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.”

Friday, June 12, 2015


As we continue to strive for educational excellence in our District, I am elated to see our students and teachers excel.  One example of educational excellence was having our SDJ students selected to participate in a conference on Nuclear Nonproliferation and receiving a $3,000 scholarship to attend.  Other students and teachers from the United States, Russia, and Japan also attended this conference on nuclear disarmament.  The conference commemorated the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan in 1945. The James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey(MIIS) co-sponsored the conference as part of its annual Critical Issues Forum (CIF), in partnership with Hiroshima Jogakuin Senior High School and local governments both Hiroshima city and prefecture.

At the CIF conference, students from seven U.S. high schools from across the country, two Russian high schools in closed nuclear cities, and the following Japanese schools (Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Kanagawa and Tokyo) presented their findings on this year’s topic, “Nuclear Disarmament: Humanitarian Approach.” At a public symposium, a student from each country discussed the important roles of youth education towards achieving the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons. During the conference week, students also visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, and heard a testimonial from an atomic bomb survivor. The first two days of the conference took place at the Hiroshima Jogakuin Senior High School.

Over the next two days I would like to feature three of our students;  Carlo Govantes (Herb Kohl Initiative Scholarship Winner), Edward (Yeifei SDJ International Student) and Nate Watson who participated in this conference. Attending this conference is another way our students are benefitting from the International Program.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Area Superintendents Join Forces to Share Budget Concerns

School leaders from area school districts assembled together in Milton, WI, for a press conference to share concerns regarding public policy embedded in the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) education budget. All superintendents agreed that their districts will be impacted by the public education policies and funding proposals. As Superintendent of the School District of Janesville, I was honored to be present to voice my concerns on behalf of the students, educators and employees in our district. 

Please join us in our efforts by contacting legislators to let them know how much we disapprove of the decisions they are making. Some of the concerns shared by all districts include:

     1. The touted reinstatement of the $150 per student categorical aid is simply giving districts back the funding they have this year. Because it was going to be a cut in funding, this is not an increase in funding. It is in reality a 0% increase. While school districts are able to avoid the cuts in programming that would have been caused by the governor’s proposed reduction, it is not new money. The state continues to underfund Wisconsin public schools by not acknowledging the need for inflationary increases in revenue to maintain educational opportunities for students.

     2.  Our legislators cannot adequately fund one educational system, so the concept of expanding a second taxpayer-supported educational system seems grossly irresponsible. Private school voucher expansion can only result in resources being further siphoned from public school children.

     3.  The special education voucher proposal is arbitrary and does not protect the interests of students with special needs. These students may not receive the same services and protections afforded to them by federal law if they attend a private voucher school. In addition, students with significant educational needs may not have the same access to private voucher schools, as the $12,000 special education voucher would not sufficiently cover the actual costs. The dollar amount is completely arbitrary, as the cost to educate varies drastically from student to student based on their individual needs.

     4. The proposal allowing for learning portfolios to satisfy up to half of a high school student’s graduation requirements does not support our efforts to prepare graduates to be college and career ready. It will create a “track system” ultimately limiting students’ future opportunities.

     5. The education package proposes requiring school districts to allow any homeschool, private school, or virtual school student to participate in athletics and extracurricular activities. We offer sports to engage students in their education and participation in school. Under this policy we would not have true school teams; instead, they would be area recreation or club teams.  This marginalizes school pride, which is an integral aspect of schools. In addition, this policy would raise a multitude of eligibility concerns around participants even on the same team.

      6.  The proposal to significantly ease teacher licensing standards is disrespectful to the profession and to our students. Teaching is more than knowing a certain body of knowledge. Teachers are trained professionals in the areas of pedagogy, methodology, school law, special education, and child development, along with the content knowledge. Our students deserve not only the best and brightest teachers in front of them every day, but they deserve the most qualified teachers as well. The proposed policy would permit individuals, even without a bachelor’s degree, to be eligible to receive a license. It has been stated that this proposal is intended to address hard-to-fill positions, and that school districts would still retain the ability to decide whether to employ these individuals, but this significant drop in standards diminishes the teaching profession. The policy is too broad and requires too little training – 40 hours – before the individual is placed in front of students. It certainly will not encourage our best and brightest to pursue a career in the classroom working with our state’s most valuable resource, our children.

      7.  Although we all value our civic responsibilities, the proposed graduation requirement, that all high school students must pass a 100-question civics test, appears to be another mandated assessment that will be added to the multitude of standardized tests that students are subjected to during their entire educational career. It will become another standardized test of which the actual educational value is debatable and will be difficult to determine.

       8.  All districts appreciate the need for transparency and accountability, but we oppose subjecting public schools to a “hotel rating system.” This overly simplistic approach would not adequately portray the quality of a school or district. It is a demeaning attempt to compare schools, with an unclear objective.
      9. Similarly, our legislators continue to state the need for a school rating system, but how can districts be compared on student performance when students will be taking a different standardized test for the third consecutive year?
     10. This proposed state budget also allows Wisconsin students to enroll in an out-of-state school, with the home school district paying the tuition. This is a real possibility for some of our districts near the state border and would result in lost revenue that would end up in a neighboring state.  
      11. The proposed budget would also allow Gateway Technical College in Racine County to set up independent charter schools in Rock County, with state funding going from local schools to the technical college instead. 
Finally, we are troubled by the approach that has been taken to embed so many education policy provisions into the budget without open and public debate. Policy provisions related to teacher licensure, a required civics exam, contract renewal notices, and mandating private or homeschool student participation in public school/extracurricular activities have no place in the budget bill. We believe our communities have a right to know about these policies that will ultimately impact the educational experiences of the children in our schools. We believe Wisconsin public education is at a crossroads and strongly encourage our families and community partners to contact their legislators and advocate for their public schools and their children.