Transgender committee gets reading assignments

The first meeting of a district committee on transgender policies did not feature much decision-making, but rather led to an assignment for the 20 people in attendance.

Superintendent Dean Gorrell asked the group, which included a pastor, district officials, students, parents and a transgender woman, to look at the district’s current policies and compare them to other school districts.

The district has policies relating to bullying, equal education opportunities, discrimination complaints and others that could relate to transgender students. Committee members received those, as well as policies about transgender students from school districts around Wisconsin.

Many of those in attendance, all volunteers, expressed gratitude to the district for having discussions about transgender issues.


SOMS parents: Return to letters doesn’t make the grade

When Savanna Oaks Middle School administrators said the school would once again offer grades on an ABC scale this year, parents thought they had accomplished their goal. 

After a recent principal and community informational meeting and through a month of school, they’re not so sure anymore.

Last year, SOMS offered only “mastery-based” grading, which ran on a scale from “beginning level” to “mastery,” as part of the transition to personalized learning. After parents told the school board of their concerns with the system this summer, the school said it would be adding letter grades to help supplement the mastery standards, and tied the letters to the different mastery standards. 


Parent tells school board Westridge subdivision needs busing options

Parents in the Westridge subdivision and the Meister neighborhood are unhappy with the school district’s lack of options for getting their children to school.

Missy Kellor, who sent a letter to the district in September on behalf of 31 parents in the neighborhood, spoke to the board Monday night to further express the group’s concerns.

“The only transportation option for our children is a hazardous and long walking route,” Kellor said. “You’re asking us to play Russian roulette with our children’s safety on that route.”

She had previously told the Press she felt that the district’s response to the group’s letter was “dismissive” of their numerous concerns.


Busy fall for future schools planning

When the Verona Area School Board approved purchase options on three pieces of land last year, there was no set plan for how they would be used or when. 

The school board took initial steps toward figuring those details out Monday, hearing a proposal from Eppstein Uhen: Architects (EUA) on a timeline that could include an April 2017 referendum for a new building. Before that, though, there’s plenty of work to do, including facilities studies at some of the district’s buildings, community outreach and possibly hiring a construction manager to also consult on project costs and proposals.

EUA public relations specialist Jill Huskisson said the April 2017 date isn’t set in stone, however. 


State ACT scores remain high

Wisconsin’s 2015 high school graduates posted scores ranking them near the top of the nation’s students on the ACT test.

According to a news release from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, state students’ average score on the test was 22.2, second only to Minnesota (22.7) among states where at least half of students take the annual assessment. Oregon High School students averaged a 23.8 on the test. 

Around 73 percent of the state’s 2015 public and private school graduates (46,738 students) took the ACT, with a composite score the same as 2014. Nationally, only 59 percent of graduates took the test.

According to the news release, with virtually all of Wisconsin’s public school 11th-graders having taken the ACT this past spring as part of statewide assessments, ACT participation will rise dramatically next year and scores are expected to decline. Those results will be reported later in fall.


Solving problems together: VAHS students plan national minority student conference

Amira Caire and Damitu Hamda did not think the concerns of minority students were being addressed at Verona Area High School. And last year, those two and other VAHS students found out it was not a problem unique to Verona. 

After meeting students from around the country at the Minority Student Achievement Network conference in Michigan, they decided to raise that group’s profile here by hosting this year’s national conference.

Called “Exploring Deeper Roots,” the MSAN conference is expected to bring nearly 300 people to Madison next week, Oct. 7-10, and Caire and Hamda are part of a group of VAHS students hosting it.

“I am very excited; we’ve been planning this ever since the last conference,” said Hamda, a junior at VAHS.


Former business manager returns as consultant

The Verona Area School Board authorized Dean Gorrell to negotiate a contract with a familiar face for its business manager services.

Chris Murphy, who retired in June after 25 years as VASD business manager, now has a consulting company, PPG Consulting Services, Inc., that will be working with the district. Gorrell said the cost of Murphy’s services would be below what his salary and benefits cost while he was employed by the district. 

“Chris is in free agency now,” Gorrell told the school board Sept. 14. “I think he is eager and willing to come back and work for us on a contracted service.” 

The district had been contracting with Roger Price on an interim basis since Murphy’s retirement, but the agreement was not for full-time work, something Gorrell said they “discovered over the summer” is needed. 


District has taken lessons from charters as New Century celebrates its 20th year

Photo by Scott Girard. New Century School founder June Coleman, left, and director Jim Ruder met in front of the school Tuesday morning.

The way June Coleman talks, you could easily mistake her for a Verona Area School District administrator. 

She extols the virtues of personalizing education, something that she helped pioneer in Verona as the founder of the district’s first charter school. 

As New Century School marks its 20th year of operation this school year, Coleman reached back in her memory to speak with the Verona Press about the early days of the school. She hasn’t been involved in education beyond her own children’s in 15 years.

“It’s pretty amazing,” Coleman said. “It says something about the commitment of the district; I think it says something about the families.”


Verona boy to walk for juvenile diabetes

Photo by Samantha Christian. Above, Henry Gabrielski, 11, plays at his house in Verona on a rainy day in mid-September. Henry, who has had juvenile diabetes since he was 5, will participate in this year’s JDRF One Walk on Sept. 27 at the Madison Mallards Duck Pond.

Wearing a red Spider-Man T-shirt, 11-year-old Henry Gabrielski provided a soundtrack for robot action figures while playing with his younger brother, Elliot, 7, inside their Verona home on a stormy September afternoon. 

Henry has been diabetic for more than half of his life, which his parents say has made him grow up faster than many other kids his age. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which a person’s pancreas loses the ability to produce insulin – a hormone essential to turning food into energy. It requires constant carbohydrate counting, blood-glucose testing and lifelong dependence on injected insulin. 


VAHS looks into ‘no-cut’ frosh sports

Welcome to Verona Area High School. Sorry, you can’t play your favorite sport.

That’s not the message athletic director Mark Kryka or superintendent Dean Gorrell want freshmen getting for an introduction to the school, especially in the fall, but it’s been happening more and more. 

With the Verona Area school board putting an emphasis on “equity” – including equal access to school enrichment opportunities – Kryka reported to the board this month that VAHS has increasingly been forced to make cuts to teams at the freshman level.

“The first experience a freshman has coming into high school should be positive, but in some cases it’s not, because they go out for a team and then they’re cut,” Kryka said.


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