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HSSD school board looks at operations changes

By Ben Rodgers

SUAMICO – The Howard-Suamico school board discussed some proposed changes to school operations for the 2019-20 school year at its Monday, Feb. 11 meeting.

Dr. Becky Walker, assistant superintendent of academics and innovation, said these changes go hand in hand with the district’s newly created profile of a graduate.

She also said the changes will better prepare students for jobs in an ever-changing world that will be vastly different 20 years from now.

“There’s such a need for us to be helping students take interest in those careers, be exposed to those careers,” Walker said. “We’re looking at some programming at the elementary level already that would expose students to those ideas and see if they’re interested.”

The proposed changes come from the district’s Lead Your Learning task force, and have been suggested by educators at each level with guidance from the administration.

“We find ourselves at this inflection point as a school district, but we need to decide whether it’s more engaging to look through the windshield or the rearview mirror,” said Superintendent Damian LaCroix.

Starting at the elementary level, the first proposed change calls for 15 extra minutes in the day by moving the starting time earlier to 8:30 a.m. from 8:45 a.m. Dismissal would remain the same at 3:25 p.m.

This would give students 415 minutes of instructional time each day.

World cultures and innovation lab courses and teachers would be added, which would give elementary teachers a full 60 minutes of prep time each day.

Mark Smith, assistant superintendent of organizational development, said teachers currently might get 30 to 45 minutes per day of prep time.

In the innovation lab, elementary students could work on skills like coding.

At the middle and intermediate levels, proposed changes include extended blocks of uninterrupted time for instruction, investigating multi-usage classrooms, teachers staying with students through the grade levels, more academic intervention opportunities and extended student advisory time.

At Bay Port High School the changes include revising the student scheduling process, advisory time, more opportunities for academic intervention and an emphasis on student voice and student choice.

Mike Frieder, Bay Port principal, said right now there isn’t a structured system in place to provide students with academic intervention.

“We split them up and have eight periods, and even getting to know kids real well becomes difficult because unlike elementary we don’t get to see them for extended periods of time,” Frieder said.

Vanessa Moran, school board member and associate principal at Rexford/Longfellow Elementary School in Clintonville, said Clintonville recently implemented a similar change for the elementary school and it has been well received.

“It’s something that the teachers appreciate and we’ve seen noticeable gains,” Moran said.

The presentation Monday was just an informational update and another update will come when administration plans for implementation later this year.

The board also received an update on the district’s property tax impact after Steve Palmer, district resident, expressed concern over his property tax bill on Dec. 10.

Matt Spets, assistant superintendent of operations, informed the board property taxes as a whole across Wisconsin are lower today than they were in 2010.

But at the same time, the aggregate fair market values of property are up past post-recession levels.

Spets said even with lower taxes, the rise in property value has caused the increase Palmer was confused about on Dec. 10.

The board has also froze the tax levy rate at $9.19 per $1,000 of home value for the past four years, which is a decrease from previous levels, Spets said.

Therefore, with the tax rate unchanged, the increase in property value caused the increase seen on property tax bills.
“I think we can say with integrity that the board maintained its overall levy rate,” LaCroix said.

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