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WAPS narrows plans for future (04/07/2013)
By Chris Rogers

From grade-level buildings to a year-round school calendar, a deluge of initiatives has swamped the Winona Area Public Schools Board and its administrative team this spring. Last Thursday Chairman Mohamed Elhindi marshaled the board into prioritizing those initiatives and laying out timelines for the board to consider options for implementing the ideas.

"We're starting to look at that list and we're saying, 'Whoa, wait a minute here. We're getting a little overwhelmed,'" Superintendent Scott Hannon said of drafting proposals for all the initiatives.

Foreign language; early education; science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM) programs; and a modified year-round school calendar topped the board's short list. The board will consider proposals for all those ideas over the next three months. STEAM is similar to the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) program currently at Jefferson Elementary School with the addition of art.

Decisions on an International Baccalaureate program and providing laptops to all elementary schools are on the back burner, "but not off the stove," as Jay Kohner put it.

Possible STEAM programs at the middle school and at Rollingstone Community School will be discussed at the board's next meeting, April 18. Expanding foreign language programming will be discussed May 16.

Hannon said that he will prepare information on all options for expanding foreign language, including options for the middle school, high school, and elementary schools, options which would serve a limited numbers of students, and options which would serve entire grades.

Board members Jeanne Nelson and Jay Kohner expressed a desire to act soon with hopes of hiring at least one bilingual teacher to begin next school year.

Board member Steve Schild expressed concern that because so much thought and research has been invested in immersion learning for a limited number of students at certain elementary schools, that option would become a "self-fulfilling prophecy" simply because it was the most fleshed out.

Schild also made an impassioned case for including grade-level schools on the board's short list for initiatives. He said he wanted the district to study its facilities and ask the community whether they wanted to pay more for the schools they have, reduce the number of schools, or cut programming.

"Facilities is a key issue because it affects everything we do," Schild said.

Elhindi said that the idea of grade-level schools will be discussed when the board considers another item on its initiative list: "Research appropriate-sized physical plant for our enrollment."

Schild said the list had "inconsistencies," saying the "specificity of STEAM at Rollingstone" advances one particular vision while "appropriate-sized" facilities leaves that conversation open-ended. He also asked Kohner, a proponent of STEAM at Rollingstone, if the initiative were "an attempt to save Rollingstone."

Schild's plea for immediately seeking community input on grade level schools was ultimately unsuccessful, though a new facilities committee is likely to consider the issue (see story page 1a).

Discussing changes to the high school schedule and the district's superintendent search is also on the board's agenda for the next three months, and continued budget reductions are on the horizon. 


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