Superintendent's January 2017 Newsletter to Families & Staff

Superintendent's January 2017 Newsletter to Families & Staff
Posted on 01/13/2017
This is the image for the news article titled Superintendent's January 2017 Newsletter to Families & StaffGreetings from Dean Gorrell, Superintendent of the Verona Area School District. Happy New Year! This is the fourth message to VASD parents and staff this school year providing you brief updates regarding what’s happening in our district as well as news from the state and national level. I encourage you to contact me with questions you have about any of the information shared in this update. My contact information is:
Phone: 608-845-4310

In each of these updates I will reiterate our district mission, which is: 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:

Personalized learning: For the last four years, the Verona Area School District has put tremendous energy and resources into an instructional movement known as personalized learning. In all of the remaining newsletters this year, I will include information about personalized learning which will include links to resources and information from local, state, national and international sources about this approach to teaching.

The New Media Consortium (NMC) and The Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) recently produced a joint report for K-12 education by the title: NMC/CoSN Horizon Report: 2016 K-12 Edition. This publication charts the five-year horizon for the impact of emerging technologies in school communities indicating the key trends, significant challenges, and important technological developments that are very likely to impact changes in K-12 education across the world over the next five years.

This report identifies the following key trends accelerating technology adoption in K-12 education as
• Long-Term Trends (five or more years):
o Redesigning Learning Spaces
o Rethinking How Schools Work

• Mid-Term Trends: (the next three to five years):
o Collaborative Learning
o Deeper Learning Approaches

• Short-Term Trends: (the next one to two years):
o Coding as a Literacy
o Students as Creators

This report also identifies significant challenges impeding technology adoption in K-12 education as:
• Solvable Challenges: Those that we understand and know how to solve
o Authentic Learning Experiences
o Rethinking the Roles of Teachers

• Difficult Challenges: Those that we understand but for which solutions are elusive
o Advancing Digital Equity
o Scaling Teaching Innovations

• Wicked Challenges: Those that are complex to even define, much less address
o Achievement Gap
o Personalizing Learning

This report classifies personalized learning as a ‘wicked’ challenge, in part because it is hard to define. It is very important to note that personalized learning is not a product, rather a practice. The report refers to personalized learning “as an umbrella term for methods (practices) that enable students to achieve content mastery at an individualized pace.” A link to that entire article is provided below.

In my last newsletter, I indicated I would provide you with some benefits of personalized learning. I will touch on just two of those in this newsletter.

In 1984, Benjamin Bloom, an education researcher at the University of Chicago conducted research using strategies very similar to those employed in effective personalized learning environments found learners improved their performance by two standard deviations, or a 98 % improvement. Additionally, his research found that student engagement in learning ranged between 85 and 95 percent across all ages. The U.S. average for student engagement is 80% range for elementary, 60% for middle school and 40% for high school. (Rickabaugh, J., 2016, Tapping the Power of Personalized Learning, A Roadmap for School Leaders). In my next newsletter, I’ll link these two significant benefits and others to employability skills.

Board creates new policy stating philosophy on social-emotional learning and well-being: At its December 19 meeting, the Board of Education formally adopted a new policy (111) which spells out the Board’s philosophy on social-emotional learning and well-being. This policy recognizes the need to develop, promote and sustain social and emotional wellness for all of our students so that:
• As a school district, we are prepared, able and willing to respond to a wide range of student needs.
• As a district, we ensure all students’ and families’ cultures and identities are valued in order to eliminate predictable patterns in discipline data by gender, race, disability status, or any other factor.
• As a District, we cultivate a positive school climate; for all staff and all students.
• As a District, we deliver instruction on social, emotional, and behavioral skills to students.
• As a District, we implement positive practices that promote learning from challenges and conflicts.

The full policy can be found by clicking here.

Mental Health and Challenging Behaviors: Policy 111 referenced above gives a nod to the fact that some of the children in our school district who present staff with very challenging behaviors have significant mental health conditions. These conditions range from depression to personality disorders to schizophrenia and many more and manifest in children of all ages. These mental health conditions can be a result of or manifestation of biological issues, trauma, what the literature refers to as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES – see link below for more information). My team and I are working on a short paper on mental health matters in our school district that will go out to parents before the end of the school year. Look for that as a special edition message from the superintendent.

Non-Violent Crisis Intervention:
Over the last two years, we have made a concerted effort to provide staff with additional training to assist them in creating and maintaining safe and productive learning environments for all children. We’ve invested significant staff development time in four particular methodologies. These are: Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS), Non-Violent Crisis Intervention (NVCI), Restorative Practices, and the Nurtured Heart Approach (NHA). In this newsletter I will feature Non-Violent Crisis Intervention.

Nonviolent Crisis Intervention (NVCI) is one of four approaches selected by our district to address a range of social-emotional supports for our staff and students. NVCI was selected because of its almost 40 years of successful implementation across schools, businesses, and public agencies, as well as its alignment to two other approaches selected by the district: Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) and Restorative Practices.

With a focus on prevention, this training equips staff with proven strategies for safely defusing anxious, hostile, or violent behavior at the earliest possible stage. This training helps: reduce the risk of injury, while attending to the care, welfare, safety, and security of those in the classroom or school environment. NVCI offers skillful and safe responses to challenging situations.

Our district participated in this training through Crisis Prevention Institute for the past six years. As with the other methods, the district has adopted a model where every building has a trainer to ensure that staff has the necessary support to address individual situations. Country View Elementary assistant principal, Mary Moroder, works with a team of approximately 10 trainers to support this approach in our district.

NVCI training has a number of components. The first part of the training focuses on early intervention and a range of positive, proactive, and nonphysical approaches to prevent and/or decelerate risk behaviors. These include recognizing and identifying behavior that could escalate; verbal and nonverbal strategies to defuse behavior, and disengagement strategies to avoid involvement in more physical events. Every secretary, educational assistant, food service, and noncertified staff member has received this training. Many teachers have participated in this training as well.

Those taking the complete training are provided with a decision-making framework for responding to risk behavior, which includes training on the use of physical intervention as a last resort to protect students, staff, and others from harm. Staff also learn strategies that support learning and positive change after a major disruptive event.

Did you know this about VASD? Did you know of the all the districts in the state of Wisconsin, only the following school districts have equal or greater percentages of Free / Reduced Lunch students, English Learners or students of color than VASD?
Milwaukee Public Schools
Madison Metropolitan Schools
Green Bay

Academic and Career Planning (ACP): On December 1, 2015, new rules related to Education for Employment for public schools in Wisconsin became effective. One change in these rules require school districts to provide academic and career planning (ACP) services to students in grades 6 -12 beginning in the fall of 2017. These services are to include information and opportunities that lead to:
• Career awareness in elementary
• Career exploration in middle and high school
• Career planning and preparation in high school that includes:
o career research
o school supervised work-based learning experiences
o career decision-making
o application of academic skills, technologies, economics
o entrepreneurship
o personal financial literacy
o career Technical Educational (CTE) opportunities
o labor market information
o employability skills

The rule also states that beginning in the 2017 – 2018 school year, the ACP services shall provide
• Individualized support from school district staff to assist students with completing and updating the academic and career plan at least annually. This fits nicely with the district’s existing goal of a personalized learning plan for every student.
• Consideration for students with special needs and the inclusion of the ACP within an IEP as appropriate
• Access to a software tool for career exploration, planning and management
• Access to a formal process for connecting students and staff for development and implementation of academic and career plans.

You can access more information about ACPs with the two links provided below:

Referendum update: At its January 9th meeting, the Board of Education voted to place three referendum questions on the April 4, 2017 elections ballot. Those questions are:

Shall the Verona Area School District, Dane County, Wisconsin be authorized to issue pursuant to Chapter 67 of the Wisconsin Statutes, general obligation bonds in an amount not to exceed $162,760,000 for the public purpose of paying the cost of a school building and improvement program consisting of: construction of a new high school and auditorium (performing arts center) on district owned land; reconfiguration and renovation of the current Verona Area High School to convert it to the new site for Badger Ridge Middle School and select district charter schools; reconfiguration and renovation of the current Badger Ridge Middle School to convert it to the new site for Sugar Creek Elementary School; district-wide capital and building infrastructure improvements and repairs; and acquisition of related furnishings, fixtures and equipment?

Shall the Verona Area School District, Dane County, Wisconsin be authorized to issue pursuant to Chapter 67 of the Wisconsin Statutes, general obligation bonds in an amount not to exceed $18,520,000 for the public purpose of paying the cost of construction and equipping of a swimming pool, competition athletic fields and related facilities on the new high school site?

Shall the Verona Area School District, Dane County, Wisconsin be authorized to exceed the revenue limit specified in Section 121.91, Wisconsin Statutes, by $2,289,747 for the 2020-2021 school year and thereafter, for recurring purposes consisting of operational expenses for new district facilities and grounds?

In addition to these three questions, the Board has committed to spending up to $6.5 million of EPIC TID closeout money to renovate the K-Wing (the separate building next to the main high school building) to be used as charter school(s) space and to pay for air conditioning to be installed in those buildings that don’t already have building-wide air conditioning: Badger Ridge Middle School, Stoner Prairie Elementary, The K-Wing and the existing high school.

In coming days, you will be hearing from us about the numerous opportunities to hear more information about the referendum and have an opportunity to ask questions.

Staff Book recommendation: SCREENWISE: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World, Heitner, D. (2016) Bookline, MA: Bibliomotion, Inc. How do you feel about technology? Are you a “limiter”, meaning you use a restrictive approach with your children to screen time? Are you a “mentor”, in that you engage with your children about technology? Or are you an “enabler” meaning you do not limit nor mentor your children in the use of technology? Many parents and grandparents struggle deciding what kinds of technology play a positive role in the lives of their children. This book may offer some insight and suggestions and will certainly leave you knowing you’re not alone in these struggles.

State Updates:

Public School funding in upcoming biennium budget: In a recent interview with the Associated Press, Governor Scott Walker indicated Wisconsin's K-12 public schools will see a "sizeable increase" in state aid under his budget to be released in February (2017. Walker said in the interview that details about how much money they will receive will have to wait until he submits his two-year spending plan to the Legislature. The Governor did indicate he will specifically target rural schools for more money, funneled through the sparsity aid program. Those districts typically face higher transportation costs as students are brought in from greater distances to attend schools.

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)

Staff contributions to this newsletter provided by:
• Dr. Erin Schettler – Director of Student Services
• Ms. Mary Moroder – Assistant Principal, Country View Elementary School
• Ms. Betty Wottreng – Director of Technology
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