VAIS gets new director – again

The Verona Area International School has a new director for the second time this year.

Stacey Struessel, who had been hired in May, resigned from the position earlier this month due to “health reasons,” Verona Area School District superintendent Dean Gorrell told the Verona Press.

Barbara Drake, who Gorrell said had interviewed for the job when it first opened, was tabbed as her replacement.

The opening came after former director Amanda Mayo, who helped to open the school in 2010, left at the end of last year, calling it a “great point in VAIS’ development” for her to move on, as the school becomes a full K-5 elementary for the first time in the upcoming year after beginning with a single class of 22 students.

“I’ve absolutely loved my time at VAIS and I’m so happy I’ve been able to grow the program with a great staff and great families,” Mayo told the Press in May.


SOMS emergency exercise photos

Law enforcement agencies from around the area worked with the Verona Area School District to stage a full-scale emergency exercise at Savanna Oaks Middle School Tuesday. The exercise included 11 agencies and more than 100 volunteers, some of whom got their “wounds” put on at Memorial United Church of Christ before the event. Fitchburg police chief Don Bates said the event was a culmination of two years of training, and that a third-party company was on-hand to review how they performed. Another full-scale event will take place next year in Verona, though Bates could not specify where.


EA receives $150K DPI grant

The Verona Area School District’s first charter high school was one of 51 statewide charter schools to receive a grant from the state Department of Instruction.

The $150,000 grant, part of more than $8 million given to charter schools around the state, was awarded to the Exploration Academy as an “Implementation Renewal Grant” for charter schools entering their second year of operation. Nearly $3.5 million was given to schools in this category alone.

“Wisconsin’s charter schools, and the dedicated educators that serve these schools, are given the latitude to explore new instructional methods and refine best practices,” state superintendent Tony Evers said in a statement. “They are laboratories of innovation.”


An unexpected career

Photos by Scott Girard. Diana Trowbridge, who will leave Verona Area High School Friday at noon after 30 years as a secretary, stands in front of her “baby board,” which features photos of her colleagues’ babies.

When Diana Trowbridge was hired at Verona High School in 1984, the district and school were just beginning the switch to computerized systems.

And the school’s other secretary did not want to “have anything to do with” them, Trowbridge recalled while sitting in her office Monday, the beginning of her final week as a secretary at the school she graduated from nearly 40 years ago.

“(She said), ‘So whoever you hire has to be the computer person,’ so that’s who I became,” Trowbridge said.

In the 30 years since, Trowbridge has assumed plenty of roles, from attendance to submitting reports to the state’s Department of Public Instruction.


Schools look for reading volunteers

The Verona Area School District is looking for community members interested in working with students struggling with reading skills.

The “literacy volunteers” would work with students in grades K-5 for as little as 30 minutes per week.

Volunteers will also be invited to a training session in late August or early September before they’re paired with a classroom teacher and a student in that classroom.

“Inviting community members into our schools to work with students is exciting and it is an opportunity to see how our schools operate and to better understand how their tax dollars are being used,” Pat Wehrley wrote in a news release. “This is a win-win situation for the volunteers as well as the students involved.”

Anyone interested should contact Wehrley at to get their name on the list. The district will follow up within a week or two, according to the release.


Annual budget meeting Monday

The Verona Area School District will hold its annual budget meeting at 6 p.m. Monday.

The meeting, which will be at the district administration building, 700 N. Main St., includes the state-mandated budget hearing.

The annual meeting offers a chance for the public to hear details on how the district is spending its money.

VASD business manager Chris Murphy will go over the preliminary 2014-15 budget, which includes a 1.01 percent budget increase from last year along with another drop in the mill rate.

Though the budget will not be approved until October – after attendance numbers are finalized in September – the budget projects a mill rate drop from the 2013-14 $12.27 per $1,000 of equalized assessed value to $12.10.

The actual number will vary in each community, based on assessment ratios, but on average, it would save the owner of a $250,000 home $42.50 in property taxes.


School registration events Aug. 14, 18

Two optional registration events for the Verona Area School District are coming up this week.

The registration information was sent by mail in early August for VASD students, and included directions on how to register online.

The entire process can be completed online, but parents who would like additional assistance can attend either of the upcoming sessions.

There will also be two community registration locations.

The first will take place on Thursday, Aug. 14, at Knights of Columbus, 5256 Verona Road, Fitchburg, from 3 to 7 p.m.

The second meeting takes place on Monday, Aug. 18, at Boys and Girls Club, 4619 Jenewein Road, Fitchburg, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

For more information, visit

-Morgan Sandler


Sugar Creek, Stoner Prairie formalize ‘no snack’ policies

Birthday brownies will have to be saved for parties at home for some kids around the Verona Area School District after two elementary schools formally cut out school snacks in their student handbooks.

At Sugar Creek Elementary, the changes had actually gone into effect last fall but weren’t in the student handbook yet.

“This change has taken place last year without any kerfuffle of any kind at school,” Sugar Creek principal Todd Brunner told the school board Monday.

Stoner Prairie joined Sugar Creek in putting the changes in its student handbook. Brunner, who represented Stoner Prairie and the other elementary schools for other handbook changes at the meeting, said nurses, cooks, custodians, teachers and everyone else at the school was happy with the results of changing the policy.

“The gangs of doughnut pushers up and down hallways are gone,” he joked.


No VASD referendum in November

Despite hopes from officials earlier in the year and a preliminary land purchase agreement, Verona Area School District voters will not vote on a land purchase referendum in November.

VASD superintendent Dean Gorrell told the Verona Press on Friday morning there was simply too much left in the process to ask the school board to pass a resolution in August to get a referendum on the ballot, which would be required.

That includes a desired second land purchase in addition to the agreement reached earlier in the year to purchase 40 acres in the West End property owned by Vanta Properties, formerly T. Wall Properties. That purchase, which is big enough to accommodate a new high school, included many contingencies, and Gorrell said more time is needed to ensure the “land is purchasable.”

“You don’t want to put a referendum in front of people to purchase land that you can’t purchase,” Gorrell said. “That would look bad. That would be bad.”


Teachers attend international conferences

Two Verona Area School District teachers attended international conferences on technology in education in July.

Karie Huttner, an educational technology coordinator at Stoner Prairie Elementary School, and Verona Area High School ETC Rita Mortenson visited opposite coasts July 13-18 to meet hundreds of educators around the world and take in sessions on technology in education.

Huttner was among 150 attendees from the U.S., United Kingdom and Canada who attended the Discovery Educator Network’s Summer Institute (DENSI) in Nashville, Tenn. Mortenson was also invited to the DENSI conference, leaving VASD with two of Wisconsin’s four invitees, though she instead attended the Apple Distinguished Educators conference in San Diego.