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  • Writer's pictureEmily Berry

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Every parent I know has a certain thing about their kid's school that they are passionate about. One dad may not think school lunches are a big deal, but the mom next door gets riled up every time she looks at the hot lunch menu. The parents across the street, meanwhile, may be worried and wish they could convince the school to offer more or different mental health services for their teenager. Here's the good news for the week: it's pretty much all on tap this week for Shorewood's School Board, and not in glancing, oblique ways, but in very direct "how are we doing, and what should we do next?" ways. I can guarantee everyone who is able to attend with learn something. Here's the full agenda and accompanying materials if you'd like a peek.

Welcome Back to School!

Starting at the top, we've got a "Back to School" update from Superintendent Bryan Davis. He appears to be introducing a new framework for Character and Citizenship in this section, along with some points later in the agenda. He's introducing the idea of "Drive" as an ideal for students, similar to the idea of "Grit" recently made popular by Angela Duckworth's work around the idea of persistence over time as a better predictor of success than talent or privilege. I was once totally enamored with this idea, and I still think it's a really important idea at a time (and here in Shorewood) when so many kids are steeped in privilege and allowed to fully develop their talents. But ... I urge everyone to read this New Yorker article, that has stuck with me since I read it: As the title suggests, it touches on the limits of grit. Let's keep in mind that success also depends quite a lot on privilege and often on pure luck. I don't plan on telling my kids that anyone can achieve anything through hard work. I think this might be true of them, but I don't want them thinking that the people around them who were less privileged should just work harder.

Next up on the agenda we have an update on three UWM researchers' work surveying African-American students at SHS and SIS. I'm having a hard time summarizing the preliminary results without being sarcastic here, because they're so utterly predictable that honestly, it's a little galling that the district funded this research. Spoiler ... African American students are less likely to feel that they "belong." I am no social scientist, but I could have saved the district a lot of money and told them that, and I am neither African American, nor do I have an African-American child in our schools. I've just been paying attention (I noticed last year that several families who do fit that bill transferred out of the system entirely). I don't want to totally dismiss this research - it's always good to have real data and the voices of these students very much deserve to be heard. I just hope we get much deeper insights than what appears in these initial materials, which we no doubt will.

Next, the board will review the administration's calendar for its several work groups -- this one is my pet issue. I asked last year if the district could post proper public notice for these meetings where, in my view, government business is taking place in a forum that should be subject to open meetings laws. The board and superintendent say these groups are not like the committees of the past that met and did the board's preliminary work and advised the full board on big policy decisions. I believe the board is splitting hairs, and I wish the district would err on the side of transparency rather than secrecy. No one has explained, in many cases, when these groups meet and where, or how members are selected, though at least of a few of them include members of the public.

The board and superintendent assured me and others that they intended to share more about the work group meetings this year, and this calendar is the first attempt at that. I think this calendar should be accompanied by a description of each group, its members, its mission and its meeting locations and whether the public is able to attend. When smaller advisory groups are doing the public's business, the public should have a right to watch and understand who is doing that work.

Still with me? We're not even to the juicy parts!

Next up, a report on the district's progress in Character and Citizenship, along with "reflections," which typically include recommendations from administrators for changes to the district's stated goals or just tweaks to wording of those goals. This is the second place that the idea of "Drive" comes up -- I won't repeat myself re: "Grit"....

Next, a report on the district's progress around Wellness. This ought to be a big part of the agenda, and I'd predict some pontification about what we mean by "wellness" and what we should or could be doing. I think the board realizes there is much, much more the district could be doing in this area, but it is unlikely to make any bold moves until its work around facilities is past this pre-referendum period.

It's worth noting that one of the work groups that the district created focuses on Wellness, but other than its joint meetings with the board, the work group's meetings have not been publicly posted. Its recommendations appear in the "Reflections" report, which notes that this year, the district will survey 8th and 9th graders around mental health, and will start using a behavioral health screener in "select grades" in our elementary schools. Whether you support the idea of every student being screened for mental health challenges or not, it would be a good idea to let the board know how you feel, and maybe ask them how they plan to act on the results they get back.

One last big report will come from the district's Business Manager, Patrick Miller, who will talk about personnel management and recommendations. Notable "not compliant" metrics include:

  • falling short in maintaining a body of teachers and staff that reflects gender and racial demographic profiles with the student body,

  • failing to ensure that principals and assistant principals' salaries are in the top third of districts,

  • failing to ensure at least 95% of hires meet the certification requirements in the job description,

  • and somewhat alarmingly, it's failure until this summer to run school volunteers through the National Sex Offender registry (though it did run names through the state background check process).

There are a few other business items -- most look pretty routine -- but that's the big stuff. If you live in Shorewood and didn't find something there that piqued your interest, then you probably didn't read all the way to bottom of this post anyway.

Be there! Tuesday, Sept. 11, 7 p.m., Shorewood High School library.

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