Posts Tagged 'Peggy Wuenstel'

It’s Not the Skill Set, It’s the Mind Set

mindset-743163_960_720.jpgBy Peggy Wuenstel – I’ve had a lot of professional development in my career. I am always looking for the newest technique, the best materials, and the most streamlined method of achieving positive results for students. While I have always known there is no magic bullet, it hasn’t stopped me from looking for it. The reflective aspect of teaching requires us to look back on what we are doing and the results that we are obtaining with some regularity. The hope is, of course, that we will find that connective thread that tells us how we can duplicate the positive outcomes and enhance the growth of lower performers. It is almost never that simple.

A few months back, one of my Teacher of the Year colleagues, Jane McMahon, used a phrase in a meeting that stopped me in my tracks, and changed the way I have thought about this thing we call intervention ever since. She said, “Nine times out of ten, it’s the mindset, not the skill set.” I am not, and she was not, in anyway minimizing the need for good quality basic skills instruction. She is a middle level educator and I work with elementary school children. We know they need foundational skills to decode, to understand and to extend their thinking. But they also need a set of attitudes and dispositions that set them up for success. To that end, I would like to share three stories in how this has surfaced in my classroom this spring.

You can worry too much about being age/grade appropriate.
Our current educational climate requires us to measure, track and analyze everything. We monitor progress, contrast performance with grade level benchmarks, and make sure that the materials we put in kids’ hands are at appropriate instructional levels. We provide opportunities for challenge, but also for the ease and fluency that can help to create a lifelong love of books. But we often get too worried about the “levels” of things and forget about the loving of things. A kindergartner that I support recently had an interesting conversation with her classroom teacher. While enjoying and apple-filled churro from the breakfast line, she noticed the filling and mistook it for eggs. She turned to her teacher and said, “Look, this churro has eggs, it’s oviparous (an egg laying animal).” Although she got the biology wrong, she got the vocabulary right. Her mindset, the one that tells her there are few words that are not acceptable for kindergartners to use, will keep her adding to her cache of words and her world view.

If I think I am, I probably can be.
I love this time of the school year, because kids begin to redefine themselves. Middle schoolers on the cusp of high school sit a little taller in their seats. Elementary school students start to refer to themselves as “almost fourth graders.” With our help, they look back over what they have accomplished in the last eight months. They look at writing samples from the beginning of the year and cringe, knowing how far they’ve come. My youngest students start to refer to themselves as readers and writers, a message I have been delivering all year. Praise is often accompanied by the phrase, “That’s what good readers do.” The most heartbreaking cases are those kids who are unable to see themselves as capable; whose voices drop to inaudible when called on, who attempt as little as possible so that they will not be found wanting. Sometimes they come from homes filled with trauma. Sometimes they have extraordinarily talented siblings, and their strengths have yet to be uncovered. In all cases they have a mindset that limits not only how far they have come, but how far they can go.

Wanting more for yourself is not selfish.
I am blessed to have a spring birthday, and I got a terrific present from a young lady who fits squarely in several of the categories I delineated above. She gives herself permission to do less well than she is capable of because “mom said school was hard for her, too.” A conversation with her mother at spring conferences has paid some very big dividends. This student had no higher aspirations than staying at home with her parents for the rest of her life. When asked about her potential plans after her aging parents were gone, she reported that she would find a friend who needed someone to clean their house and move in with them. We decided that we all needed to work together to make this third grader want more for herself, and to see herself as capable of achieving it. In a recent lesson, the follow-up writing prompt asked students to elaborate on what “first” they would like to achieve. (The story was a fantasy about a youngster who was the first girl on the moon.) I told this student, after 6 weeks of concentrated efforts to increase her confidence and aspiration level, that one of the best birthday presents I received was her response to that question. I want to be the first person in my family to graduate from college represents a significant mindset shift that has paid off in reading results as well.

This talk of skill set has made its way into the political furor that surrounds schools today. We hear that jobs go unfilled because workers are unprepared. The assertion that our public school system can take on the responsibility of making every graduate ready to walk into jobs that require specialized training is ludicrous.

Perhaps the mindset shift that is needed here is that companies that benefit from trained workers would value it enough to invest in their workers and that they would compensate these jobs with salaries that would encourage workers to apply rather than complaining that skill sets do not meet their expectations. Success for all requires investment by all. Then, we can all reap the rewards.

A Modern Day Loaves and Fishes Story

DSCF1340.jpgBy Peggy Wuenstel – I wrote a few months back about a project we have begun in our small rural elementary school called The In-Out Pantry. We recognized that students who receive breakfast and lunch daily at school may face an empty table at home on the weekend. The working families among us cannot always visit the food pantry in town, which is only open during weekday daytime hours. We are privileged to work with students and families who have a true desire to help others. The leadership curriculum includes public service. Add these components together and the In-Out Pantry was born.

We started by piggybacking with our annual fundraiser for the local food pantry called Super Arts Night. The former food service director of our school district and his family provide delicious all-you-can eat soups and the kids provide the entertainment in performing and visual arts. This year we added a collection to stock our own school-based pantry with items to provide nutritious breakfasts and lunches on the weekend. The pantry has taken up residence under the main staircase in our building’s entrance where it is on clear view for all visitors and residents of our building. The guidance program created a lovely piece of artwork that now hangs above the table. Its chrysanthemum-like bloom is created with the tracings of our students’ “helping hands.”

Since its beginnings, there has never been a time when the table is empty. When I notice something is in short supply and add it to my shopping list, it invariably turns up on the table, and in great abundance. Donations are not a single can of soup, but a case. There is not a single box of cereal, but a half-dozen there in the morning. Our building secretary has informed me that when substitute teachers report for work in the morning, some of them have begun bringing items for the pantry. Kindness and generosity appear to be contagious. No donor ever leaves a name, but some do leave a note. Coffee for moms and dads has appeared with a smiley face sticker. Birthday cake mix, frosting and festive decorations surfaced the other day. People regularly check to see what is in short supply and as soon as a need is noted, it is filled.

One other thing that has grown is the pride that the participating kids have in dropping off the empty backpacks early in the week and taking them home filled to their families on Fridays. They get the sense that they are helping their families by their conscientious participation. Some have even started to ask for the specific things they see on the table because a family member really enjoys them. I keep a supply of items in my classroom for reading students to earn as incentives rather than stickers or other trinkets. This puts students who would normally be pantry participants in a position to be pantry donors and they are proud to do so.

In addition to food items, we include books at appropriate reading levels for participant families’ children. We received a very generous donation of books from a retired teacher who lives in our community.  She offered us a wealth of great reads for 3rd   through 5th grade students. This left a dearth of materials for our younger students. Again, the loaves and fishes miracle occurred. The Whitewater LEADS organization offered the leftover donations from our community Literacy Night to be donated in these weekly care packages. The majority of those books are for early readers.

It is always reported that the meal that is shared tastes much better than the one eaten alone.  Stone soup, pot lucks, and community meals are successful not just because of what we give, but because of what we get as well. Our food pantry allows us to share in meals that we will taste only through the smiles of those who benefit from our community’s care for others.

The loaves and fishes process extends far beyond this program. Teacher requests via e-mail in the morning – for a specific book title, baking soda for a science demonstration, or saline solution for a troublesome contact lens are almost always filled by our first recess break. We cover recess duties and classrooms when family emergencies require staff to leave early to attend to matters at home. We have come to the aid of those who have experienced personal loss or disaster through weather or fire in our community. We console, support, and replace what we can, and help mourn what we cannot.  Hopefully we will never forget what a miracle this is.

As I face retirement next year, I am struggling to let go of the supplies I keep on hand to be “that person” who will have what you need. Blue tagboard for a friend of my son working on a school project, a snack for a child who has none, the materials needed to enrich a lesson. I have been reluctant to part with anything that I think someone might need to ask me for. My loaves and fishes experiences this year have taught me that there is abundance all around, that I live and work in a community that cares and will provide what is needed, and that is an everyday miracle that we can all rejoice in.

When and if to Talk to Student About Politics

3002972826_5f146862c0_o.jpgBy Peggy Wuenstel – As the rhetoric around the upcoming election heats up, conversations in the classroom inevitably are peppered with some of what our students are hearing and seeing on the airwaves. It is always a careful line to walk when kids ask you to participate in this exchange. While it is always our responsibility not to present our political opinions as fact to students, it is also our right to have those same opinions.

One of the most challenging aspects of being a teacher is to be a consistent, appropriate model of participation in our system of government. I proudly wear my “I Voted” sticker back to class after casting my ballot and welcome their questions about the process. I answer factual questions when I can, and when I can’t, make the promise to find out, just as I would in every other area in which they ask for information. I help them to distinguish between fact and opinion and to consider their sources, even as early as kindergarten. I have fielded a lot of questions this year about why anyone would WANT to be president. We are raising a generation of kids who do not see female or candidates of color as historic, unlikely, or impossible. How encouraging is that?

I am also aware of my role as a role model and the necessity not to use that in inappropriate ways. They know which aging blue mini-van in the parking lot is mine. As it is visible from my classroom, my choice of bumper stickers reflects that caution. They are issue-related, not candidate-specific. I am unabashedly pro-public education, anti-money in politics, and pro-income equality.  I am active politically in the community and the political action chair for my local education association. I have promoted local referenda, campaigned for pro-education school board candidates across the spectrum of elected offices, written opinion pieces, and financially supported individuals and causes I believe in.

My selection as one of Wisconsin’s Teachers of the Year in the turbulent year of 2010 presented me with a new set of responsibilities and directives. I must be the kind of teacher who knows what is happening and participates in the decision making at all levels possible. It has changed my life. Being informed, active, and concerned about the welfare of the others is the kind of role model I want to be for my students.

I was providing a reading lesson to two third graders a few weeks back about former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. (This was before the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, so their engagement surprised me even more than if it had followed the media coverage of his death and resulting controversy about a new appointment to the court.) The online article traced her path from student to justice, but did not thoroughly explain how a justice is selected. Much to my delight, they asked, and the process of presidential nomination and senate confirmation came up. I briefly discussed that this is one of the reasons that it is important to choose a president whose values are those we want on the Supreme Court and how the system of checks and balances is outlined in The Constitution.

One of these students is of Hispanic heritage and the other’s background is African American, although he has been raised by loving Caucasian parents who are educators. The only difference this has ever made is in the need to provide reading selections and lessons that are diverse and inclusive. On this day, they gave me the instruction. V, the first student, said vehemently, “We’d better not pick Trump then. He wants to send all Mexicans back to Mexico and I don’t want to go.” V was born here and his parents run a successful local landscaping business. J, his partner in this reading group replied, “Well. I’m black and he doesn’t like me either.” My teacher radar kicked into high gear, realizing that some kind of explanation was going to be needed.

They provided the direction for our conversation, asking me directly, “Are you voting for Donald Trump?” My response, “It is not my place to tell you who to vote for, or to influence your decisions about things like that. What I can tell you is that when I choose who to vote for in a presidential election, I look for the best leader. That, in my view, is someone who tries to bring people together and make everyone feel like they have an important part to play in making our country work well.” They said in reply, almost in unison: “Then you are not voting for Donald Trump.” My smile was my response.

I like to think about a broader definition of politics when I consider whether or not to discuss it directly with students. They need to have a basic understanding of how schools are funded, how elections work, or don’t work, and their eventual place in it. As a mentor of mine once told me, “It is not my job to tell you what to think, it is to give you something to think about.” And these kids are paying attention to some things. We need to make sure that that partial knowledge doesn’t pass for comprehension of the issues and direct the hard choices that have to be made.

This anecdote from back in the recall election days illustrates the point. While helping a fourth grader complete his Wisconsin government test, he had trouble recalling the first name of Governor Walker. I suggested that he remember the signs he had seen in the community and the ads he had seen on television to help him complete his response. What did he write? Recall. It will forever be a reminder to me that if we want kids to look for the whole story, we have to be willing to tell it in a way that inspires them to be an informed participant in democracy.

A Parent Toolkit for Supporting Reading at Home

12779343884_3fb3122e0a_o.jpgBy Peggy Wuenstel – Our district is in the thick of planning a community literacy event to support and encourage reading in the home. It joins the forces of our school district, the public library, and a group of community and university personnel who have formed a committee to study and advance the literacy of our city. I am by nature a doer rather than a discusser and the pace at which larger groups move often frustrates me. It is incredibly difficult to create a shared vision of what good community literacy would look like. It is even more daunting to determine, and then fulfill, the needs required to get to that goal.

In a community-wide forum in September, the group generated a list of needs as perceived by the attendees. I took that list and selected three action items that I could make happen with the support of my principal, coworkers, parents’ organization, our student council, and some community volunteers.

  • Grandreaders – Soon after the community meeting, a fellow attendee contacted me about reading with students weekly. One of the needs our teachers identified is that some students do not have a parent or caregiver that is available to consistently read and discuss books with our early readers. Two amazing retired women come each week to read with kids in 20 minute blocks, not to instruct, but to provide reading practice and share their love of books.
  • Many of our students participate in free and reduced lunch programs during the week. There has been an uptick in the number of comments from students about not having enough to eat on the weekend. This is often paired with a limited access to books in the home. We have organized an In-Out pantry to provide an anonymous way for families to receive breakfast and lunch items and age appropriate books to take home each Friday through a backpack program, supported by the generosity of our students. Kids who cannot make food or financial donations are able to earn items to donate through academic and behavioral excellence. It is tough to make literacy a family priority when physical needs are not being met.
  • We have changed the focus of our annual Family Literacy Night to reaching out to families who have not traditionally participated in the past. Changing the venue from our individual elementary schools to the public library and educating the community about the resources that are available after school hours, facilitating library card sign-ups, support for home language enrichment and book-sharing and various giveaways, including a “Milk and Bookies” wrap up from the Walworth County Dairy Council, may reach readers in new ways than in the past.

Whitewater’s business community has made offers of funding to purchase and distribute books. University drives have collected books and cash that have been placed in bins on school buses to provide the opportunity to read and take home books.  While these generous offers of financial backing are greatly appreciated, it also misses the mark. Just putting books in the hands of kids won’t spark the positive change we are seeking. We have to find a way to help make literacy a priority at home and help families feel competent in providing support.

The evidence is clear, families of all races and economic standing care deeply for their children and about their education. They vary greatly in their confidence in providing what kids need. As educators we have to make it our mission to change that, to make families feel valued in their efforts and capable in the attempt. The best books ever written are of limited use if no one shares the joy between their covers.

These are some of the tools we’d like to provide for kids and families at our upcoming literacy event:

  • How to use conversation and vocabulary with our children to maximize their success in school.
  • Why reading with a child is even more valuable than reading to a child or having a child read to you.
  • The places we read matter — lap sit, snuggled up, knee to knee and shoulder to shoulder –and this contact helps to create lifelong skills and bonds around books.
  • Making life-to-text connections makes books come alive. People want to read about things they know and places they have been, and we dream of exploring the places and activities that we have read about in books.
  • Decoding words is not everything. Parents benefit from knowing what emerging reading looks and sounds like and what to expect as grade level expectations rise.
  • Harnessing the power of pause and understanding that strategy use, interruptions and re-reading can be very good things, helps everyone relax and enjoy the ride.
  • There are things we can do to build stamina and perseverance. When we help kids revise and reward and prompt their use of strategies we build resilience, self-reliance and self-esteem.
  • There are many ways to take advantage of the reading and writing we do every day to build literacy minutes. We read signs, on-line, manuals and recipes. We write lists, directions and love notes. Parents inspire and model success when kids see them reading and writing, especially when they are enjoying it.
  • There are fun and efficient ways to read together, write together and practice basic skills.
  • Community literacy should be important to everyone and there are no more important voices than those of parents who love their children and are building successful, literate futures.

Things We Just Don’t Do Anymore

Cumberand_Drive_In_Hearty_Welcome.jpgBy Peggy Wuenstel – One of the more challenging aspects of my current position as a reading interventionist is getting buy-in from my more reticent students. There are many ways to say it, but challenged readers really do need to believe that the most important road to improving their skills is practice, practice, practice.  I actually hear some of them explain that they don’t do because they don’t like to do it. I cannot even imagine saying that to one of my teachers. That got me thinking about all the things that are radically different than when I was sitting in the small desks, and even more narrowly, what we don’t do anymore.

Feed the Ducks – I know there are good ecological reasons not to do this, but it really seems like a magical moment of childhood is gone when these feathered friends don’t come questing and quacking for the discards of our bread drawers. Even stale things were good enough to share, and seeing nature up close and personal is a childhood memory I regret being unable to share with my grandchildren.

Take Food to the Drive-in Movie– I’m the oldest of seven kids and one of our summer activities was often loading everyone in to the car to attend an affordable film at the local drive-in movie. There was no need to smuggle in snacks, it was encouraged. I love our local movie theater, and realize much of the profit that keeps first-run films in my neighborhood cinema comes from concessions, and would never dream of sneaking in my snack. But, I do usually go on free popcorn Tuesdays.

Send thank you notes –Jimmy Fallon’s wonderful Friday night bits aside, it’s rare to receive a written acknowledgment of a gift given or a favor done. I have a project at school where students write the notes that are sent to volunteers and donors to school activities. They are usually greeted with equal parts astonishment and enjoyment.

Have Long Personal Conversations Over Dinner- We are in a hurry, and the leisurely mealtimes enjoyed by Europeans do not mesh with our results-driven culture. How sad for students who don’t first witness, then imitate, and ultimately participate, in a recap of the day, a discussion of world events, or a building of background knowledge by which they can understand the world.

Get to Know the Shopkeeper – Our local grocery store closed in December, a victim of the economy and the Super Wal-Mart that was built next door. These people not only knew me by sight, but were willing to support local school projects and serve as a place where kids could see their teachers out in the community.

Dance (except at weddings)- Watching my parents hold each other on the dance floor and move in perfect harmony, even in the living room, is one of my dearest memories. The music and their synchrony modeled a connection that nearly every young person hopes to find for themselves. My husband doesn’t dance, except when we are alone, and then only because he knows I love being held in that same way.

Memorize Phone Numbers, Addresses, and Business Names- Technology has made much of this unnecessary, but also leaves us without back-up when the battery dies of there is no coverage. Kids aren’t encouraged to know their personal info, and don’t see memorization as useful tool for thinking and learning. Spelling words, multiplication facts and studying for tests are all more challenging as a result.

Talk to Our Neighbors, Except to Complain – no more over-the-fence conversations, coffee after the school bus pulls away, or catching up on the neighborhood gossip, and posts on Facebook are not equivalent sources of connection.

Use Candy, Cookies or Sweets as RewardsI do believe this is a good thing, and I do miss baking for my students and the joy of a holiday party.

These are the things that I mourn the loss of the most deeply: We don’t

Believe the Teacher When a Child Complains. Parents call school loaded with anger without knowing both sides of the story.

Want the Best Possible for Our Kids Regardless of What it Costs. Tight budgets mean program cuts, larger class sizes, fewer of the bells and whistles that can make school a magical place to learn.

Respect Public Servants.  We now see them as a drain rather than a service or resource.

Teach Topics or Lessons for the Pure Joy of the Learning. We only have time to cover what is going to be on the next assessment, factored into our school’s performance report, or meet a Student Learning Objective.

Assume that Teachers are Effective, and Only Require Extensive Documentation in Cases Where There is Concern. A lot of times this feels like “prove that you are not a failure.”

Volunteer.  Parents’ jobs are less flexible, and more families require two incomes. Although we have seen a welcome uptick in dads on field trips, it is harder than ever before to find chaperones, PTA volunteers, or the manpower to complete the things we dream about for our students.

Expect a Reply from Our Elected Officials, or a Change in Their Vote Based on Public Opinion. We seem to have lost our representative democracy. Most Wisconsinites favor increased support of public education, but this is not reflected in budget or policy, and legislators are reluctant to release the contacts to their offices that bear this out.


Nostalgia is not the only reason to hang on to things past. If we don’t think about what we do, and what we don’t do, we run the risk of letting others decide what is important in our personal and professional lives. We may be passing on lives to the kids that we share that are seriously stripped of joy and wonder. That is something I don’t intend to do anymore.

Teaching Kids to Care

16332734480_28bfe668ea_oBy Peggy Wuenstel – I spent the better part of an hour last week standing in front of a red kettle with a bell in my hand in front of our local drugstore. It wasn’t terribly cold when we started, but paradoxically, it was a lot warmer when we finished. The warmth of people who tucked bills or dropped coins in the kettle was palpable. I left there thinking that I had to find a way to make sure that the kids I teach understand the benefits of altruism.

Appeals are all around us this holiday season, in the mail, on-line and on the telephone. We collect food for the hungry; hats, mittens, and blankets for the cold and homeless; and toys for those children whose homes are short on holiday joy. These are wonderful projects, almost all worthy of our support, but they are also seasonal and often short-lived.

We need to help kids understand that caring about others, ourselves, and our world should be a year-round occupation. The building I work in has a different three-pronged approach to talking, teaching and taking on projects that demonstrate caring. Our first tine was caring about others, and we collected empty prescription bottles to be sent to a service organization that transports them overseas to Malawi where they are used to distribute medications in clinics in that country.

Coming in the new year is a backpack program to meet the needs of kids who rely on free or reduced meals during the school week. Some of these families are the working poor who are unable to access the wonderful food pantry that is open two mornings per week in our town. We are teaming with a community organization that supports literacy efforts to include books, magazines, and other literacy materials for these families as well. They can pick up a backpack filled with weekend breakfast and lunch items, as well as an activity to share, and then return it anonymously the next Monday. This prong, and effort to help those we know, and understanding that preserving dignity and respect are also key components of a giving heart, are lessons it seems our society as a whole needs to learn.

As Earth Day approaches this spring we are also hopeful to have our third initiative underway. Caring for the earth requires the efforts of everyone. We hope to improve students’ understanding of the role they can play in reducing waste and preserving resources. In a joint operation with our Parent/Teacher Organization and our local community wellness group, we are changing our waste collection procedures to include recycling, composting, and waste awareness. Kids will sort, deliver and see the benefits of reducing food waste, recycling, and composting and know they are caring for the earth.

But this holiday season, I find myself turning inward, hoping that what students might receive as a gift this year is the ability to care about themselves in a truly affirming way. I would love to wrap up the awareness that they need to get enough nutrition, sleep, stress reduction and fun in the choices they make about meals, leisure time and the people they interact with. I would love to fill their stockings with the motivation to care about the work they produce, the learning they accomplish, and the ways in which they ask for our help. I would layer the reliability of knowing that someone cares about them and their successes both at home and school on their holiday plates, and serve it up with a helping of feeling what it is like to truly care about and help someone else. I would help them to sweeten the meal with the understanding that selfishness is not the same thing as self-worth, and that you are never richer than when you can give away some of yourself to others. Teachers get this gift on a regular basis, and I am blessed to work with men and women who demonstrate this kind of caring and generosity.

We live in a society that measures value by what we have and what we produce. If we listen to the media and watch the advertisement that swirl around us, we might miss a more fundamental measure. We are only as strong, as safe, and as wealthy as the most struggling among us. We are only as smart, as accomplished, or as healthy as those who need the most assistance. We are only as happy, secure, and ready for the future as those whom we have cared the least for and about. I wish you all the gift of caring this season, and all that you care about in the new year is yours in abundance.

Who’s in Charge Here?

Slovak_referendum,_2015,_portable_ballot_boxBy Peggy Wuenstel – There is a piece of proposed legislation making its way through the Wisconsin state house that every free-thinking Wisconsinite should be aware of. Bill 355 seeks to put significant limits on the ways in which local school districts can ask for financial assistance from their taxpayers through referenda. It is a drastic move away from the traditional local control of schools to the state government assuming the authority to determine what kinds of schools our children attend. Why should the lack of local control of Wisconsin schools concern you?

  • There is a reason that local governing bodies that direct the policies and funding of schools are called school boards or boards of education and not boards of tax control. The charge of these bodies is to determine the needs of local students and their families and the willingness of the community to meet those needs. While some members seek office with the intent of reducing tax burdens, the majority are motivated by their desire to direct and support education within their political, social, and personal point of view. The service of these individuals is often direct democracy at its best, with these public servants attending meetings, making decisions and meeting directly with constituents in ways that far outpace other representative bodies.
  • School expenses continue to rise as costs of materials, insurance, energy, security, and staffing to meet expanding student needs grow. There are state and federal mandates which much be met. Even after exploring supplemental funding sources like grants, charitable donations, naming rights, and expanded student fees, the gaps remain between what it costs and what state and federal governments provide.
  • State funding has been slashed in Wisconsin over the last few budget cycles. With rising costs, and shrinking state support, local districts are forced to go to property owners to make up the difference. The overall cost of educating children does not go down, the responsibility just shifts from one level to another. Property taxes are often a very unfair way to apportion support for schools.
  • Wisconsin schools are diverse and proudly so. While a common set of standards drives the curriculum and content of instruction, local needs, strengths, and preferences vary widely. Areas of the state have different priorities. Some districts highlight athletic programs. Others demonstrate patronage for the arts. Agricultural programs might meet local community needs and closely bond schools, industry and community governments. The varied cultural and socio-economic needs of home districts require local control to understand, direct, and make these visions reality. Some districts are large and urban in nature serving tens of thousands of students. Some boards of education govern a single school. Wisconsin education has historically been the antithesis of one size fits all.
  • Schools are often the heart of a community, its social life, and its hope for the future. Leadership in government, civic, church, and are connected, nurtured and directed by schools and school personnel. Our buildings, staff, facilities, and initiatives are rich resources for cities, towns, and villages all over Wisconsin. They deserve, and thankfully often receive, community support.
  • The Wisconsin system for financing schools contributes to significant inequities between districts. Property rich districts are well-funded and offer superior facilities and outstanding educators due to the ability to attract and retain employees with salary, benefit, and continuing education packages that support professionals in their work with children. Rural and revenue-challenged districts face the dual challenges of smaller labor pools and limited tax bases. Providing quality education statewide should be the goal of every parent, local community leader, and school official regardless of where they live.

The current proposal before the legislature seeks to reduce how often, what time of year, and how frequently school boards ask their communities for support. It seems to be another example of fixing a problem that doesn’t exist. The ability to ask at a local level for support for education gives that say to voters, not state senators who want to centralize control of Wisconsin schools. One has to wonder if this attempt to limit “the ask” of local school boards is a reaction to a recent up-tick in positive outcomes of local referenda.  An administration that hangs its political hat on the promise of tax reduction might find it hard to convince citizens that shifting responsibility to local school boards from state tax revenues saves anything except politicians’ reputations as being tough on tax increases or as advocates for centralized, depersonalized education for Wisconsin’s children.

In my three decade career I have trained and worked in large districts and small. My own children have attended urban and rural schools. I have had the opportunity to compare per pupil spending, student to teacher ratios, course offerings and extracurricular offerings, all before the expanded school choice system. I have been employed by districts that never passed referenda, and those who have graciously supported the schools every time they were asked. I hope we continue to live in a state where the ask as well as the answer remain local decisions.

What is a Marquette Educator?

Follow us on Twitter