1st in Series of 2017-2018 Superintendent Newsletters

1st in Series of 2017-2018 Superintendent Newsletters
Posted on 09/21/2017
This is the image for the news article titled 1st in Series of 2017-2018 Superintendent NewslettersSeptember 20, 2017
A message from the superintendent...

Greetings from Dean Gorrell, Superintendent of the Verona Area School District. This is the first in what will be a series of ‘e-letters’ from me throughout the 2017 – 2018 school year.  These ‘letters’ will mostly be centered on matters pertinent to our school district, but will also include state and national matters related to education matters that are in the news or otherwise relevant to VASD. I encourage you to contact me with questions using the contact information at the bottom of this letter. 

District Mission:  In October of 2015, the Board of Education rewrote the District mission statement to read: Every Student Must Succeed.  
Why that audacious mission? The Board, the administration and the entire staff believes Every Student Must Succeed because we believe no child is expendable. We believe at this time in their lives, our children depend on us for their future. Soon though, our collective future will depend on them and their ability to solution-seek on social, political, economic, industrial, medical, environmental and numerous matters locally, nationally and globally. In other words, our collective futures depend on the success of all of our children. 

Outcomes: In April of 2013, the Board of Education established the following outcomes for VASD students: 

     •Every student in VASD has a personalized learning plan that      
       provides a path to discovery and achievement and that plan is
       reviewed and changed at least annually based on the student’s

     •Every student’s parent, guardian or advocate participates
       directly in the design, implementation, and outcomes of that
       student’s personalized learning plan. 

     •Every student meets or exceeds the goals of his or her              
       personalized learning plan every school year. 

     •Every VAHS student graduates. 

     •Every VAHS graduate achieves their choice of college and career
       path, as detailed in their personalized learning plan. 

Equity Framework: In Fall of 2015, the Board established our Equity Framework that guides our actions, decision making and resource allocations. Click here to view the framework, which addresses the following four areas:
•Equity: We will act to eliminate gaps and barriers between our mission and the policies, practices, and structures that may perpetuate systemic inequities. In addition, we seek to remove the predictability of success and failure that currently correlates with any social or cultural factor. 

•Excellence: We will ensure all students have access to rigorous content at or above grade level. 

•Engagement and Expectations: We will develop knowledge, attitudes, skills and practices to create learning environments and opportunities that expect and support high achievement for all students. 

•Empowerment: We will create sustainable partnerships in supporting academic achievement for all students. 

Local Updates: The Big Three for 2017 – 2018

A public school district is a highly complex organization with literally thousands of moving parts. Given that complexity, ‘focus’ is challenging and takes great discipline. This year, our district focus falls within three big areas that I will refer to as “The Big Three”: Continuous Improvement, Personalized Learning Plans and Building for 2020. 

1. Continuous Improvement:
For nearly 25 years, the Verona Area School District has operated under a site-based governance model. Some of you may have served on site councils over the years. For more than a year, the Board, mostly through the Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment Committee, has been working with administration and staff on changing that form of governance to a continuous improvement team model.  So, what are the differences and what are the expected outcomes of this change?

Site Council:
•Each site established a site council with varying numbers of members

•Each site established their own by-laws for how their councils would operate

•Site councils determined resource allocation

•Site councils determined programming

•Site councils determined goals

Continuous Improvement:
•Every certified staff member serves on either the Continuous Improvement Team (CIT) or one of several Implementation Teams (ITs). The CIT (there is only one CIT per school) sets building goals, monitors progress and makes changes in response to performance data. The ITs (there are several at each school) are responsible for developing action plans to achieve the goals set by the CIT. Both advise the administration on resource allocation and programming with an emphasis on improving student achievement.

•There are no by-laws and the charge to each CIT and IT are detailed in Board policy.

•The CIT at each site advises the principal on resource allocation, and the principal, in turn, advises the central office administrative team.

•The CIT at each site advises the principal on programming needs, and the principal, in turn, advises the central office administrative team.

•The CIT at each site determines the building goals and those are aligned with the District Equity Framework.

When the Board adopted the site council governance model nearly 25 years ago, the Verona Area School District was a much smaller district and state / federal requirements (and reporting) were not so numerous. That model worked well for a while but lead to stark inconsistencies across the district.  We don’t expect or want cookie-cutter schools, but we do have to be accountable for providing students with similar / equitable academic experiences that do not vary widely across the district.  Finding the balance between site autonomy and district accountability is tricky for sure.  This is our first full year of implementation of this model and I am certain we will adjust accordingly when needed.  That’s also part of the improvement cycle.

2. Personalized Learning Plans (PLPs):
As mentioned previously, the Board set the goal in 2013 of having a Personalized Learning Plan for every student.  Initially the goal was to have those plans in place by the 2016 – 2017 school year.  An extension of two years (thus pushing this goal to the 2018 – 2019 school year) was given two years ago because we did not have the needed infrastructure (technical or curricular) nor the staff training in place to make it happen in any meaningful way.  We believe that we will have those in place for the 2018 – 2019 school year and will begin with the process of developing those plans next school year.  To help guide our thinking and execution of this goal as well as communication to parents, we are in the process of forming a Personalized Learning Advisory Committee, which will include parent involvement. We are planning an extensive information and education plan related to Personalized Learning Plans and you can expect to see much more about this during the course of this school year. 

3. Building for 2020:
In April of 2017, voters in the Verona Area School District approved three referendum questions to build a new high school, build a pool and athletic fields adjacent to the new high school and provide additional operating funds for additional custodial, grounds and maintenance staff for the new school, which would also cover additional utility costs and transportation costs.  I have been producing periodic updates and you can find all of those by clicking here. I don’t want to repeat information provided in those newsletters but do want to provide you a brief summary of recent Board action to increase the scope of the building project by approving these additional amenities: 
•Additional square footage for district-wide food production kitchen
•Additional square footage for large-group instruction/meeting space
•Additional square footage for post-secondary partnership space (e.g. Madison College, UW Green Bay, UW Oshkosh or others)
•Additional square footage for sports training (UW Health)
•A second, indoor 8-lane pool (warm water) and associated locker/restroom area
•Upgraded artificial turf for the football stadium field to enhance player safety
•Artificial turf for the soccer stadium to enhance player safety 

The cost of the amenities listed above is estimated to be $8.65 million. No additional taxes will be levied to fund these items.  The Board has elected to fund them by using uncommitted Tax Increment Fund money (Epic TIF closeout), along with capital maintenance fund dollars and interest income earned from the sale of bonds for the building project.  

Shortly after the Board approved these additions, they held two community listening sessions, where more than 25 residents attended either to express support for this Board action, ask clarifying questions or voice concerns. If you were unable to attend either of these sessions and have questions or concerns, please feel free to contact me or reach out to the board by clicking here.

Lastly on this topic, we will be having a community information meeting on December 5th from 6:30pm – 8pm in the Performing Arts Center. At this meeting we will unveil the most up-to-date design and renderings of the new high school. You will be receiving more information on this event as the date nears. 

Other items of local interest:

Enrollment – Our official enrollment count day for every school year is the third Friday in September, which this year is Friday, September 15th. This count is very important for us as it determines to a large extent the revenue authority we are granted from the state. Our preliminary total enrollment pK – 12 sits at 5564 students (includes resident and open enrollment students), roughly 40 students higher than projected and 140 more than this time last year.  We will have our official count by the first week in October. 

Unpaid Lunch Accounts: The topic of unpaid lunch accounts has recently received much more press at the local, state and national level. Click here for a recent Washington Times article on this matter.
For VASD, a ‘typical year’ over the last three years will reflect an unpaid balance (district-wide) of approximately $11,600. The U.S. Department of Agricultural requires all public school districts to publish their procedures for unpaid meal balances. In a recent email to families, we shared this information (click here to view) about our procedures. In response, we have had VASD citizens inquire on making donations to pay down some of this unpaid balance for a specific school or the district in general.  If you are interested in making a donation, please contact our Child Nutrition Director, Cindra Magli at child.nutrition@verona.K12.wi.us.

Open invitation to meet: If you would like to host a coffee (a small group gathering – no more than 20 total) and include me as your guest speaker to talk about matters related to VASD, please contact Kelly Kloepping, Director of Communications & Community Engagement, at kloeppik@verona.k12.wi.us or 845-4337 for specific parameters regarding discussion topics and arrangements. 

State Updates
Biennium budget – Both houses of the legislature have passed the 2017 – 2019 biennium budget. However, before the budget can be sent to Governor Walker for his signature, Senate President Roger Roth and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos BOTH have to sign the bill. The budget talks have been protracted in part because of the deliberations on the incentive package for Foxconn. Some of the budget highlights are listed below (these items are not inclusive of all related to education):

Increases per pupil categorical aid by $200 (per student) for the 2017-18 school year and an additional $204 per student in 2018-19. This means for each resident student (a student who lives within the boundaries of VASD), the state will give us $200 more this year (’17-’18) than last year for that student. This additional revenue will come from the state treasury and not local taxing sources.  For 2018 – 2019, that amount will be $204 dollars more than provided in 2017- 2018.  It is uncertain exactly how those dollars will be distributed to school districts, whether across the board or somehow weighted.

Increases the open enrollment aid transfer amount ($6,750 per pupil for a non-special education pupil in 2016-17) by an additional $100 per year each year from 2017-18 through 2020-21. This year we have a net of +43 open enrollment students.  In the 2011 – 2012 school year, the amount provided to receiving districts was $6,867 per student. This was reduced by $532 to $6,335 in 2012 - 2013. A $100 increase to the 2016 – 2017 amount of $6,750 (i.e. $6,850) would still be short of the amount per student provided six years ago. 

Limits any school district referenda to exceed revenue limits or issue bonds to ONLY be held on regularly-scheduled election days (spring primary or election or partisan primary or general election) or on the second Tuesday of November in odd-numbered years. Districts would be restricted to holding referenda on two dates per year. These restrictions would apply to board resolutions adopted after January 1, 2018.  Exceptions to the scheduling restrictions are provided in cases of natural disaster, including a fire, that causes the district to have to increase expenditures. *

Provides $6.25 million in 2018-19 for voluntary school mental health initiatives.  $3 million will be provided through a new categorical aid to reimburse schools for their expenditures for school social workers and another $3.25 million will be provided annually for community and mental health collaboration grants awarded through a competitive grant program established under DPI rules. These grants are for the purpose of collaborating with community mental health providers to provide mental health services to children. 

Increases the family income eligibility limits for entry into the statewide voucher program from 185 percent of the federal poverty level to 220 percent of the federal poverty level. This increase in the income cap will allow an additional 550 incoming pupils to participate in the program in 2018-19, with corresponding aid reductions to the resident public school districts. 

Makes several changes to the special needs voucher program that allows students with disabilities to receive a voucher to attend private and parochial schools that participate in the program. These vouchers would be funded by corresponding aid reductions to the public school districts where these pupils reside.  There are no limits on family income eligibility to participate in this program. Other changes include eliminating the requirements that previously said to enter this program a child with special needs must have been enrolled in a public school in the prior year (in order to receive an IEP) and must have applied for open enrollment to another public school district and have been turned down.  

Allows any UW Chancellor and any technical college district board to contract with a person to operate a charter school anywhere in the state.  Schools authorized under this provision would be funded by corresponding aid reductions to the public school districts in which pupils enrolled in these schools reside.  

Requires that every school board incorporate “success sequence” information in its academic and career planning services, beginning in the 2019-20 school year. (The "success sequence" is the idea that economic success is more likely if an individual follows three norms: (a) graduating from high school; (b) maintaining a full-time job or having a partner who does; and (c) having children while married and after age 21, if the decision is made to become parents.) 

* Budget provisions thought to be likely candidates for a partial / total veto from the Governor. 

Other Bills of Note – Non-Budgetary:

“Right to Carry” or “Permit-less Carry” of Firearms—Senate Bill (SB) 169

Senate bill 169 would repeal the requirement to obtain a concealed carry permit in order to carry a concealed gun in public. The bill would also create a new “basic” concealed carry license that does not require firearm training (the current license does).  Pertinent to public schools, the bill would also repeal the state Gun Free School Zone law. 

The federal Gun Free School Zone law, which the state Legislature can’t change, would remain in place.  That federal law generally prohibits persons who do not possess a concealed carry (CCW) license from going armed in a school zone, (i.e., in school buildings, on the grounds of a school, and within 1,000 feet of the grounds of a school.)  Under SB 169, a concealed carry (CCW) license would still be needed to go armed in a school zone because of federal law. 

SB 169 would continue to allow school boards to post their school buildings and grounds but the penalties for violations would be greatly reduced from what they are under current state law. Under the bill, an individual who holds a carrying concealed weapon (CCW) license, including a “basic” CCW license, would be able to carry a firearm while picking up or dropping off children from school even if the school posted the school grounds as long as the weapon does not leave the vehicle. 

This bill has not yet come out of committee and it is thought that an amendment will be made to require school boards to post school grounds and building entrances to keep guns off school grounds and school buildings (current requirement), but will restrict a school boards’ ability to post school parking lots. Further it is speculated that under this amendment, only persons who hold a CCW license will be able to carry a concealed firearm while picking up or dropping off their children at school; however, CCW licensees must stay within 5 feet of their vehicle in order to avoid a violation of trespass statutes. Persons who hold a CCW license that does not require training in order to obtain would not be able to carry a firearm in a school parking lot.

Every Student Succeeds Act
In December of 2015, President Obama signed in to law the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).  This Act replaces the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) enacted in 2002 and is related to the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). All states are required to submit an ESSA plan to the U.S. Department of Public Education for approval.  On Monday, September 18th, The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction submitted the consolidated plan for Wisconsin.  In the next e-letter, I will provide highlights of that plan. In the meantime, a complete version of the plan can be found by clicking here. 

National Updates

DACA: On September 5th, the Trump Administration announced the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program—an effort that will affect some students at VASD. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in his announcement, said the program was unconstitutional but that language of the ban has given lawmakers in Congress six months to pass legislation to help undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as young children.

DACA is an immigration policy initiated by the Obama Administration in June 2012. DACA allows certain people who came to the United States as children of undocumented parents or otherwise arrived in the U.S. under the age of sixteen, and who meet several guidelines (they have to be in school, have completed high school or have participated in the U.S. Armed Forces; and they can't have been convicted of committing any felonies or significant or multiple misdemeanors), the option of requesting consideration of deferred action for a period of two years, subject to renewal. Deferred action in this context means use of prosecutorial discretion by immigration officials to defer removal (deportation from the U.S.) for a certain period of time. It is estimated that nearly 800,000 children and young adults across the U.S. are currently enrolled in this program. 

DACA allows those enrolled the program the ability to obtain a renewable two-year work permit, obtain a social security card, in many states they can obtain a driver’s license, apply for credit cards and have utility bills (a document often times used as proof of residency) in their name. Those children and young adults who are enrolled in DACA are also referred to as DREAMers (taken from the DREAM act of 2001) as these children and young adults aspire to the American dream: to get an education, to work, and to do well for themselves and their families. 

For our local students enrolled in DACA, enrolling was a difficult choice as doing so revealed their undocumented status and provided immigration officials information such as residence, schools attended, work history etc. This information makes locating them much easier, increasing the risk of deportation. Yet, this risk was outweighed for them by the protections and benefits of this program.  Those protections and benefits are now gone and replacement of those, if any, are subject to Congressional action over the next six months. 

I have been asked several times over my twelve years in VASD, ‘Why must we educate illegal immigrants?’ The short answer is because it’s the law as prescribed in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case, Plyler vs. Doe of 1982. The right answer is because they’re children who came to America with their parents or other adult relatives and broke no laws by doing so. These children are dreamers, dreaming of what most humans aspire to obtain: an education, meaningful and fulfilling work, health care, financial security for themselves and their families, an opportunity to contribute to their community, and simply…relevance. 

More recently, on September 12th, it was announced that a bipartisan agreement had been reached to “fix’ DACA. The details of the proposed action have not been articulated with enough degree of clarity to include a summary here. I will share updates in future e-letters. 

Thank you for taking the time to read this lengthy update.  Please feel free to contact me with questions / comments you may have about any of the information provided here. 

Kind regards, 

Dean Gorrell – Superintendent
608-845-4310 (office); gorrelld@verona.k12.wi.us
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