VAHS improves AP test access, scores

The Verona Area School District is among 27 statewide districts with a school recognized for improving access to Advanced Placement (AP) tests while maintaining student scores. 

The College Board named 547 districts in the United States and Canada that had increased the percentage of students taking AP tests while keeping constant or increasing the students who scored a three or better on the exams to the AP District Honor Roll. A score of 3 or above is what many colleges require to receive credit, a major benefit of the AP program for high school students. 

The percentage of VASD students taking AP exams grew by nearly 6 percent from 2012 to 2014, the three years the College Board took into account in deciding which districts received the honor. 

The total number of exams taken in that period grew from 537 three years ago to 712 last year. 


New Century changes focus to STEM

Five years after remaking itself into a “green” charter school to ensure its survival, New Century School is once again aiming for a new niche.

That doesn’t mean it will completely turn away from environmental lessons or getting students out-of-school experiences, but its classroom concentration will move in the same direction as many others around the country – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, or STEM. 

Site council and board of directors member Katie Smith presented the school’s charter renewal application, which includes the STEM curriculum goals, to the school board Monday night, and it got a mostly warm welcome. 

“I kind of had a feeling that (last time) was, ‘Oh, let’s just do this,’” said board president Dennis Beres. “It was a process that was difficult.


‘Flash fund’ picks Verona education projects

Twenty-five Verona Area School District teachers got some help funding projects earlier this month.

The projects, which had all been listed on, a website that matches donors with school projects around the United States in need of funding, include technology, personalized learning and two-way learning for special needs students. 

U.S. Cellular did what’s called a “flash fund” earlier in October, contributing almost $19,000 to Verona schools. The schools that received money were Stoner Prairie, Glacier Edge and Sugar Creek elementary schools, New Century Charter School and Badger Ridge Middle School. 


Politics colors debate over Common Core standards

Screenshot from Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction website. Wisconsin students in grades 3-8 will take the Smarter Balanced assessment for the first time in spring 2015. The tests were devleoped to align with the Common Core State Standards, which have become a political controversy lately around the United States. This screenshot is one sample question from the test.

As the Nov. 4 gubernatorial election approaches, an under-the-radar issue could very well determine how Wisconsin’s public schoolchildren are taught.

The Common Core State Standards, first adopted in Wisconsin and by nearly every state in 2010 after a consortium including the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers created them, are in the midst of a new political battle. A handful of states have since replaced Common Core or are considering doing so, and earlier this year, Gov. Scott Walker asked state legislators to repeal the standards when they convene in January.

Walker faces a tough re-election challenge Nov. 4 from Mary Burke, who has sat on the Madison Metropolitan School District school board and criticized proposals by Walker to repeal and replace the standards in various media reports. 


Board approves $12.04 tax rate

The Verona Area school board officially approved the district’s 2014-15 budget Monday night with a modest tax cut.

That approval set the mill rate for 2014 at $12.04 per $1,000 of assessed property value. While that was above the $12.01 projected at the district’s annual meeting earlier this year, it’s below the $12.27 rate in 2013.

That amounts to a cut of $46 on a $200,000 home.

There was not much discussion, as the board had looked at the preliminary numbers at a special meeting last week. It passed unanimously.

The district’s total tax levy jumped by more than $3 million, a 10.49 percent increase, even though the mill rate dropped significantly. That was a result of a huge increase in the district’s equalized value, largely from Epic’s new Deep Space auditorium.


Visiting German principal enjoys ‘atmosphere’ at Sugar Creek

Photo by Scott Girard. Visiting German principal Werner Reith, center, who runs an adult night school in the Hessen province in Germany, looks on with Sugar Creek Elementary School principal Todd Brunner, right, as fourth-grade teacher Haley Brisky gives student Abigail Wanta feedback on her work.

He’s used to teaching adults who are at school completely of their own choice.

That’s not quite the average student at Sugar Creek Elementary School, but principal Werner Reith enjoyed the different feel from the adult night school he runs in Germany.

“I enjoy the very lively atmosphere, the joy the kids come to school with and the way they meet their teachers and meet Todd (Brunner) as a principal,” Reith said Monday in the Sugar Creek library after meeting a fifth- and fourth-grade class. “It’s a good atmosphere. I like it.”

Reith was visiting the school, and would visit Core Knowledge later in the day, as part of an exchange program between Wisconsin and the German region of Hessen.


What’s next: High school or elementary?

There’s likely to be more than one new school in the Verona Area School District in the next decade or so, but the question is whether the district starts with a high school or an elementary.

Those were the two options offered by the school board Monday night at a retreat to provide guidance for the Future Schools Committee, which was established earlier this year as the district began to look into expansion and land purchases. 

Whichever the committee ends up deciding on, board member Joanne Gauthier pointed out Monday the district faces both a “short-term problem and a long-term problem” with school expansion.

“And problems in between,” superintendent Dean Gorrell added with a laugh.


New space for a new program

Photos by Scott Girard. Principles of Engineering students Alex Pletta, Sigal Felber, Brett Andreas work on their dog-food dispenser project. The class, the second in the Project Lead the Way engineering strand, allows students to be hands-on and self-driven.

Getting college credit while in high school can be a big boost for students -- not to mention their parents’ checking accounts – and some students at Verona Area High School now have the appropriate setting to go along with the credit.

“They say it looks like a college when they come in,” said Rick Boehm, who teaches the engineering strand of Project Lead the Way (PLTW) classes at VAHS.

The setting Boehm referred to includes a pair of new classrooms that were renovated over the summer for around $400,000 to be used by the growing number of PLTW classes. 

PLTW is a national program with different strands that focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and a curriculum the school pays a fee for that allows students to largely go at their own pace. 


Two Verona principals to host German visitor

A pair of Verona Area School District principals will host a counterpart from Germany for a few days at each of their homes later this month.

Sugar Creek Elementary School principal Todd Brunner and Core Knowledge Charter School principal Brett Stousland will each host the visiting principal for three days at their home as part of the Hessen-Wisconsin Principal Visiting Program.

Werner Reith, who is the principal at Abendgymnasium Darmstadt in Germany, will stay with Brunner and his family Oct. 25-27 and Stousland’s Oct. 28-30.

Reith will then stay in Madison with other German principals to meet with state education officials. While in Verona, Reith will observe the practices in the schools and present  information on German and European educational practices.

The program will bring a total of 10 German principals to Wisconsin for the week.


Proposed budget: slight tax cut, debt paydown

School district taxes likely will drop a bit this year, but not as much as originally projected.

With a large jump in the district’s tax base this year resulting mainly from construction at Epic, Verona Area School District officials are trying to take advantage of the corresponding extra revenue by paying off debt early.

In a draft budget memo shown to the board Monday night to prepare them for a vote next week, the debt service fund levy for the 2014-15 budget was listed at $7.38 million, well above the annual meeting’s projection of $2.75 million. 

The memo also listed the projected mill rate for 2014 at $12.04 per $1,000 of assessed property value, just over the $12.01 rate projected the annual meeting. Both are lower than the $12.27 rate in 2013.