SUPERINTENDENT RELEASES FIRST EDITION OF NEWSLETTER TO FAMILIES/STAFF

Superintendent Shares First Newsletter of Many for Families and Staff
Posted on 09/20/2016
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Greetings from Dean Gorrell, Superintendent of the Verona Area School District.

This year I have made it my goal to provide this online newsletter with periodic updates to you centered on matters pertinent to our school district, but also on state and national matters in the news. Depending on what device you are reading this on, it will look different, so I recommend opening it on a larger screen if you are able since this newsletter is a bit longer than future ones I will be sending to you.

District Mission: In October of 2015, the Board of Education rewrote the District mission statement to Every Student Must Succeed. In addition to this mission statement, the Board identified the following actions and outcomes.

Actions:
Equity: We will act to eliminate gaps and barriers between our mission and the policies, practices, and structures that may perpetuate systemic inequities. In addition, we seek to remove the predictability of success and failure that currently correlates with any social or cultural factor.
Excellence: We will ensure all students have access to rigorous content at or above grade level.
Engagement and Expectations: We will develop knowledge, attitudes, skills and practices to create learning environments and opportunities that expect and support high achievement for all students.
Empowerment: We will create sustainable partnerships in supporting academic achievement for all students.

Outcomes:
•Every student in VASD has a personalized learning plan that provides a path to discovery and achievement and that plan is reviewed and changed at least annually based on the student’s needs.
•Every student’s parent, guardian or advocate participates directly in the design, implementation, and outcomes of that student’s personalized learning plan.
•Every student meets or exceeds the goals of his or her personalized learning plan every school year.
•Every VAHS student graduates.
•Every VAHS graduate achieves their choice of college and career path, as detailed in their personalized learning plan.

THE WHY:
The entire staff believes every student must be successful because they believe no child is expendable. We believe at this time in their lives, our children depend on us for their future. Soon though, our collective future, from our national security to economic viability and everything else, will depend on them and their success.

What’s Happening Locally?:
We are off to a great start of the school year! There are always a few kinks to work out early in the school year as we bring together nearly 5,500 students and more than 800 staff members. Given the size of our district and the thousands of interactions that occur each day, we’ve experienced very few challenges getting underway.

Enrollment – Our official enrollment count day for every school year is the third Friday in September, which this year is Friday, September 16th. This count is very important for us as it determines to a large extent the revenue authority we are granted from the state. Our preliminary enrollment pK – 12 sits at 5448 students, roughly fifteen students higher than projected.

iPads – In June the Board of Education approved a four-year lease agreement with Apple Inc. to provide an iPad for every student K-12. Our technology team has worked very hard over the course of the summer to prepare for distribution of these iPads. By early October, distribution will be completed. Students in grades 4 – 12 will be able to take their devices home with them while students in grades K-3 will have them housed at the school full-time.

Referendum – The Board of Education is likely going to call a referendum for building(s) / renovation(s) and / or capital maintenance in April, 2017. What question(s) will be on the referendum are still unknown. Currently the Board is considering two options. They are as follows:

Option 1 includes a new high school with a capacity of 2000 students to be built on 108 acres owned by the school district known as the west end site (south and east of the intersection of West Verona Avenue and Epic Lane). Included in this option is: the renovation of Badger Ridge Middle school to become Badger Ridge Elementary school, a K-5 school with a capacity in the range of 600 – 830 students, the renovation of the existing Verona Area High School to become the home for the current Badger Ridge Middle School, Core Knowledge Charter School and New Century Charter School. In this option, the current Sugar Creek Elementary school and New Century Charter school are closed and no longer used. Also included in Option 1 is mechanical, electrical, plumbing and building envelope work at the other schools as needed. The estimated cost* for this option is projected to be $149 million at the low end up to $187 million depending on what features / amenities (e.g. pool, Performing Art Center, competition athletic fields, expended capacity) are included.

Option 2 includes everything in Option 1 plus an additional elementary school with a capacity of 525 students. This school would be built on 18 acres of land owned by the district known as the Herfel Site located just south of the Cathedral Point subdivision and east of Locust Drive. The estimated cost* of Option 2 on the low end is projected to be $183 million up to, again depending on what features / amenities are included, $219 million dollars.

*These are estimated costs based on information currently available. These are subject to change.

In mid-October, all residents of the Verona Area School District will be receiving a survey that will provide more detailed information about the options, costs and projected impact on your property tax rates. Additionally, we will be holding two community presentations to assist community members on understanding the referendum survey material: Oct. 17 at Badger Ridge Middle School at 6 pm and Oct. 18 at Savanna Oaks Middle School at 6 pm. We will communicate these dates to you again as they get closer.

Policy for transgender students / staff – The Board of Education has been working on a policy regarding transgender students and staff for the last several months. This work is complicated for the Board as there is no clear legal guidance on this matter. The U.S. Departments of Justice and Education have issued guidelines that don’t have the weight of law, but do carry the risk of removal of federal funding if not followed. Wisconsin is one of twenty-three states challenging those guidelines in a lawsuit. While there are several points to a policy related to transgender students and staff, the two that are of most interest and most controversial are the use of restrooms and locker rooms. The Board of Education has not yet settled on policy language and practice related to use of restrooms and locker rooms. The Board will be discussing this further at its next meeting on the September 26th.


Around the State…
Biennium budget – When the state legislature convenes this year, the bulk of the discussion will revolve around the 2017 – 2019 biennium budget. It is unknown at this time what public education initiatives or reforms will be associated with that budget. In the past several budget cycles, there were major budgetary implications for public pre-K education and it is likely this biennium budget will be no different in that regard. Watch my future newsletters for updates on those matters.

ACT testing – Last year nearly all high school juniors across the state of Wisconsin took the ACT (American College Testing). This was one assessment in a series of state mandated, K-12 assessments collectively known as the Wisconsin Student Assessment System. Lately it was reported that ACT scores across the state dropped noticeably from previous years. While our scores were all above the state average for each of the separate areas tested (English, Math etc.), they were lower than the previous years. That was an expected result locally and statewide since the ACT previously had been an opt–in assessment taken only by those students who wanted to participate as part of the college admission process. This mandated assessment now captures nearly every high school Junior in the state.

Around the Nation…
Every Student Succeeds Act – In December of 2015, President Obama signed in to law the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). This Act replaces the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) enacted in 2002 and is related to the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). There are several components of this Act I will focus on in future newsletters.