The Wisconsin Department of Instruction (DPI) released its 2018-19 district report cards last week and the Fennimore district as a whole came in with a score of 86.6. This gives the local school the prestigious title of ‘Significantly Exceeds Expectations.’
“I am so proud,” Fennimore School District Administrator Jane Wonderling shared last week amid the news becoming public. “We set a goal to have high academic achievement, and we knew that wouldn’t be possible without building that culture of positivity for our students.”
The culture within the district is something Wonderling feels attributes greatly to the surge of success Fennimore Schools has experienced.
“It’s truly everybody,” Wonderling said. “It’s the bus drivers, the cooks, the aides, the teachers, all of the staff, working to develop relationships with these students. The students know when they come into our schools there is someone there that cares about them and their family. The kids know they have every opportunity to be successful.”
The DPI reports that the report card ratings range from five stars for schools like Fennimore to one star for schools that fail to met expectations.
Scores for the report cards are calculated for each of the following priority areas:
•Student Achievement proficiency in English Language Arts and mathematics on state assessments.
•Student Growth measured by year-to-year improvements in achievement.
•Closing Gaps in performance between specific student groups *comparing English language learners, low-income students, students with disabilities, and members of a racial or ethnic group with their peers).
•On-Track and Postsecondary Readiness is a measurement using reliable predictors of high school graduation and potential post high school success.
All of the report cards use data from various sources such as the state standardized tests, Dynamic Learning Maps and ACT Plus writing. This is in addition to absenteeism rates and drop out rates.
“Our driving force for our success is our students,” Wonderling said. “We have early release times where our professional learning community can come together to evaluate each individual student’s data and performance. We take a look how each individual student is performing and if they need assistance on a skill we have them focus on it during the RTI time, if they’ve mastered a skill, we give them opportunities to expand on their learning.”
Labor of love
All of this work and development has been a labor of love over the past three years under Wonderling’s tenure, especially at the middle school level.
During the 2016-17 school year, the middle school’s report card came back at 58 percent. The following year, in 2017-18 it took a dramatic jump, coming up to 75.2 percent and this year it clocked in at 82.5 percent.
“We took a look at the rigor of our curriculum in all disciplines in the middle school,” Wonderling said recalling the report card score of 58. “The middle school teachers were dedicated after receiving a score of 58 and looked at how they can improve their curriculum and instructional practices. Those scores would not have been possible with out their work. It was a tremendous amount of work. The middle school age is very unique with its growth and development. We worked hard on creating their own culture there. Meeting the kids where they are at, and that has had tremendous benefits for us.”
The scoring for the report card is also based upon keeping absenteeism below 13 percent and drop out rates below six percent.
Fennimore achieved these goals with a three-year district rate of 4.6 percent for absenteeism and a 0.5 percent for dropout rate.
This is again, as Wonderling points out, attributed to the positive culture created in not only the school, but the community.
“Every employee in the district has a positive impact on the students,” Wonderling echoed. “It sets Fennimore apart, the community support, without that support, we wouldn’t be able to offer so much to our students.”
The expanded offerings at Fennimore also bodes well for the school. In a district where just over 40 percent of the students are considered by the state “economically disadvantaged,” Wonderling and the district have been exploring ways to ensure the students that come from Fennimore have the best start to their post school life.
“We are also expanding the school to work program,” Wonderling shared. “We are trying to help students in their career interests, especially those direct to work students. We want to give our students the upper hand when they graduate. More diverse education offerings can make them more successful.”
One of these diverse offerings will include the upcoming “Academies.” Working with Southwest Wisconsin Technical College, Fennimore is planning to offer “Academies” in Welding and Business. These will allow students to graduate high school with college credits in these courses, and allow them to skip the wait lists at SWTC, since they will already be enrolled upon leaving high school.
Wonderling also shared that the school district has not only expanded its offerings of Advanced Placement courses that allow students to earn college credit while in high school but will also add CLEP Testing to its line up.
CLEP or College Level Examination Program, offers testing on material generally taught in the first two years of college. “Students who took prior learning assessments like CLEP and earned a bachelor’s degree saved an average of 2.50-10 months earning their degrees,” the CLEP website boasts.
Although the Fennimore school district has a lot to be happy about, they have no plans to slow down their progress.
“You can never be satisfied where you at,” Wonderling said with a smile. “We have the mind set that we have to continue working hard on our goals. We can’t stay standing still.”
Wonderling is quick to point out throughout a discussion with her that she did not create this success alone. In a post on social media Wonderling summed up her feelings.
“To the school board, thank you for providing guidance and financial support to ensure Fennimore Community Schools puts students first. To the staff, thank you for your tireless pursuit of excellence and commitment to student achievement. To the community, thank you for supporting our school. To the students, thank you for excelling in the classroom and showing Eagle Pride in all that you do.”