Your Schools: A year in reviewAs this edition of the Journal comes out, we will be saying goodbyes, first to our students, then to staff members, as we end the 2011-12 school year.
By: Tom Westerhaus, School District Superintendent, River Falls Journal
As this edition of the Journal comes out, we will be saying goodbyes, first to our students, then to staff members, as we end the 2011-12 school year.
As always, I take stock of the past school year as we wrap things, listing the highs and the lows of the year on the notepad before me. Before I shift to my less-frequently-written column schedule for the summer, I thought I would share with you what showed up on my list.
The lowest of the lows, most certainly, was the tragic death of a high school student in a truck accident in the late afternoon on May 18, the same day as her end-of-year choral concert at RFHS was scheduled.
The sadness that surrounds our students, staff, and, of course, her loving family, was overwhelming and will remain with us for a very long, long time. She was a beautiful child, inside and out, and her death diminishes us all. The only good that came of it all was the tremendous outpouring of love and support for the family by students, staff, parents, the faith community, and the larger River Falls community. Thank you.
While it pales by comparison to a student’s death, another low for the past school year was the budget-reduction process we went through to balance the budget for next year.
Due to decreases in the formula used by Madison for calculating state education aids, our budget for next year needed to be reduced by $900,000. A combination of reduced insurance benefits, personnel reductions, and program cuts helped solve the budget crisis for next year but not without pain.
On the brighter side, many successes were part of this year, too! They include:
--Approval by voters of a significant portion of a November bond referendum election for upgrading all district school buildings, followed by the appointment of ATS&R architects and Kraus Anderson construction managers to begin the work in earnest this summer.
--Board action to approve RF4C (River Falls 4 Children) pre-school program to begin this fall in six community-based sites.
--Changes in school times for 2012-13 that moves all school day start times a little later to accommodate a later secondary school beginning time.
--An increase in the size of district-owned School forest, consolidated on the south side of the Kinnickinnic River, by swapping of land with the Lyle and Roberta Johnson family, thereby bringing the district closer to gaining access to property it’s owned for decades to be used for student environmental education.
--Approval of a sustainability agreement with UWRF and the City of River Falls which encourages the school district to use environmentally-wise, energy-efficient, and green practices in all of its facilities and grounds.
--Adoption of a new marketing logo which highlights the district’s promise to its stakeholders to be a place of tapping everyone’s potential every day.
--Implementation of the new FORWARD: The River Falls Public Schools Education Foundation, a community-driven non-profit organization established to grant financial support for innovation and excellence in the River Falls Public Schools, beginning with $8,000 in grants awarded this spring to staff members for classroom equipment and projects for the coming school year. Much of this money was generated by a Colleen Raye benefit concert held last December and through private donations.
--Piloting of a successful elementary Spanish language program in Kindergarten and grade one at Greenwood Elementary.
--Piloting of a Senior Tax Exchange Program (STEP) at Rocky Branch, where senior citizens volunteered time to work with students in exchange for a small stipend to be used for their property tax relief.
--Appointment of a non-voting high school student representative (Maura Watson) to the school board to bring a student’s perspective to board decision-making.
--Practicing of RFHS’s and of area emergency management systems’ crises plans in the event of an armed intruder in our schools.
--Promising Practice Awards from the Wisconsin Character Education Partnership for Greenwood Elementary (community garden); Meyer Middle School (Long Distance Student Reading Mentorship, and Climbing Toward our Everest Goal); RFHS (CATS mentorship); and Rocky Branch Elementary (Stepping Stones to Character). Also, National Promising Practices Awards for many of these activities and for Westside Elementary (Westside Ambassadors and The Wildcat Way… Starring Westside Students and Staff!)
--Multiple activities recognitions, including Marching Band (State Champs); Girls Gymnastics (2nd Place in State); Individual State Gymnastics Champion All Around (Riley Claude); Girls Cross Country (4th in State); Forensics (Excellence in Speech Winners- top 5% in State); Mock Trial (Regional Champs); Conference Champions in Boys and Girls Golf, Girls Cross Country, and Gymnastics.
--Selection of Rocky Branch Elementary Counselor, Laurie Moyer, as Wisconsin’s Elementary Counselor of the Year.
--Completion of the employee handbooks, which replaced union contract language from the past that governed everything from employee salaries and benefits to work hours and performance. Also, teacher contracts for 2012-13 completed quickly and amiably, and other employee contracts expected to be finalized before the start of next school year.
--Strategic Plan improvements in the areas of technology and employee morale.
Of course, there were thousands of other daily successes in the classrooms, lunchrooms, gyms, music and art rooms, offices, and corridors every day.
Unfortunately, I have a word limit on my columns!
Suffice it to say that I see firsthand how much good work goes on in our district every day, especially during my Super Switches with employees in various positions. (This year I was a 3rd shift (overnight) custodian, a 4th grade teacher, a Principal’s secretary, the Renaissance Program Coordinator, and a High School Social Studies teacher!)
All in all, it was an accomplishing and successful year, and I am grateful to be a part of this district and this community. I continue to be grateful to you for the ongoing support of the hard work my employees do each and every day.
A happy and safe summer to all, and please remember: “Your River Falls Public Schools: Everybody’s Business!”