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Community Corner: Decisions, decisions, decisions ...
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I recently sent a questionnaire out to parents and staff regarding the 2014–15 school calendar.  I don’t think it would be a surprise to anyone that people’s opinions varied widely.

One of the questions that I asked was related to spring break. I will share two sets of responses that fell right behind each other to illustrate the “fun” of getting feedback to make decisions.

First: “A Spring Break is integral and we would NOT support doing away with Spring Break. As for aligning with UWP, our family does not have one or two parents that work at UWP but many families DO have one or two parents that work at UWP and one thing about this community is that the breaks have always matched up to support not only the families but the community.”

Followed by: “Could never understand why we have the need for a full week off for spring break. Makes no sense to do so just because we are in a college town. It’s time we learn to stand on our own and not have our schedule be tied to what the college does.”

In the section asking for general comments, I received this: “Christmas break could be two full weeks and school should finish later in June. Summer break is too long (should be two months max).”

Followed by: “I would like to avoid spring break and add to summer vacation time instead. Our district seems to be going until mid-June, which is much later than so many other schools.”

If I had just read the comments, I might have made a decision to do away with spring break. Yet, when I looked at the actual percentage of more than 500 responses, it was favorable (51 percent were either agreed or strongly agreed with having a Spring Break, 24 percent were neutral, and only 25 percent disagreed or strongly disagreed with having a spring break). I think it illustrates the danger in just looking at a few pieces of information and overlooking others.

There is no shortage of criticism about decisions that I have made lately and we aren’t even into the long haul of winter school cancellation decisions yet. Oftentimes, there is extensive and conflicting information to sort through. I always try to put the needs of our students, academically and emotionally, first and foremost. How many times in my career have I heard, when making a particularly difficult decision, “That’s why you get paid the big bucks, Connie.”

I accept that, but I also think it is important for community members to remember that our School Board is a completely volunteer board. In other words, the “big bucks” that these community leaders receive is the gratitude of those they serve and the knowledge that they make a difference in the lives of those that are the future of our community. They are an exceptional group of people who spend considerable time working through information, talking with community members, staff members, and students. They have played an integral role in the fact that our recent school report card placed us 27th out of 424 school districts in the state of Wisconsin — not based on a poll, but based on our students’ actual academic achievement. Our schools individually are near the very top in the state, across the board. We didn’t get there by making uninformed decisions that were not focused on what is best for our students.

The board has also consistently made strong financial decisions that have resulted in a strong fund balance and bond rating, compensation and benefits for staff second to none in Southwest Wisconsin, and enviable course and activity offerings.

The board has another really important decision coming up. Over a year ago now, the district contracted with an architectural firm to do an in-depth study of our facilities, including making recommendations for a 20-year future plan.
The purpose of this study was to first do an in-depth analysis of each of our existing facilities to include their architectural, structural, mechanical, and electrical capabilities. The study also conducted an educational space analysis with consideration given to facility usage and limitations for instruction, as well as recommendations to improve the function and safety of common spaces. Lastly, it articulated options for renovation and reconfiguration and/or additions to our existing buildings. One aspect of the study was to gather feedback from staff about the spaces that they worked in and how conducive they were to learning.

All of these results were shared with staff and community for feedback and they have been available to the public on our website for many months now. A survey of parents, community members and staff was conducted in order to get feedback as to which of the various presented options the board should consider in moving forward. The board then worked with the architectural firm to develop concept drawings and options to present, once again, to staff, parents, and community members in order to gather feedback on these more focused plans. After holding separate staff and parent information sessions in each building, the last session, open to any interested members of the community, will be in the Platteville High School Auditorium on Wednesday, Jan. 7 at 7 p.m.

At the Jan. 12 meeting, the School Board will consider a resolution to go to referendum for facilities improvement. The board has spent more than a year, attended many meetings, and gathered considerable input from parents, staff, students, and community members in getting to where we are now. I know that they will make an informed decision, truly focused on the needs of our students today and well into the future.

The Community Corner is a column of opinion written by guest columnists UW–Platteville Chancellor Dennis Shields; Platteville Public Schools Superintendent Connie Valenza; Platteville Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Kathy Kopp; Main Street Program Director Jack Luedtke; State Rep. Travis Tranel, Platteville City Manager Larry Bierke and Police Chief Doug McKinley.