Flooding puts old school’s future in question

Photos submitted. The old Stoughton High School, built in 1892, was recently damaged by flooding due to a burst pipe. District officials are working to determine the extent of the repairs needed, as well as the cost.

Some unexpected flooding at the former high school could force the Stoughton Area School District into taking a new look at how the old building fits into long-term plans.

A boiler failure in November flooded the structure with several thousand gallons of water, district building and grounds superintendent Calvin Merath reported at the Feb. 3 school board meeting. Since the incident, district officials have been trying to figure out how to proceed with the structure, which was built in 1892 and for more than a decade has been used only for storage. The school stands in the parking lot of the administration building on Forrest Street.


Still no solution to River Bluff water issues

District officials are hoping to get some answers “relatively soon” from a consultant on what is causing lead contamination in the River Bluff Middle School water supply, district administrator Tim Onsager said earlier this month. Students and staff at the school have been using bottled water since September after lead contamination was discovered in the building, leading to a disagreement between officials from the school district and Stoughton Utilities over the source of contamination. 

Both sides agreed last month to hire an independent consultant, Process Research Solutions, to find some answers, but it has yet to issue a final report.

“We’re waiting for the consultant,” he said. “They are highly recommended by the Department of Natural Resources. Ultimately, we both want the same thing; we want to get the issue resolved and find out what is the source of the lead contamination in our building.”


District Solo and Ensemble performances Feb. 21

Photo submitted. Megan Fisher practices her viola solo.

 Stoughton High School is hosting the District Solo & Ensemble Music Festival on Saturday, Feb. 21.  The all-day Wisconsin School Music Association (WSMA) sanctioned event showcases band, orchestra and vocal music students from Stoughton and other area schools, who will perform vocal and instrumental solos, duets, trios and small ensembles before an adjudicator. 

The competition, which is free and open to the public, will draw students from several area schools, including Janesville Craig, Janesville Parker and Milton.  Stoughton High School music director Daniel Schmidt is the festival manager.

According to a WSMA press release, the annual district music festivals annually attract thousands of students from middle, junior high and high schools throughout Wisconsin. 


State education cuts worry district officials

It’s been anything but smooth sailing for public school districts in Wisconsin during the past several years. 

Monday night, the Stoughton School Board heard more troubling news from director of business services Erica Pickett about the possible effects on the district of Gov. Scott Walker’s recently proposed 2015-17 biennial budget. Some of those include further funding cuts, including a $150 reduction from the state per student for the 2015-16 school year, unlimited expansion of a voucher program and possible elimination of Common Core standards. 

After the presentation, board members decided to collectively work on a letter to legislators on the education and finance committees, stating their concerns about some of the budget proposals.


Task force recommends continuing fifth-grade orchestra program

After spending the last several months researching the issue, a Stoughton Area School District task force has recommended keeping the district’s fifth grade orchestra program.

At Monday night’s school board meeting, elementary orchestra task force and board member Frank Sullivan said the group recommended establishing an afterschool program with a “very, very part-time” instructor (7-10 hours per week) to teach lessons at all three elementary schools, including a weekly group rehearsal. If the position gets 10 hours, the teacher could also co-teach whole group lessons with the River Bluff Middle School orchestra instructor after school once per week.

Transportation for students would be provided one day a week to the middle school for large group instruction, as well as three days per week to neighborhoods after lessons or whole group practice.


Eye on the Weather

When you live in Wisconsin, it’s fair to expect cold, snowy spells that can make life difficult.

But when severe winter weather makes things downright dangerous, school districts tasked with the care of hundreds of children have the responsibility to keep them safe by making the right call on canceling or delaying schools. In Stoughton, those decisions are made in the early morning on the day school is scheduled, after consulting both with local weather reports and other area schools.

Last week, Stoughton joined many other school districts around the state in closing its doors, but others in the area, including Madison, did not. 


Mentoring program connects SHS, Fox Prairie students

Photo by Derek Spellman. Stoughton High School student Nyesha Baker stops at the desk of Fox Prairie student Jack Conant during math class. Baker works in Fox Prairie Elementary School classrooms through the “Lead for Life” program, where 20 SHS students visit Fox classrooms twice a week and help out as part of the service learning class.

Stoughton High School junior Trevon Halverson-Williams is paying it forward as a mentor to Fox Prairie Elementary School kids.

“I know when I was young, I got some help, and that was really cool,” he said.

Halverson-Williams is one of 20 SHS students in the school’s “Lead for Life” program. In the semester-long course, service learning experiences provide students the opportunity to learn about themselves, gain leadership skills and demonstrate civic responsibility.

To put it another way: The program helps create what Todd Hipke calls “a leadership pipeline.”

“Our intent is that they will lead for the rest of their life and get involved in their communities,” said Hipke, who created and developed the program and oversees  it with SHS educator Beth Anderson.


District, utility still working on water issue at middle school

Photo by Mark Ignatowski. With elevated lead levels still found in the drinking water at River Bluff Middle School, the district has provided bottled drinking water.

For more than three months, the drinking fountains have been turned off at River Bluff Middle School due to lead contamination. With officials from the Stoughton Area School District and Stoughton Utilities still unable to agree on the source of the contamination, they will now turn to a consultant to find some answers.

The two sides recently agreed to ask an independent third party – “a firm recommended by both the city’s consultant and the (DNR)” – to identify the source of lead, said district community information and resource coordinator Derek Spellman. 

“We expect to receive a proposed contract soon,” he said, noting that Stoughton Utilities agreed to split the cost. “Once an agreement is in place, we will have a better timetable for a long-term resolution of this issue.”


Making the Connection

When it comes to technology, all the fancy computers and gadgets are useless without access.

That’s why Stoughton Area School District officials are excited about recent upgrades to schools that have increased students’ abilities to work online. Since last school year, the district added 100 desktop computers, 100 laptop computers and 230 Chromebooks. The district also improved 60 access points for wireless devices at the high school, moving the old systems to the elementary and middle schools.

SASD director of information systems Paul Vande Hei, who gave Stoughton School Board members a technology update at their Dec. 1 meeting, said the goal of the district is to increase access for students and teachers by adding more devices and ways to connect to technology.


District, utility disagree on lead source

Nearly three months after drinking fountains at River Bluff Middle School were turned off as a result of elevated lead levels in the water, officials from the school district and Stoughton Utilities can’t agree on the source of the problem.

Drinking water at the school was shut off Sept. 30, after district officials received test results showing elevated levels of lead in the school’s water. District director of business services Erica Pickett said at Monday night’s school board meeting that after flushing the water system, a seventh round of tests showed the only area with elevated levels is where water enters the building.

And that’s where things get a bit complicated.