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April 29, 2012

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.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at April 29, 2012 1:45 AM
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