Boundary committee hears from principals

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The Internal Attendance Boundary Committee heard from five District principals about their respective school's efforts to support students at their seventh meeting on Wednesday, June 19 at the District Services Center.

Elementary school principals Chris Dahlk and Katrina Krych along with middle school principals Ken Metz, Dom Ricks and Steve Soeteber answered four questions generated by the committee.

One of the questions related to what are the obstacles/barriers to student learning and family engagement. Krych, the principal at West Middleton, noted she had hired 70 percent of the current staff over the past four years. She said the staff want to be there and help all of the children feel welcome and succeed. She reviewed some of the engagement opportunities developed to connect with families. West Middleton provides transportation to school events and parent-teacher conferences and staff do regular home visits.

“I believe it is about the people and not the building,’’ she said. “Essentially, we had the opportunity to build a staff from scratch. … We do whatever it takes to connect with our families.’’

Soeteber, who is retiring at the end of the month after 11 years as the principal at Kromrey, echoed Krych’s comment about it being about the school community. Kromrey is “a great facility and it enhances the work being done but it is the work being done that matters,’’ he said.

Soeteber said trauma, mental health and poverty are on the rise. He said the poverty rate at Kromrey was 10 percent when he started, and is now 25 percent -- or more than 300 students. He noted resources and supports are needed because of the growth, and believes this referendum has provided more funding for that than the one that was approved in 2012.

Metz, the principal at Glacier Creek, said transportation can be a barrier to participation at his school, noting most children can’t walk to the school. Staff there have worked hard to make sure every voice is heard and are getting out into the community more. He said after school programming has more than doubled to nearly 50 options over the past two years, with participation increasing from 50 to 75 percent of all students.  

Ricks, who has served as Glacier Creek’s dean of students since 2016 and will take over as Kromrey principal in July, grew up in Baton Rouge, where 90 percent of public school students are black. Still, he says it is incredibly hard for students of color to feel validated in Wisconsin schools.

He was proud of the headway made at Glacier Creek. He noted lots of children come to school in a bad place and weren’t ready to learn, but staff have worked hard to build relationships and talk with students before school to help them.

Dahlk, the principal at Sauk Trail, echoed the previous comments. She also noted four years ago the District began a process to see if Two-Way Immersion program should be implemented. The program started at Sauk Trail a couple of years ago and has had a huge impact.

The principals also discussed how changing schools might disproportionately impact students and families who have been historically marginalized, the balance between demographics being similar across schools and keeping families in a walkable zone, which criteria the committee should use to evalute attendance boundary options are most important.

All of the principals agreed that minimizing the impact on marginalized families and addressing barriers to student and family engagement were most important to them. The principals also agreed it wasn’t important for the District to try and balance demographics across all schools.

Assistant Superintendent Sherri Cyra thanked the members for asking these questions. “I can't imagine there is a boundary committee process in the state that has asked these kinds of questions,’’ she said. “I really appreciate this committee was so thoughtful to make sure we hear from all students and families.’’

Members also received a summary of the feedback collected from families in neighborhoods not represented on the committee and having a larger percentage of marginalized students. The District had representatives at an ice cream social at The Crossings in Elver Park for West Middleton and Glacier Creek families and at Don’s Mobile Manor for Sunset Ridge and Glacier Creek families. Staff also attended the Hot Dog Picnic at Sauk Trail.

Cyra noted families in The Crossings said they have other options to find more affordable housing but they want to stay in the District and really appreciate the work being done at their respective schools. Director of Business Services Lori Ames noted parents told her it wasn’t the building or how far the school was from them but rather that teachers and staff cared for their child and wanted them to succeed.

Members also received updated enrollment projections and additional information on some neighborhoods.

Mark Roffers reminded members a few weeks ago Dane County reached an agreement to get 160 acres of land north of Middleton to add to Pheasant Branch Conservancy that was originally projected to hold 450 new housing units. Had the single and multi-family units been built, that would have meant 40 more elementary students in 2025 and about 100 in 2030 for the District.  The land was part of Neighborhood 5, which has about 600 acres in total and is currently part of the Northside attendance area.

However, Roffers cautioned the committee not to take away that those 450 households would be lost from the District. “You are still going to have households looking for housing. They just won’t land in that area,’’ he said.

Roffers also reviewed some neighborhoods that would be worth subdividing. The new map shared with members splits Neighborhood 16 into No. 16W and No. 16E. It also divides Neighborhood 26 into No. 26N and No. 26, while Neighborhood 63 was split three ways and 65 two ways, using Mineral Point Road and property lines. Roffers noted this doesn’t mean those areas now need to be split between two schools but rather that it seemed to make sense based on geographical or enrollment projections.

Roffers then reviewed the new projections. He noted Northside dropped from a projected 2030 enrollment of 511 to 452. He also included the new projections with the five options that have been presented. For most of the options, Northside’s projected enrollment is lower than before. He also noted the dashboard evaluation tool has been updated.

Members also received a document that was a summary of how they had previously evaluated all five option against the criteria. Facilitator Drew Howick asked members to review in advance of next meeting, but members also noted the their voting and thinking might be different now after hearing from principals and families.

Visit the Internal Attendance Boundary Committee page on the District website for videos and summaries from each meeting along with documents shared with members.