Nelson: WAPS initiatives underway, and what needs to be done


From: Jeanne Nelson

I write in response to the Save Our Schools article on the front page of the Winona Post, March 11, issue. The article reports the SOS group claims “… the district has failed to compete with other school options for students and the funding that comes with them …”

If a person has neither a child in school nor a penchant for watching boring School Board meetings, one likely will not be aware of new initiatives or programs put into place in the last eight years for our students in all grades.

Before my 2012 election to the WAPS Board I was one of a small group of citizens who worked for school choice within public education. This effort resulted in a small program at Jefferson to develop a STEM curriculum using the inquiry method of teaching which focuses on hands-on problem solving, creative thinking, imagination and team work. Appreciation for accomplishing this work goes to Superintendent Hannon and board members serving at that time.

How has WAPS programming evolved in recent years?

Your current WAPS Board continues to focus on the following:

1. Create a foreign-language immersion program to meet educational needs. This work resulted in the establishment of SLIP at Madison Elementary. The program continues to expand each year.

2. Expand the STEM program to fill all the classrooms at Jefferson. When the inquiry method of teaching using STEM as the focus was created, the intention of the board was to consider expanding it into all of our elementary schools.

3. Expand WSU’s preschool program at Madison. This expansion was accomplished and today is located at W-K, serving the East side of Winona. (The above three initiatives were led by Superintendent Hannon.)

4. Promote state guidelines for professional learning communities, known commonly as PLCs. Teachers in common areas work together to analyze pretest and post-test needs and work to remediate or enrich learning.

5. Ensure continuous alignment of curriculum in all areas.

6. Redesign the state mandated teacher evaluation for all of our teachers and administration following a three-year cycle and completed by qualified administration.

7. Promote a culture of teacher leadership.

8. Institute AVID, a student support system geared to meet needs of the average child, beginning in middle school and proceeding throughout high school. Avid supports independent learning and engages the student within the classroom.

9. Collaborate with Winona Chamber of Commerce and local business community to establish a program called REACH. This program for high school juniors and seniors is a combination of immersion experiences in local industries and high school classrooms to promote actual work experiences in a modern-day environment. This year’s program focuses on manufacturing and will expand to include vocational building trades, health services and more. This is a pilot program in conjunction with the state of Minnesota Chamber. This promises to be a fantastic collaboration with Winona community. But, WAPS will need to dedicate money to this new initiative. (Initiatives four through nine were led by Superintendent West.)

10. Expand inquiry method of teaching to all elementary schools.

11. Balance the budget and stabilize WAPS’ financial future. Without this, all programs are in jeopardy. Your WAPS Board understands that stability and sustainability are essential.

12. Lead strategic planning for the district. (Initiatives 10-12 are led by Superintendent Dahman.)

What else does WAPS need to do for our students?

1. Expand remediation for reading and math for kindergarten through fifth grade. As of now our money covers kindergarten through second grade. Title 1 funding, state and federal, is simply not enough and we must commit money from our general fund. All other private and charter schools and also surrounding school districts provide more remediation than our district. I personally do not care what politicians in St. Paul say; children do not all learn at the same time, at the same rate, and in the same way. They say, “All children will read well by third grade.” Sometimes kids are not ready, and we must stick with our kids to provide what they need at the time they need it. This is equity — not equality, but equity. I’m guessing we might need to hire six teachers. And when should we do it? My flippant answer is yesterday, and my serious answer is as soon as financially possible.

2. Return a required speech class to our high school curriculum and cultivate and add debate and speech team activities as extra-curriculars. I also recommend adding a speech elective to our middle school curriculum. There are many reasons to do so.

3. Beef up our industrial tech department in curriculum, materials and spending in general.

4. Increase spending — particularly in science curriculum and other areas.

5. And more. (About one-third of our high school kids are not involved in any activities beyond the classroom. This is a real concern to me.)

The public needs to know that the board directs all of the work of the district. Superintendent Dahman, Director of Learning and Teaching Kelly Halvorsen, principals, teachers and other staff must pull together to accomplish the programming of the district. And when asking for the changes directed by the board, the work becomes especially demanding. Change is hard for everyone — for the public, too.

For my part as a board member, I know I’ve learned a lot. As a board member I will do all I can to support the office of superintendent in order to ensure leadership and stability for our district. A suggested cut to administration of $400,000 to $600,000 would hollow out many of the recent board initiatives. But, that is not to say that cuts in office areas can’t be accomplished. By combining duties and cross training, we can slim down some costs.

Public education can be a rough and tumble arena. But I know that high performing districts exist within high performing communities. When a community comes together to benefit all of our children, from pre-kindergarten through grade 12 and more, all elements of our society will benefit.

These comments represent my individual thoughts as a board member and are not written on behalf of the WAPS Board.


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