Over the past few years, the high schools have undergone a lot of changes with mixed responses from teachers and students. What course would you like to take in the coming years in regards to policy change?
I want to be sure that teachers have a voice in it because I’m hearing so many times where, teachers from the high schools especially, are saying that “We’re not being listened to, we’re not being respected.” So if some policy is going to be changed, so let’s say for example with curriculum, just like Engage New York once again, we need to be sure that they’re a part of it, they have a voice, and that that voice is being respected and heard. That’s incredibly important.
I think it’s something, too, where teachers know what they’re doing, so if they have do those PDSAs all the time, I understand why this needs to be done, but if teachers have a different way of doing it, instead of just, “Okay here’s our ideal classroom and here’s how it’s on the board, and here’s how you have to interact with students to do it,” there’s something to be said about intellectual freedom and having a teacher have his or her own way doing it based on that person’s personality, experience in the classroom, what works for that teacher, what works with that discipline, and with those students. So honors students might be rolling their eyes like, “Are you serious?” Whereas if somebody’s in more of the basic level classes, they may be struggling to do the PDSA, understanding what they’re supposed to be doing with things. Teachers may be like, “You know what, there’s an easier way to do this that works with this group of students.” So hugely important.
And I know they did that SWOT thing [a survey of teachers] with strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Same thing there, too, where it’s a business model kind of thing. I understand how it can be nice to have teachers kind of just this basic, “Okay let me fill this out so I can talk about what’s going on,” that’s really time-consuming to do it. And sometimes–it’s definitely important to be positive–but sometimes you just need to lay it all out and say, “This is bad, I don’t have anything positive to say, work with me so that we can make it better.” So sometimes, if it’s just an administration, I’m not talking about what the public sees, but sometimes you just need to be saying like, “My students are not doing good at this, I need this in order to make it better. My room, it’s snowing, and the snow’s going into my room. I need you to make it better.” Whatever the case may be, just so that teachers are comfortable going to administration and they don’t have to sugar coat it, we know they love their job, we know they love their students, but, “This is the reality of what I’m working with and I need you to give this to me, I can’t sugar coat it for you.”
Sometimes too, if you have something where you want to share in a good way or in a bad way, if teachers can just be able to share that with board members. Right now, teachers are encouraged to go right to administration because administration can handle it better, answer their questions better than board members can. I definitely understand why that works, but as a board member, I would want to be in the loop so I know better what’s going on. Especially because I don’t have a kid in the high school, I’m not as familiar what goes on there. So I’d want to be kept in the loop of what teachers’ concerns are so that, if I’m going to be passing a policy, I’d know the background of it and what they have concerns about. So if teachers are able to talk to the school board without a formal, “This is my SWOT or my PDSA,” or whatever the acronym is, just to make it more informal and easy for them to share their concerns.
Going back to local control of our schools. We’ve tapped in a lot to this Common Core curriculum, which is a federal government initiative, which has not really been well received anywhere. But for whatever reason, our administration, our school board, has chosen to embrace it, to the detriment of our classroom, to the detriment of the learning of our students. It’s, in many ways, had an inverse effect on the quality of teaching within our West Bend School District. And that’s something, in the past five or six years, that’s something the current school board has to accept the responsibility [for]. That they brought the Jim Shipley initiatives, they brought the canned curriculum of Engage New York, they brought the Common Core initiatives to West Bend.
The Jim Shipley initiatives, that is your classroom management systems, CLS, classroom learning systems, or PDSA. The broader picture of that, there’s an organization directed by Jim Shipley. I think most of the kids know it as the CLS, classroom learning system, and PDSA. On the top of that is Jim Shipley. He’s the one that created all those initiatives. They’re somewhat aligned with the Common Core, and that’s just one of the many areas that we’ve embraced. I believe we can let that go and rely a lot more on the professionals within our local district.
Again, we’ve talked a little bit about the challenges of the changes in structure and stuff. From my perspective, and just the feedback that I’ve gotten from administration as well as the community, I think there’s been some reluctance to that process of change from staff. So there are certain teachers that don’t want to change what they’ve been doing. The elementary levels and middle levels I think have embraced the idea of the continuous classroom improvement, I think it’s had less buy-in at the high school. In a way I think that’s kind of sad, because I look at it as this is what’s expected of you, if you have reasonable objection to what is being done, I know the the curriculum changes and things like that have flared up in social media in the last couple months, that process goes on constantly, and has for years. So there’s nothing new that’s going on, it’s a four-year cycle so we look at the curriculum, and again it’s that four-year cycle–you implement something, make sure that it gets done the way it’s intended, then you start studying it and say, “Are we getting the effects we want?” As our test scores showed this past year, the English, that’s the one that’s kind of on the current cycle, but we noticed that our test scores were low, were dropping, which means that what we have been doing, hasn’t been working very well. So that’s where I would ask the staff to get on board and help us do whatever changes need to be done, and then again, implement them, and then make sure that what you’re doing is working and cycle back around.
That’s the kind of thing that I think is hard for some people to make those changes, but I think it’s something that has to be done to keep the organization moving in the right direction. You can’t just stubbornly keep doing the same thing year after year. What we have put in place is very data-driven, you look at it and say, “Is what we’re doing working?” And if not, then you change. It’s a very logical process and I think it’s unfortunate that, and I get these rumors and suggestions that things are happening, I hear about those all the time from a variety of people, so it’s not like I don’t know what’s going on. But again it’s not really a board level type thing. That’s for the administrators to deal with or building principal and department heads and on down the line. In terms of the overall general course, I think things are going kind of in the direction I would like.
I think one of my things, at the high school level especially, as part of my goals going forward is to keep developing that ability to explore different paths for your future. You have the ability now to take some credits in seventh and eighth grade, which can allow you take courses you maybe wouldn’t have been able to, like art or something in tech-ed or video or something on that order. Just to explore, what might I be interested in? What jobs could these lead to? It’s really important for kids to start thinking about this earlier than they have been. I think back to when I was in high school. I knew pretty early on what I wanted to do, and I think a lot of my friends kind of had an idea of that. And somewhere it sort of got lost where it was just, you went to high school, and you kind of were expecting to go on to college regardless of what field you were going to go into. There were kids who graduated with four-year general studies degrees and things like that which is kind of sad, that you don’t, that far into your life, know what you want to do. So I think it’s important to kind of get this, they’re calling it an academy or institute structure now of the different career clusters, and really make those paths. If you’re interested in going into the medical field, then you should be taking these sort of courses or something close to them. Or if you’re going into engineering, you should be taking a different route. And just having that, a little bit of freedom, where you’re not booked solid through your junior year doing all of these things just to get your credits in. So to think more about where you’re headed, what kind of degree is it going to take to get that job, and maybe even being able to do a work shadow or an internship at a local business, trying to get that tie into the connection made with students. I think that’s very important. Like I said, I pretty much knew I liked architecture when I was in school and I took a course my junior summer down at Indiana Ball State that exposed me to what architecture school would be like and then we also did some field trips to actual firms and then some to Columbus, Indiana where there’s famous buildings by famous architects and they kind of explained why they were better than the usual construction design and that type of thing. So that really kind of gave me a good idea of what I was facing going forward. I think those kinds of experiences are really important at the high school level because they help you figure out where you’re going.
So one of my main focuses going forward is to try to get that structure straightened out at the high school, whether it be from the administration to the consistency of classroom experience to integration of technology, I think that’s huge. The use of cell phones, and, most importantly I think, the ability to find information and filter on your own. Because that will serve you the rest of your life. You have so much information available to you, you can solve problems, you can educate yourself on different topics and subjects without having to go to other people and say, “Teach me.” So that integration of technology, you’ve got the world at your fingertips and you got to figure out how to find information and use it, and filter it, of course. Those are kind of the things I think we’ve made pretty good steps on that I’d like to continue.
Here again I’d like to see us focus on the positive things that have been happening. I don’t know that that’s a change, but I see a lot of negativity, I’ve heard a lot of negativity. And unfortunately, negativity breeds negativity. I’d like to see us focus more on the positives, the good things that have been going on in our school district. Every board meeting we focus on the accomplishments of any number of different students. We need to focus on those and take a look at what brought about those accomplishments, and to support those who have brought about those positive accomplishments of the students. And to also look at different districts to see what they are doing to bring about good, positive outcomes.
I know there are reasons for some of the maybe a little lower scores that we’ve had and the student outcomes. We have maybe a little bit more of a diverse population in our West Bend School District, but even with that diverse population I’d like to see us look at how we can support those individuals that are lower performing and how we can get them up to a point where they are performing just as well as the higher performance students. And to also look at evidence-based curriculum and not just take something, so to speak, “off the shelf” just because it sounds good. But to really look at, “Is this a proven product? Does it have good outcomes?” I’m really concerned about that. I am a person who’s, because of my background in social work, [focused] on evidence-based therapy models. We want to have I think the same thing in our curriculum too. We want to have a curriculum that is really evidence-based. Does this curriculum have the evidence to support good outcomes? Does it or doesn’t it? Those are the things I would look at.
– Interviews and transcriptions by Alyssa Birkeland, Current Staff
Read more about Jenn Donath, Tiffany Larson, Randy Marquardt, and Ken Schmidt at The Current, including their full responses regarding teacher turnover and hiring a new superintendent and high school principal. Earlier coverage can be found here.
The school board election is Tuesday, April 5.