Three candidates are running for two seats on the Waupaca School Board.
Pat Phair is challenging incumbent board members, Stephen Johnson and Kenley Hansen in the April 1 election.
Following is the final installment of a three-part series on the school board race.
What do you think are the most pressing challenges facing the Waupaca School Board over the next two years? What do you believe must be done to effectively deal with those challenges?
Hansen: The No. 1 challenge, to me, is funding. The district has seen funding cuts above the state average while keeping cost per pupil well below the average. Balancing this against a declining enrollment is another part of the challenge.
Our administration has done a very good job controlling costs, and I think the challenge the board must confront is how to assess student achievement, and the potential need for more resources, against what we are currently willing to fund. Again, analysis of test scores and knowing that the data is reliable is key in making good decisions.
Teacher assessment is another challenge on the horizon, brought on by the Educator Effectiveness Initiative. In general, we have a talented, dedicated, and enthusiastic staff. I can see the day where there is more mobility in the teaching ranks, and our district needs to be ready to assess and reward as necessary to remain competitive.
Phair: Certainly the issue of funding will be a major problem in the coming years. The state funding formula is skewed to help districts in and around the urban areas while keeping the rural schools on a bargain basement budget. The gap between the state dollars sent to students in Whitefish Bay and Waupaca continues to widen. The board has to lobby for change.
Add to that the state’s continued suppression on district spending and recently mandated and proposed mandated programs, which come with a huge price tag. The district will realize more pressure on day-to-day expenses.
Another challenge will be keeping quality staff, especially young staff, employed in Waupaca in the coming years. While salaries have inched up slightly over the past five years, a popular option for significant salary gain for a young teacher is to move to a district that is willing to pay more, and with the demographics as they are, many more teachers will be retiring in the next five years and finding effective teachers to replace them will be difficult.
The school board must look to retain quality staff if it wants to keep quality academic programs and extra-curricular activities healthy.
The district will also be challenged with the maintaining and improving of facilities, consolidating classroom space, District office space and updating technology.
Johnson: One challenge will be completing the transition of our classroom curriculum to meet the Common Core State Standards. While the new standards are titled Language-Arts and Math, the literacy component of CCSS will reach all classes and disciplines.
In addition, new state assessment tests for students are being developed and will replace the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam (WKCE). The change in the assessment tests will require adjustments for teachers and parents alike. This coupled with the implementation of Educator Effectiveness which will evaluate our transition to the new standards, educator and curriculum effectiveness, and offer insight into areas of success and improvement all bring significant change to the roles of our teachers and administrators.
I believe effective collaboration among our teachers drawing upon their knowledge, skills, and creativity, active monitoring of the progress and successes of implementation, and an understanding of the magnitude of the changes for all involved will be critical.
We will also be challenged with ensuring the above is accomplished while continuing to meet the needs of our community and students and dealing with the cumulative reduction in state funds which is in excess of $3.5 million since the 2008-09 school year.
What do you think are the most promising opportunities for the Waupaca School District over the next two years? How do you believe the school board should go about pursuing those opportunities?
Phair: As area school districts consider consolidating programs, Waupaca has a wonderful opportunity over the next several years to become a regional provider of academic courses and extracurricular activities. Waupaca already attracts some students for sports or fine arts or advanced academic programing, but I believe the demand for regional learning centers will increase.
Many smaller communities, within an easy commute to Waupaca, may drop certain classes or programs and Waupaca is in an excellent position to invite those students through our doors. Some school districts in the state are spending thousands of dollars on advertising and public relation schemes to attract neighboring students. Waupaca doesn’t need to do that because it is in a unique geographical location, has a talented teaching staff, a variety of spacious facilities and outdoor fields, and a history of being a center for the fine arts.
The board needs to be encouraging, progressive-minded, collaborative and willing to promote the district at each opportunity. The winner in the boards’ ambassadorial work will be thousands of students, many too young to be enrolled yet, who will experience a competitive, 21st century quality education in a thriving and positive environment.
Johnson: While I indicated implementation of the Common Core Standards is a challenge for the district, it also presents us with opportunities. As long as the framework of the standards increases student preparedness for college and career and does not interfere with the application of the knowledge, skills and creativity of our educators, it should be viewed as an opportunity.
Implementing a community-based, four-year-old kindergarten program which will prove to be beneficial for future students, their families and the community as a whole is another opportunity.
As the Common Core Standards have “raised the bar” in educational expectations, establishing the 4K program will allow our future students to be better prepared when entering 5-year-old kindergarten and give the 5K teachers the ability to spend more of their time teaching rather than introducing children to the educational experience.
The community approach in which 4K is offered at area preschool and daycare sites allows continuity and an easier transition for the children currently attending those facilities and has proven in other districts to be a cost effective approach to implementation. We will need to closely monitor the impact of 4K to ensure the anticipated benefits are recognized.
Hansen: Opportunity one, and I am excited about it, is a community-based 4-year-old kindergarten program.
There is a lot of information, and some evidence, that getting these kids as 4 year olds just makes them more socially ready for full day 5-year-old kindergarten. There are also standard learning expectations that I know our administration will do a great job evaluating as we roll out year one in the fall of 2014. It’s also gratifying to see the teamwork between the day care centers and the administration.
For me, another opportunity is the further exploration of achievement towards our ends policies for citizenship and responsibility and how they relate to the environment in our schools. So much of the conversation revolves around standardized testing and Common Core, but our ends policies are also very important to us. The district just released results of the most recent student survey and the administration is in the midst of developing initiatives to address high priority issues. I am looking forward to assessing what these measures will be.