Superintendent's Newsletter to Families and Staff

May 2017 Newsletter from Superintendent to Families and Staff
Posted on 05/24/2017
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May 24, 2017

 A message from the superintendent

 Dear Parents and Guardians,

 Greetings from Dean Gorrell, Superintendent of the Verona Area School District. This is the sixth and final message of the 2016 – 2017 school year to Verona Area School District (VASD) parents and staff. This message provides you brief updates regarding what’s happening in our district as well as news from the state and national level. As always, I encourage you to contact me with questions you have about any of the information shared in this update:

Email:   Phone: 608-845-4310

In each of these updates, I will reiterate our district mission: Every Student Must Succeed. This is the core of our work because 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, from our national security to economic viability and everything else, will depend on them and their success.

Local Updates:

Building Project:  I want to thank all of you who voted on the recent school referendum.  Whether you voted yes or no, I am grateful to all of those who voted.  We had a strong turnout for an April election. 

I am delighted with the outcome of the vote, as is our Board of Education and planning team.  In case you did not see the final totals they are as follows:

·       Referendum Question #1 (New high school, remodeling / renovations / capital maintenance)

5073 voted YES, 1906 voted NO – (72.6% voted YES)

·       Referendum Question #2 (Pool and competition athletic fields)

4220 voted YES, 2729 voted NO – (60.7  % voted YES)

·       Referendum Question #3 (operational expenses of $2.3 M per year starting in 2020)

4537 voted YES, 2408 voted NO – (65.3 % voted YES)

 Our team worked very hard with the planning and communication in preparation for the referendum.  Now that the referendum has passed, the work on the design and construction of the building has started in earnest.  We have established a portal on our website that will be populated with more information as it becomes available. 

 I have included as part of this newsletter a very general timeline of work to be done between now and fall of 2020. With regard to the new high school, I can be much more specific in the short term. timeline

Last week I sent an email providing the first in a series of updates that will stretch from now until the completion of all building / renovation projects in the fall of 2020. Click here to see that communication. It is important to me to be responsive to your questions, concerns and ideas regarding these projects. So I ask that you do not hesitate to contact me at either of the contact points listed at the end of this newsletter with your questions /concerns / ideas.  

Personalized learning: If you watch and listen closely to the advertisements on TV, radio or those that pop up on your computer screen / device, you’ll likely hear about ‘personalized’ something, whether it be retirement planning, insurance or whatever.  We’ve come to expect a level of personalized attention, and ‘voice and choice’ in the products and services we purchase. Yet, schools still seem largely immune to this movement. For the last four years, the Verona Area School District has put tremendous energy and resources into an instructional movement known as personalized learning.  And while we have a long way to go, we have made great strides. 

I came across the following ‘what if’ questions in a white paper written by contributors in a group known as iNACOL. The title of the paper is: What’s Possible with Personalized Learning? An Overview of Personalized Learning for Schools, Families & Communities  (2017). Click here to see the entire paper.

Consider the following:

What If...?

•What if students were able to work on a skill or concept until they had mastered it, instead of getting a bad grade, or not fully understanding, only to move on to the next skill or concept because a traditional school classroom dictates that all, or most, students progress at the same pace?

•What if teachers had better access to detailed information about each student, their strengths and weaknesses and how they learn best?

•What if students could move on to the next skill or concept or dive more deeply into a topic when they were ready, instead of sitting through lessons and taking tests over material that they already know?

•What if students had more say in the way they learned and how they demonstrated that they had learned something?

•What if students who required extra support from the teacher could get this support individually or in a small group immediately when it is needed, instead of waiting until they are failing a class?

•What if students spent less time preparing for high-stakes testing and more time on problem-solving, critical thinking,  meaningful projects and collaboration?

•What if teachers were able to spend more of their time working with individual students on specific needs instead of moving the whole class together through a standard curriculum?

•What if students and their families had a more accurate picture of what each student knew and was about to do instead of just   a report card with an A-F letter grade in each subject at the end of the quarter?

•What if all students had access to the high-quality learning opportunities, regardless of their zip code?

•What if students were able to learn out in their communities and not just in the confines of the classroom walls?

Some of the concerns I hear about personalized learning is that it’s a free-for-all, no structure, no accountability, no curriculum.  And while a personalized learning environment does look and feel different from a traditional classroom, it is hardly unstructured or haphazard. Any effective instruction must be firmly grounded in content standards and success measured on a students’ mastery of those standards.  The same is true in a personalized learning environment.  One of the main differences between personalized learning and the traditional classroom is that students have a choice of many pathways to achieve and demonstrate mastery of the content standards. Personalized learning holds the promise to unlock all of the ‘what if’ questions.

Community Perception Survey results: We have been conducting staff and parent surveys for more than 15 years. When I first arrived in 2005, it was a paper and pencil, mail-in survey. We quickly migrated to an on-line survey that we did for a number of years. Starting in the 2015 – 16 school year, we began utilizing the services of School Perceptions to administer, collect and analyze our survey data.  Recently, the Board reviewed the results from those surveys.  You can find those results by clicking here. Schools will be examining this data along with other data from student performance, demographic and process data to help them develop and or refine continuous improvement goals. If you have any questions about the survey results, please do not hesitate to contact me using either of the contact points listed in this newsletter.

State Updates:

Update on public school funding in upcoming biennium budget: The Governor has published his 2017 – 2019 biennium budget, which includes public school funding.  A summary of the major components of the Governor’s budget for public education includes:

·       An increase in funding of $200 per student in year one and $204 in year two.  This funding is referred to as categorical aid, meaning it comes from the state and NOT local property taxes.  Some of this funding is contingent on projected savings moving state workers to self-insured health care. This is still being processed through the Joint Finance Committee (JFC). What I hear is that the JFC is generally supportive of the Governor’s recommendation, but they may wish to push some of those dollars around to help equalize payouts across the state to bring low-spending districts more in line with the average.  What this means exactly, I don’t know at this time.  We are proceeding with our budgeting based on $188 dollars per student in new money in year one of the biennium, and $180 on top of that in year two. These are the ‘guaranteed’ amounts under the Governor’s proposal, should his proposal be the one that get’s passed.

Limits on school districts going to referendum: There are 6 different bills between the Wisconsin House and Senate that would limit, complicate or otherwise put restrictions on when and how often a school Board could elect to go referendum. Senate Bill 187 is one of those bills and is scheduled for a hearing on Tuesday, May 30th at 10:00 a.m. This bill would require the school board to include in the resolution and in the referendum question the total amount of debt to be issued, the total amount of interest and related debt service costs to be incurred, and the sum of the principal, interest, and related debt service costs.

Similar bills have been proposed before and the Verona Area School Board has taken a position in opposition to those previous bills.  I have included a letter from the Board to all Wisconsin legislators in October of 2015 that articulates reasons for their opposition. You can find the letter here. It is uncertain when the other bills will receive a hearing and which, if any of these bills will ultimately reach the Governor’s desk.  

Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction released a draft for public review of Wisconsin’s Consolidated Plan under ESSA. This plan describes how the state will implement ESSA and this plan is open to public comment through June 30th. Below are two links to further resources providing information about the Wisconsin Plan. 

National Updates:

School Nutrition Changes:  The new U.S. Agriculture Secretary recently announced the postponement of further sodium reductions in school meals for at least three years and gives states authority to exempt schools from having to replace all their grain-based products with whole-grain-rich products.  Our plan is to continue using the previous guidelines unless directed to do otherwise.

Prior guidance on gender identity. This past February, the Department of Justice and the Department of Education rescinded their previous guidance on matters of gender identity in a letter referred to as the Dear Colleague Letter dated February 22, 2017.  Click here to view that letter. Unless otherwise directed by the state or federal government, we plan to continue to adhere to our Board policy adopted earlier this year (click here to view our policy page).                                                                                                        

Thank you for taking the time to read this 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)



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