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Olympic spirit meets third-grade imagination at Janesville's Washington Elementary


Think ice hockey with the addition of tag. Or bobsledding with a side of hula-hooping.

This week, Washington Elementary School third-graders celebrated the opening of the Winter Olympics by creating and playing games of their own.

Here’s what they learned: When everybody is having fun, the scoring doesn’t matter.

Also, things don’t always work out like you expect.

The first game was based on ice hockey. When students made goals, they had to run over to a soft plastic dome called a blaster and step on it, shooting a ball at a target.

However, if a student from the other team was able to tag the first student, the first student lost the chance to earn extra points.

Confused? We were, but the kids were not. They got up and started to play immediately, the syncopated sounds of plastic hockey sticks cracking against each other drowning out any doubts about the rules.

Delaney King, 8, naturally took to the sport, deftly performing the quick-stop-and-reverse moves for which hockey players are known. She also held the hockey stick like an Olympian—as opposed to an enthusiastic third-grader.

It turns out she’s in gymnastics and plays summer hockey.

We can’t all be stars.

Brecken Combs, 9, one of the game’s inventors, watched the melee with a bemused expression.

“This isn’t how I imagined it,” Combs said to himself.

Combs and his fellow game designers—Brandon Saltz and Lexi Walker, both 9—wanted everybody to have a chance to play, so they created teams of four people.

But having four people on each team meant that each hockey/tag/blaster court had to be fairly small.

Combs and Saltz worried that somebody might get hurt. Players were getting too close to the goalies. With a larger court, they could create creases in front of each goal just like in regular ice hockey.

But nobody got hurt—no blood, no foul—and they could always make changes. Baseball wasn’t created in a day, either.

The next game had elements of bobsledding—sort of.

Students started by rolling across the gym floor on a scooter, which is like a four-wheeled sled. With a running start, a scooter will carry a grown woman across the gym.

The kids launched themselves via scooter to a jump rope in the center of a hula hoop. They then jumped 10 times, hula-hooped for five seconds, stepped up and down on hard foam blocks and then returned to the start.

Points were awarded for the fastest time.

We think.

Once the kids got started, they ran through the course over and over again, and nobody kept track of the score.

It was a big hit.

“It gets your heart pumping, and you use your muscles,” Issac Tearman, 8, said during feedback time.

Hailey Williamson, 8, liked it because “you got to do a lot of stuff.”

All that fun couldn’t happen without a equal dose of learning. Modern educational standards require every activity to be infused with academic rigor. A kid can’t launch a spitball without considering that force equals mass times acceleration.

Before they could have fun, students had to research and write about the different countries and sports involved in the Winter Olympics. The library media specialist created marble ramps to help them through the basic physics concepts of motion and momentum.

Physical education teacher Sherry Hintz was at the center of game creation.

Again, modern educational standards being what they are, she had to talk about the benefits of such an exercise, such as working together as a team, learning to accept feedback and empowering learning choices.

Hintz also participated in games when an extra player was needed and—this should be kept secret—she looked like she was having a lot of fun.

Milton School Board candidates disagree on need for new high school

Brian Kvapil


City staffers brought in extra chairs Thursday night for the nearly 100 people who packed City Hall to hear eight Milton School Board candidates discuss a proposed new high school and public trust.

The event was a precursor to the Feb. 20 primary, which will eliminate two candidates before the April 3 general election.

Incumbents Shelly Crull-Hanke and Brian Kvapil are running for re-election. Tony Astin, Joe Martin, Diamond McKenna, Brent Miller, Harvey Smith and Gabriel Szerlong are seeking their first terms on the board.

WCLO radio anchor Stan Stricker asked candidates submitted questions as moderator. The Milton Area Chamber of Commerce organized the forum.

Candidates echoed each other on several questions, applauding the district for quality academics, strong teachers and supportive parents. They said they would be willing to miss work for school board matters and encouraged the audience to attend games, graduations and other school events.

But questions about a new high school and public communication yielded the most passionate answers.

District voters have rejected two facilities referendums in the past two years. Some have complained that the district and school board have lost their trust while pushing for a new high school.

Martin said he disagreed with those who said trust was an issue. He said he thought the board was transparent when it explained the terms of both referendums.

“Just because you don’t like the message doesn’t mean they didn’t communicate,” Martin said.

Astin and Crull-Hanke agreed, saying the board has been as open as possible during regular meetings and other public listening sessions.

But Smith said district residents didn’t believe the board was listening to them. It was a common theme he heard while collecting signatures to get his name on the ballot, he said.

Kvapil, who has been the lone dissenting vote multiple times during his year on the school board, said he saw significant distrust. As a current board member, Kvapil put blame on himself and said everyone needed to work harder to regain public confidence.

Others said the board needed to make more of an effort to actually hear constituents.

Szerlong suggested asking teachers what they need. McKenna said some residents didn’t feel their input was validated, and Miller said an open line of communication between the board and the public doesn’t currently exist.

The trust question provided the most disparate answers until the end of the night, when Stricker asked candidates for their positions on a new high school.

Szerlong said he was not for or against a new building and stressed the district needed to work within its means.

Kvapil gave a similar answer, saying the idea of needs was subjective and that the board could not ask people to support something they couldn’t afford.

Continuing the earlier theme of sowing trust, Smith said the board needed to revisit public feedback in whatever solution it chose.

McKenna wanted the board to recognize the public has already rejected two referendums, but she wanted a balance between community input and what students needed.

The rest expressed outright support for a new high school.

Astin said he voted for both referendums, and he still believed a new school was likely the best solution.

Miller wanted something that would reduce overcrowding and improve safety, issues that could be solved with a new building.

Martin agreed and believed a new high school was the most cost-effective way to solve the district’s space problems.

Crull-Hanke has often talked about her time on a design team a decade ago. The needs then are still the same, she said, and an addition at the high school wouldn’t solve issues at other district buildings.

Despite opposing views in the community, the candidates said they believed district residents overall were supportive of Milton schools.

The crowd that squeezed into the city council chambers on a wintry night was evidence of that.

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Beloit's NorthStar approved to hit market with moly-99


After months awaiting federal approval and years developing a system to become a domestic supplier of medical molybdenum-99, Beloit company NorthStar Medical Radioisotopes is clear to hit the market.

A company insider said NorthStar received approval Thursday from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to sell and supply moly-99 it produces using a government nuclear reactor in Missouri.

Jon Coulter, managing director of Hendricks Holdings in Beloit and a member of NorthStar’s board of managers, said the FDA approval letter, which he said was dated Thursday, means NorthStar can begin ramping up for its entry into the domestic moly-99 market.

That makes NorthStar the first company in the U.S. in a quarter century to be a domestic seller and supplier of moly-99.

“Now, as of today, we’re able to sell it. That’s really what this (approval) means today,” Coulter said.

NorthStar and a Janesville company, SHINE Medical Technologies, have been vying for years to be the first private companies in the U.S. to produce and supply moly-99 and other radioactive compounds for use in medical tests.

The moly-99 produced by NorthStar would be metered into doses at specialty pharmacies using NorthStar-designed equipment that operates without the use of radioactive, high-enriched uranium, the company has said.

Moly-99 is used to light up bone and other tissue in thousands of medical tests a day.

Coulter said NorthStar on Thursday had teleconferences planned with the FDA and the U.S. Department of Energy. Both of those agencies have played major roles in moving NorthStar through the processes of planning and approval of domestically produced moly-99.

Hendricks Holdings has a financial stake in NorthStar, company officials have said.

In a news release Thursday morning, NorthStar CEO George Messina called NorthStar “the first and thus far only company to achieve the objective of being the first U.S. producer of Mo-99 in more than 25 years.”

He said the company was “extremely proud to pioneer domestic production of Mo-99 that is independent of uranium-based product.”

NorthStar has made no public announcements on how soon it could enter the market, but company sources have indicated NorthStar has been producing moly-99 for some time but not selling it.

The Gazette on Thursday could not immediately reach NorthStar officials for comment.

Moly-99 is produced mainly in foreign government laboratories using nuclear reactors, many of which operate off highly enriched uranium also used to make nuclear weapons. Moly-99 is projected to be in critically short supply as foreign governments phase out aging reactors.

The U.S. Energy Department issued a news release Thursday morning trumpeting the FDA’s approval of NorthStar’s technology, calling it a “win-win” for “national security and health care.”

The agency said NorthStar’s processes move moly-99 production away from processes that use weapons-grade uranium.

“The domestic production of this critical medical isotope without highly enriched uranium reduces global proliferation threats while also providing a more reliable supply to health care providers that need moly-99 for diagnostic medical procedures every single day,” said Steven C. Erhart, Department of Energy acting under secretary for nuclear security and National Nuclear Security Administration administrator, in a statement.

In 2012, Congress passed the American Medical Isotopes Production Act, a law that directed the Department of Energy to start a program to support projects that produced medical moly-99 without highly enriched uranium.

The federal government has awarded both NorthStar and SHINE millions of dollars in matching grants.

NorthStar has worked with the federal government on development of its own processes for seven years, the Department of Energy said.

NorthStar uses a government-owned research reactor in Missouri to produce its moly-99, and its Beloit headquarters is set up as a distribution hub for moly-99 that will be shipped to radiopharmacy laboratories nationwide.

SHINE seeks to build a moly-99 production facility in Janesville and use particle accelerators. SHINE has said it could be more than a year before it ramps up its own production facility.

SHINE is building a test and demonstration facility in Janesville that’s expected to be operational sometime in 2018, the company has said. The test site would be used to set up and demonstrate SHINE’s proprietary accelerator technology, which the company said will allow it to produce moly-99 in Janesville without using highly enriched uranium.

The test facility is being built on land next to a Janesville tax increment financing district where SHINE plans to eventually build its 55,000-square-foot production facility. That facility is on track to be built and operating by 2020, SHINE has said, and will break ground this year.

So far, Janesville has committed $10.5 million in tax incentives to SHINE’s project, according to city records.

Asked Thursday for comment on NorthStar’s FDA approval, SHINE Vice President Katrina Pitas responded to The Gazette in an email.

In the email, Pitas wrote that the type of moly-99 that NorthStar produces and the type SHINE plans to produce in Janesville are different.

Pitas wrote that SHINE plans to produce what is known as “high-specific-activity” moly-99, which Pitas said is the type many major medical operators, including SHINE clients GE Healthcare, are equipped to handle through current “distribution” methods.

Pitas wrote that NorthStar produces what’s known as “low-specific-activity” moly-99, a type that would require clients to adjust to “new and complex distribution equipment.”

“Now that it has FDA approval, we will find out whether or not the (medical) market wants to change behavior,” Pitas wrote.

Pitas wrote that SHINE does not view NorthStar’s FDA approval as a “first-to-market situation” because the market has “long been served” by high-specific-activity moly-99, rather than the type NorthStar produces.

“They (NorthStar) will need to take significant share from existing sources of supply before it would have an impact on SHINE,” Pitas wrote.


Thursday’s high 19

Average high 29.7

Thursday’s low 0

Average low 11.7

Snow None

High a year ago today 22

Low a year ago today 10