Marathon school board moves forward with “banding” and “looping” of grades
The Marathon Board of Education last week Wednesday voted to apply for a state charter school expansion grant that will pay for teacher release time to plan fifth grade and Marathon Venture Academy restructuring.
In the new structure, fifth and sixth graders as well as seventh and eighth graders will be “banded” together in single groups, while, at the same time, the students will be “looped” in certain classes where they will have the same teacher for two years.
The grant, which could run as high as $800,000, is likely to be approved by the Wisconsin Department of Instruction. With the funds, teachers will take the 2020-21 school year to plan out the new structure. The new middle school arrangement could, potentially, run afoul of the Marathon Venture Academy charter, which includes only grades six, seven and eight. There is a further possibility that the new structure would mean Marathon Public Schools might pursue Expeditionary Learning on its own, not as part of contracted service.
Marathon Area Elementary School/ Marathon Venture Academy (MAES/ MVA) principal Sarah Budny, who asked for the change, said banding the fifth and sixth grade together would help ease an otherwise tough transition year for fifth grade students. She said looping would allow teachers to better meet needs of both high and low achieving students.
In the new structure, the principal said, seventh and eighth graders would get more elective classes, which is what they want.
Budny said, further, that the split between sixth and seventh grades, which she said was “natural” and fit with state curriculum standards, would permit teachers to spend more time with struggling math students who have shown a pattern of below state average scores in eighth grade.
The principal showed school board members standardized math test scores from three recent years showing that the number of advanced/profi cient students in math consistently fell to sometimes half of state average in eighth grade, rebounding to above state average in the following year.
Budny said school staff have attacked the problem with a change in math curriculum, but came to understand that students simply need additional instruction time to do well. Students went from an every other day math schedule to an every day schedule.
Budny presented a list of articles from the School Superintendents Association, the Center for Leadership in Education and Education Week praising looping as a strategy to improve student achievement.
Board members agreed to move forward despite lingering concerns voiced by school board member Jodi Debroux and fifth grade teacher Carolyn Haehlke.
Debroux, who said she still wanted to see academic research in support of banding and looping, said that concerns raised by school psychologists needed to be taken into consideration.
She said she did not want to adopt a new educational program just because it received good press in the professional literature.
“What does the research say?” she asked. “I don’t want to be a board that jumps on a bandwagon. I want to see evidence that looping increases student achievement.”
DeBroux said she was concerned parents would not be alerted to this significant change. She said parents were already dealing with getting used to standards-based grades.
Haehlke, who expressed her opposition to banding at the board’s November meeting, said she has not changed her opinion about the proposal.
“My feelings haven’t changed,” she said.
Board member Ted Knoeck praised school staff for noticing a dip in school test scores and proposing a solution.
“I applaud the fact we found a problem.” he said. “Now, we move forward.”
Knoeck said he could understand why eighth grade math could be so challenging.
“Now seventh to eighth grade is like what going from middle school to high school used to be,” he said.
School board member Lia Klumpyan called on Budny to alert board members to the potential problems of the proposed changes.
“This is great, but where are the challenges?” she asked. “There is always the other side.”
Budny said change was always daunting. “There will be a fear of the unknown,” she said.
School board president Brian Gumtz said his worry was that planning for the change would be too taxing for staff.
“You guys are going over and above,” he told staff. “There could be burn out for some individuals. I don’t want that to happen.”
MVA teacher Tera Fieri said the charter school grant would pay for teachers to take on the restructuring over all of next school year. That’s longer than when she and other staff developed Marathon Venture Academy, Fieri said.
“I feel more comfortable that we will have 15 months to plan it,” she said.
In other school board business:
_ Ttitle One reading teacher Christine Sorge urged board members to support AB110 which would provide schools with dyslexia materials. She said up to one in five students has dyslexia.
School administrator Rick Parks said he hoped the legislation would not be an unfunded mandate on public schools.
_ Board members approved $1,812 for a milk cooler and $37,791 for a combi oven for the new MAES kitchen. The items were not budgeted, but can be financed through a food service program fund balance, administrator Parks said.
_ Board members scheduled a MAES/MVA remodeling dedication
ceremony for Sunday, Jan. 5.
_ The board approved including a residential area without sidewalks on South Rd. between CTH B and Vitello Street within the “unusual hazards” area which qualifies for student busing.
Adding the area will not require the school to add another bus.
_ Administrator Parks said a new program of hall walkers on school days between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m. is “working very well” but that school staff cannot figure out how to open up a second high school gymnasium without either jeopardizing school security of hiring someone to lock up the school after hours. To do so, he said, would require $7,500 door magnetic locks and $5,000 security cameras. “I don’t know that you want to spend all of that money for a few people to shoot baskets,” Parks said.
_ Board members awarded Rick Seubert with a three year snow plowing bid.
_ The board voted to authorize Marathon High School to investigate forming an e-sports program, where four person teams play competitive video games. Board member Ted Knoeck voted no.
Cost to join a league, said Beranek, is $100. There are 16 high school students interested in the computer sport, he said.
Knoeck said he was “very skeptical of this” and did not want to see students spending even more time on screens.
Beranek said there was a benefit to having gamers play e-sports on a team rather than in isolation.
_ Board members accepted the resignation of vocal instructor Katie Yadro and denied her request not to pay a $1,200 late resignation penalty.