Thursday, April 28, 2016

Building the Future of our Community

Guest Blogger: Mr. Andy LaChance, School to Work Coordinator, School District of Janesville


Image of Seneca Foods WharehouseOn March 28, 2016 local employers from across the greater Janesville area opened their doors to School District of Janesville educators. This effort allowed teachers to connect with the business community, so they can help their students make real-world connections to their classroom experiences. These types of connections and professional development opportunities help educators further improve their practice, continuing their work to educate every child. This partnership allowed 19 teachers the opportunity to learn about area businesses and share that experience with hundreds of students in their Career and Technical Education classes.

One of Janesville’s larger employers, Seneca Foods, invited 17 teachers for a tour and job shadow experience for the day. The facility employs nearly 400 people with a wide range of job duties requiring varying skill sets. The tour allowed teachers to familiarize themselves with plant operations and to envision opportunities to include the experience in lessons for students.

three teachers at seneca foods wearing safety equipment
Left to right: Janesville teachers Devin Yager, (Edison Middle School) Janet Attoe, (Edison Middle School) and Kimberly Lien (Marshall Middle School) keeping Health and Safety at the forefront when touring Seneca Foods.





Janet Attoe, Edison Middle School FACE teacher, enjoyed seeing the Seneca research area where sanitation and packaging procedures are tested and applied to the production line.  She was also impressed with the way they reuse their wash water and have a digester that produces methane gas used to fuel the plant.  

Two prominent local car dealerships, Hesser Toyota and Rock County Honda, invited Jeff Dettman (Parker High School) and Keith Wright (Craig High School) to shadow their automotive repair technicians.  These local dealerships are eager to form a career pipeline with the Janesville School District which should provide opportunities for Janesville’s advanced automotive students to realize direct application of the knowledge gained in the classroom to real world careers.

Image of student welding with proper safety equipmentIn addition to having educators go out into the field, Janesville educators have also invited experienced technicians and skilled trades people into the classroom. Students benefit by having training and mentoring provided by experts in the trade, and teachers benefit by keeping up to date with the latest innovations. Agustin Vasquez, Chris Bush, and Robby Austin from ANGI Energy Systems have been coming to teacher Kirke Utecht’s class at Parker High School, helping student welders learn more about the work and opportunities in this skilled trade.

Additional visits are planned for the upcoming May 6 Staff Professional Development day with local businesses United Alloy, Evonik, and Tigre expressing interest in hosting educators. As they engage local business and continue their own professional development, Janesville educators are expanding options available for students, helping them see the direct real-world relevance to their classroom experience. This is one of the many ways Janesville educators continue to build a stronger future of our community.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Grading Smarter, Not Harder

Guest Blogger -- Dr. Kolleen Onsrud, Curriculum Coordinator, School District of Janesville

Several years ago, I had surgery on my left ankle.  I had been injured some thirty years earlier, and in the years since, I had managed to reinjure it many times.  The original injury was simply a sprained ankle, yet it was bad enough that I went to a doctor. The doctor put me on crutches, told me to stay off of my ankle, use ice, and take ibuprofen.  I followed these directions, and then when I healed, resumed with my normal life and activities.  Over the years, I would repeat this pattern of injury, rest and recovery, over and over again.  After a few years of this, I became frustrated. Essentially each time I would get to the point that I had enough; I would again go to the doctor for help and receive the same advice.  I believed that there had to be a better way to change this outcome, but I could not figure it out on my own. It took nearly thirty years, but I finally met with a doctor, who suggested that I try a surgical repair. The surgery was a success, and I have not had the same injury since.  In this case, I believed I needed to change, but I needed some help in order to do it.  Changing our grading practices is similar in that many of us understand that we need to change; however, we are often not sure how or what to change.   

It is clear to me that changing our high school grading practice is a highly charged topic. Each of us holds an opinion formed by our own experiences and practices, both personal and professional.  It is these experiences that make changing our grading practice so complex.  Sometimes, like in my example with the new doctor, we need to hear from someone who holds a different perspective than our own.  Thus, the School District of Janesville will have teacher, principal, and author, Myron Dueck, present to the high school staff on Friday, May 6th at Parker High School.  Myron will share strategies and ideas that will guide teachers to create grading systems that measure student learning. The ideas are based on solid research, are practical, and can be applied within any classroom. 

Dueck’s presentation will be based on his book ‘Grading Smarter, Not Harder: Assessment Strategies that Motivate Kids and Help Them Learn.’  We encourage you to read his blog posts “Sound Grading” at https://myrondueck.wordpress.com/category/sound-grading/ or 
“Aha Moments on the Road to Better Teaching” at http://www.middleweb.com/18174/aha-moments-better-teaching/ 

As we continue to find the best ways to provide meaningful instruction to students, and improve our methods of assessing student knowledge, we can look to others in the field for guidance--to help us learn how to change, adapt, and improve. As we evolve in our practice, we are better able to serve the greater Janesville community by educating every child.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Craig and Parker Receive Silver Rating!




Janesville Craig and Parker High Schools continue the tradition of excellence in education receiving another “Silver” ranking by US News and World Report for 2016.  Both schools remain in the top 100 high schools in Wisconsin, according to the magazine. The schools achieved “Silver” status, with Parker ranked 66th and Craig ranked 56th in Wisconsin. The report issued rankings for 164 of the more than 500 high schools in the state.

“We have excellent educators and support staff who do their best every day to guide students on their academic journey,” said Dr. Karen Schulte, Superintendent. “Our community should be proud of our high schools—not just because of their rankings in this report—but for the opportunities our schools provide students, helping them graduate ready for career or college.”

The report uses a methodology that rewards high schools that serve all students well—both college bound and those planning on entering the military or workforce. An emphasis on mathematics and English language arts is applied, as well as the requirement that the school’s graduation rate meets or exceeds the national graduation rate.

“These rankings help confirm what we know about our schools,” added Schulte. “We have high expectations for our students, quality educators, dedicated parents, and a community that is committed to our schools. By working together, we are providing a better future for our children, and that is part of a foundation that supports a better Janesville for all.”

US News and World Report 2016 Best High Schools in the US:  

Monday, April 11, 2016

Changing Faces on SDJ Board

Congratulations and welcome to newly elected (and re-elected) School Board members

It is vitally important for our community and our schools to have individuals answer the call of public service, and one of the most direct ways to serve is by being an elected member of our school board. With that in mind, I extend my congratulations to recently re-elected school board member Cathy Myers, and welcome newly elected board members Michelle Haworth and Jim Millard to the Janesville School Board.

With backgrounds in education and participation in parent-teacher-school organizations, I am confident these board members will be able to serve our schools and community well. Together, we can remain focused on our district’s mission of educational excellence and ensuring our students are well prepared for college and career.

We look forward to welcoming the new board members at the April 26 board meeting!

Thank you to our current board members who have served, and will be leaving soon

As we welcome some new faces to our board, we must also take time to send our best wishes to some departing board members. Board Vice-President Kristin Hesselbacher, who has served since 2010, decided not to run for re-election. Board Treasurer Karl Dommershausen, also elected in 2010, did not win re-election to his seat. Both Kristin and Karl are dedicated to the students, schools, and community of Janesville, and we appreciate all of their work over the years.

While their terms on the board may be ending, I am confident they will continue to find ways to serve the greater Janesville community. We will be thanking both Kristin and Karl for their service at the April 12 board meeting.

Monday, April 4, 2016

School of Recognition - Fourth Consecutive Year!




Congratulations Jackson Elementary School!


State Superintendent Tony Evers congratulated Principal Kristen Moisson and Jackson Elementary School for being among 169 schools in the state that received Wisconsin Title I School of Recognition honors for the 2015-16 school year during a special March 14 ceremony at the State Capitol in Madison.  Jackson Elementary was awarded as one of the 117 Beating-the-Odds schools in the state.  This is the fourth consecutive year that Jackson Elementary has been recognized for their outstanding work in student achievement.

To be eligible for this distinction, schools must receive federal Title I funding and provide services to high percentages of economically disadvantaged children.  Jackson Elementary has a high population of English Language Learners, is in the top 25 percent of high-poverty schools in the state (with a poverty rate of 83.69%), and achieved higher scores in reading and math compared to similar schools.

This success can be attributed to the leadership and fidelity through the careful implementation of the literacy principles used at Jackson Elementary School under the direction of Principal Moisson. 

Leadership in Literacy


The school was chosen by the Imagine Learning company to pilot their literacy program because of the makeup of their student population. Imagine Learning puts literacy right at the students’ fingertips providing engaging and interactive content. This comprehensive fluency program covers important areas of literacy, such as, phonics, phonemic awareness, fluency, vocabulary, reading comprehension and listening and speaking. The program is appealing to the students because it is implemented through the use of computers that allow them hands on adaptive instruction.  There are more than 4,300 engaging activities providing effective practice and repetition. It is wonderful to see this example of leadership achieve this ongoing acknowledgement as a School of Recognition.

“These awards recognize the work of students and their parents along with teachers, school administrators, and school staff members to break the link between poverty and low academic achievement. These efforts will help us ensure that every student graduates college and career ready,” Evers said. 

All Kids Will Achieve!


Principal Moisson is elated with this ongoing recognition and attributes this success to the “commitment and dedication of the Jackson staff to their unconditional attention to the belief that All Kids Will Achieve!”  Mrs. Moisson also points out that Academic Learning Coach Sue Ann Eicher and Innovation Specialist Ann Marshall were important catalysts in implementing curriculum and assessments and the promotion of blended learning for staff and students to reach this achievement. Congratulations Principal Moisson and the Jackson Elementary School family for your achievement and commitment to literacy and education for all your students!


Friday, April 1, 2016

District Celebrates Educator Leadership

GUEST BLOGGER: Dr. Kim F. Ehrhardt
Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment

As you might imagine, the auditorium at Kennedy Elementary School was filled with lots of positive energy this past Monday, March 28, 2016, when over 120 local educators came together and shared the results of their Educator Leadership Development Institute (ELDI) projects. The genesis of this effort comes from the leadership of Dr. Karen Schulte, Superintendent, and Dr. Kim Ehrhardt, Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment, who established the School District of Janesville Educational Leadership Development Institute in the fall of 2014. The overall goal of the initiative was to inspire and capitalize on teacher leadership in the School District of Janesville as a catalyst to address individual school improvement efforts.   

The scope of the project topics ranged from promoting a positive school culture, addressing the achievement gap, implementing instructional rounds, and developing personalized learning pedagogy to the creation of a common grading policy at the high schools.  Many of the ELDI projects received additional support from the Bright Spots Grant, established by Mr. Quint Studer in memory of outstanding leader and principal, Mrs. Lori Burns.  This grant was designed to award professional development opportunities to schools that have identified improvement projects that are associated with innovative and creative solution paths for identified issues. 


What is a Teacher Leader? 


When Dr. Schulte and Dr. Ehrhardt first opened the institute in September of 2014, they sought to first answer the question  --  What is teacher leadership?  They told the ELDI teams (from each school in our district) to be a “teacher leader means to be a teacher who has the best interest of the students at the forefront of their teaching practices.”  As part of this project the district was fortunate to secure the talents of Emeritus Professor of Education at Stanford University, Dr. Ann Lieberman, who went on to develop deeper notions of teacher leadership with the ELDI teams. “Teacher leaders know that improving student learning is at the heart of the most important decisions they make.  They are teachers who work to identify the best teaching practices and then collaborate with others to implement those practices in their schools.  They are supportive and know that the teacher (in isolation) is a thing of the past.”  Working together and being supportive are the norms by which teacher leaders operate.  They realize that to help students succeed means fostering teamwork to reach that goal.  Teacher leaders are those who model these effective skills. These important principles became the norms for the individual team projects. 

What Qualities to Teacher Leaders Possess?


Dr. Ehrhardt introduced ELDI members to the research on teacher leadership.  He stated that, “Teacher leaders are constantly in search of what works to improve student learning, student motivation or a love of learning.”  They in turn take on the mission to energetically spread that information.  As such, teacher leaders are effective communicators.  They accomplish this through learning-focused discussions or simply by expressing their enthusiasm for their discoveries.  Not only can teacher leaders communicate effectively, but they are also good listeners.  They are ready to give appropriate feedback or ask questions to get a better understanding of ideas or concepts.  They accept diverse views as a way of learning more. Often the use of educational research and data-driven vocabulary are characteristics of teacher leaders.  These teachers look for challenges and ways to improve themselves by being continuous learners.  


Who Can Be a Teacher Leader?


Dr. Schulte shared her beliefs with institute members and challenged them by stating, “Teacher leaders are those teachers next door.  Anyone with the desire can become a teacher leader.”   If a teacher is enthusiastic about a learning style or teaching strategy, one that is inclusive of all learners, is equitable and is worthy of sharing, then just by informing others that teacher has become a leader.  By collaborating with peers and promoting instructional strategies that ensure student learning, a teacher exemplifies the characteristics of a leader.  A leader does not have to be someone who is always presenting to groups or who takes the lead in everything.  Teacher leaders must know where their strengths lie.  But they need to realize that they are responsible for engaging in dialogue with those who are also interested in increasing their knowledge of best practice teaching strategies that promote student achievement.  Dr. Lieberman concluded the institute by reminding the group that, “Teacher leaders love teaching.  They understand their craft and want to help others advance their skills by being supportive.”  She went on to emphasize that they are goal driven and work passionately to achieve those goals.  They also realize that they cannot reach most goals alone.”  She added—Teacher leaders do not always have authoritative positions.  But they are capable of modeling effective practices, being influential through their communicative skills and being collaborative as a way of reaching goals.  Anyone who believes in these ideals can be a teacher leader.   

Based on the outcomes of the ELDI meeting this past Monday, March 28, 2016, the School District of Janesville is solid with its efforts to promote student achievement based on the high quality leadership skills of its educators!

Dr. Ann Lieberman is an emeritus professor from Teachers College, Columbia University. She is now a Senior Scholar at The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and a Visiting Professor at Stanford University. She received her BA and Ed. D at UCLA. She got her Masters Degree at California State University at Northridge, where she also received an honorary degree.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Grading Policy Part II: Effective Grading


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


Best Practices and Effective Grading


Recently, the topic of grading began getting renewed attention in our district and in the local media. The primary purpose of a grading system is to clearly communicate to students and parents about achievement or performance.  Our current high school grading system is largely based on tradition. Each teacher has had the discretion for developing his or her own system for assigning student grades in the School District of Janesville. These separate systems can be confusing for students and parents as their resulting grades communicate different things. AdvancED, the national organization that accredits our high schools, made resolving our inconsistent teacher grading practices a required corrective action; thus, the genesis of the High School Grading Task Force. The charge of the Grading Task Force was to explore the grading issue deeply and make thoughtful recommendations to remedy inconsistency.     

Over 20 Craig and Parker staff members (representing many subject areas) spent the past two years carefully researching the topic, consulting with experts in the field, and then running a pilot to explore the impact of the potential changes at both Craig and Parker high schools. This past Wednesday, March 9, 2016, the High School Grading Task Force provided extensive professional development for the high school staff that detailed their recommendations for changes in grading practices.   

The School District of Janesville prides itself as being an Evidence-Based organization that uses best-practice research as an important foundation to inform our work.  What follows is a summary of research written by Dr. Barbara Blackburn that captures key elements of best practices in grading. These best practices were an important foundation that influenced the Task Force’s work and the professional development that was shared with high school staff. 


Five Tips for Effective Grading:


  • First, give students an opportunity to participate in grading. One effective strategy is to ask students to help develop the grading rubric.  After the teacher shares sample rubrics with students, he or she guides them in creating the criteria for the assignment.  This helps students understand the assignment more effectively and gives them ownership which increases motivation.
  • Next, remove effort, behavior, and attendance from the grading criteria.  Effective grading is based on the quality of work rather than on other factors.  Realistically, giving students extra points for "trying hard" inflates their grades.  Find other ways to reward effort. Additionally, penalizing students for an absence isn't fair. Instead, give students a reasonable amount of time to finish the work.
  • Third, ensure that grading is aligned to the assessment.  This may sound basic, but at times grades don’t match the criteria of the assessment.  Teachers need to be sure their grades reflect the purpose of their assessment.
  • Fourth, don't give zeroes.  This is controversial, as many people believe that if a student doesn't do the work, it deserves a zero. However, zeroes let students “off the hook.”  Unfortunately, some students would rather accept a zero in the grade book than to complete an assessment. If an activity is important enough for teachers to assign, it's important enough for students to complete. Requiring students to complete key assessments is more rigorous and teaches responsibility. Teachers need to remember, though, to provide the instruction and support to help students complete the work.  
  • Finally, extra credit undermines authentic grading. Dr. Blackburn remembers a student in one of her graduate classes whose project was very sloppy.  Parts were not included and there were misspelled words.  The work was unacceptable at the graduate level.  It dropped her grade to a B, and she went to the department chair when Dr. Blackburn wouldn't allow her to do extra credit. Dr. Blackburn’s perspective was that if the student had completed the work in a satisfactory manner, she wouldn't need extra credit. Giving an extra credit opportunity would be rewarding poor work. Be cautious with the use of extra credit.

The Grading Task Force has an extensive bibliography of references from which their examination of best practices has been taken. The bibliography is available on request and includes Dr. Blackburn’s research. On March 28, 2016, the Grading Task Force will make their initial recommendations to the SDJ Board of Education Personnel/Policy/Curriculum Committee.  Stay tuned for future installments of this blog as we continue to communicate additional components of the High School Common Grading Policy.



Dr. Barbara Blackburn is the author of Rigor in Your Classroom. She is a national expert in increasing student rigor, motivation, and engagement in learning and has authored six books on these topics.