Positive news at Elm Lawn, West Middleton

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Elm Lawn principal Bob Schell and West Middleton principal Katrina Krych provided updates on what is happening in their respective buildings at the Board of Education regular meeting on Monday, Dec. 12.

Elm Lawn fourth-grade teacher Amanda Jagodzinski and special education teacher Alexa Nommensen also attended, while fourth-grade teacher Melanie Hannam, bilingual and ESL resource teacher Maica Emerich and instructional coach Shannon Larson also attended for West Middleton.

Elm Lawn's report focused on the District's three I's: inspiring, innovative and inclusive.

Schell was thrilled that discipline referrals are down 65 percent from a year ago, while positive referrals are up 47 percent. Staff recognize students for being safe or responsible.

The school has tried to be innovative in its approach to attendance. Last year staff met with 20 students and  their families if the child had received three letters about poor attendance. Schell reported the result has been the number of attendance letters being sent out are way down this year.  

He also used school funds to send two staff members to adaptive school training, while the school improvement team is trying to engage families more. Elm Lawn's goal is shared decision-making and shared governance with all families, which will include a survey.

Jagodzinski and Nommensen share a classroom and talked about how they work together to deliver lesson plans jointly. They want every student to feel like they have two teachers all the time.

Schell also praised the work of 4K teachers JoEllen Pauls and Barb Phillips and is thrilled to have them in the school. He said he has learned so much from their integrated model.

"They are a team,'' he said. "We want to model our practices after best practices.''

The other West Middleton staff members raved about Krych, who is in her first year at the school after coming from Sun Prairie in the summer. "She realizes West Middleton's reality, she is creating a vision and getting staff excited about the future,'' Larson said.

Krych shared a series of photos with the Board. She showed one that had staff in school T-shirts provided by the PTO in August. "I think people really felt that energy and we felt it, too,'' she said.

Krych said she met with every West Middleton staff member either in the summer or early in the school year. She heard three themes: communication, transparency and follow-through.

She was thrilled the District allowed the school to use its professional development day in September to go to Upham Woods as a staff. She said it really allowed the staff to bond get to know each other better.

Hannam, who is in her 16th year at West Middleton, spoke about the changes at the school. She believes the changes have made the staff stronger.

"This is my second home. We're all there for each other,'' said Hannam, who praised Krych for her guidance, perseverance and follow-through. "It's been very positive and exciting.''

Krych said she continues to work on rebuilding structures.Staff meetings focus on collaboration and working together. The goal is more student engagement, family engagement and using data to make informed decisions. She said students and staff have really bought into the The Wolverine Way, with the focus on rewarding positive behavior.

Krych praised Jenni Vondrak for setting up breakfast get-togethers with Elver Park families in order to address bus issues. She noted that 20 staff members showed up for it.

Emmerich, who has spent 14 years in the District, shared how Title Nights have grown over the years from small gatherings to more than 150 attending this year.

"It was so cool to see so many of our families there. I had chills,'' Krych said.

A second bus was added to address issues. Krych has also put an extra adult on buses at times. She said bus behavior will always be a focus and the goal is to make every child feel safe on the bus.

"Every West Middleton student in on a bus so we're always going to have to talk about this,'' said Krych, who is also considering having students to guided relaxation and other mindfulness techniques to stay calm.

Krych said moving forward she wants more responsive classrooms and better trauma-informed care. She also wants to make sure teachers have the tools and strategies to have the most successful experience they can have.

Multiple Board members said they were happy to hear things were better at West Middleton after hearing concerns from from staff at the listening session last year. Superintendent George Mavroulis said he has asked Elementary Director Rainey Briggs to work out of West Middleton starting this week to provide support and an extra set of eyes and ears.

"We feel you made us a priority,'' Hannam said.