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Past Issues | February 23, 2015 |

1. ESEA Waiver Renewal

Wisconsin is applying for a renewal of flexibility from certain provisions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, currently known as NCLB, the No Child Left Behind Act).

The state was granted initial flexibility by the United States Department of Education on July 6, 2012. In exchange for this flexibility, the federal government reviewed (and approved) the DPI’s plan to improve educational outcomes for all students, close achievement gaps, increase equity, and improve the quality of instruction.

The flexibility was renewed for the 2014-15 school year; however, existing waivers expire at the end of 2014-15.

Wisconsin is now applying for a renewal to be effective through the 2017-18 school year.

The DPI is taking comments from educators and the public on the draft waiver renewal, through an online survey form available on the DPI's ESEA Flexibility page. Also on that page is the draft waiver request itself, an introductory video, and a short summary of what is in the request. Comments must be submitted by March 6, 2015.

The DPI will take all feedback into consideration, revise and refine the draft proposal, and submit the renewal request to the U.S. Department of Education in final form by March 31.

Questions can be sent to

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2. NASA Challenge for Wisconsin Learning Centers

Working in tandem with National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) engineers, students at eight Wisconsin afterschool programs are exploring STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) through real-life space problems.

Late in 2014, Wisconsin successfully applied to become one of 10 states participating in the NASA Engineering Design Challenge, a partnership of NASA and the U.S. Department of Education’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers (CLC) program.

The students, grades 5-8, choose one of three challenges reflecting issues NASA engineers are also working on. As students work on their potential solutions, they will hold web video conferences with NASA staff and engineers to help them along the way.

It’s easy to imagine kids getting excited about STEM challenges like “Packing for the Moon” (growing food crops on the moon), “Why Pressure Suits?” (redesigning spacesuits for better mobility), and “Spaced Out Sports” (developing physically and psychologically challenging games for astronauts on long trips in confined spaces).

The students will document their processes and solutions through a video that will be submitted to NASA in May. Videos will be evaluated by a team of NASA engineers and astronauts and one winner will be invited to present at a national conference.

Wisconsin’s 21st Century CLC grantees selected for the challenge are:

  • Gaenslen Middle School (Milwaukee Public School District)
  • Granton Middle School (Granton Public School District)
  • Wright Middle School (Madison Metropolitan School District)
  • LB Clarke Middle School (Two Rivers School District)
  • Adams-Friendship Middle School (Adams-Friendship School District)
  • Gilmore Middle School (Racine Unified School District)
  • North Crawford Elementary (North Crawford School District)
  • McNeel Intermediate School (Beloit School District)

The CLC program supports academic and other opportunities for students and families while school is not in session.

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3. Charters-Within-a-School part of Personalization Boom in Kettle Moraine

Within only a few years, many students and parents in the Kettle Moraine School District have let the school board know about the impact of the district’s charter schools – four student-interest-driven programs housed within existing schools, all born in the current decade.

School Board President Gary Vose remembers a certain high schooler who told her story at a board meeting.

“In the traditional school, she was kind of a loner, didn’t have a lot of friends, started having a lot of absenteeism... and so she decided to go into this charter.”

Now she told board members “’I had a new family’” – students with similar interests who also wanted to be part of a smaller group within the high school.

“She [said], ‘I was getting ready to potentially drop out, and now I love it in school. I’m doing much better, doing great in my classes, getting good grades’ — the whole bit.”

The student practically “brought some of the board members to tears,” Vose says.

In fact, he says, many students are reporting they’re more engaged and excited, with preliminary looks at data seeming to back up this anecdotal evidence.

District administration, including Superintendent Pat Deklotz and High School Principal Jeff Walters, aims to make it clear that the various charters and other innovative choices in the district are not “better for everyone” — but some models are definitely better for some students, and for some staff.

Students working on laptops in a comfortable work area, with tables made out of musical drums

KM Perform draws high school students with an interest in music, art, theatre, or creative writing. The school is competency-based, teaching through interdisciplinary seminars, studio days, and focused artistic or academic workshops lasting one to two weeks.

For Vose, “a light went on” after a board meeting a few years ago: “‘What we really want to do is not elevate the school and the performance of the school. What we want to do is elevate the performance of each individual child, and by doing that, yes, you’ll elevate the overall performance of the school but ... let’s focus on the individual as opposed to the group.’”

If a student’s interests and needs can be met at the same time, “and at the end of the day [we] provide a better outcome for that student, that’s what it’s all about.”

As an added bonus, for the right teacher, the more personalized approach of the charters is more invigorating and exciting, and the extra demands a good trade off for the creativity.

Current charters include high schools for the arts (KM Perform), global leadership (KM Global), and health sciences, as well as an elementary charter (KM Explore) based on integrated curriculum, community, and other pillars.

Housing their charters within the traditional school buildings has meant that a student who chooses, say, the smaller KM Global school to learn about global leadership can still return to the main school to play in the orchestra. Best practices also flow more freely from one to the other.

A United Nations flag and 'Bonjour' sign deck the halls of a KM Global classroom

KM Global appeals to high school students who are interested in leadership or global studies. The school incorporates field experiences and a personalized learning design.

In addition to charters, Kettle Moraine has implemented innovations in other ways that did not require a charter application — such as a multi-age house at the middle school.

Superintendent Deklotz says all the district’s recent personalized learning innovations owe much to the Wisconsin Innovation Lab Network. Connected to a national effort, the Network is a collaboration between The Institute @ CESA 1 and the DPI.

“We’ll only be able to meet the needs of students through collaboration with our colleagues,” she explains. “When it comes to kids, you can’t collaborate too much.”

Grant funding to launch charters can also be helpful. Kettle Moraine, for example, has drawn on DPI charter grants which support the first few years of a charter school’s existence.

You won’t hear many concerns from Vose about the value of the district’s increasingly personalized approach. Instead, his biggest concern is that the budget proposal advanced by Governor Scott Walker would make it hard to continue offering the same quality of education. The proposal’s across-the-board cut in the first year amounts to $600,000 for Kettle Moraine. By holding revenue limits flat, the budget also effectively imposes another cut on districts, by failing to cover inflationary cost increases.

Student using a laptop in the KM Perform area

“We’re doing exciting things, we want to continue to do exciting things, but I think it’s reasonable to say, ‘at least increase our funding by the rate of inflation so we can maintain where we are.’”

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4. Media Lab Survey

The Wisconsin Media Lab is collecting feedback, comments, and stories from educators on the value of their services, through a short, online survey.

The Media Lab is part of the Educational Communications Board, which was targeted for a $5 million cut in the governor’s budget proposal.

“Our mission has always been to provide equity and accessibility in meeting the resource needs of Wisconsin’s K-12 schools,” the agency says. “Cuts to the Educational Communications Board in the current Executive Budget proposal will drastically impact our ability to provide this service in the future.”

The Wisconsin Media Lab acquires educational content for use by Wisconsin educators, and also creates Wisconsin-specific products such as Wisconsin Biographies, Climate Wisconsin, and The Ways.

The survey comments will “help us to understand how our work has an impact, and to share that story with others in the community.”

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5. AmeriCorps (Serve Wisconsin) Website

Those who work with children will now find it easier to connect with the AmeriCorps program in the state. Serve Wisconsin, the government board that administers federal AmeriCorps in the state, has updated its website (for the first time since 1999), making it easier to access materials, interactive links, and images.

With education one of its focus areas, Serve Wisconsin runs many programs in Wisconsin in which volunteers work with students or educators (The DPI used to coordinate the work of a number of AmeriCorps volunteers, but that state-level grant is not occurring in 2014-15).

“Our new website is a much better reflection of the exciting things happening through AmeriCorps around the state,” says Amy Porter, program officer. A map shows every site in which volunteers are working, and the homepage has features on the recollections of volunteers and other topics.

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State Superintendent Tony Evers


1. ESEA Waiver Renewal

2. NASA Challenge for Wisconsin Learning Centers

3. Charters-Within-a-School part of Personalization Boom in Kettle Moraine

4. Media Lab Survey

5. AmeriCorps (Serve Wisconsin) Website

DPI-ConnectEd comes from the office of State Superintendent Tony Evers
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For questions about this information, contact Benson Gardner (608) 266-3374