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September 2014

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Study shows little change in student performance after OHS transformation plan

Teachers surveyed said staff morale is low

Oconomowoc Area School District - Just one term into the new "transformation plan" at Oconomowoc High School, and early indicators are that little has changed.

An update on the plan, presented to the School Board Tuesday night, showed that student achievement is similar to preplan levels.

Dr. Derick Kieger, the district's director of research, assessment and technology, said that student grades and standardized achievement data were analyzed and showed that the overall percentage of students earning an "A" or "B" in a Term 1 course compared favorably to preplan levels.

Kiger said 74.9 percent of students earned an A or B in 2012, compared to 71.6 percent in 2011.

The assessment also included data from the ACT's EXPLORE test given to students in grade nine, and the PLAN test given to sophomores. Average scores for both tests indicate consistent performance across school years.

Two residents addressed the transformation plan during the public participation portion of the meeting.

Tim Clark questioned the viability of the plan in light of standardized test scores that are bested by neighboring districts.

Gary Risch said that he read the report and was alarmed by the staff response that indicated low morale.

"As the School Board, I think you would be terribly concerned that morale is not good. It's a real concern," he added.

The transformation plan, which was implemented with the start of the 2012-13 school year, sprung from an effort to find efficiencies within the high school schedule to cope with mounting financial challenges to the district and increase learning opportunities for students.

"Our school district was gutsy enough to try something different," said Superintendent Dr. Pat Neudecker.

Delays in the school's technology upgrades including the WAN (Wide Area Network) had an impact on the technology component of the new teaching plans. Those upgrades were completed earlier this month.

Under the plan teachers in seven departments (art, English, foreign language, math, PE/health, science and social studies) were assigned an additional class and lost their traditional "prep time." In exchange, the district compensated them an additional $14,000. The total number of teachers needed was also reduced, resulting in an annual recurring savings expected to be just over $500,000.

The new approach addressed the core problem faced by most public school districts struggling to maintain programs and protect class sizes in tough budgetary times.

"What this plan really needs is time," said OHS Principal Joseph Moylan.

In addition, the update surveyed staff for their initial perceptions of the transformation plan. A total of 58 staff members completed the online survey, providing a 73 percent response rate.

Key among those results was that staff morale and perceived involvement in school-related decisions were rated on the lower end of the scale.

Staff members were asked to grade the statement "I feel staff morale is high" using a 1 as strongly disagree, and a 4 for strongly agree.

Staff rated the comment a 1.35 in May of 2012 and 1.38 in January of 2013.

Board Member Mike Bickler was surprised at the lack of response from staff.

"Approximately 75 percent of teachers asked to participate responded. Either 25 percent are happy or so disgusted," they did not respond.

"I can't imagine something so important to the environment your work in, not to respond," he added.

Board Member Dave Guckenberger noted that by May 2012, the transformation plan had been announced and asked Kieger if data was available from a survey before 2012 that might provide a better indicator.

Bickler agreed, but also noted the turmoil of the last few years on the teaching profession.

"Let's not forget two and a half years ago ACT 10 came in and what was the most-attacked group? It's not a surprise," he added.

Bickler said data from before ACT 10 would be more telling.

Board members offered support of the transformation plan.

"It's our plan; it's not Joseph's," said Board Member Elizabeth Thelen. "It's gutsy and change does take time," she said.

Another update will be given to the Board in June and will include assessment of ACT scores as well as student survey results.

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