Board President's Report
On the first day of school, I was able to observe some of the capital projects completed this summer. The new driveway at Wisconsin Hills was completed moving traffic off of Wisconsin Ave. The new procedure was working well and should save parents time as they pick up and drop off their children. Amazingly, the buses were able to turn around in the front in a very tight U-turn. The pool and locker rooms at Central looked amazing and will be a much better and user-friendly facility for our community there. The library refresh at Brook El is inviting and creates a learning space that students and classes can use.
I had the opportunity to tour nine of our schools on the first day of school. I’m happy to report a lot of excited, nervous faces and smiles on students, teachers and parents as we visited each school. I was impressed with the energy and enthusiasm of the staff and the smoothness of operations across the system. Some students were confident and excited. One kidnergardenter at Brook El excitedly explained to a new preschool friend how to put her things in her locker and walk to class. “It's easy, I do this all the time!” Contrast that with another student who in a moment of frustration said “it’s too early for this.” The student council and staff at Pilgrim Park greeted students in a cheer line to welcome them back, with some students hesitating at the attention. Wisconsin Hills rolled out the red carpet, and seniors at Central wore pink.
I would like to publicly thank Dan Scott, and the rest of the technology team whose foresight in upgrading our security software allowed us to catch and stop multiple attacks on our network in August and September. While a limited amount of Elmbrook data was stolen and posted on the dark web, the majority of our information was protected. Mark and I along with other senior leaders went to each school and met with staff to inform them in person and offer resources and answer questions. Cyber attacks have been in the news lately as several major school districts and businesses nationally and in Wisconsin have experienced attacks. Usually these attacked networks have been locked until a ransom is paid in Bitcoin, usually costing millions of dollars. Thankfully the Elmbrook team and our consultant prevented that from happening here.
A year ago I stood at this podium during the annual meeting and stated that the 2020-21 school year would require patience, innovation, and problem solving. At the time, we were one of the only SE Wisconsin school districts that had opened September 1st face to face, 5 days a week. We were in uncharted territory and I optimistically stated that our district would be better for the challenges we faced. Looking back at the last year, I think we can agree it was indeed memorable and difficult. But I reiterate my view that better times lie ahead and there are many things to celebrate in Elmbrook.
After opening face to face in September, 95% of our instructional days were delivered in-person. Over the course of the school year, mitigation measures were peeled back as the disease spread and prevalence decreased. By the end of the school year, our classes were mask-optional and most extracurriculars looked relatively normal. We held spring concerts, two large high school graduations, and over 80% of our students had returned to face to face instruction.
Over the last year, Elmbrook staff and administration has been flexible, responsive to changing conditions, and focused on delivering outstanding education for every child. Thank you to all Elmbrook staff and administration for your resilience and professionalism over this past year, and as we continue to work through the current challenges of the coronavirus pandemic.
Thank you to our district parents and families who have been supportive and helpful as we have navigated the challenges of the last year. Many stakeholders have engaged the board through emails and public comments on subjects ranging from curriculum, library books, inclusion and equity, 4K, and Covid mitigation in our schools. We are listening, considering the many different viewpoints, and working with you to make Elmbrook the best it can be. When we come together and thoughtfully listen to each other's viewpoints, we make better decisions for our children and our schools.
The board has done some heavy lifting in the last year. We adopted a universal 4K program and curriculum, approved library renovations at BE high school, renovated both high school baseball stadiums, updated our art curriculum, our middle school math resource, and added a LAUNCH strand. An updated social studies curriculum was adopted at the middle and high schools which incorporates a broader world view and focuses on two years on US history, rather than just one in the middle school. After extensive public input, we paused the district efforts on diversity, equity, and inclusion until we can approach this work more thoughtfully and with broader stakeholder input and feedback. That said, Elmbrook will continue to help every student achieve their potential, regardless of the learning challenges they may face.
As we returned to school this fall, we were able to offer elementary families the choice of virtual, mask required classrooms, and mask recommended classrooms. These decisions were made after careful consideration of district-level disease spread, and vaccine penetration among staff and our community. This approach allows families to choose the best educational setting for their student. We continue to monitor disease activity and have established thresholds at which the board will meet to discuss additional mitigation measures as needed.
While we are the #1 school district in Wisconsin for the 2nd year in row according to Niche, our continuous improvement mindset shows us there’s more work to be done. Thank you fellow board members for your hard work this last year. It is a privilege to work with you and be your president. I look forward to a successful school year as we work together to inspire every student to think, to learn, and succeed.
I want to update our community and stakeholders about the status of the questionable library books that were recently brought to our attention.
First and foremost, on behalf of the board I would like to apologize for the inappropriate material available in a few of our library books. While these books were not available to elementary age children as first reported, some of the descriptions in these books are graphic, have no educational value, and do not belong in any Elmbrook library.
The teaching and learning committee has discussed library books, library policies, and procedures at their last two meetings, and they will likely forward recommendations to the full board in October. Some potential remedies being discussed include:
1- Keeping books with questionable content in a special collection so they may only be checked out with parent permission
2- Notifying parents weekly of the books their children are checking out of the library
3- Giving parents clear instructions on how to access their child’s online library account
4- Having a clear process for objecting to materials in our library
5- Giving parents the option of opting out of the online library materials altogether.
As we do this, we will maintain a diverse library that expands curriculum without discrimination as required by state and federal law.
Libraries and the books they contain allow a reader to walk in someone else's shoes, cultivate empathy and social and societal awareness. We will work to maintain exceptional libraries that enhance the academic and social-emotional education of every Elmbrook student.
First Day Observations
I would also like to report some observations as I visited schools on the first day of school. I saw smiles, excitement, new clothes, and piles of supplies. The schools and grounds looked great, clean, and ready to go. Parents walked children to Tonawanda, and other parents took pictures of 4k and kindergarten students as they got off the bus.
At Brookfield East we waited for the first bus to arrive. An amazing student council and cheer team lined up in front of the doors to greet freshmen with signs, pom poms, and cheers wishing them welcome and encouragement as they began high school. As the first students got off the bus, they took one look at the signs and cheering, and rather than walk straight into the school, turned right and walked along the bus. They were too hesitant to walk through the crowd of cheering students. Finally someone got off the bus and asked where to go. The upper level students waved for the freshman to come in the front door, which they finally did, and the rest of the unsure students followed.
I know some students were nervous and others excited as they came back after summer, or as they started at new schools. It was great to see and feel all the emotions of the first day of school across Elmbrook. Thank you to our students and staff for making the start of the school year awesome! We are looking forward to a great year as we return to normal after the most disruptive school year ever.
Rescission of Deputy Clerk 2021 Canvassing
I would like to begin with an introduction to this agenda item to clarify some of the confusion around the recent board of canvassers procedures. According to State Statute 120.6(8) the Board Clerk can oversee the election and canvassing of school board members, and our local policy is similar to state statute. Because the Board Clerk is not always available at the district office to perform election duties, in the past the board has appointed a deputy clerk to help with these duties. On April 5, 2021 the Board Clerk assumed her full duties of overseeing the certification of the board election and canvassing process. I know this last-minute change caused some confusion in the community and on the board. No board members were aware of this change before it happened. To state it simply, the clerk just wanted to oversee the process herself and choose the canvassers. I would like to publicly state that Christy Westfall and the originally announced canvassers did nothing wrong or unethical, and they have the full confidence of the board. As Board President, I spent Monday at the District Office and we asked the Waukesha County Clerk Meg Wartman to help the Elmbrook Board Clerk Linda Boucher and I'd like to thank Meg for making herself available by phone in the afternoon to answer questions, and for spending time with us in the morning, as we certified the vote. This was done to complete the canvassing process as smoothly as possible. I would also like to thank Glen Allgaier, Chris Vanderbloemen and Steve McManus for their help as well.