One year in, Oconomowoc High School staff, students adjusting to change

Alan Borsuk:

Time, time, time, see what’s become of Oconomowoc High School.
The nearly 1,500-student high school 30 miles west of Milwaukee attracted a lot of attention a year ago with a transformation plan: Reduce the staff, give most teachers increased workloads and pay, and implement learning approaches that call for more initiative by students and a lot of technology.
As Superintendent Patricia Neudecker (now retired) and high school Principal Joseph Moylan saw it, it was a way to tighten spending while personalizing and improving learning. As critics, including many teachers and students, saw it, it was a way to make things worse.
One year into the new reality, Oconomowoc High still stands. The critics haven’t been proved wrong, but it appears it was a pretty decent year by many measures. Change did not derail the basic flow of a healthy, energetic school and in some ways it helped. But there are signs of the stress the approach is putting on all involved, and change does not come easily.
With a bow to Simon and Garfunkel (“Hazy Shade of Winter,” of course), consider this an update focused on time, time, time.
Teachers’ time: For about a decade, the high school has used a block schedule, which means the school day is built around four longer periods rather than six or seven periods. The conventional teaching load in such a situation is three blocks a day. Many Oconomowoc teachers now teach all four blocks, which means they are in front of students just about all day.
Neudecker said the change was made to reduce staff and save money without reducing offerings to students. “We haven’t cut one program,” she said. “We have not increased our class size.”
In exchange for the heavier workload, teachers receive an additional $14,000 a year. For those affected, that has raised salaries to $50,000 at the starting level and $70,000 or more for experienced teachers.

Related: May, 2012: Budget Cuts: We Won’t Be as Bold and Innovative as Oconomowoc, and That’s Okay. Indeed. Madison appears to have mastered the art of status quo governance.

Oconomowoc High School plan brings transformation

Patricia Neudecker:

I support the teaching profession, administration, school boards and public education. Above balancing the needs of adults, however, my main responsibility is for students and the environments necessary for their learning.
Hundreds of decisions must be made daily to support that learning environment. Some decisions are easy, obvious and routine; some are difficult, painful and even courageous. All decisions are subject to both support and criticism. In a democratic environment with local control for schools, I wouldn’t want it any other way.
A transformational plan for high school staffing was presented recently to the Oconomowoc School Board. The plan reallocates resources, human and financial, and deploys them where they are needed the most. Across seven departments at Oconomowoc High School, an original staff of 60 will be reduced to a staff of 45. The 45 teachers each will be assigned an additional class section and will be compensated $14,000 each for that addition and the loss of some preparation time within the school day.
Unfortunately, 15 positions will be eliminated and teachers will be personally affected. Some teachers are eligible for retirement, some will be reassigned based on licensure and, unfortunately, nine will be laid off. The plan also generates a recurring savings of over $500,000 annually, maintains all programs and services for high school students and does not increase class sizes.

An alternate view from Rose Locander: Gut education now, pay later

When I first read of the draconian hits to public education that the Oconomowoc Area School District is proposing, I thought this might be a belated April Fools’ joke. Who in their right mind guts their high school staff in an attempt to balance their budget?
The school district wants to reduce its high school teaching staff by about 20%. It has become obvious that the “tools” given to school districts by Gov. Scott Walker have turned into sharpened arrows directed at the heart of public education.
I have questions for the residents of Oconomowoc: Are you going to accept what is going on in your district? Is this what you want for your children? Are you willing to have overworked staff members try to help your children with key curricular subjects? Are you willing to watch as your district goes knee-deep into the abyss?

Related, in Madison: Budget Cuts: We Won’t Be as Bold and Innovative as Oconomowoc, and That’s Okay. Remarkable.

Charter Schools Receive a Passing Grade: Overall Reading Gains Stronger Than on Regular Public Campuses, but Results Vary Widely by State

Stephanie Banchero:

Students attending publicly funded, privately run charter schools posted slightly higher learning gains overall in reading than their peers in traditional public schools and about the same gains in math, but the results varied drastically by state, according to one of the most comprehensive studies of U.S. charter schools.
The study [PDF], published Tuesday by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University, found that charter students in Rhode Island, for example, gained the equivalent of an additional 86 days of reading comprehension and 108 days of math comprehension annually compared with peers in traditional public schools. In Nevada, however, charter students had 115 fewer days of learning in reading and 137 fewer in math annually, the study found.
Overall, the new study found that charter students gained an additional eight days of reading, while the math gains were identical. Low-income Hispanic and African-American students did much better in charters than their peers in the traditional school option, while white children did worse in charters.
The researchers and some charter proponents said the results suggest some states need to be more particular about which groups they award charters, and more aggressive about shutting low-performers.

Center for Research on Education Outcomes Press Release:

According to the 26-state study:

  • Students in poverty, black students, and those who are English language learners (ELL) gain significantly more days of learning each year in both reading and math compared to their traditional public school peers. Performance differences between charter school students and their traditional public school peers were especially strong among black and Hispanic students in poverty and Hispanic students who are ELL in both reading and math.
  • Charter school enrollment has grown among students who are in poverty, black students, and Hispanic students.
  • The 11 new states added marginally to the mathematics gains seen since the 2009 study, but more so to gains in reading.

More from Stephanie Simon.
Related:One year in, Oconomowoc High School staff, students adjusting to change and May, 2012: Budget Cuts: We Won’t Be as Bold and Innovative as Oconomowoc, and That’s Okay.
A majority of Madison school board members rejected the proposed Madison Preparatory Academy IB Charter School in 2012.
Madison’s long term, disastrous reading scores.

10 things to watch for in the new school year

Alan Borsuk

Oconomowoc High School.
They have reduced the teaching staff and increased the workload for many teachers (giving them a boost in pay).
But what really interests me is a key to their plan: Making fundamental changes in the dynamic of education.
The goal is that a lot of the presentation of lectures and other instruction will come via video and the Internet. Education will be more customized for students, students will take more responsibility for their learning, and teachers will do more coaching, mentoring, monitoring.
There’s a lot of ferment in education over changes such as these. Oconomowoc will be an important test case.

Related: Budget Cuts: We Won’t Be as Bold and Innovative as Oconomowoc, and That’s Okay.

Oconomowoc plan a recipe for burnout

Teacher Mark Miner:

I have taught 28 years in the Oconomowoc Area School District, the last 25 at Oconomowoc High School. I am retiring at the end of this year so I have some perspective on the proposed “transformation” of the high school. I also have the luxury of being able to speak my mind without fear of repercussion.
Media coverage has focused on how the transformation is a bold educational innovation. However, there is more to the story.
For most of the years I have taught, there has been a genuine feeling of collaboration and teamwork among administrators, teachers and support staff. That has quickly eroded this past year into a culture of fear. Teachers fear that by speaking up, by questioning, they may be putting their careers in jeopardy.
I do not believe this is the kind of culture our school administration wants, but it is what we have. And now they are going to compound this situation by taking away the most valuable resource a teacher has: time.
I have been, as have many teachers, to many workshops over the years where innovative and exciting ideas and programs have been put forth on how to better meet the needs of students. Teachers come away thinking: If only we could . . . well we could . . . if we had the time.
Without a doubt, the No. 1 limiting factor in the successful implementation of new ideas and programs is time – the time to read, to mull over, to discuss, to plan, the time to create, to implement, to evaluate and to make changes.

Alan Borsuk:

Oconomowoc Superintendent Pat Neudecker calls the plan “the right thing to do for our students, our schools and the teaching profession.” Even before the financial belt got much tighter across Wisconsin, she was an advocate of changing classroom life to take better advantage of technology and make education more customized for students. Neudecker is currently president of the American Association of School Administrators; she was a leading figure in developing a statement issued by a group of Milwaukee area educators in 2010 that called for these kinds of changes.
Now, talk turns into action. Act 10, the Republican-backed state law that pretty much wiped out the role of teachers unions in school life, and cuts in education spending create the landscape for Oconomowoc to make big changes.
Oconomowoc High uses a block schedule, which means its days are built around four periods of about 90 minutes each, rather than, say, seven of 50 minutes. Generally, teachers teach three blocks and get one to work on things such as preparation. (If you think three blocks is a fairly light schedule, that’s because you haven’t done it.)
There is a big need to reduce spending for next year. For many school districts, that is going to mean reducing staff, keeping a tight grip on salary and benefits (as allowed now by state law), reducing offerings and increasing some class sizes – the four pillars of school cost cutting.

Governance: Changing Expectations in Oconomowoc – Paying Fewer High School Teachers More

Erin Richards:

In a move sure to capture the attention of school districts across the state grappling with how to reallocate resources in a time of reduced funding, the Oconomowoc Area School District administration on Tuesday proposed a profound restructuring of its high school, cutting staff and demanding the remaining educators take on more teaching duties.
The kicker: Those remaining staffers would each get a $14,000 annual stipend.
The plan requires reducing Oconomowoc High School’s core teaching force by about 20% – from about 75 to about 60 people – across the departments of math, science, social studies, language arts, foreign language, physical education and art, Oconomowoc Superintendent Pat Neudecker said Tuesday before a school board meeting where the plan’s details were released.
Oconomowoc’s dramatic step reflects a district responding to reduced resources amid an urgent push to reshape teaching, with newfound leeway to adjust compensation, staffing and school structures without having to bargain with unions.
“We haven’t ever moved around the pieces in education like this,” Neudecker said, adding that even with the stipends next year, the district would save $500,000 annually under the new plan.
“Our expectations are changing for teachers, but we’re also going to deploy resources to help them change,” Neudecker said.

Structural change rather than just ongoing, overall spending increases.
Oconomowoc’s 2011-2012 budget is $51,381,000 for 5,211 students results in per student spending of $9,860, 33% less than Madison. Madison’s 2011-2012 budget spends $369,394,753 for 24,861 = $14,858.40/student.
Update: Alan Borsuk:

Oconomowoc Superintendent Pat Neudecker calls the plan “the right thing to do for our students, our schools and the teaching profession.” Even before the financial belt got much tighter across Wisconsin, she was an advocate of changing classroom life to take better advantage of technology and make education more customized for students. Neudecker is currently president of the American Association of School Administrators; she was a leading figure in developing a statement issued by a group of Milwaukee area educators in 2010 that called for these kinds of changes.
Now, talk turns into action. Act 10, the Republican-backed state law that pretty much wiped out the role of teachers unions in school life, and cuts in education spending create the landscape for Oconomowoc to make big changes.
Oconomowoc High uses a block schedule, which means its days are built around four periods of about 90 minutes each, rather than, say, seven of 50 minutes. Generally, teachers teach three blocks and get one to work on things such as preparation. (If you think three blocks is a fairly light schedule, that’s because you haven’t done it.)
There is a big need to reduce spending for next year. For many school districts, that is going to mean reducing staff, keeping a tight grip on salary and benefits (as allowed now by state law), reducing offerings and increasing some class sizes – the four pillars of school cost cutting.

The Overhaul of Wisconsin’s Assessment System (WKCE) Begins

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction [52K PDF]:

Wisconsin will transform its statewide testing program to a new system that combines state, district, and classroom assessments and is more responsive to students, teachers, and parents needs while also offering public accountability for education.
“We will be phasing out the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examinations (WKCE),” said State Superintendent Tony Evers. “We must begin now to make needed changes to our state’s assessment system.” He also explained that the WKCE will still be an important part of the educational landscape for two to three years during test development. “At minimum, students will be taking the WKCEs this fall and again during the 2010-11 school year. Results from these tests will be used for federal accountability purposes,” he said.
“A common sense approach to assessment combines a variety of assessments to give a fuller picture of educational progress for our students and schools,” Evers explained. “Using a balanced approach to assessment, recommended by the Next Generation Assessment Task Force, will be the guiding principle for our work.”
The Next Generation Assessment Task Force, convened in fall 2008, was made up of 42 individuals representing a wide range of backgrounds in education and business. Tom Still, president of the Wisconsin Technology Council, and Joan Wade, administrator for Cooperative Educational Service Agency 6 in Oshkosh, were co-chairs. The task force reviewed the history of assessment in Wisconsin; explored the value, limitations, and costs of a range of assessment approaches; and heard presentations on assessment systems from a number of other states.
It recommended that Wisconsin move to a balanced assessment system that would go beyond annual, large-scale testing like the WKCE.

Jason Stein:


The state’s top schools official said Thursday that he will blow up the system used to test state students, rousing cheers from local education leaders.
The statewide test used to comply with the federal No Child Left Behind law will be replaced with a broader, more timely approach to judging how well Wisconsin students are performing.
“I’m extremely pleased with this announcement,” said Madison schools Superintendent Dan Nerad. “This is signaling Wisconsin is going to have a healthier assessment tool.”

Amy Hetzner:

Task force member Deb Lindsey, director of research and assessment for Milwaukee Public Schools, said she was especially impressed by Oregon’s computerized testing system. The program gives students several opportunities to take state assessments, with their highest scores used for statewide accountability purposes and other scores used for teachers and schools to measure their performance during the school year, she said.
“I like that students in schools have multiple opportunities to take the test, that there is emphasis on progress rather than a single test score,” she said. “I like that the tests are administered online.”
Computerized tests give schools and states an opportunity to develop more meaningful tests because they can assess a wider range of skills by modifying questions based on student answers, Lindsey said. Such tests are more likely to pick up on differences between students who are far above or below grade level than pencil-and-paper tests, which generate good information only for students who are around grade level, she said.
For testing at the high school level, task force member and Oconomowoc High School Principal Joseph Moylan also has a preference.
“I’m hoping it’s the ACT and I’m hoping it’s (given in) the 11th grade,” he said. “That’s what I believe would be the best thing for Wisconsin.”
By administering the ACT college admissions test to all students, as is done in Michigan, Moylan said the state would have a good gauge of students’ college readiness as well as a test that’s important to students. High school officials have lamented that the low-stakes nature of the 10th-grade WKCE distorts results.

Schools aim to make lunches healthy, tasty

Amy Hetzner:

Before the first lunch period begins at Oconomowoc High School, students sidle up to see what chef Brian Shoemake is cooking.
“Chicken pasta broccoli bowl,” Shoemake says in answer to an inquiry. “I’ll get you to eat your broccoli.”
Well, maybe not that student. But in the 15 minutes that ensue, Shoemake manages to fill the bowls of at least 60 others with steaming rotini, strips of chicken breast, their choice of Alfredo sauce and, yes, freshly cooked broccoli spears.
The addition of Shoemake to the lunch lineup this school year is part of a larger effort at the school.
Like a number of schools throughout the state, Oconomowoc High School is trying to tackle that seemingly intractable barrier in the fight to improve childhood nutrition: the school lunch.
“Student tastes have changed so much in the last 10 years,” said Brenda Klamert, director of child nutrition services for the Oconomowoc Area School District. “They’re looking for healthy foods.”
Schools have been slow to meet the demand.
Sure, many have added salad bars. But most lunches remain high in saturated fat and cholesterol and low in fiber- and nutrient-rich food, according to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. The Washington-based group advocates a more vegetarian approach.

Oconomowoc students to take act overseas to Fringe Fest

Laurel Walker:

As plots go, this theater production has some twists that are still turning.
Tom Klubertanz had been a hotshot drama teacher at Wauwatosa West – even named Wisconsin Teacher of the Year in 2000 – when he was invited to seek a place in the prestigious Fringe festival in Edinburgh, Scotland, this summer.
By the time the invitation arrived, he’d moved on to Oconomowoc High School, succeeding Vic Passante, who retired in 2007 after 33 years leading the program. Klubertanz applied anyway and learned last spring that he’d been accepted.
It was some honor, with only 42 American schools accepted among the 1,600 applicants invited to apply. Now he’s taking 30 Oconomowoc High School drama students with him in August, but they’ve got work ahead.
They’re madly working to raise funds to help pay the hefty $5,500 per student cost. They’re also furiously working to write and perfect an original work that they will perform five times in Edinburgh.
The Fringe, for the uninitiated, is billed as the largest performing arts festival in the world, where hundreds of groups from around the world perform theater, dance, music and similar arts. It coincides with other events featuring classical dance and music, films, gallery art, books and piper and drummer performances, all under the umbrella The Edinburgh Festival.