Monday, June 29, 2015

Letter to Wisconsin Legislators

We must state our significant concerns with the Omnibus Education Package that was recently passed by the Joint Finance Committee.   We believe that this budget underfunds Wisconsin public schools and will force school districts to reduce educational opportunities for the children they serve.  We are not alone.  An unprecedented number of school district administrators and school boards have already written letters urging their communities to ask their local legislators to re-think aspects of this legislation.
For the purpose of this letter, we will limit our concerns to the financial implications of this bill:
  • School districts across the state, including ours, will face state aid cuts in order to support voucher expansion.  In its’ current iteration, this bill will provide less state aid to Wisconsin public school students than was provided in 2010.
  • For the first time since revenue limits were imposed in 1993-94, there will be no adjustment in per pupil revenue limits in either year of the 2015-17 biennium.
  • The proposed law allows students in special education to be allocated $12,000 in publicly funded annual vouchers to attend private and parochial schools.  The reality is that costs vary significantly from student to student based upon their individual needs.  As a result, the new law could over fund a special needs student while significantly limiting funding to another.  It is difficult to understand a change in funding for private/parochial vouchers even though there has been no increase in funding for public school education students in eight years.
  • Alan Borsuk, Education Columnist for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, recently noted that “…the impact of no increases in school spending for years on end is building… Ultimately, the key education story out of this budget is the continuation of zero-increase spending policies.”
  • Per pupil educational spending in Wisconsin will drop below the national average.  A few years ago, we were 12th in the nation.  
  • Our School Districts have used the authority and flexibilities provided by Act 10. However, not all school district expenses can be controlled by Act 10.  We ask that allowable resources for our students and all 860,000 public school students in our state allow us to keep pace with inflation to help us manage the costs we cannot control through the Act 10 tools.

We believe that the fiscal pressures on public schools are being imposed by legislators who adhere to the false narrative that our schools are “failing.”  Wisconsin has one of the highest graduation rates in the nation, with high school graduation rates exceeding 90%.  Our state consistently scores among the top four states in the nation on the ACT College Entrance Exam and the vast majority of School Districts scored well on the newly created State Report Cards.  Our School Districts have performed well on the State Report Cards and in the competitive world of open enrollment!  
We urge you to learn more about the proposals in the 2015-2017 state budget and how it will impact schools throughout the state of Wisconsin.  Please join us in advocating on behalf of the children so that we can continue to provide one of the best public education systems in the nation.  
We are not trying to be partisan.  While we believe that people of good faith can legitimately disagree on education policy, we also believe that many legislators are listening more to special interests than they are to constituents.  Many things pertaining to education in the Omnibus Bill have direct ties to special interest groups, and little or nothing to do with the day to day concerns and issues being discussed by parents or members of the community.
If you agree, now is the time to let your voice be heard by forwarding this message to families, friends and neighbors.  You may also contact your representatives directly.  Though our schools are small, we cover a wide geographic area.
Possible Assembly Representatives:                                           Possible State Senators:
District 39 Representative Mark Born                                      District 8 Senator Alberta Darling                                   
District 58 Representative Bob Gannon                                   District 13 Senator Scott Fitzgerald                             
District 59 Jesse Kremer                                                              District 20 Senator Duey Strobel                              


John Engstrom                                                                                 Scott Sabol               
District Administrator                                                                    District Administrator           
Friess Lake School                                                                           Neosho, Saylesville, and Herman Schools       

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Friess Lake School- a 'Helmet School'

For what it's worth- I decided to post my speech from the 2015 Friess Lake Graduation Ceremony:
So here we are.  Graduation for the Friess Lake Class of 2015.   When I think way back to your first days here as Kindergartners- this day just never quite seems possible.  This day seems so far in the future- with special Mother’s Day programs, field trips to the zoo and the pumpkin farm, those first concerts and Field Days, that first dance as 5th graders, sporting events, social studies projects, Mr. Hoefs flooding the aquaponics lab- and then flooding it again- and again- all of these things, and so many more, they come and go in what now seems like the blink of an eye.

In college football, there are a few elite programs whose teams have been amongst the best in the business for generations.  Those programs are often referred to as ‘Helmet Schools.’  These are teams who almost always compete for a conference title, and who define a great season by winning a national championship.  

If I may be so bold to suggest, Friess Lake has been a helmet school district in its’ own right.  By that I mean, our students have had amazing academic success that has been sustained over many years.  Every year is solid, and in the best years- it’s truly amazing.

There have been some real powerhouse groups of students that have gone to school here and walked across this stage- take a look at the recent HUHS Student Recognition program that is posted in the entryway for one piece of evidence.   I had the pleasure and honor of attending the HUHS Graduation Ceremony on Sunday.  The program is also posted in the entryway.  A few stats: 60% of Friess Lake alums graduated with a 3.0 or higher vs 43% of the rest of the graduating class.  38% of Friess Lake alums were in the National Honor Society vs 17% of the rest of the graduating class.  Friess Lake alums only constituted 9% of the overall graduating class, but 3 of our graduates- 30%-  placed in the Top Ten.      

 And that’s just the most recent example- there have been generations worth of graduating classes that have also done well here… in high school… and beyond.  

 “Helmet School”

Projecting forward- this class- the Friess Lake Class of 2015, YOU- might just prove to be the most gifted group yet.  Time will tell, and you will have to earn it, but the potential is undeniable.  The great thing about middle school is that it really is an opportunity to discover and learn, and a few of them have learned a few lessons in humility- that a nice smile and talent isn’t enough- you’ve still got to sustain an effort and work if you want to be successful.  That’s part of growing up.

That said, those of us who’ve been fortunate to work with this group every day for the last nine years have been firsthand witnesses to their growth and their talents.

Here I go with another sports analogy….  There is an old cheer that used to be quite popular back in the day.   Basically- a leader points out various things in the form of a question, to which the crowd responds affirmatively.  “Is this a basketball?”  “Yes, this is a basketball”   “Is this the scoreboard?”  Yes….  Is this the winning team?”  Yes….   

By any statistical measure or metric- from informal observations to classroom assessments to standardized tests- the Friess Lake Class of 2015 is a Winning team!

This is an academically gifted group of young people- and yet, for all that academic talent and intellectual horsepower- that’s not the thing that I find most remarkable about this group.  They were presented with a unique opportunity in that they had a classmate with special needs- they could’ve shunned or teased or marginalized or minimally tolerated that person- but what they did instead has been remarkable.  They embraced him and included him and looked out for him in ways that you can’t teach and you can’t force and you can’t fake.   And they did it day after day, month after month, and year after year. 

Yes- that plays out a little differently in 8th grade vs 1st grade, but it’s still there and it’s still real.  It’s one thing to have a high IQ- lots of folks have that though.  It’s much rarer territory to have a high IQ and a healthy level of empathy for others- even and especially others who are different.  It’s been a joy to watch that unfold over the years.  And that, more than anything else, has distinguished this class as a special group of young people. 

So… the days of being line leaders and endless games of rock paper scissors and bringing us dirt cakes on your birthday…  and marching around the school in your Captain America Halloween costumes and writing poems about John Deere tractors (Billy)…   those days have come and gone.  No more Friess Lake Dolphin basketball or volleyball games, no more concerts or talent shows.  This is where that chapter ends, and the next one begins.

We hope that as you move forward you will, occasionally, reflect back on your time here and remember good times, good friends, and the very real sense of family and support that characterized your time here at Friess Lake School.  Draw strength from that as you face new challenges.

The last nine years have flown by- the next nine will as well.  Make good choices.  Thank you.




Now- the reading of the names.  Before we do so- my annual reminder about noise.  During the Graduation Ceremony we’re going to do it my way, and my way is that we honor ALL of the graduates with respectful silence as each name is called.  Yelling and cheering makes it all about you, and your kid.  It creates a disruption that is disrespectful to those who come next.  There is dignity is silence.


After the program- all bets are off.  Come back up here and re-create the scene however you want.  Yell- scream- Dance- Moonwalk.  Whatever.  After the program.  Clear?  Here we go:



Now ladies and gentlemen it is my distinct honor and privilege to present the Friess Lake School District graduating class of 2015!!