It's been uneventful since Dr. James Shaw took over as superintendent. After years of public scrutiny, the School Board and district administrators have had some relative quiet to go about their business.
The main reasons for the change are:
1. Reporter Brent Killackey left The Journal Times. Brent, with his depth of knowledge on school issues, was basically a School Board member. He reported volumes of information about school finance and the district's inner workings any paper would be hard-pressed to match.
2. Publisher Dick Johnston left the paper. That's important because Johnston was tied in with
3. The combination of Brent's skill - he wrote five stories a week just on Unified - and Johnston's borderline editorializing made the school district a major point of public discussion. Since both left, the JT relaxed its coverage of Unified. (Consider the paper's upbeat report on today's results.)
4. This may be for the best. Lost in many discussions of Unified is the simple fact that thousands of students learn every day. Are they ideal conditions? No. Is there room for improvement? Probably. But for most students and families, our public schools work.
5. The district faces remarkable obstacles. Over half of its students live in poverty. Its buildings are decrepit. Budgets tighten every year. Its public reputation is in shambles. And still, the doors open, teachers teach and in a couple of months, thousands of teenagers will graduate. For all its problems, the system works.
OK, on to the WKCE (Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam) results. It's tough to spin good news out of the numbers. Only a handful of grades met the thresholds established in reading and math scores. None of the high schools met the state requirements.
In its press release, the district emphasized positive numbers among elementary students, who showed progress in third and fourth grade reading. They also said students appear to be sustaining progress as they move up grades.
But the district is always going to struggle when it's dealing with this:
The level of poverty among our students continues to increase and we know that economically disadvantaged circumstances remain a factor in readiness to learn. There are 57.7% elementary, 52.1% middle, and 48.8% of our high school students who are identified as qualifying for Free or Reduced Lunch, an indicator of economic disadvantage, compared to 55.8%, 48.4%, and 45.8% respectively last school year.I've tried to find examples of school systems succeeding in areas with high poverty rates. But the reality is it doesn't happen. School administrators can work around the edges, but they have little effect on the societal pressures that undermine the education of our children.
Statewide, this percentage is currently 34.7%; last year statewide it was 32.9%.
That said, check out the results for yourself. Here are the results and statements from the district: