorologist and a team of District staff and area Superintendents before the decision is made.

The final decision to delay or close school for SDJ rests with me. If school is closed, be aware that all Preschool 4 Janesville (P4J) programs located at Adams, Jackson, Jefferson, Madison and Wilson elementary schools will also be closed. Should a decision be made to delay the start of school by one or two hours as opposed to closing, the Adams, Jackson, Jefferson, Madison, and Wilson P4J morning programs will be cancelled, but they will hold their afternoon sessions as regularly scheduled. If your child attends P4J at a private location or community child care center, be sure to contact your P4J site coordinator to confirm any closings or delays.

It is important to note that parents/guardians always have the option of keeping their child home due to inclement weather. You should always call your child’s school to report the decision to keep them home. Your child will receive a principal excused absence. 

The SDJ school calendar has several days built in to accommodate weather delays/closures. However, should the district exceed those buffer days, state law requires the SDJ to make-up days to meet the minimum number of hours of direct pupil instruction (http://dpi.wi.gov/cal/days-hours). We did not have to do that last year, but with the unpredictability of Wisconsin winter weather, it is always something to remember.

The decision to delay or close school due to weather is not taken lightly. Rest assured that the SDJ has a great team that will be clearing sidewalks and parking lots/playgrounds, and keeping the heat on in the buildings. Our mission is to provide an excellent education to all students, but we must also keep the health and safety of our students and staff in mind. It is important for everyone to be prepared for whatever the weather may send our way.