School board has concerns over Washington turnaround costs
By Heather Graves
GREEN BAY – It’s been 13 months since the school board spent $394,000 on a turnaround partner, American Institutes for Research (AIR), to help tackle issues at Washington Middle School.
Now, district staff wants the board to approve another $286,000 for year two – but not all board members believe it’s the right use of funds.
“I do feel a little bit of sticker shock here to a point,” Board Vice President Andrew Becker said. “I didn’t expect us to come into year two and hear a zero request. But I didn’t expect this high of an amount either. I guess I’m wondering what we are getting exactly.”
In a preliminary report presented to the board Monday, June 3, district officials said they’re seeing positive results.
“There’s a different feel at Washington,” said John Magas, associate superintendent of Continuous Improvement. “There’s a feel of positivity and I think there is a feel of order for the most part. You can feel the change walking through the halls.”
The report staff shared with the board shows an improvement in reading and math test scores for all grades from fall to winter.
It also shows a drop in out-of-school suspensions from 790 last year to 388 this year.
While board members are hopeful of the improvements, many say they have concerns over the lack of transparency with the board and the public about what was accomplished this year and what the money was specifically used for.
“Of course the investment in Washington Middle School is important, I want to make sure we haven’t made an investment, but don’t go far enough,” said Trustee Eric Vanden Heuvel “But the other side of it, the board will be investing just over $700,000 over two years at Washington Middle School. When do we take a look at what other schools need that type of investment? Do we take the lessons we have learned and do it without AIR?”
Board members agree that a full report of the first year needs to be made available before a vote on a second year is taken.
“What I don’t see, honestly, from this report, is anything that I can turn to the community and say this year was a success,” Trustee Kristina Shelton said. “It’s mostly fluff.”
District staff support the contract with AIR noting changes will take time.
“Research shows it takes five to seven years for a school to really have turnaround under a normal process,” said Magas. “We wanted to make sure we were accelerating that work so that the change could come.”
Looking forward to next year, if the board does decide to stick with AIR, its proposal includes 80 days of on-site staff coaching, 43 hours of virtual staff coaching as well as monthly meetings to assess progress.
Board members will discuss the topic again at their June 17 meeting.
At that time, district staff will bring forward more detailed information about the progress at Washington at the board’s request.