District still unclear on state budget impact

by Dave Cary Review Correspondent

PLYMOUTH - Dr. Clark Reinke, Plymouth School District administrator, told the School Board Tuesday that at a recent legislative breakfast, he could not get much of an indication what area state legislators felt the likely outcome of the state budget process was likely to be where schools are concerned, despite genuine interest on their part in the subject.

The breakfasts are a regular open event between state lawmakers and local governmental officials. Of particular interest to school districts has been a proposal from Gov. Scott Walker to freeze school spending caps. Made last February, the proposal would, if enacted without change, have a significant impact in the Plymouth District, which is already 26th lowest ranked among the state's 450 school districts in spending per pupil.

On the other hand, Reinke said, a separate proposal made by Walker tying state aids in some manner to a district's performance in the "School Report Card" program, seems to have no traction at all among legislators. Plymouth School Board President Mark Rhyan had earlier questioned this proposal since the "report card" program was brand-new and based on the WKCE tests, which are given in only three grades per year and were not designed for this purpose.

Rhyan said that if a person was concerned about this and hadn't already written - or even if they had - there was still time to do it effectively. He noted that of the five area legislators mentioned, three are on the State Joint Finance Committee, a key player in the budget process.

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Plymouth High School Principal Dan Mella and two faculty members reported to the board what was being done to improve the school's performance in the "report card" program.

Even though PHS had been scored in the high "exceeds expectations" category, Mella said, the philosophy embodied in the saying "the road to success is always under construction" was stressed in Plymouth's efforts, and mitigated against resting on laurels when a successful result was achieved. There is always more to be done, he said.

Mella said there were several multi-year measures that indicated the school was trending in the right direction: the graduation rate, 94.1 percent, was better than the statewide figure and has been improving the last several years; scores on the college-admissions ACT test, while good, also showed an upward trend over the last few years; efforts to remove what he called "fluff" from the grading process which involves, among among other things, an effort to have grades reflect more fully a student's mastery of course content rather than being clouded by things like neatness, timeliness, etc. have also shown success.

PHS Media Specialist Dena Budrecki said that early release days were largely spent by teachers in discussion and examination of inquiry-based learning issues. This is a style of education that instead of having students be largely listeners, tries to engage them either individually or in small groups; it also stresses the search - developing and asking the right questions rather than learning things by rote. In inquiry-based learning, a teacher is likely to be more of a "coach" or facilitator rather than filling a traditional lecturer/emcee role. Budrecki said that during these discussions, about 20 teachers had come up with at least one student each who needed help and had volunteered for some one-on-one work with them.

Chemistry teacher Jay Grosshuesch said he had come to the inquiry-based method over the years from various sources, and had applied it in his advanced chemistry course. There, students divided into collaborating smaller groups and, once given a topic, were encouraged to come up with the right question, not only as to an experiment's goals but what data are desired and how to go about getting it.

The students, he said, had taken to this idea well. With the result that the students were able to experience science in somewhat the way scientists experience it; they also learned the material much better, he said, as well as thinking longer, harder and deeper about it.

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The board gave the required first reading of three board policies - Laude Recognition, a Class Exemplar, and revision to the Graduation Requirements.

The Laude system considers the difficulty of course content as well as the grade result in calculating class standing, and replaces the traditional method relying on grade-point average alone. Three levels of recognition will be used: Summa Cum Laude for the highest achievement status, Magna Cum Laude for next highest, and Cum Laude in that order. The policy also spells out tie-breaking procedures to be followed.

The Class Exemplar policy will assign a selected student to give a commencement address. This honor is not automatic and must be applied for. An Exemplar must be a senior and have completed the last two years of high school at PHS; must be ranked Cum Laude or higher; must have excellent "soft skills" marks the final two years; must have completed at least 10 co-curricular activities; must have no athletic or school code violations; and must have excellent leadership and service experience. Applicants will be reviewed and judged by a panel of peers and staff appointed by the high school principal or his designee.

The Graduation Requirement changes came about when the state decided to allow waiving one-half credit of physical education and substituting something else for it. This privilege must be applied for, and the substituted study must be for an approved Cum Laude course. Additionally, due to a last-minute board amendment, the student must participate in a full season of a WIAA sport in the same school year.

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In personnel matters, the board approved retirement requests from: Mary Schmidt, 33-year Parkview third-grade teacher; Marlyn Hahn, 16-year PHS horticulture teacher; Chris Walvoord, 22-year Parkview second-grade teacher; and Sandy Scudella, 33-year elementary choral teacher.

The board also approved a year's unpaid leave of absence requested by Matt Kohler, nineyear Riverview math teacher.

The board approved a request from instrumental music teacher Jason Sebranek, to take students to perform at Disney World, Orlando, Fla., next November. Expenses are the responsibility of students and families.

In other matters, the board accepted a donation of $5,145 for the girls freshmen soccer team expenses this spring from: The Soccer Booster Club; Wegner's Auto Body; Sarah Maki; Plymouth Panthers; Christopher P. Salm Consulting, LLC; Plymouth Hustle; Sandy Nicholson; Plymouth Lions Club; Sargento; and Francis Chiropractic.

The board also accepted a donation of $99.88 from the Parkview PTK for student transportation.

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