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June 16, 2013

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.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at June 16, 2013 4:50 AM
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