Jan. 15, 2019 – West Bend, WI – Parents and students lined up at Monday night’s West Bend School Board meeting to express their displeasure about the district’s plan to possibly eliminate Pathways Charter School.
Diana Swillinger, a parent of four children in the district, sits on the Pathways Governance Council. She was direct and disappointed questioning a lack of transparency in numbers and “misplaced priorities, a lack of vision, disinterest in the needs of the students, and a knee-jerk reaction to a struggling budget.”
Diana Swillinger comments to school board, January 14, 2019
Good evening. I am Diana Swillinger. A parent of 4 children in this district and a Pathways Governance Council member.
I have a small amount of time to say a lot, so I will not mince words, I will read right from my statement and speak as fast as I can. Please know I say all of this with the utmost respect for the board. I appreciate your service.
I had intended today to share my opinion about the future of Pathways, and I will, however, I would like to address a concern first.
Late Friday afternoon, the district presented the school board with a report of Pathways, created by a lone critic from Black and Associates. The Governance Council was told when the evaluation happened that it was to inform Pathways’ accountability plan and were not told it would be shared outside of that purpose. The evaluation period was in the 2017-2018 school year, yet the results were not shared with Pathways staff or Governance Council in any written form. Ever. We were introduced to the document only when it was shared with you, just one business day before the Superintendent–who to the best of my knowledge and in my opinion, has not completed his own observation and evaluation of Pathways–is likely to recommend a discontinuation of the contract.
In the kindest terms we could call this move strategic and clever. But when we consider the impact it will have on the educational, vocational, and developmental journey of real children, real students… our children… this move could be seen as manipulative and self-serving. At best, this is not something I would use as an example to share with my own children to demonstrate good business, good politics, or good will. I find the lack of disclosure with Pathways staff and governance council and last-minute exposure to the board disappointing and discouraging.
Now to my original comments:
Pathways has produced a plethora of positive results as you heard testimony to in December. To discontinue the partnership with Pathways would be to displace dozens of students from the rigorous and unique education they credit for their success and it would be a mistake–a mistake based on an incompatible, formulaic report card that is skewed on many levels as has been previously addressed.
I am a fiscally responsible person, I have seen the budget for Pathways, and in the grand scheme of the district spending, it really is a drop in the bucket. To eliminate the partnership based on money, would be a disproportionate reaction to the value it provides to the many students who’ve attended there and are yet to attend.
As the world starts to embrace the reality that students in neat rows of desks with one-size-fits-all education underserves our children and their future, Pathways is leading the way. This school started with an innovative and courageous dream… please tell me you aren’t ready to quit that dream. We are just getting started.
Please tell me you won’t quit because we hit a couple obstacles. What will we tell the kids if the contract to the only school that has awakened their desire to learn isn’t renewed? “Sorry kids, we hit a snag in the budget and the state report card doesn’t accurately display the amazing things happening here and in your life, so we quit.“
For much of Pathways existence, the district administration has taken little interest. And now their interest seems to only lie in the obstacles while paying little attention to the successes and not embracing the incredible character development and educational journey of the students…. the things that don’t fit into standardized reports and spreadsheets.
If the contract isn’t renewed it will be viewed by many as misplaced priorities, a lack of vision, disinterest in the needs of the students, and a knee-jerk reaction to a struggling budget.
If the contract is renewed it will be viewed by many as an investment in the future of an amazing and creative population of students, the ingenuity of education, rigor of studies, and evolving path of education.
Chelsea Doman Davis, a parent of four, from Jackson also spoke to the board and wondered what prompted the decision to close if money and preparing students for college isn’t the issue.
Good evening Board members and fellow parents. My name is Chelsea Doman Davis. I live in Jackson …. Last month I talked as a parent of four children in the district and shared my very personal reasons for needing the charter at Pathways to be renewed. Tonight, I again have skipped my own PTO meeting to address you but as a concerned citizen and outside of the emotion of how my family would directly be adversely affected by the dissolution of Pathways Charter School.
I have several points I hope the Board will consider in this matter.
First, the Charter School provides options, which is a choice we value in Wisconsin.
Other school districts in the area have launched or are launching similar efforts, such as the Riveredge Outdoor Learning School in neighboring Northern Ozaukee School District. By removing options here, you are encouraging families to go elsewhere. The Revenue Limit here has been negatively impacted in the past due to students attending other districts.
At Pathways, the students have to engage in the learning process. They drive it. My eighth grader recently protested when his father told him to think creatively about a problem at home because he gets too much practice. He said, “At my school it’s all about working creatively.”
This student-led learning and innovation should be SPREADING to other classrooms, not fighting to stay alive. As you know, the vision of the West Bend School District is to prepare all students for college readiness AND career success. Pathways supports this vision more fully than the other options in the upper grades.
Second, Charter schools are a really great thing.
Stanford University recently conducted a survey of charter schools in 41 urban areas around the nation. Their findings showed that the typical charter school student accumulated 40 additional days’ worth of learning in math and 28 days of reading than their peers in traditional classrooms. Over the four-year study, positive results increased.
This school hasn’t been given enough of a chance. It opened for grades 7-10 in 2013 and added a class per year until the start of the 2015 school year. In other words, it is only in its fourth school year serving all of the intermediate and secondary grades. By dissolving this school while it’s gaining momentum, you’re cutting off the experiment much too soon.
Additionally, why hasn’t the school district promoted Pathways?
At this point, there shouldn’t be any parent who doesn’t know about the school and yet I repeatedly explain the vision of Pathways to parents I meet at the library and the baseball diamond and school dropoff and museums and community events. When I talk about the career readiness, the community involvement, and project-based approach, everyone is interested in the affordable alternative to traditional classrooms.
I question what the issue really is here.
It can’t be a money issue because the Equalized Assessed Value (EAV) of the District has increased 4 years in a row, and the tax rates for education have decreased. The S&P rating for the district is commendable AA. Last year’s budget promised no reduction in programming and courses, so what has changed. As Superintendent Kirkegaard explained in a November meeting, the District has the lowest debt ratio when compared to the surroundings areas.
So if money is not the problem and you want families to have choices within the District, it seems renewing the charter is an obvious decision.
Jennie Duller from Germantown and her son Austin, who graduated from Pathways, also spoke Monday night.
Austin said, “I would still be in high school now if it wasn’t for the change of pace, change in thinking and most importantly, because of the coaches. Because of Pathways I was able to complete my freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior year and graduate on time, over the next 3 years. I was able to acquire skills that have helped me in the workplace, as well as create a plan for after high school now.”
Duller echoed those thoughts. “I guarantee there are many students out there that would benefit from this program, parents that want the best education possible for their students. Pathways was the best thing that could have come along for us.”
Superintendent Don Kirkegaard responded to parents by apologizing for not making public the independent audit on Pathways. “I made some assumptions I should not of,” he said.
Kirkegaard then said the decision on whether to go forward was to review the purpose of Pathways and whether it is meeting the goal.
Kirkegaard then reviewed five elements including cost, enrollment, student performance, anticipated change in location, and the independent audit.
Kirkegaard mentioned the successful Charter programs at Kettle Moraine.
Kirkegaard mentioned how there were three Charter programs all located in the high school. “They have a phenomenal program,” he said. “Their program is more spelled out in each particular area.”
“Immediately we need to make sure to address all of the concerns of people in Pathways,” he said.
As far as location at Badger School or the high school. “We can make that happen at either school,” said Kirkegaard. “It will require some time and effort but the space is available especially as we look at some declining enrollments going forward.”
Board member Nancy Justman asked for a work session to have a conversation.
Board member Joel Ongert said he wanted the board work session to direct it to the teachers.
Scheduling of that work session is underway and the board hopes to have a final decision on the future of Pathways Charter School at its meeting Jan. 28.
After the meeting parent Jennie Duller said, “I feel like it is true that the school district has failed Pathways. They really need to take a step back and gather all of the facts before making a final decision and not operate based off of assumptions that had been preconceived. I am very happy to hear that they will be doing just that next week and meeting with school officials and teachers. I believe from what I heard this evening that here is hope for Pathways to continue on after this year.”
Doman Davis said she felt disappointed. “I was proud of the way the students from Pathways advocated for themselves, and I thought the testimonials from the other parents were inspiring. I am deeply discouraged that the Board appears to not be moved by the very real and long-lasting impact this will have on so many families. I moved to the West Bend area specifically for my oldest child to attend Pathways. If Pathways is closed, I will have to transfer him to a high school outside the district or resume homeschooling. My three other children will transfer to a different district after they complete sixth grade.”