For years, some Janesville high school teachers had to make do with no textbooks or only enough for students to use in the classrooms, not take home.
Between the 2013-14 and 2017-18 school years, spending on textbooks dropped 76%, from $762,685 to $181,816.
When Superintendent Steve Pophal and his staff took an inventory in fall 2017, they discovered that with the exception of AP courses, 69% of 162 high school textbooks had been adopted 10 or more years earlier, and 25% had been adopted 15 or more years earlier, Pophal said.
At that time, courses without textbooks or without enough textbooks for all students included math courses at all levels, robotics, engineering, programming, exploring computer science, music, literature, finance and investing, and social studies.
The district started buying new textbooks or their electronic counterparts in the 2018-19 school year, but the district still is working to catch up, school officials said.
Pophal, who became superintendent in July 2017, said the district previously followed a textbook adoption cycle, which provided reliable funding for books every three years.
But in 2011, Act 10 became law and required teachers to pay significantly more toward their retirement and took away most of their ability to collectively bargain. At the same time, the Legislature cut back on school funding, telling school districts Act 10 gave them the tools they needed to make budget cuts.
At one point, the Janesville School District had to find nearly $8 million to cut, and the textbook adoption cycle fell to the wayside, Pophal said.
In the past, when most textbooks were ink printed on paper, a best-case lifespan for textbooks was six to eight years, Pophal said. That’s not just physical life but usefulness in terms of matching changes in state and national education standards that determine what students need to know at each grade. Standards sometimes increase in difficulty or change the way information is used or understood.
“The standards changed and got more rigorous, so the old resources we had were doubly a problem,” Pophal said. “First, because we didn’t have enough for each kid, and then they weren’t aligned with the higher learning expectations that exist with the standards are today.”
Here’s another thing that happens when standards change: Tests, such as Wisconsin’s Forward Exam and the ACT, change. If the students aren’t up to speed, that will show up on those results.
How did teachers manage without electronic or physical textbooks?
Teachers got by using the textbooks they had or by using “open educational sources.” These are online resources that can be used without violating copyright regulations.
But such resources were not designed to provide a complete curriculum even for a single grade, much less a series that would cover, for example, high school math.
“Teacher training does not prepare them to build a scope and sequence curriculum that’s aligned with the standards,” Pophal said. “Creating a curriculum is a full-time job. That’s an unrealistic lift to ask of teachers anywhere.”
District staff in fall 2017 began looking for new curriculum and planning ways to work it into the budget.
A new math series was introduced in the high school last year and at the middle school this year.
For the 2019-20 school year, among the 162 textbooks for high school courses:
The district is chipping away at its textbook deficit, Pophal said.
“We definitely have a few years to go,” Pophal said. “We’ve made it a priority to redirect resources into this area.”
More and more, the district is moving away from ink on paper textbooks to electronic resources.
Physical textbooks cost about $150 a student. For electronic textbooks, the district pays $10 to $15 a year per student. In addition, those electronic resources are updated every year to match the standards.
For Kenny Yarbrough, who in May 2018 was just beginning as UW-Whitewater’s chief equity, diversity and inclusion officer, stepping into Roger Pulliam’s legacy was intimidating.
It was unforgettable when Pulliam drove Yarbrough back to the airport after his interview, stopped his truck and said, “Boy, I’m gonna tell the chancellor you’re my replacement.”
It felt like watching a parent leave before the first day of kindergarten when Pulliam said, “All right, the university is in your hands,” and just left.
But Pulliam was leaving Yarbrough to swim not sink when he offered a reassuring, “You got this.” The two later had lunches or dinners every week for the next four or five months, Yarbrough said.
Even though he’s relatively new to UW-W, Yarbrough seems to be one of what he calls the “Pulliamites”—the countless individuals touched by Pulliam’s wisdom, generosity and love.
And they are now left to carry on Pulliam’s legacy, using the infrastructure he built to make first-generation, low-income and multicultural students welcome and successful in higher education.
Pulliam, the consensus builder, the trailblazer, the longtime champion of diversity, equity and inclusion at UW-Whitewater, died Feb. 12. He was 77.
Only four months earlier, the state Council on Affirmative Action gave Pulliam its first Lifetime of Service Award.
Pulliam was at UW-W from 1989 through 2018 in various roles, including assistant vice chancellor of academic support services, director of advancement and the interim for the position Yarbrough now holds.
A service is planned for 1 p.m. April 13, but the location has not yet been determined.
Pulliam’s list of hobbies and interests included jazz, blues and theater. When it came to the outdoors, he enjoyed fishing, camping, biking, tennis, jogging, skiing, golf, gardening and canoeing.
But he is best known as a “champion” for making the campus an inclusive place for all students.
James Parker, a professor emeritus from UW-La Crosse, first met Pulliam at a minority studies conference in 1975.
The two continued on their own paths until they were reunited on the state Council on Affirmative Action after Parker was appointed in 2004. There, the two worked to promote programs in education and in state agencies.
One area of note to Parker—Pulliam’s work at UW-W, such as in developing programs to provide scholarship support. Pulliam’s innovations and “magnetic” personality made UW-W an attractive place for students, he said.
“(He was) building programs there that made it, from my point of view, one of the most advanced universities dealing with disadvantaged and minority groups in the state,” Parker said.
Pulliam had his hand in the Upward Bound, McNair Scholars and King/Chavez Scholars programs, as well as helping students travel and study abroad. He also founded the National Black Student Union in 1998.
Adín Palau is chairman of the council and works at UW-Madison. While he did not get a chance to work with Pulliam, Palau said his legacy of making students into successful citizens was well-known.
“He believed in the access of education and dedicated his academic life to opening the doors of university for everyone,” Palau said.
When disagreements got “mildly heated” on the council, Parker said, Pulliam “would bring to the table his quiet assurance and a calm that helped always move us in the most productive and progressive direction.”
Parker last saw Pulliam in October and was looking forward to seeing his old friend again in spring. He said he will miss their quiet conversations.
Pulliam—like a lot of great educators do—had a way of believing in people even when they didn’t believe in themselves.
“He always said something to the tune of, ‘Don’t wear my shoes. Wear your own shoes. So, create what you need to create because I’ve done what I needed to,’” Yarbrough remembered.
After he found out about Pulliam’s death, Yarbrough spent most of the day in “crisis mode,” notifying and checking in on others. It wasn’t until that evening, when he could finally sit down, that it all hit him.
“It was ugly,” he said.
But Yarbrough refuses to let Pulliam’s legacy die with him.
“That is a promise that I made to his daughter, and that is a promise that I made to myself,” he said. “That we would not let that happen.”
Lessons from Pulliam were not limited to academics. Sometimes they were about food.
“So, he talked about the importance of eating right,” recalled Monica Kelsey-Brown, who studied at UW-Whitewater and later worked under Pulliam, her longtime mentor.
“I remember we used to always put salt on our food. He used to always take the salt shaker out of our hands,” she said with a laugh.
Other times, she said, Pulliam would make his lessons about exercise or being well-read.
Kelsey-Brown said he also stressed financial literacy. She remembered before her first “real job” he made her open up mutual fund accounts.
Kelsey-Brown, an assistant superintendent at the Brown Deer School District who got her doctorate from UW-Madison, still has those accounts today. She has passed some on to her nephews—an example of how Pulliam’s legacy “cascades” into the next generation.
Pulliam knew education was the key to student success, but he wanted his lessons to be broader than that. He was all-involved, always ready to do whatever it took for his students.
Kelsey-Brown called Pulliam her “angel on Earth.” If students needed a car to get groceries, Pulliam would lend them his own, she said.
He was selfless. Yarbrough said Pulliam never wanted attention and would almost grimace when others listed his accomplishments.
Friends and colleagues said he was an absolute gentleman, considerate, always happy, genuine and a pioneer. He grew up in Gary, Indiana, and was a first-generation college student himself.
Every time Kelsey-Brown asked how he was doing—no matter what was going on—he was “always OK,” she said. He was a rock, even when he went through his own struggles.
And he said he was OK even a few days before his death. Kelsey-Brown called him Feb. 7, the Friday before he died.
She said it’s still surreal that her mentor isn’t around anymore, but she’s glad she called to check on him.
“I was able to tell him I love him,” she said. “Then he was gone.
“That was my guy.”
Just before his 92nd birthday last year, Lester McNall self-published a book, “The Road Too Far,” which leaves readers wanting to take a long road trip.
In April 1948, Lester’s sister, Marie, and five other adventurous souls set out from Janesville to drive the Pan-American Highway to Santiago, Chile.
The Pan-American Highway stretched from Alaska to Chile, with less than 30% of all roads in Central America paved at the time.
Lester was not among the travelers, who, in addition to his sister, included Janesville native Pershing Pickens, Pershing’s mother, Babe, Pershing’s wife, Eileen, his younger sister, Marietta, also called Pic, and Pic’s cousin, Janet or Jan McCartney.
Pershing, less than a year out of the U.S. Navy, was the only man on the trip. He singlehandedly sank a Japanese destroyer during the Battle of Leyte Gulf off the Philippines on Oct. 24, 1944.
Marie and Jan were both farm girls who had been classmates at Janesville High School and who graduated in 1941.
To earn money for the trip, Marie and Jan bought 500 baby turkeys, raised them to adults and delivered them oven-ready to customers in the Madison area on Thanksgiving 1947.
In April 1948, the six explorers left in two vehicles, a panel truck outfitted for the trail-blazing journey and a black, 4-door Chevrolet sedan manufactured at the Janesville GM plant.
In Central America, they navigated through torrential rain, followed narrow roads almost covered with water and crossed rickety old bridges. They had an encounter in Nicaragua with an alligator named Big Al, whose head was 14 inches across. And they ate meat, including deer, killed by Pershing.
“Persh is having the time of his life,” Marie wrote in her journal.
“He hunts so much that he can hardly find time to sleep.”
In the Peruvian Andes, they drove through snow-capped peaks. They crossed a cable suspension bridge that swayed, bounced and rocked when the truck crossed it. And they nearly passed out while driving at high elevations.
“The vastness and beauty seemed unreal,” Eileen wrote in her diary, “unlike anything I’ve ever seen before and impossible to describe.”
By October, after plying some miles by ship and rail, they arrived in Santiago and were forever changed by the people and the experiences along the way.
In the end, Eileen wrote in her diary: “If there is any one thing we will never forget about our trip, it is the wonderful people we found wherever we went.”
Marie and Lester were among the youngest of the 10 McNall children. Their brother Dick was well-known in Janesville for his work at Rotary Gardens and the Tallman Restorations.
Lester, who spent his career in the chemical industry, retired in 2016. Then he turned his attention to genealogy and writing.
He wrote “The Road Too Far” by relying on information in Eileen’s diary and Marie’s detailed journal.
Lester intended the tale to be mostly for family members. But nonrelatives also have embraced the story of international adventure before smartphones and GPS.
Until Lester read Eileen’s diary, “I didn’t realize all the things they got into on this trip,” he said. “Marie never talked about the trip. I don’t know why because it certainly was an impactful journey.”
Lester was a sophomore at UW-Madison at the time of the adventure.
Today, he lives in La Habra, California.
“I wrote the book to have a record of the journey,” he said. “I figured in a few years all the information about it would be gone. I thought it would be an interesting book because it was a one-of-a-kind trip.”
Anna Marie Lux is a Sunday columnist for The Gazette. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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