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Uphill Both Ways

Stories and images from the Gazette's education files with reporter Cathy Idzerda.

Uphill Both Ways: Open pods, irritated parents

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Catherine W. Idzerda
Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Harrison Elementary School opened in September 1970.

It was named after the country's ninth President, William Henry Harrison, who served exactly 31 days before succumbing to pneumonia he caught while giving his inaugural speech in an icy January downpour. The speech was two hours long, so it sort of served him right.

The Janesville School Board recommended closing Blackhawk and La Prairie elementary schools and moving the students to Harrison.

The new school would serve the students better, school officials said.

“We feel the students would receive more individualized instruction through the nongraded teaching which is in keeping with the philosophy of the school board and administration,” said Lewis Loofboro, director of elementary education.

The school was built on the “open pod” system, designed to “make it possible to combine several classes under one teacher for group instruction or to separate classes into small groups,” according to Superintendent Fred Holt.

Parents weren't crazy about the pod system or the “nongraded” philosophy.

At a school board meeting in 1976, parents complained that teachers were “so busy with paperwork, charts and testing” that they didn't have time to get to know children.

They thought testing was bad then? That was before the No Child Left Behind Act, and its replacement, the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Other complaints about Harrison included:

--The school library or instructional materials center was filled with “students chatting, dreaming or walking about aimlessly.”

NO DREAMING IN SCHOOL.

--Report cards were meaningless, and parent-teacher conferences left parents feeling confused and overwhelmed by teachers using educational and psychological jargon.

I can handle the jargon, but not the acronyms: ELL, IEP, OYRBS, DPI, SDJ, TPR, SAT and AGR. If you know what those mean, you should run for school board. If you are running for school board and don't know what they mean, just bring a notebook and a couple of sharp pencils (CSPS) to your first board meeting.

--Teachers were interrogating students about their home life “under the guise of self-concept sessions for children with so-called learning disabilities when some of the problems might be teaching disabilities due to a faulty system.”

Ouch.

The boy looking at the globe in Harrison's instructional materials center—or is that an open pod classroom?-- is Billy Deegan of Route Three, Janesville.

He's not chatting or wandering about aimlessly. Is he dreaming?

Perhaps.

He's looking at Western Europe. He could be dreaming about racing in Monte Carlo or prisoners in the Tower of London or springtime in Paris.

Or maybe he's wondering what would happen if you detached the globe and gave it a kick. Would it reach the other side of the classroom/instructional materials center?


Catherine Idzerda is the education reporter for The Gazette. She can be reached at (608) 755-8259 or cidzerda@gazettextra.com.


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