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Student poverty rising in Janesville

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
February 29, 2012
— The number of students in the Janesville School District who come from low-income families continues to rise, with nearly half qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch.

The number of minority students—especially Hispanics—also continues to rise. White students now comprise 77 percent of students.


Those facts mean school officials might have to hire more staff, including social workers and teachers of English for those who speak other languages, according to an administration memo presented to the school board Tuesday.


The administration is not recommending any hiring in this area just yet, however, and the board did not address these questions at Tuesday's meeting.


Minority and low-income students on average tend to perform more poorly in academics than white students of higher incomes, but the district has taken a no-excuses approach. One of the factors used to evaluate Superintendent Karen Schulte starting this year is the test performance of minority groups.


Overall test performance of all students has been and remains an important part of Schulte's evaluation.


Educating staff members on the differing needs of poor and minority students will become more important now, said Yolanda Cargile, director of at-risk and multicultural programs.


Training will focus on how to increase reading and math scores and meeting different students' needs, Cargile said.


"Impoverished communities often suffer from discrimination and end up caught in cycles of poverty," according to the memo. "This creates long-lasting handicaps and troubles that are passed on from one generation to another. … (The) administration is diligently working to reduce those barriers and ensure all staff (members) have the skills and knowledge to increase student achievement and improve relationships with children and families."


Wilson and Jackson elementary schools continue to have the highest numbers of low-income students. Harrison Elementary has the least, but even there, nearly one in three students qualifies for free or reduced-price lunch under the federal lunch program.


Comparable numbers for other districts or the state are not available for the current year. Last year, Beloit led the area with a 73 percent rate for low-income students, followed by Delavan-Darien with 62 percent, Janesville with 46 percent, Parkview with 40 percent and Beloit Turner with 38 percent.


The statewide average for 2010-11 was 39 percent.


Also important are related problems such as truancy, discipline, and drug and alcohol abuse, Cargile said. The district has boosted its anti-drug and alcohol efforts in recent years with positions and programs supported by federal grants, and it recently hired an "attendance liaison" for each high school to concentrate on getting students to attend, Cargile said.


The influx of Hispanic students in Janesville appears to be slowing. Numbers increased by 83 percent from 2002-03 to 2006-07. The increase slowed to 40 percent over the succeeding five years.


The number of students who are learning English as a second or third language reached 833 this year, a nine-year high, but that was an increase of only six from the previous year.


The majority of them—622—are Spanish speakers. Those students have varying grasps on English, so the demands on specialized "English language learner" teachers vary as well.


Cellphone use by students expanded

Student at Parker and Craig high schools will be allowed to use their cellphones for limited times during the school day under a pilot project the Janesville School Board approved Tuesday.


Principals Chris Laue and Alison Spiegel requested the change, which will be in effect only during the year's fourth quarter, which starts in about three weeks.


Currently, students must keep their cellphones off during the entire school day.


Allowing students to use their cellphones in the buildings during passing times, before the first class and after the last class could reduce the amount of forbidden text-messaging that goes on in class, Laue said.


Students also use restroom passes and other "less than honorable" methods to use their cellphones on the sly, Laue said.


Prohibitions on cellphone use will continue in restrooms and locker rooms.


The principals said they will educate students about responsible cellphone use while at the same time showing how the phones can be a part of daily life.


They seemed most enthused about the possibilities of using cellphones as educational devices in class. Some teachers are already trained in these emerging educational uses, while others will need to learn, the principals said.


Cellphones can be used as wireless response devices that allow teachers to post instant results of a survey of class members, for example. Smart phones can also be used to show educational videos, the principals said.


Some students don't have phones, of course. Officials have limited numbers of iPods and iPads that could be used to fill the gap and would use annual building allotments to buy more.


Wireless technology is already available in the schools, so the only costs would appear to be training and buying devices for students who need them.


Administrators will closely monitor the use of phones in classes, and the practice will only be allowed after training for staff and a review by the principal, they said.


The motto of the new rule is, "bell to bell, don't use your cell," Laue said.


STUDENT DEMOGRAPHICS

Here are some other items from the Janesville School District's the annual demographics report:


-- The overall number of students continues to slowly decline. Enrollment in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade dropped by nine as of the September 2011 count, to 10,293. Four-year-old kindergarten continues to rise, with 638 students this year. Kindergarten-through-12th grade declined by 65.


-- Homelessness continues to rise. The district reports 416 students were homeless at some point during last school year. Numbers are on pace to increase again this year, officials said.


The district has a social worker whose job is to address homeless students' needs and educate staff about the problems these students face. The job is funded by a federal grant that is running out this year. It's not yet known whether the grant will be renewed.


Social worker Ann Forbeck told The Gazette that previous increases in homelessness might have been because of greater awareness, but now she believes the economy is the greatest determining factor.


-- The district is home to 1,092 students who identify as Hispanic this school year, up 38 from last year.


-- 475 students identified as African American, up two from the previous year.


-- A new designation required by the federal government starting last year, "two or more races," was up by 23, to 496.


-- Students identifying as Asian were up 11, to 205.


-- Home-schooled students, those whose parents choose to educate them at home, increased by 33 this year, to 193.


-- Enrollment in the eight religious schools located in the district decreased by 105 this school year, to 1,123 students. The two largest religious schools are St. Paul's Lutheran and St. John Vianney Catholic, both with 251.



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