Friday, November 30, 2012

The School District of Janesville Standards of Professional Behavior

As state and national policies in education continue to be examined, many issues that were once thought untouchable are coming to the forefront.  We are seeing this in statewide achievement testing and in national common core standards, as well as global literacy, post-secondary and career readiness, teacher effectiveness, and technology use in classrooms.  Included in this reexamination of education in America are standards of professional behavior.  Within these standards is an increased focus on staff dress codes. We are no different than other leading school districts across the country that are raising the standard of professionalism in their schools. 

The School District of Janesville has had, and continues to use, a jointly developed “Standards of Professional Behavior” document with all staff.  It is a guiding document, calling us to be our best at all times.  However, it is vague regarding dress code.  The Standards of Professional Behavior is the only document in the SDJ that addresses employee dress by stating “Employees will dress appropriately.”   The Janesville Education Association has not endorsed this document.

We are not alone in our focus on dress code.  Other leading school systems are defining dress codes for their faculty and staff as well.  Here is a sample of what I found in Wisconsin newspapers and across the country regarding Dress Code Policy for teachers.

Like many employers, the Litchfield district is trying to maintain a professional work atmosphere in changing times.  District leaders created the policy because the organization didn't have a written policy and thought it was time to create one, said Shawn Watt, governing board president.  Sara Griffin, a Litchfield governing board member, drafted most of the regulations for hair color, piercings, tattoos and clothing in the new policy. Griffin said tattoos, especially tattoos that cover the entire arm, could appear unprofessional, offensive or distracting.  The rules include prohibitions common in many workplaces. That includes rubber flip-flops, visible undergarments, visible cleavage and bare midriffs.  Employees also can't wear clothes that are too tight, loose or transparent, short skirts or exercise pants. Tops may not bare shoulders.  (Litchfield, Arizona - The Republic 7/21/12)

The Wichita School District is just one of a growing number in the nation cracking down on teacher apparel, and jeans are banned in at least one elementary school in New York City. A school district in Phoenix is requiring teachers to cover up tattoos and excessive piercings. And several Arizona schools are strictly defining business casual.  (USA Today 7/30/12)

The new rules are nowhere near as prescriptive as defining appropriate length of hair or skirt, but the policies on professional attire adopted recently by districts such as Nicolet, New Berlin and Hamilton outlaw jeans and define the acceptable dress as "business casual."  The changes have caused much chatter, but little outrage. Most employees working under new dress codes said they thought it was acceptable to expect staff to dress nicely and that it was probably good for their district's image overall.  (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 10/1/11)
As we reflect on appropriate attire for all of our employees, which is just one of many topics the Employee Handbook will cover, it is important to examine the course the SDJ is on in its Journey to Excellence.

The School District of Janesville has chosen an evidence-based leadership model.  These are not idle words; we begin each of our Board of Education meetings with examples of evidence-based leadership, and we practice each day in our interactions with one another, with our students, and when talking with parents and community members.   How we dress and present ourselves is an extension of evidence-based leadership practices. 

Evidence-based leadership practices embrace standardization of workplace practices to promote efficiency, alignment, and quality.  Part of the standardization of practices is having uniform policies that we all can abide by and embrace.  It is also about communicating clear messages and defining expectations; I believe all employees have a right to know what appropriate dress looks like, but that’s a difficult target to hit, so writing a dress code policy as a portion of the Handbook is an attempt to define “appropriate” for all of us.  

This is no small task as we have 1,300 employees, 10,308 children, and many more parents.  Without a common understanding of “appropriate dress,” we might define it differently from one school to another; or from one staff member to another.  This is in conflict of our evidence-based leadership practices that we have defined as a foundation for ourselves. 

While a dress code standard may be difficult for some staff, I have already heard from one principal that because of our discussion on the DRAFT document, her school staff has already begun to be more mindful of their attire.  

An Employee Handbook is an important document to codify and standardize our beliefs and a critical communication tool to share those beliefs with all of us – staff, parents, and community members. 

We are on the path to excellence.  We are aligning our efforts, defining our beliefs, and raising the achievement bar for all of us – students and staff alike.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

WRS Contribution Rates for 2013

By: Tonya Williams
Employee Relations Specialist

Contribution rates for most Wisconsin Retirement System (WRS) employees and employers will increase from 11.8% to 13.3% of payroll in 2013. 

According to the WRS website, the increase is primarily due to two factors: the lingering effects of the global economic meltdown in 2008 and recent law changes.  Contribution rate changes, whether increases or decreases, are considered normal for retirement systems that have defined or pre-funded benefits.

School District of Janesville employees that are not represented will see an increased employee contribution from 5.9% to 6.65% from each payroll.  To determine the amount taken from payroll use the following formula. 

Annual Salary multiplied by .0665 divided by 24 (number of checks) = Payroll Deduction

Example of Employee with $25,000 Salary:   $25,000 x .0665÷24=$69.27/Each Payroll

If you have any questions regarding your WRS contribution, please contact Tonya Williams at 743-5021 or

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

What’s Right in the School District of Janesville

What’s Right in the School District of Janesville (SDJ) is a forum to recognize outstanding performances and achievements by SDJ employees, students and schools.

School District Staff Receive New ID Badges

Over 1400 new staff ID Badges with the new district logo have been processed and sent out to staff.  This is great for our entire district to have new photo ID's.  The H.R. department (Mandy Harper and Michelle Kahl) have worked very hard on this accomplishment.

Craig High School Spanish Honor Society Students Give a Hand

Members of Craig's Spanish Honor Society assisted with this year's Coats for Kids event at the Salvation Army. They helped families who speak little or no English get coats, mittens, scarves, hats, and boots. Thank you to Kevin Knoll for coordinating this event! 

TAGOS Leadership Academy Raises Money for YES! In Rock County

Last month, students at TAGOS Leadership Academy raised $200 and donated it to Youth Emotional Stability (YES!) in Rock County.  Twenty three students, staff, parents, and governance board members participated in the Suicide Prevention and Awareness Walk held by YES!  Many students not only walked in the event, but also volunteered their time to work the registration table, silent auction table, parking lot, and various other duties. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Quality Over Quantity

With iPads becoming the new technology tool in education technology since the SmartBoard, it is no surprise that App quality over quantity has become a topic of interest to many school districts.  With over 275,000 Apps currently available for the iPad alone, it becomes easier and easier to become overwhelmed by the sheer volume of Apps.

It becomes all too easy for a school district to look at the total cost of an App as its only differentiator, leaving the odds of getting an App to help advance student achievement very slim.  However, this in no way means that we all need to purchase the most expensive Apps and hope they are the best available for learning.

A better approach is to have a select set of technology leaders test the Apps, and rank them using a rubric or education-focused scoring system.  This not only helps clearly show which Apps are more achievement focused, but also keeps others from buying the same sub-par App as someone else.  This method also allows a school district to focus on having the same high scoring applications available district-wide.

By having the same high scoring Apps available to all same grade level students district-wide, equity can be guaranteed that the same learning advantages are available to all students in the district.  No longer will one school have an advantage over another simply because of their use of a certain App versus a different one.  Each student should have access to the same tools, regardless if that tool is an iPad App or a #2 pencil.

The same idea is true for districts with very limited funds for Apps.  It is important to remember that just because you may not have the money right away to buy several Apps, you may be better off than you think.  The iPad is an amazing learning tool by itself, even without extra paid Apps. With the use of the iPads built-in features, as well as the decent catalog of free and trial Apps available from the App Store, students can easily excel just as if they had unlimited funds.

Due to the extensive App catalog available, and the built in features offered by the iPad itself, the educational possibilities are almost limitless.  This remains true as long as Apps are reviewed by a core group of individuals, and that group uses a rigorous rubric to review educational Apps before large purchases are made. While there is more upfront work required with a structured evaluation process in place, the benefits down the road in terms of the educational benefit to children, as well as fiscal savings for the district itself, are well worth the effort.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Some Things Never Change

Parents and teachers seem to think that today’s youth are more rebellious and defiant than ever before.  You always hear statements such as “When I was in school…” and “If I ever did anything like that…”  But the truth is, times have not changed.  Circumstances may differ, but children have always been children.

The following quotes prove that adults have had discipline difficulties with children for thousands of years.

“Our earth is degenerate in these latter days; there are signs that the world is speedily coming to an end; bribery and corruption are common; children no longer obey their parents and seem out of control!”   -   Written approximately 2800 B.C. on an Assyrian Stone Tablet

“Children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love to sit and talk in place of exercise.  Children are now tyrants.  They no longer rise when elders come into the room.  They contradict their parents, talk too much before company, gobble up all foods at the table and tyrannize their teachers.”  -  Socrates (469-399 BC)

Now, here is a reflection-worthy quote from modern times:

“Your children will become what you are; so be what you want them to be.”   -   David Bly, Author

As you can see (read), some things never change!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Another Reason to Smile

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  Thanksgiving is not just about excesses, like eating everything in sight, but it is a holiday to pause and reflect on our blessings.

We have much to be thankful for in the School District of Janesville.  Today, I want to give thanks to the community, Board, faculty and staff for their exceptional support of our educational technology program.  We have so much to be thankful for as we prepare our students to be literate, contributing members of a worldwide society functioning in a global economy.

Through many people's efforts, we have expanded our access to Technology in many of our classrooms, including SmartBoards, Clickers, and iPads.  In the past two years, we have also improved our Internet infrastructure, updated many servers, and installed wireless in all of our schools. Many different people and numerous different funding have made all of these updates possible:  community supported referendums, LightHouse grants, and our own Excellence in Education foundation.  There is always more to do, but we are making progress, and I am grateful.

I am also grateful for the people who support our program:  Community members, the Board of Education, faculty and staff - and our many committed parent groups. I am grateful for everyone's commitment to excellence, and to moving our District forward.  We have some many faculty and staff innovators who use technology to work with students to become critical thinkers - our leader's of tomorrow. 

Finally, Freedom is a blessing we must never take for granted.  On this Thanksgiving, join me in giving thanks to the men and women in our armed forces who protect our freedoms and our ideologies; that we sleep peacefully each night under the blanket of freedom they provide, and rise each day to move about freely without oppression or opposition to meet the challenges before us.   

Monday, November 19, 2012

Top Ten Reasons to Study Mandarin Chinese

“Preparing Students for success and citizenship in a
 global community through Chinese language and culture”
Learning Mandarin Chinese as a second language will increase opportunities for School District of Janesville (SDJ) students, given the emerging importance of China.  Chinese is currently being taught at the following SDJ schools:
Harrison Elementary School (Grades 3-5)
Roosevelt Elementary School (Grades 3-5)
Madison Elementary School (Grade 4)
Edison Middle School (Grades 6-8)
Marshall Middle School (Grades 6-8)
Janesville Virtual Academy

Top Ten Reasons to Study Mandarin Chinese
  • The rise of China presents new economic, political and social realities that demand greater U.S. engagement at every level. As the foundation of that engagement, we urgently need to raise the number of Americans who can demonstrate a functional proficiency in Chinese.
  • China’s tremendous economic growth creates new opportunities and challenges for U.S. businesses. Between 1978 and 2002, China's annual GDP growth reached 9.4%, three times the world's average, and in recent years (2001-2004) China accounted for one third of global economic growth.
  • China is an immense market for American goods and services, and a vital supplier to American manufacturers and consumers. U.S. trade with China exceeded $245 billion in 2004 (second only to trade with Canada and Mexico).
  • China’s political importance in the Asia-Pacific region is broadly acknowledged and, particularly since 9/11, its help has been sought on difficult issues like North Korea and terrorism. Collaboration with China is increasingly deemed essential for solving a range of global issues, from nuclear proliferation to the environment, from currency exchange to trade laws. These are the types of problem solving skills are students will need.  The Janesville Academy for International Studies has been involved in an international forum regarding nuclear nonproliferation for a number of years.
  • As the most enduring world civilization, China has a major international cultural presence.
  •  China has a rich heritage in literature and cuisine, music and film, dance and art, religion and philosophy.
  • An official language of the United Nations, Chinese is the most widely spoken first language in the world, extending beyond the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan to Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, to the Philippines, and to Mongolia.
  • Chinese will top English as the most-used language on the Internet by 2007, according to forecasts by the World Intellectual Property Organization.
  • In the United States the Asian and Pacific Islander population is projected to grow 213 percent, from 10.7 million to 33.4 million, in the next 50 years, a substantial demographic shift. Their share of the nation’s population will double, from 3.8 percent to 8 percent.
  • Promoted during the 18th National Congress last week in Beijing and also by President Obama, international involvement, education including language development is being supported by both countries.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Giving our Students Every Chance to Be Successful

Commissioner Kristin Hesselbacher in Classroom
Middle School Students greeting us in Dalian

The School District of Janesville won three national awards last year.  One of those awards was for having one of the best Chinese language programs in the country.  Credit for instituting Mandarin Chinese in the School District of Janesville goes to a previous board that had the foresight to think futuristically beyond the confines of typical and ordinary and include a language our students will need in the future.  Some of our current board members were on that board.  Mandarin Chinese is spoken by over a billion people in the world more than any other language. Mandarin Chinese is not only spoken in China, but it is the official language of Mainland China and Taiwan, and one of the official languages of Singapore and the United Nations.  Mandarin is also spoken in many of the Overseas Chinese communities throughout the world. There are an estimated 40 million Overseas Chinese, mostly in Asian countries (about 30 million), but also in the Americas (6 million), Europe (2 million), Oceania (1 million) and Africa (100,000). It is the fastest growing language in the world.   If China continues to grow and becomes the largest economy in the world, which it is predicted to become, the language will become even more prevalent. 
Let me banish a myth – not everyone in the world speaks English and not everyone in China speaks English.  That is simply not true and was not my experience while traveling there.  I believe the best way to know a people is to know their language.
As we finished our final days in Beijing, I have a new awareness and appreciation for China and its connectedness to our country and to Janesville, Wisconsin.    The people I encountered there are warm, generous and engaging.  Our group visited several schools.  We sat across the table from  children, students of all ages, teachers and administrators who are typically over 6,000 miles away from us who have the same hopes and dreams for their children as we do for ours.   They are eager to know us and learn from us.  They also have much to teach us.   China is now the second largest economy, second largest exporter and a manufacturing machine that has lifted 500 million people from poverty while producing more than 1 million U.S. dollar millionaires in a very short period of time.

I am more convinced now than before I left on this journey that we must continue to teach and give opportunities to our students to be competitive in the global workforce.  There are over 373 Confucius classrooms in the United States.  Confucius classrooms are run by the College Board and supports development of k-12 Chinese language programs in the U.S. by providing guidance to school districts embarking on the journey of teaching Mandarin Chinese. There were 400 educators from across the United States that journeyed to China with Kristin and me.  Partnerships are being forged all over the world.  Students are taking advantage of these opportunities in a new and revitalized way. 

It is important that we help our students in the School District of Janesville to become globally competitive.  They may choose to work here in our community or they may seek employment elsewhere, but as the world continues to flatten it will be important for them to have the needed skills to not only to be highly employable, but to contribute to society.
At the end of this month a group from our school district will be visiting Oxford, Michigan to study their International High School.   I have been in contact with Superintendent William Schilling and read about the Oxford School District in journal articles and in a book.  The Oxford School District has been very successful attracting students to their district on an international level. I am looking carefully at our own International School (Janesville Academy for International Studies) and the next steps needed to be taken to promote its growth and also the growth of our district in accordance with the Board of Education’s goals. Those visiting this school with me include Dr. Steve Sperry, Director of Administrative and Human Services; Dr. Kim Ehrhardt, Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment, Dr. Bob Smiley, Chief Information Officer; Jane Thompson, Dean of Students of the Janesville Academy for International Studies (JAIS); Jose Carillo, President of the JAIS board, and School District of Janesville Board Commissioners Bill Sodemann and Scott Feldt.  There will be more information posted in the days and weeks to come.  Employees and community members with an interest in serving on a steering committee to further explore next steps on our international project please e mail me.

University Students with Commissioner Hesselbacher and Dr. Schulte

Thursday, November 15, 2012

What are EPO & PPO Health Plans?

By:  Tonya Williams, Employee Relations Specialist
School District of Janesville

Currently the School District of Janesville self-funds an indemnity plan.  An indemnity plan is also called a “fee-for-service” plan.  With indemnity plans, the individual pays a pre-determined percentage of the cost of health care services, and the self-insured employer pays the other percentage.  The fees for services are defined by the providers and vary from physician to physician.  Indemnity health plans offer individuals the freedom to choose their health care professionals.

In previous years, the District has taken steps to implement programs to help sustain the costs of our self-funded insurance.  In 2002, the Alliance network was introduced to provide network savings to our claims.  In September 2008, a wellness plan was introduced to promote healthy lifestyles by encouraging staff to participate in wellness activities throughout the year.  In January 2008, Navitus, our prescription benefit manager was introduced to save the District money in drug costs as well as to members who participate in certain drug programs they offer.  In November 2011, the District implemented Coordinated Health Care to help employees navigate through a complex medical system; therefore, eliminating redundant testing and services that cost you, the consumer, and the District more in claims.

This year the Boyd Consulting Group (BCG) has recommended several plan designs to the District to save money in claims and to also maintain great coverage at a cost-effective rate for our members.  This has been no easy task!  On November 13, BCG recommended three plans for the Board of Education to consider.  One plan is an Exclusive Provider Organization (EPO), and the other two are a Preferred Provider Organization (PPO).

As a member of an EPO you can use the doctors and hospitals within the EPO network, but you cannot go outside the network for care.  There are no out-of-network benefits.  An EPO can be an attractive plan to members who wish to save money in premiums, but don’t need the flexibility to go to doctors outside of the exclusive network.  An EPO saves the District money in claims because the exclusive network provides a much lower negotiated rate than an HMO or PPO plan offers.

As a member of a PPO you can choose to see doctors within a preferred network of medical care providers.  A PPO offers members much more flexibility to see doctors outside of an exclusive network.  The premiums for a PPO are higher because you are paying to have the flexibility to choose doctors within the preferred network.

If the District decides to offer more than one plan for members to choose from, keep in mind that there will be a designated open enrollment time period each year giving you an opportunity to change your plan each year. 

To view the three recommended plans please visit the School District of Janesville's Website.  You can contact me at 743-5021 if you have questions regarding the recommended plans. 

**Disclaimer:  The District is currently exploring the use of an EPO and PPO.  An EPO or PPO plan has not been recommended at this time.  This blog is an informational piece and intended to educate members on healthcare insurance.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

What’s Right in the School District of Janesville

What’s Right in the School District of Janesville (SDJ) is a forum to recognize outstanding performances and achievements by SDJ employees, students and schools.
Edison Students Let Loose at PBIS Dance
Edison’s second PBIS after school student dance was held on Friday, October 11th from 3:30- 5:30pm. Over 225 students attended the dance and many staff members volunteered to be supervisors. The dances are held to provide incentives for students through their behavior during the school day.

Craig Senior Shines at Midwest Invitational
Senior Kirsten Triller sang the National Anthem at the Midwest Invitational. She sang before over 4,000 people. According to Cross Country Coach Jessica Lawton, she "represented Craig High School's music program with her professionalism, talent, and pride."
Kennedy Parents Happy to Receive Calls from Teachers
Here is also a response from a parent after receiving a positive phone call from a Kennedy teacher:

“I just wanted you to know I got the message you left on my cell phone about (my son). I am so glad to hear it! I let him know he should be proud of himself and that I am very proud of him too. I am very happy to hear he is settling in. Thanks for letting me have my proud mom moment! I really appreciate it!”