Thursday, September 3, 2015

Guest Blogger

EDITORIAL: New school year brings excitement

A back-to-school editorial by State Superintendent Tony Evers
Tuesday, August 25, 2015
Tom McCarthy, DPI Communications Officer, (608) 266-3559
I’m always excited by the start of a new school year. It provides fresh opportunities for our teachers and students to get going on new learning while they make new friends and renew social and extracurricular activities.
Amidst the many challenges and changes for the 2015-16 school year, there will be one constant: a singular focus on preparing students to be college and career ready. But what does that mean to be ready for college, ready for careers?
Certainly, we expect all of our students to gain solid academic knowledge in the various subject areas. But there’s more. Students also need to have the social and emotional competence to be able to apply their knowledge, think critically, and communicate and collaborate with others. That’s part of the real world that awaits them. We want our kids to be creative, to show appropriate leadership skills, and to develop the behaviors of perseverance, responsibility, and adaptability so they are ready for the inevitable struggles in life.
Our schools and teachers need family and community support to deliver the rigorous, rich, and well-rounded education our kids deserve. Throughout the spring and summer, we’ve been working on strategies that will support educators as they build relationships that strengthen results for our students. Look for more information on the work of my Parent Advisory Council in September.
During this school year, a number of schools are piloting academic and career planning. It’s a bit of a change in the way schools do things, but the process is a great opportunity for our young people to really think through with their parents and teachers what they want to do going forward. The process honors all postsecondary routes, including military, apprenticeship, certification, technical college, and university education. It also helps students and their families recognize that many people move in and out of different routes throughout their lives.
While Wisconsin’s statewide assessments, used to measure how well students are learning, are changing, they will still have the goals of measuring student academic achievement and improving classroom instruction. And that’s really what it’s all about. Moving kids forward, closing achievement gaps, and making sure the next generation is ready and willing to take charge. We can all make that happen by supporting our hard working students, educators, and school leaders.
Our plan for every child to graduate ready for college and careers is called Agenda 2017.  I just know it’s going to be a great year. Let’s do it.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Back to School Message


      A low fog is hanging over the corn this morning behind the house.  My feet are damp from the heavy due and the mug of coffee in my hands is warm and aromatic.  Dawn comes a little later everyday now and the apples are almost ready to pick.  In the stillness, a dash of orange floats by.  A magnificent monarch butterfly settles on a nearby weed and I know fall is near.  My wife Jeanette, a teacher, has already been out collecting monarch caterpillars to place in her kindergarten classroom.  She is hoping one will make its metamorphosis before her student’s eyes.  Jeanette is a wise and gifted teacher because she knows that watching a caterpillar transform into a butterfly can change the course of a child’s school experience.  She knows that if she can connect a child’s sense of wonder with her classroom, school can become a sacred place for kids.  Of course, the caterpillar is only a small part of all the things she will do to make school important for her students, yet it is the part that distinguishes our best and most experienced teachers.  The best teachers make school a welcoming place where kids can learn the skills to satisfy their curiosity.  It makes me smile thinking about what Jeanette has in store for those wide-eyed five year olds.

      And for those who await the arrival of different grades and ages, I hope you will remember those teachers from your past who motivated you to be someone you didn’t think you could be.  You know better than anyone else how critical it is for kids to find support and success in school.  For their sake, do what you know is best.

     In a book I’m reading, a character says of his job, “This job requires physical and mental skills, but more soul than anything else.”  In our zeal to determine quality by counting only those things easily measured, I hope you will continue to nurture the “soul” of our schools.

Have a good year,

Trygve Danielson 

Mr. Danielson is a retired English Teacher from Parker High School

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Preschool 4 Janesville (P4J)-
 Truly a Community Collaboration
by: Angela Lynch, P4J Coordinator

P4J is the School District of Janesville’s 4-year-old Kindergarten program. It is a collaboration of 16 sites in the community and 5 school district classrooms. P4J began in 2008-09 school year and has grown to over 600 students
that enroll every year.

ENROLLING NOW! Many open spots for P4J students.
Please come to the School District of Janesville Educational Services Center (527 S Franklin Street) to enroll.

P4J Mission statement is: To partner with families and the community ensuring quality learning and social foundations for all four-year-old children.

P4J Goal is to prepare students for Kindergarten and beyond.

Our P4J site partners include:
Cargill Christian Preschool and Daycare, Community Kids Learning Center, Creative Children’s Learning Center, Faith’s Little Friends, Goelzer’s First Step Nursery School, Hand in Hand Learning Center, Head Start @ St. Peter’s Church, Janesville Community Day Care Center, Janesville’s Montessori Children’s House, KinderCare, LSS Child’s First Child Care and Preschool, St. Mary’s School, St. Patrick’s School Early Learning Center, St. Paul’s Lutheran Early Childhood Center, YMCA, YWCA Discovery Center, Adams Elementary School, Jackson Elementary School, Jefferson Elementary School, Madison Elementary School, and Wilson Elementary School. 

P4J had a booth at the National Night Out sponsored by the Janesville Police Department on August 4th. Over 20 staff members volunteered to help recruit families to sign their 4-year-olds up for P4J. We gave out pencils, tattoos, and prizes to all families that filled out an information form. We wanted to spread the word to the entire community about our outstanding P4J program and the 21 options families have to choose from. Enrollment is open now.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Summer School Musical an Incredible Success

This summer's musical "Phantom of the Opera," written by Andrew Lloyd Webber, was a tremendous success. The team of Jan and Brian Knutson, Jim Tropp, and Michael Stanek surpassed expectations as they brought to life “Phantom of the Opera.”  

Comments from the audience included the following:

"You don't need to go to Broadway to see ‘Phantom’ when Broadway is at Parker High School."

"The elaborate set design, special effects, costumes and the hard work of many people made this a spectacular show that deserved the resounding standing ovation from the audience."

“The music by Andrew Lloyd Webber was done to perfection by high school students who sounded like seasoned adults.”   WOW! These quotes in the paper were right on point.

The musical was also mentioned on Broadway under the title "Sing For Me! Incredible Video of High School Production of The Phantom of the Opera" by Pat Cerasaro.  Pat states, "A high school excels with The Phantom of the Opera!"

This was the last time this musical will be seen at the high school or college level.  The production company from Rodgers and Hammerstein will no longer license the musical at these levels. We are glad we had the opportunity to perform the musical one last time.

Hats off to Mr. Jim Tropp, Director; Mrs. Jan Knutson and Mr. Brian Knutson, Musical Directors; Mr. Michael Stanek, Choreographer;  and the cast, crew and musicians for their hard work.  They did an AWESOME job!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Our Global Neighborhood Conference

Guest Blogger, Beth Ulring, Grade 4 Challenge Teacher, Roosevelt Elementary School

Beijing, China      July 4-12, 2015

Authentic Learning in Action

        “A vision without a plan is just a dream.  A plan without a vision is just drudgery.  But a vision with a plan can change the world.”  The vision of the GEC, to build global partnerships between teachers and students, so that the world can have a peaceful and meaningful future, is a vision that epitomizes the principles of this proverb, for the 3rd annual GEC conference is an example of a vision with a plan. Here at GEC’s Elementary Education International Conference we have been enjoying authentic learning in action. We have been part of a “vision with a plan”, and we are engaging in groundbreaking educational initiatives that could change the world.  Embedded within the conference’s workshops and throughout our days, we are building partnerships with educators and students around the world.

Authentic Learning with Friends

A vision without a plan is just a dream.  A plan without a vision is just drudgery.  But a vision with a plan can change the world.

         Throughout the conference, our stay has been enhanced by a continuous stream of hospitality, punctuated with enthusiasm and graciousness. From the very beginning, we were treated as honored guests. We were greeted at the airport with much care and concern. At our hotel, we were showered with greetings from three of our Beijing friends who have been our guests at the School District of Janesville in Wisconsin.  And this hospitality story has continued each day. We have been accompanied back and forth from the hotel to school. We have been greeted in the halls, at the conference door, during lunch, dinner, seminars, and tours. Our needs have been anticipated and each question answered twofold. The old adage, treat others as you wish to be treated, must have been replaced by treat others better than you wish to be treated!  Yet, all of this attention has allowed us to receive something much greater than comfort in another land, it has allowed us to make many, many friends.  Beyond our Chinese hosts, we are sharing this conference with Chinese educators and other seminar presenters and workshop leaders from around the world.We are all working together in an authentic learning atmosphere to build and expand excellence in global education. These are the people that we hope to keep as our neighbors in GEC’s expanding global community. These are the people with which we hope to raise global education standards. These are the people with which we hope to build a more peaceful and meaningful world for the future.
Here we learn authentically with a greater purpose in mind, in a respectful learning atmosphere, teacher as student and student as teacher. So, purposefully and strategically, the conference began with the seminar on Coaching Teachers for Authentic Student Learning by Jack Dieckmann and Kari Kokka from the Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning and Equity (SCALE). This is a challenging topic for educators anywhere, but to tackle this topic in a bilingual and multicultural atmosphere really brought home the idea of teacher as student and student as teacher. When we work together in this atmosphere, no one is exempt from the role of learner and all are teachers. We are both learner and teacher because embedded in this classroom emerges the challenges of our global community. This global classroom, an authentic learning challenge superimposed on an authentic learning seminar, demanded that all of us reformulate how to learn and work in a global community. Here in the Dream Theater of ZhongGuanCun No. 3 Primary School in Beijing, China we had our own United Nations working to improve our world. This was an appropriate place for an appropriate dream!
        All of our seminars demonstrated outstanding staff development practices that were masterfully intertwined.  The Authentic Learning seminar had many concepts that were reiterated, integrated, applied or expanded in the Global Schools for the 21st Century seminar by Martin Krovetz and Honey Berg from CES, a Coalition of Essential Schools in California.  The Effective Teaching Seminar with Cathy Zozakiewicz from SCALE taught and demonstrated explicitly many of the teaching strategies demonstrated in the first two seminars.  In the final day, we could see these concepts demonstrated in virtual classrooms led by teachers from China, Canada, Finland, and the USA. Here we could see and evaluate authentic learning classrooms. Watching teachers from around the world work with a classroom of Chinese students was wonderful entertainment for a group of educators, but seeing our seminar work in action was an invaluable way to share and reflect on this learning experience also. We were very fortunate to see so many outstanding educators practicing their craft. 

        This kind of staff development requires an enormous amount of preparation, expertise, and inspiration; this is the same commitment that we expect teachers to provide for students every day.  It demands the same hours and hours of preparation and effective teaching practices that we require in the classroom. In addition to these outstanding professional development offerings, the presenters all learned to work in a global school atmosphere requiring advanced communication skills, inventive collaborative strategies, and amazing abilities in the areas of flexibility, creativity, and problem solving. We owe much gratitude and appreciation for their dedication, perseverance, resiliency, and commitment to these amazing days together!  These are the same skills we know our students will need in this new interconnected world. As we continue to explore and experience what this world will be, we need to continue to recreate our classrooms too in order to meet these expectations. We will need to continue to ask ourselves how we can prepare students to live in a transformed planet that we can only try to imagine.  Like artists have learned to represent a three dimensional world on a two dimensional page, we still struggle to represent the 4th dimension in our three dimensional world, since we can only imagine the 4th dimension.  Similarly, we can only imagine what skills that citizens of the future will need.  So it is important that we work together with other educators from across the world, like we have this week.  We might not even realize how important our learning has been until we continue this process in the years to come and look back on all that we have learned and from where we began!  
        Special thanks again to our Chinese hosts, to all the Chinese educators and students that worked with us and made us feel at home, to our workshop leaders and seminar presenters, and to all of our friends across the globe!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Fond du Lac Educator Says Staff Fleeing District, School Officials Say Otherwise

Although a long-time Fond du Lac educator says teachers are fleeing a public school district in decline, school officials say staff turnover is the norm since the state implemented Act 10.

At a recent school board meeting, Theisen Middle School science teacher Ted Eischeid delivered a short speech that spelled out a general feeling of staff dissatisfaction in the Fond du Lac School District.

“Teachers have been leaving whenever possible, by early retirement or resignation, and this reflects a brain drain in the community. People  are choosing to leave this district,” he said.

After 25 years working with students, Eischeid, who also serves as a Fond du Lac County Board supervisor, said he chose to resign because of changes in the district that have caused his colleagues to suffer from low morale and depression. He pointed to Act 10 as the breaking point that gave “virtually all power to the school district.”

Passed in 2011, the Budget Repair Bill (Act 10) cut benefits for all state employees, including teachers, eliminated the ability for unions to negotiate over anything but wages, and restricted future salary increases for represented employees.

Eischeid said prior to Act 10, the district and teachers collaborated to make decisions and solve problems, and this created an atmosphere of mutual respect. That respect, he said, no longer exists.

“It’s a matter of feeling valued,” he said. “Now, there is no longer any engagement in a collaborative process. It’s become a top-down school district.”
The Fond du Lac School District had 22 retirements and 24 teachers resign from their positions during the 2015-16 school year. These numbers are similar to previous years, said Human Resources Director Sharon Simon.

Earlier this year, Simon and Superintendent James Sebert sat down with The Reporter to discuss increased teacher movement, not just in Fond du Lac, but throughout the state. Simon said Act 10 has provided educators with the ability to be more flexible with their careers.

Because of changes in the salary schedule, teachers are now able to take their experience with them, she said, when prior to the changes they may have entered a new school district starting at a lower wage.

“People leave school districts for a variety of reasons,” Simon said. “Most leave to be closer to their family or to work in the community where they live. Some have left the teaching profession. Others have taken different jobs within education such as instructional coaching. We have had people leave because they are not happy with the direction of public education in Wisconsin and some are not happy with the district.”

While several teachers did contact The Reporter, they chose to remain off the record and said they could not be quoted for the story. One teacher said that at a recent meeting teachers were referred to by an assigned number.

Fond du Lac School Board President Julie Nett said plenty of opportunities exist for collaboration if teachers want to take advantage of them. The average staff member in Fond du Lac has been with the district 12 years, she said.

“We offer collaboration every single day in the school district. We have 42 offerings in a summer institute with 224 staff members participating in staff and professional development,” Nett said. “We are not throwing anyone out there to do things on their own. We do offer support to our staff.”

Eischeid said he felt he had to stand up on behalf of his colleagues before he left. He plans to stay in Fond du Lac for another year before he moves to Alaska to join his wife. Hedy Eischeid is a former Fond du Lac teacher who led the Fond du Lac Education Association for many years.

Ted Eischeid said: “I am proud of Fond du Lac and want us to have the best school district in the state. I did this because I had to be honest with myself. I love my students and I feel this has been my best year yet, so it is difficult to leave.”

Nett said her door is always open if anyone wants to talk about school issues. She encourages teachers to speak openly with their administrators.

“Fear can destroy so many things, and it can destroy anything positive,” she said. “It is all about keeping the lines of communication open.”

Reach Sharon Roznik at or 920-907-7936; on Twitter: @sharonroznik.

Fond du Lac School District retirements/resignations
•2011-12 — 21 resignations, 14 retirements
•2012-13 — 19 resignations, 9 retirements
•2013-14 — 29 resignations, 6 retirements
•2014-15 — 27 resignations, 21 retirements
Source: Fond du Lac School District
Sharon Roznik, Action Reporter Media
Published on July 6, 2015

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Voice & Choice: Taking on Personalized Learning

I wanted to share the following article from the June 28, 2015 Janesville Gazette showcasing another path our students are taking to Educational Excellence.  Personalized Learning Initiatives like the one piloted this year at Lincoln Elementary School are a step towards increased achievement among all students.

School program focuses classroom on each student
By Nick Crow

  Melissa Van Tuyl’s son, Michael, is a planner. “He’s on a kick of saving for a laptop,” Van Tuyl said. “He sets these little goals of doing chores for money to save for it.” What makes that surprising is that he just finished kindergarten. “What 6-year-old saves for a laptop?” she said. “He’s independent. He wants to do things for himself. He’s more of a ‘let me try it, let me see if I can do it’ kind of kid.” Michael picked up goal-setting skills as part of the personalized learning initiative at Lincoln Elementary School, Van Tuyl said.

  In its first year, the program focuses the classroom around the students, rather than teacher instruction, said Principal Shawn Galvin.  “Personalized learning is when kids have a voice and choice with their learning,” Galvin said. “They are kind of co-designing along with their teacher a personalized learning plan and still held accountable to the same standards as everyone else. But it gives them more ownership of their learning, which equals more buy-in and more engagement with kids.”
What it is?
   Personalized learning has been around for decades but has recently emerged as a more viable option because of advancements in technology, Galvin said. Lincoln is a 1:1 school, which means each student has access to an electronic device, making it perfect for personalized learning, he said. “It was kind of a natural fit to move forward,” Galvin said. “They (technology and personalized learning) are independent of each other, but they complement each other very well.” Hannah Barry, third-grade teacher at Lincoln, said her students keep pace and are successful by making goals for themselves and supporting one another in reaching goals.    “It’s figuring out what each individual student needs,” Barry said. “We could have one student, for example, working on subtracting with regrouping, but I have another student who has proven that they know how to do that through and through. Rather than making that student sit there and listen to another lesson on subtraction by regrouping, he’s working on double-digit multiplication. So it’s just taking each kid where they’re at and taking them to that next level.”Some kids at a higher level overall need more help in certain areas, Barry said. Personalized learning allows students to take the time to focus on those areas, she said.
 “The kids use each other a lot more now,” Barry said. “If I’m working with another student, they know they can go to this other student who they know has got this down, and then they work together. Then, not only is the student learning, but also the one that’s teaching is deepening their understanding, too.” Barry said kids reach their goals however they are comfortable. Some use Chromebooks. Some use iPads, and some use pencil and paper, she said. “It depends on the student and depends on their interests,” Barry said.  “Instead of me giving them one worksheet that everyone is going to do, they know their goal, and that’s what they work on,” she said.  For example, rather than a worksheet for homework, students have an individual goal they work on at home, Barry said.

  ‘Excited for school’
   Last year, the program was in its pilot year. Van Tuyl said she couldn’t be happier with her son’s experience.“It’s really helped him as far as him setting goals, even at home,” Van Tuyl said. “He’s just excited for school. My older sonhad worksheets, and he didn’t want to do it. He would come home exhausted from learning.”Students aren’t required to sit at their desks. They come and go throughout the classroom, working on goals they need to complete.Galvin said the program, which was piloted in kindergarten, one second-grade and one third-grade class last year, will be expanded to some other classes throughout Lincoln next school year. There will also be one class at Van Buren Elementary School, two at Harrison Elementary School and one class at Franklin Middle School using personalized learning.  “I think it’s exciting, and every place we’ve visited, every teacher doing it for any length of time says, ‘I hope they never make me move back because it makes so much sense,’” Galvin said. “Every teacher has been traditionally trained, and it’s been a shift. But once they embrace the shift, they never want to go back. It makes so much sense with how kids interact with information.”Galvin said students still are assigned to grades, and students still are accountable for knowing the same curriculum as students at other schools.“We’re still following the traditional age-based grades,” Galvin said. “If they’re in third grade this year, they’ll be in fourth grade next year. But the great part about this is they are still with their same-aged peers, but they can be working on something at a sixth-grade level. The goal isn’t to create acceleration with the kids, it’s to create a deeper understanding of the content.”Galvin said it is the ultimate goal to introduce personalized learning at all grade levels and in all class types.“It’s not limited by grade level or age,” Galvin said. “The ultimate goal is to allow kids to experience it at  the elementary level and continue all the way through. It really can go into any area.”Galvin said the transition to personalized learning has been gradual so teachers familiarize themselves with it.  No parents have asked to opt their child out of the program, and some have even asked how they can get their child into it,” he said.

   Better behavior
   “It’s letting them learn at their own pace,” Galvin said. “One of the other parts of this is our system has been ‘you sit down, you listen, you learn, you then show me on the exact same test in the exact same way, to a contribution-based system where kids are now showing what they learned and adding worth to the classroom.”  “I think that’s the biggest eye opener for us,” he said. “They are now adding value by collaborating with peers rather than just existing and learning on their own in isolation. Working together to be creative and contribute to the group as a whole deepens the level of learning and understanding the kids are getting.” Barry piloted the program in her class last year and said she never wants to go back to a traditional classroom.  “There’s a lot less trying to get what you want them to do and more figuring out how to tailor it to meet each student’s needs,” Barry said. “It’s finding that hook that’s going to keep them driven through the whole process. They take the standard they’re working on and create something I never would have thought of before, and it’s just really cool to see them process their way through each standard and kind of take ownership of it.”  Barry said personalized learning tailors lessons to each student’s interests and even helps with behavioral issues.  “From day one to now, my kids choose not to sit at the table,” Barry said. “They are up moving around doing what they need to do. Having that opportunity and freedom to move reduces behaviors in the classroom.”  The initiative has reduced student behavior problems in the classroom by 30 percent because there is no longer a powerstruggle, Galvin said.  “It goes back to compliance versus contribution,” Galvin said. “Before, it was power struggles trying to get them to sit there when they don’t care because they already know the information. This eliminates all the battles we’ve traditionally fought to try and get them to comply. They don’t happen because they are contributing. They are motivated because it’s at their level, challenging and not way above them or way below them. It’s not a competition because they are working on different things.” The switch has changed how Barry plans as a teacher, she said.
   “It’s totally different,” Barry said. “It’s more making sure that I have everything I need for them rather than planning a specific lesson. It’s making sure I have the resources because they’re all working on their individual goal and that I’m prepared for what they’re going to need that day.”  Van Tuyl said she was skeptical at first but couldn’t be happier with the results she’s had with her son.  “He loves working in groups with other kids,” Van Tuyl said. “It’s been such a positive difference as far as his social skills. It’s been amazing. I’ve loved it.”  “My advice to parents is to give it a chance if their school tries it,” she said. “I was skeptical, but it’s been absolutely wonderful.”