New school team aims at improving performance

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    Muehlenkamp

BELOIT - With the school year starting on Sept. 3, School District of Beloit's new Superintendent Stanley Munro and Executive Director of School Leadership and Equity Peggy Muehlenkamp gave an update on how the district plans to improve academic performance in an interview Thursday morning with the Beloit Daily News.

Through the use of more intentional professional learning communities (PLCs), the addition of instructional coaches in the school buildings and by offering a more welcoming environment for students and families Munro and Muehlenkamp said academic performance is projected to improve. In turn, they believe, discipline issues will be reduced.

"The focus is always on great instruction and discipline will follow," Munro said.

"When students are involved and engaged in lessons that challenge them, we are less likely to see those behaviors," Muehlenkamp added.

Professional development communities' discussions will center around expectations, lesson planning and effective instruction.

Munro said the district always had PLCs but is being more intentional with them. The teams will meet for roughly an hour and a half on the early release day on Wednesday. The strategy calls for teams to form, resulting in a rich exchange of information and team building from classroom to classroom. The teachers will examine student work, look at student learning targets and use formative assessments to gauge learning.

Although teachers have had PLC time in the past, this is the first time they've had this much dedicated and protected scheduling for it.

Staff is also in place to help student achievement. Munro explained how the high school will have two deans and the intermediate schools will have one. Among their many duties, deans will address Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) and help teachers create more engaging classroom environments.

Each building also has one literacy instructional coach and one STEM instructional coach with the exception of the high school which has two of each. They will be working within the professional learning communities as well as coaching teachers in classrooms, planning with teachers and modeling lessons.

"The focus is on universal instruction so all students have access to rigorous grade level material. They are also working with teachers to make sure we are providing differentiated instruction to meet the needs of students," Munro said.

The district is also focusing on safe and welcoming learning environments which includes social and emotional learning instruction for students. As teachers, counselors and administration continue build relationships with families and students, Munro said students will perform better.

As the new team settles in these strategies are significant in a community where citizens have been vocal about the district's need to improve. Particularly on matters of academic achievement and discipline, the district has been under pressure to get better.

The School District of Beloit has been rated by the state as a two star school district, out of five stars available. In November 2018, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) gave it an overall score of 60.1, or as "meeting few expectations." The 2018 score was a decline from the 2017 score of 61.9. The district's numbers fall considerably below state averages on most measurements.

Discipline concerns have also been raised. In February of 2017, dozens of teachers spoke out at a town hall meeting about not feeling administration backed them when trying to implement discipline. One teacher said turnover would become the norm if the issue wasn't addressed, and figures indicate the district has experienced a high rate of departures.

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