Stopping the ‘summer slide’

For an elementary school student, there’s nothing quite like the freedom and unadulterated joy that comes from the three-month-long summer break. No school every day, no job, just playing, having fun and enjoying being a kid.

Unfortunately, the many weeks away from school can often have negative effects on students’ learning skills – the dreaded, so-called “summer slide” – where kids start the school year further behind on skills than they left earlier that spring. With some children, the change can put them back significantly in the new school year, leaving them behind their classmates, causing frustration, poor grades and even forcing some to re-take a grade. 


School board appoints Dirks to vacant seat

Scott Dirks is back on the Stoughton Area School District Board of Education after board members selected him from among three candidates who they interviewed before their Monday night meeting. 

A member of the board from 2011-13, he will take over the term of Pat Volk, who resigned his seat last month, citing growing difficulties to make meetings due to work commitments.

Dirks’ term will expire in April, and he told board members he intends to run again, which was a key part of the board’s decision on whom they selected to fill the open seat. 


School board has opening

The Stoughton Area School District Board of Education is down one member after Pat Volk recently resigned due to increasing schedule conflicts with board and committee meetings.

Volk was first elected to the board in 2009 and was re-elected in 2012.

Board members discussed possible questions for candidates at their Monday night meeting, with a plan to interview applicants prior to the next meeting, Monday, Nov. 17. An appointment vote will take place following the interviews, with a new board member to be seated for the regular meeting that starts at 7 p.m. The new member’s term will expire next April. 


Politics color school standards debate

Screenshot from Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction website. Wisconsin students in grades 3-8 will take the Smarter Balanced assessment for the first time in spring 2015. The tests were devleoped to align with the Common Core State Standards, which have become a political controversy lately around the United States. This screenshot is one sample question from the test.

As the Nov. 4 gubernatorial election approaches, an under-the-radar issue could very well determine how Wisconsin’s public schoolchildren are taught.

The Common Core State Standards, first adopted in Wisconsin and by nearly every state in 2010 after a consortium including the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers created them, are in the midst of a new political battle. A handful of states have since replaced Common Core or are considering doing so, and earlier this year, Gov. Scott Walker asked state legislators to repeal the standards when they convene in January.

Walker faces a tough re-election challenge from Madison Metropolitan School District school board member Mary Burke, who has criticized proposals by Walker to repeal and replace the standards in various media reports.


School taxes will drop

Thanks to Stoughton voters’ support for the April referendum, the Stoughton Area School District (SASD) is not the lowest-funded public school district in Dane County.

Now, it’s up to the district to show residents that their faith – and funding – will be money well spent.

It was a time to both look back and look ahead at Monday’s school board annual budget meeting, where a room full of voters unanimously approved a $21.5 million tax levy for the 2014-15 school year, up around 1 percent from last year, and mill rate of $11.44 per $1,000 in equalized property value. The amount means the owner of a $200,000 home in Stoughton would pay around $2,288 in school taxes, down around $26 from last year. As equalized rates vary from community to community, so will the exact value of the change.


Building a dragon

Photo submitted. The Stoughton High School production of “Shrek the Musical” will feature a 30-foot long dragon. Kristen Nett, left, will control the creature that was designed by DeeDee Bouzek, right.

There’s nothing to get your attention quite like a 30-foot dragon on stage. That’s all part of the show, though, for Stoughton Area High School’s upcoming production of “Shrek the Musical.”

To liven up the set, director DeeDee Bouzek has been working since August on a 30-foot-long puppet dragon that stands six feet tall.

It’s made out of foam, while the body is made with PVC pipes and parachute. For the finishing touches, Bouzek spray-painted the whole dragon.

The dragon is not the only puppet on set, however. There is also a puppet for the Gingy, the gingerbread man, created by SASD student Kyra Carbone.

The set is made to look like a large bookshelf, designed by Amanda Potratz, and throughout the play, the books open up to reveal the scenery. Projections will also assist in creating the scenery.


Enrollment drop continues

The Stoughton Area School District’s recent trend of declining enrollment has continued, with 38 fewer students than last year, and no end to the drain in sight.

Talking about the state’s official “Third Friday” student head count at Monday night’s school board meeting, district finance director Erika Pickett said the decline does not look like it’s going to change anytime soon, either. She pointed out this year’s kindergarten class of 192 is down significantly from the senior class of 258; a decrease of around 25 percent.

“Our trend kind of continues … where kindergarten classes are quite a bit smaller than our exiting senior classes,” Pickett said.

One of the largest reasons, she said, is the marked decrease in young families in the area. She cited census data that showed a 5-6 percent decrease in people ages 35 and younger in Stoughton from 2000 to 2010.


Drinking water turned off at River Bluff

Students and staff at River Bluff Middle School may need a bit of extra room on their desks for bottled water in the foreseeable future.

After receiving results of a water test showing elevated levels of lead in the school’s water on Tuesday afternoon, the Stoughton Area School District turned off the school’s water fountains and will provide bottled water to students, staff and guests until further notice.

District communications director Derek Spellman sent an email Tuesday afternoon to River Bluff parents about the water situation. He wrote that earlier this month, the district received a letter from Stoughton Utilities stating that water tests in various parts of the city showed levels of lead above the public health standard of 15 parts per billion. In response, the district had voluntary follow-up water tests done at all facilities, and received the results of those on Tuesday, showing River Bluff was slightly above that level, at 16 parts per billion.


District ‘meets expectations’ in latest state report card

The Stoughton Area School District is meeting expectations, according to the state’s annual “report cards” on public school districts.

According to a release from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI), the district received a 71.8 grade, the high cusp of the “meets expectations” category. The district received a 71.9 mark last year.

This is the third year the DPI has issued grades to districts, and the second year the numbers have been released. The overall scores are based on student achievement, student growth, closing gaps and on-track and postsecondary readiness.

Stoughton High School, Fox Prairie Middle School and Sandhill Elementary School received “exceeds expectations” grades, with River Bluff Middle School and Kegonsa Elementary School receiving “meets expectations.”


Board approves additions to critical staffing

Responding to an uptick in student enrollment in two grade levels, the Stoughton Area school board approved adding four positions to its 2014-15 critical staffing plan at its Sept. 8 meeting.

The district has added educational assistants at Fox Prairie and Sandhill elementary schools, a third-grade teacher at Sandhill and a second-grade teacher at Kegonsa. The district usually deals with critical staffing plans in the spring, but an rise in student enrollment in Sandhill’s third grade and Kegonsa’s second grade necessitated the additions, said district communication director Derek Spellman.

The two new teachers will allow the district to remain inside its class size limit set by school board policy. Under that policy, there can be no more than 24 students per class in grades kindergarten through third. Cassie Paulson has been hired as Sandhill’s new third grade teacher, while Kylie Peterson has been hired as the new Kegonsa teacher.