AP NEWS

Baraboo school leaders unveil new strategic plan

May 15, 2019

Baraboo school leaders are looking toward the near future with a new strategic plan, including a focus on equity and measurable benchmarks to track progress.

“We know that the work ahead of us is going to be ensuring that there’s more social justice in our schools,” District Administrator Lori Mueller said at a school board meeting Monday.

She presented the district’s 2019-22 strategic plan, which leaders developed over the course of this school year. They held six meetings and invited more than 85 stakeholders to offer input, representing teachers, parents, community and business leaders, Mueller said. Middle and high school students also offered insights into the district’s strengths and weaknesses.

As a “cornerstone of the plan,” equity was identified as one of five strategic directions. Mueller said the district will work to identify and implement a framework meant to ensure all students have equitable access to opportunities within the school system and to develop teachers’ and administrators’ ability to do that work.

Equity also was added in the plan as one of the district’s core beliefs. In the meeting Monday, the board approved a new position for an equity facilitator, who will help the district “achieve equity and inclusion in all settings,” according to the job description. Equity became a central topic in community discussions after a photo spread across national media in November that showed some Baraboo students appearing to make a Nazi salute prior to last spring’s prom.

Board President Kevin Vodak thanked Mueller for her leadership during the strategic planning process despite starting on “rough footing due to circumstances not necessarily within our control.”

Among the other strategic directions are a “culture of excellence,” educator efficacy — focused on recruiting and retaining quality teachers — community partnerships and facilities and operations. Mueller said leaders used feedback from stakeholders, as well as current research, district data and the previous strategic plan to come up with the five directions.

In a new part of the plan, the district developed benchmarks, or “strategic indicators,” that will provide tangible evidence of progress in key areas. For example, the plan sets a goal for at least 19 out of 20 students entering kindergarten this year to meet or exceed literacy standards by third grade.

“This kind of goal really makes Nick (Karls) sweat, just want you to know,” Mueller said to the board, referring to the district’s director of teaching and learning. “We’ve had some debates since we’ve set this goal. It was really important for us to set something really ambitious because quite frankly, we hit that, I’m a very proud superintendent with our team here doing the right work for our kids.”

The part that makes Karls nervous, according to Mueller, is how meeting or exceeding standards will be defined, because it depends on which measurement is used. Those specifics still need to be decided.

Similar benchmarks will apply to student growth in algebra, graduation and attendance rates, office referrals and “overall wellness.” Attendance in particular has been a concern for school leaders in recent years, so the plan seeks to decrease the percentage of students who are chronically absent — missing at least two days of school per month — to 10% by 2022.

“We view this as a threat for the school district that we have too much chronic absenteeism,” Mueller said.

The public may be able to track those benchmarks and the district’s progress through a strategic dashboard online. Mueller introduced a preliminary draft of the dashboard, which when done could be linked from the district’s website to show specific data.

“Super excited to see the dashboard,” said board member Mike Kohlman.

The board unanimously approved the 2019-22 strategic plan. Board member Gary Cummings was absent.

Mueller said the plan should be ready for final publication this fall.

“It’s the most important thing that we do. It’s the reason why we exist,” she said of why the district goes through the strategic planning process. “And it’s so important to get all of the stakeholders that we can at the table to give us their feedback.”

In other action Monday, the school board:

Authorized the hiring of Emily Roska, elementary music teacher; Cheyenne Antell, Jack Young Middle School language arts teacher; Karsen Greenwood, East Elementary School second-grade teacher; Vicki Farnsworth, West Elementary School kindergarten teacher; Leenger Vargas, Al Behrman Elementary School fifth-grade teacher; and Jamie Breunig, North Freedom Elementary kindergarten teacher.Received an update on the district’s change from Dean to Quartz as its health insurance provider from business manager Yvette Updike. Updike reported that the district held an informational meeting for all staff on the change last month and had a two-week open enrollment period. She said the process went smoothly and that the overall response from staff has been positive.Accepted the resignations of Meghan Caulfield, JYMS language arts teacher; Valerie Mahoney, speech and language pathologist; Brianna Norys, JYMS math teacher; Rikki Ballweg, East and West elementary art teacher; June Anderson, Baraboo High School business education teacher; and Jennifer Schoell, JYMS language arts teacher.Authorized job postings for a speech and language pathologist, an elementary art teacher and a school nurse.Approved job descriptions for a high school behavior coach, social worker, district instructional facilitator, assistant director of teaching and learning, and district equity facilitatorAuthorized changing to Skyward Financial Software.Approved committee assignments and changed the name of the former Ad-Hoc Modernized Community Campus Committee to the Facilities and Operations Committee.Approved the 2019-20 notices of renewal to teaching staff.