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.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Janesville Education Foundation Announces Grant Winner

The Janesville Education Foundation (JEF) announced its Technology Grant winners on Wednesday, May 27, 2015.  Twice a year the advisory board awards grants to schools in the School District of Janesville for projects and/or programs that fall outside of the confines of the District’s operating budget.  To receive funding, programs must demonstrate need and potential for effectiveness and impact.  JEF makes grants primarily for proposals that show promise of enriching the classroom curriculum through innovation.  The following individuals received a Technology Grant from the Janesville Education Foundation:

Dawn Cresswell, Edison Middle School, received $1,100 for her project entitled “Geocaching.”

Renae Ferraro, Van Buren Elementary School, received $1,500 for her project entitled “Diversity Through Literature.”

Karen Biege, Adams/Washington Elementary School, received $2,400 for her project entitled “Dash and Dot Bring STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) to life.”

Amanda Werner, Madison Elementary School, received $635 for her project entitled  “Lego Education.”

Stephanie Filter, Principal of Madison Elementary School, received $1,325.87 for her project entitled “Rethink Your Drink.”

Lara Polk, Marshall Middle School, received $1,199 for her project entitled “SPRK Lessons.”

Congratulations to each of you on your awards, they are well deserved. Our students will benefit from your “out of the box” thinking.

The Janesville Education Foundation will be accepting grant applications from schools in the School District of Janesville for both classroom projects and technology projects.  Deadline for the applications is November 1, 2015. This is a change from previous years.