School Superintendent Phil Ertl outlined goals for the coming school year, including the launch of the Wauwatosa Virtual School, continuing a transformation of grading practices and designing a new scheduling system for secondary schools for the year after next.
The virtual school, which has been under development for many months, has the advantage of not being limited geographically, and has been looked at a revenue-generator for the district.
Dennis Mahony, who has led the initiative, has made visits to a number of communities in the state, particularly in the northwestern part of Wisconsin, to generate interest. Enrollees from outside the district would be accompanied by state funding set aside for that student.
Ertl said Monday that about 100 students had enrolled.
Making the grade
The transformation of grading practices began a year ago.
The new system is designed to more rigorously insist on completed assignments, however late, to ensure coverage of the class curriculum. Teachers have complained — and the administration has acknowledged — that the rollout of the plan was mishandled, without enough advance preparation and training of teachers.
"That's going to be something that we'll see in (district) initiatives for several years as we continue to work at looking at transformation of grading," Ertl said this week. "We had a group of teachers this summer that spent quite bit of time with the student learning department to work through a grading handbook to get information together."
Studying the schedule
A new scheduling system has been under study for a couple years.
Ertl has discussed moving middle and high schools from seven to eight class periods a day, possibly with some classes combined into two consecutive periods, among other options.
No formal decision has been made, and the district plans no change until the 2014-15 school year.
At Monday's meeting, Tosa resident Meg Lee expressed concern about the district's goal of increasing the number of students enrolled in Advanced Placement courses — a goal that would have "all students completing an AP or AP-level course prior to graduation," according to the meeting agenda.
"Can you explain the rationale toward moving all kids to AP courses?" she asked.
"Rigor," Ertl said. "It's challenging our students, and AP is one example of a high-level course, and it's really what the target is — trying to increase in preparing students to be college-ready."
He added, "Students need to be college-ready when they leave our doors, whether they choose to go to college or not."
Lee asked if an AP class was mandatory, and Ertl said it was not a requirement. Lee said she was concerned about the purpose of the initiative.
"I taught AP biology for 10 years," board member Carmela Rios said. "My experience, my goal was to try to get all different kinds of students in the class, not just your honors track students, and I would intentionally teach more introductory courses to try to encourage students to take it. The response and the feedback that I got from students of all types after they went to college ... was that they were still more prepared because they had experienced a class that was rigorous."
She said this was true even of students who didn't do well on the AP exam.
Beth Erenberger, director of student learning, said part of the idea was to increase access to the classes, which tend to draw only a certain circle of students. In addition, she said, AP classes are not all science and math classes — AP art, for example, is offered by the district.
"Our AP psychology class is really popular," she said. "The idea is not to put pressure on students."
Other goals mentioned by Ertl included the development of a new district website; a pilot program that would evaluate teachers and principals, part of a state Department of Public Instruction initiative; and continued pursuit of a systematic use of data in decision making.
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