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OLA test scores jumped this year

BELOIT — Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic School, 2222 Shopiere Road, has doubled its enrollment from last year and test scores have improved from the fall, according to Principal Trevor Sievert.

At this time last year OLA had 82 students and is now up to 161 students. The influx in students include 32 from St. Peter’s Catholic School which closed in the spring of 2020, as well as students from a mix of other school districts. OLA also took additional students from the Beloit School District when the decision was made to do distance-only learning this summer.

Seivert recalled one day giving a tour to 11 students, or five families, as interest in OLA increased.

OLA, like other schools, closed in March 2020 due to the pandemic.

It opened for in-person learning this fall. In September when OLA students took the Renaissance STAR 360 tests, most classes were down 5 to 7% in scores compared to the school’s average for the past three years. The school was receiving a three out of four rating for the reading and math tests. However, staff went about improving student skills.

Teachers used the data from testing to identify students with skill gaps and put them in small groups to help them get caught up. The testing system the school adopted four years ago gives specific directions on how to increase skills for each student following testing.

“It was so important to have tests in September so teachers could take students where they needed to be,” he said.

OLA underwent a two-week shutdown in mid-October, and three or four classes had an individual shutdown. There have been a total of six positive cases of COVID-19 among students from the fall until Feb. 22.

OLA has a total of 50 staff and 92% have either received one or both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine as of Feb. 22.

Sievert said he was pleasantly surprised with how well students acclimated to new safety protocols and how teachers helped the students catch up academically.

January testing indicated all classes are now testing at or above grade level, with the school getting a four out of four rating, the top category.

Some students made significant progress.

For example, there was one second grader who scored 7% out of the 100 percentile and now he’s at 85%.

“He was a new student,” Sievert added.

“Some of the scores have just skyrocketed,” Sievert said. “All the credit goes to the teachers.”

This year OLA has 16 students to one teacher to meet safety requirements. However, next year, once the vaccine roll-out is further along, Sievert expects the school could take 40 to 50 more students to have classrooms at size 20 to 25 students per teacher.

Sievert said the school has come a long way since last spring. He said a safety plan was made and staff and students have adapted to it well.

“Policy and procedure has become routine. To us. this is normal school now,” Seivert said. “The results are showing this has been successful.”

To help families attend OLA Sievert said tuition was frozen last year and only went up $100 for the year this year.

Tuition for most families is about $3,000 for the year but there are different levels of assistance for qualifying families. About 10% of families can get into OLA for $400 a year.

“We are not here for the privileged. We are here to serve,” Sievert said.

Some Beloit School District teachers' children to be allowed in classrooms

BELOIT — Beloit School District teachers’ children enrolled in the district in grades kindergarten through six are allowed to be in the classrooms with them effective Feb. 22 to give staff flexibility, according to an email obtained by the Daily News. 

The email was sent on Feb. 3 by Beloit School District human resources to all district staff.

Before returning to in-person instruction, possibly in term 4, the email stated the district is providing flexibility to staff members with school-aged children who attend the Beloit School District, allowing staff to bring the children to work with them, the email stated.

The district expects the children must stay with the staff member at all times while in the building. Staff members must include the children’s names on the health screener and ensure building administration is aware of their children in the building. The safety protocols for staff will apply to any staff children on site, the email stated.

The email provided to the Daily News arrived on Monday, a day before the board is poised to vote on whether to return to a hybrid model of in-person learning for term 4 in early April. In July, the school board voted to have virtual/distance learning for the first quarter of the 2020-21 school year, later extended to Jan. 22.

Board President Megan Miller said the issue of allowing staff to bring their children to school had not been formally brought before the board so she declined comment on it. Board member Amiee Leavy said she was not comfortable commenting on the situation since she hadn’t received direct information about it.

When Superintendent Dan Keyser was called and asked why children in the district are not allowed to attend in-person learning while teachers’ children are and his rationale behind the benefit, he responded in an email with several statements on the topic.

Keyser said the accommodation is available until March 31 and only includes children from kindergarten through sixth grade. Staff’s children are participating in distance learning with their assigned teachers, he said, and there is no in-person instruction for these children.

“Many of our teachers have been teaching from home, and we have now asked that they all return to teaching in the classroom beginning on Monday, March 1,” he said.

Keyser said school district policy 532.3 and 542.3 state that if schools are closed, employees are not allowed to bring their children to work.

“Our schools are not closed; our method of instruction is distance learning. We also have small groups of students attending in-person learning at this time,” he said.

Keyser issued several statements in support of the benefit.

“This year, many local districts offered this small resource to their teachers from Thanksgiving through winter break while in distance learning. We really appreciated how considerate they were of their staff’s needs during this difficult time.

“The School District of Beloit and the Board of Education respect and admire the dedication, compassion, and passion of our teachers and support staff. As the last several months have shown, our teachers are resilient, creative, and strong. They are committed to engaging our students in learning while caring for their social and emotional well being.

“This is one of many resources that we have made available to our staff during this unprecedented time. In reaching out to our teaching staff, this was one small resource they felt would help them. We valued our staff’s input and believed that this small accommodation was not a huge ask on their part.

“Our teachers have made a difference in the lives of our students and families through their ability to continue to teach and care for students, despite the many challenges this pandemic has brought with it. We want them to know that we are grateful and thankful and truly appreciate how hard they work for our District and students. This resource was one small way to do that.”

Faith Sill of the Beloit Tide led the pack in the 100 butterfly.

Rick West sits at his desk at his Beloit home. West will retire at the end of March from his position with the United Way Blackhawk Region, but he plans to continue to be involved in the community.

PFC to narrow field of police chief applicants in early March

BELOIT — The Beloit Police and Fire Commission is closing in on selecting finalists from a field of nearly three dozen applicants for chief of the Beloit Police Department, according to PFC President Ron Watson.

The PFC started its process to find a new chief in September following the departure of former chief David Zibolski, naming Inspector Thomas Stigler as interim chief.

The commission hired a third-party firm, GovHR USA, to conduct the search. It was originally thought the PFC could make a decision by early February, but the process slowed during the candidate screening process.

“The recruiter needed some additional time to do the initial screening of applicants,” said Beloit Strategic Communications Director Sarah Millard, noting that the initial timeline for hiring a chief was a guide.

A total of 35 people applied for the chief position, Millard said.

PFC President Ron Watson said six of the 35 candidates would be selected to take part in a series of in-depth exercises and evaluations on March 5, followed by finalist selections for interviews from that smaller pool of candidates.

“The PFC fully expects this process to narrow the field significantly, and we look forward to deciding on candidates for final interviews soon thereafter,” Watson said.

This is the second chief hiring search undertaken by the PFC since July of 2019 after former Fire Chief Brad Liggett departed for the fire chief’s position in Freeport, Illinois. Fire Chief Dan Pease, who was named interim chief in July of 2020, was named permanent fire chief in May of 2020.

Evers proposes $2.4 billion in Wisconsin building projects (copy)

MADISON — Gov. Tony Evers wants to spend $2.4 billion on Wisconsin building projects over the next two years, with nearly a half of that going toward projects across the University of Wisconsin System, $163 million for a new state office building in Milwaukee and plans to move the state historical society museum to a new location near the Capitol.

Evers released his capital budget proposal on Monday. The state building commission is slated to vote on it next month, which would then send the plan to the Legislature’s budget committee, which will then decide what to fund.

Of the nearly $2.4 billion proposed for projects across 31 counties, $1 billion will be for the UW System. That mirrors his capital budget proposal from two years ago, when roughly $1 billion of the $2.5 billion was for projects on UW campuses. The Republican-controlled Legislature ultimately approved $1.9 billion in building projects.

Evers said the budget proposal this year prioritizes funding for corrections and health services facilities, state parks and forests, upgrades at veterans homes and improvements at veterans cemeteries. It would pay for a new $46 million juvenile prison in Milwaukee County to house 32 young offenders as part of a plan to close the Lincoln Hills-Copper Lake juvenile prisons north of Wausau.

The budget proposal also includes funding for a new $163 million state office building and parking garage in Milwaukee, replacing the existing office building there at a new location and consolidating offices. It also includes $4 million to begin preliminary design work for redevelopment of a block near the Capitol in Madison for a new state office building and home for the Wisconsin Historical Society Museum.

The project would involve tearing down the existing 50-year-old state office building on the site. The office currently only houses the Department of Workforce Development after the Department of Children and Families recently moved to a more modern state office building in Madison.

In his budget, Evers said the four-story building known as GEF1 has outlived its life expectancy with critical mechanical systems including plumbing and electrical starting to fail and in need of replacement. The current building also does not have a fire sprinkler system.

The proposed redevelopment project would provide a new home for the historical society museum, a popular stop for school field trips that is currently located where State Street dead ends into the Capitol.