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1. Manufacturing Month Highlights Work-Based Learning

A student from Sun Prairie made a great case for work-based learning when State Superintendent Tony Evers visited the site of her Youth Apprenticeship, E.K. Machine Company in Fall River, for October’s Manufacturing Month celebration.

“It’s a great experience,” Lacey Holcomb said, “and it’s one I wouldn’t trade for anything else in the world. It’s taught me so much about being professional and what it’s like to have a real career, and what it’s like to get up and work your butt off at work every day....

“It’s really a great opportunity.”

Youth Apprentice Lacey Holcomb on the floor of E.K. Machine Company

Welding Apprentice Lacey Holcomb.

Holcomb expressed these words of appreciation while helping to create a video for Manufacturing Month, shot during Evers’ visit. Evers also quoted her statements during his State of Education address, during a passage about state-level efforts to increase students’ ability to earn college credits, industry experience and certifications while still in high school.

Another reason for the video is that manufacturing is a leading industry in Wisconsin, and one in which skilled workers are much in demand.

Work-based learning in general is, as Holcomb herself alludes to elsewhere in the video, one way to reach students through a different style of learning. “This is more hands-on learning than school. That’s probably my favorite part about it.”

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2. AP Preliminary Results

Preliminary data from the Advanced Placement (AP) program shows a 4.3 percent increase in the number of Wisconsin students participating in the program and solid overall results.

“I am proud of our students who took AP exams,” State Superintendent Tony Evers said. “The preliminary results show improvements from last year even as AP continues to grow across the state.”

Overall, Wisconsin’s students who took an AP exam in May 2014 earned a score of three or higher (the level which earns credit or advanced standing at most colleges and universities) on 68.1 percent of their exams — a modest increase over last year.

Results across most racial and ethnic student groups showed improvement from 2013, although disparities in performance by students of color remain apparent.

There were also strong increases in participation across racial and ethnic student groups, except among African American students where participation decreased.

“We must confront achievement gaps,” Evers said. “My Promoting Excellence for All Task Force pulled together a broad cross-section of strategies to start moving the needle on the achievement gap. Educators have a big role to play, but will need the help of leaders, the business community, parents, and citizens to see this through.”

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3. SAT Scores

Wisconsin’s 2014 graduates posted strong showings in SAT results, outpacing students in the national cohort.

Wisconsin had 2,522 public and private school graduates take the SAT during high school, about 4 percent of the state’s graduating class of 2014.

They earned mean scores of 596 for critical reading, 608 for mathematics, and 578 for writing — the highest mean scores Wisconsin has seen in more than five years.

The College Board’s College and Career Readiness benchmark score for each of the tests is 500.

Most of the state’s graduates, 73 percent, take the ACT college admissions exam, on which they also earned strong results in 2014. This spring, all Wisconsin public high school juniors will take the ACT as part of the state’s new assessment program.

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4. Presidential Award Finalists in Mathematics and Science

Four Wisconsin educators are finalists for the 2014 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching:

“The Presidential Teaching Awards recognizes the valuable contribution educators make in the classroom and community to support student learning,” said State Superintendent Tony Evers. “I congratulate Wisconsin’s finalists. These educators are representative of the dedicated teachers who serve in our classrooms each school day.”

Nominations for the award can be made by principals, teachers, parents, students, or members of the general public. Nominees complete an extensive written and video application.

Finalists will be judged by a committee organized by the National Science Foundation. A maximum of one science and one mathematics teacher from Wisconsin will be chosen. In addition to recognition and professional development events in Washington, D.C., winners receive $10,000 and a citation signed by the president.

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5. Lessons from an A Cappella Group

You don't get to Carnegie Hall unless you've done something right.

Hard work, reaching out to others, and a willingness to experiment — core lessons for students and teachers alike, which are evident in the story of Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau
(G-E-T) High School’s contemporary a cappella group, Vocal Point.

Vocal Point performing on stage

Vocal Point performs "Two Black Cadillacs" when opening for The Cat's Pajamas in Wisconsin Dells.

But before he became choir director there, Ryan Stuempges knew nothing at all about teaching a cappella pop music. He just liked what people were doing with the genre, not only soloing in a pop style but also using voices to create backup sounds, including percussion (a la “beatboxing”). So, little by little, he dabbled and explored, reaching out to more accomplished directors for advice along the way.

Four years ago, the student group evolved to its present form, an engine that fuels student interest in the choral program. About 15 dedicated students audition to get in, then practice three times a week or more yearlong. They have represented Wisconsin at the World Choir Games in Cincinnati, and two years ago placed 11th at the International Championship for High School A Cappella. Drilling pieces till they get them right, they leave the experience energized, proud, and cohesive.

In this high school of 400 students, approximately 200 are involved in music. On the choir side, Stuempges thinks the energy around Vocal Point is a big reason why.

He says he constantly tells students, “Just because you’re from a tiny school, doesn’t mean you can’t do big things. I think sometimes the small town mentality kind of hits hard with some of these kids.” (Stuempges graduated from another small school, Westby High.)

Once the students achieve something that opens their eyes to what they’re capable of, Stuempges feels it’s important to take that learning to other schools.

Vocal Point is available to visit other choir programs, where they typically perform a short set, answer questions and mingle with students, and often listen to the host groups’ work, offering compliments or peer-to-peer critique.

Traditional choral numbers are included in these workshops to underscore the necessity of time-honored vocal training. The message, meanwhile, underscores the time-honored ethic of hard work.

“We relate it to almost a sport,” Stuempges says. “You gotta put time and energy into it in order for it to come off the right way.”

Meanwhile, stepping into the role of workshop leaders is eye-opening for the G-E-T students.

“They’ve said to me before, ‘We get to do more than other kids get to do.’ I ask them, ‘Well, why do you get to do that?’ And they say, ‘Because we put time and energy into what we’re doing.’ ‘That’s right.’”

Music directors and others can invite Vocal Point to their schools through a Contact Us form on the group’s website.

Vocal Point performing on stage

A shot from the group's video, What is Vocal Point?

Stuempges welcomes other questions from educators, too — like the kind he used to ask.

One key recommendation he often shares is to start attending festivals or competitions, perhaps with students, just as observers, to see if it feels like a fit.

“A teacher needs to find their hook,” he says. “What are you good at, and bring energy to that.”

“This a cappella style of music works for me because I found that it’s my forte, it’s something that I can do, and teach well — basically it’s a hook. It’s a hook to get underclassmen, it’s a hook to get seventh and eighth graders to say, ‘I want to do that.’ Hey, but guess what, you can’t do that unless you’re in a choir.”

“People are so afraid to do things wrong.... Do what works for you. Be a human being.”

The music is also challenging for the elite members of the choir. Building on “the base” of choral training, Vocal Point students master some elements, such as rhythms, which are harder than what’s generally found in choral pieces, Stuempges says.

Sophistication aside, the popularity of a cappella pop singing is certainly growing with pop culture phenomena like the movie, Pitch Perfect (the sequel comes out in spring 2015) and The Sing-Off television show.

Deke Sharon looks happy and excited; the words 'March 29, 2015' appear in front of him

"The Father of Contemoprary A Cappella" Deke Sharon promotes the event at Carnegie Hall.

In March, Vocal Point will ride one of those waves of enthusiasm all the way to New York to participate in a groundbreaking Carnegie Hall concert organized by one of the major players in the scene, Deke Sharon.

(Note to all Wisconsin schools: organizers have been so thrilled with the response to the event that they are arleady planning another one for next year. Kevin Taylor of Distinguished Concerts International New York is the one to contact for details.)

“I work with a lot of high schools and I'm really impressed with Ryan's motivation, and his organization, and how hard he works to make it possible for the kids,” Taylor says of Stuempges.

As any educator knows, it costs a lot to take a student group to New York for an opportunity like this — but Vocal Point is off to a good start, once again thanks to risk-taking — with Stuempges’ private funds lent to the group as he waits for fundraising to catch up — and hard work — the quality of the students’ singing landed them a show that made them $6,000, thanks to nationally famous Jared Blake who appeared on The Voice television show in recent years.

Commitment to Vocal Point inspired an alumnus to manage the group’s website, complete with a link that makes it easy to donate to the group’s Carnegie dreams.

Vocal Point performing in State Capitol

Vocal Point performs "Over the Rainbow" at the State of Education Address, September 2014.

Another recent honor for the group was performing during State Superintendent Tony Evers’ State of Education Ceremony last month. It was a great beginning-of-the-year opportunity for many newer members who are embarking on that timeless high school process of learning to pick up where graduating seniors left off.

As he began his State of Education Address, Evers complimented the performers and said they reminded him that educational opportunities such as “fine arts, physical education and sports, career and technical education, world languages, school clubs, and more” are just as important as mathematics, reading, and other content areas “in preparing our kids to be college and career ready.”

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State Superintendent Tony Evers


1. Manufacturing Month Highlights Work-Based Learning

2. AP Preliminary Results

3. SAT Scores

4. Presidential Award Finalists in Mathematics and Science

5. Lessons from an A Cappella Group

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