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Our Views: Expect changes in Janesville as school bells ring

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August 29, 2014

Changes are in store as Janesville School District students return to classes next week. Some changes will be obvious to parents. Others will be subtle. All, says Superintendent Karen Schulte, are designed to improve learning. That's good to hear given that ACT scores at Craig and Parker high schools were below the state average last year.

Yes, students scored better than those who took the test a year earlier. They also beat the national average, according to statistics released last week. It's also notable that Wisconsin's ACT scores ranked No. 2 nationally. Yet in a district that strives to be great, scoring below the statewide average isn't acceptable.

“We must do better for our children, and we will,” Schulte assured residents in a written statement.

Schulte and Kim Ehrhardt, director of instructional services, met with The Gazette's editorial board this month and outlined six initiatives to raise the bar.

1. Foremost is implementation of Common Core Standards. Schulte and Ehrhardt are strong proponents of the standards, which Gov. Scott Walker wants to revamp.

Critics suggest the standards usurp local control. “We have little local control because of state mandates,” Schulte countered. “So I don't see it as a loss of local control.”

Schulte and Ehrhardt say Common Core is much better than previous Wisconsin standards. Common Core pushes critical thinking. Each district can determine how best to teach to meet benchmarks. For example, starting this year, all Janesville eighth-graders—not just the brightest—will take algebra. Dropping Common Core now, say Schulte and Ehrhardt, would disrupt curriculum and new statewide spring tests.

2. To improve educator effectiveness, the district has adopted a program that involves principals visiting classrooms and coaching teachers more frequently.

3. The district is pushing educational equity. Schulte says that many English language learners and students living in poverty are doing well but that the district must focus more on special education students.

4. The district switched to standards-based report cards in elementary and middle schools in recent years. Those come to Craig and Parker this year as the district overhauls curriculum in Project Redesign. We agree with Schulte: It's not acceptable that 36 percent of Janesville graduates enrolling in UW System schools need remedial math classes. At a summer boot camp, math teachers explored what works and what doesn't. The district will take a more comprehensive view of math and strive to make instruction more meaningful so schools and students better match employer needs.

5. The district is rolling out an international program radically reduced from the initial proposal. Schulte plans to enroll just five students. Language barriers are one reason staffers need different skills to instruct international students, she notes. Having just five students won't require hiring new teachers and will help the district build a strong foundation and ensure quality for future expansion, she believes.

6. Infinite Campus is a new comprehensive, computerized student information system. With many kids living in two-household families, the system helps the district track names, addresses and phone numbers. No matter where they live, parents will be able to check grades, assignments, attendance and fee payments. Parents can sign up for emergency alerts and other messages by text, voice mail or email. Students can look up assignments and test schedules.

Education is ever evolving. Some new ideas improve learning, while other trends come and go quickly. Schulte and Ehrhardt hope the above changes boost test scores in the months and years ahead.

So should all Janesville residents, and they should be ready with praise if the district realizes those gains and serious questions if it does not.

Gazette editorials express the views of the newspaper’s editorial board. Readers are encouraged to comment on editorials through letters to the editor.



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