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Entries for September 2015


(Milton, WI) Hillary Gavan, Beloit Daily News

Converse Elementary School in Beloit was notified by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) it will be featured as a Spotlight School for the second year in a row. Spotlight facilities in the state are observed and emulated by other schools, according to Converse Principal Stephanie Jacobs.

"It's a nice way to confirm that what we are doing here is working. It's also good for the teachers to know their hard work is paying off by receiving the honor and having people come in and see their teaching practices," said Diane Meier, Spotlight coordinator and third grade teacher.

Meier said the nearest Spotlight school is in Milwaukee and then in Wisconsin Rapids, with most of the schools earning the designation in the northern part of the state.

"Less than 1 percent of schools are chosen to be Spotlight schools," Meier added.

The areas that Converse will highlight for visiting districts will be teaching and learning as well as decision making and accountability.

DPI will grant Converse $25,000 to each Spotlight School for both covering costs of visits by other school district teams such as meals, transportation and substitute teachers. The funds also allow Converse to provide professional development training materials and resources for the building.

Last year, Meier said Converse hosted Brodhead Elementary School, Palmyra-Eagle Elementary School, a team from the DeForest School District and Falk Elementary School in Madison.

Visiting schools are given a "menu of options" about what they may learn. Last year the schools sought to learn about Converse's student intervention team meetings; professional learning communities by grade levels; essential learning targets developed by the district in literacy and math; technology integration with the iPad program; full day 4K; and grade level intervention structure and implementation.

"We give them ideas and practices to improve their buildings, but at the same time we have conversations with them about what is working in their buildings that we can implement in ours," Meier said.

Jacobs said visiting school staff were impressed with Converse's culture of collegiality and professional learning communities. She said Converse has great instructional strategies and teachers.

"We have a very driven staff and very high expectations for our kids," Jacobs said. "The cultural piece is huge. Teachers are willing to take risks and are supported. We really work as a team," Jacobs said.

Jacobs also credited the school with a focus on interventions, data-driven instruction, professional learning communities and being welcoming to parents. She noted that while DPI only required 60 minutes of math a day, Converse offered 90 minutes of it a day.

She said the school has overcome a variety of challenges. Its biggest change was with the reconfiguration in 2011 when it picked up students from Burdge and Royce. Staffs had to merge and new students had to feel they were part of the new Converse culture. Then in 2013, the school added 4K after a year of construction thanks to the 2012 facilities referendum.

To be considered a candidate for the grant, a school must have earned Wisconsin School of Recognition status for at least three years, demonstrating consistent success in improving student learning and achievement. Converse earned the recognition 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and is awaiting to hear if it will receive the recognition this year. To be recognized as a school of recognition, a school must have high rates of poverty, based on free/reduced lunch percentages, and have above average student achievement in reading and math based on other schools with similar demographics.

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(Beloit, WI) Hillary Gavan, Beloit Daily News

The School District of Beloit has implemented a new 4-year-old kindergarten curriculum this fall that encourages a rich vocabulary and student-centered learning, according to Angie Montpas, the district's director of curriculum and instruction.

"We know it's good for a wide range for students, and the heavy language emphasis makes it very powerful," Montpas said.

Montpas said a trainer from Teaching Strategies came to the district in August to instruct staff on the new curriculum titled the “Creative Curriculum for Preschool.” The program is used in Waunakee and Madison as well as by Head Start. In previous years the district used a program through Houghton Mifflin which was dated and no longer available for purchase.

The Creative Curriculum breaks down the year into six areas of study including the beginning of the year; trees; clothing; buildings; balls; and reduce, recycle and re-use. Within each area of study there are 38 things for teachers to see if students know. Each area of study touches on science, social studies, art, literacy and math, as well as encourages social and emotional skills.

In the study about buildings, for example, students practice counting the number of windows or doors and look for patterns to strengthen math skills. To build literacy skills, students might notice names of buildings which start with the same sound.

The strength of the new curriculum, Montpas said, is how it works on developing a rich vocabulary in students and encouraging kids to seek answers to their questions with the teacher's guidance.

"This one is directed by the kids. The teacher is more like a facilitator than a lecturer," Montpas said.

When students study trees, for example, the teacher might ask them what they want to know about trees.

"It encourages our kids to realize learning is starting with a question and finding answers through stories, experiments, activities and field trips. Then we can wrap up our learning and use good vocabulary. It's getting kids used to using language to describe what they see and notice," Montpas said.

Merrill 4K teachers Kim Lindsey and Melinda Harwick said the implementation of the new curriculum is going well. Each day the curriculum includes some "choice" time where students can choose a learning activity. On Monday, for example, some students were using Legos, listening to a story by a teacher or using Play-Doh to make letters in Lindsey's classroom.

Harwick explained how the new curriculum includes more hands-on activities. For example, Harwick starts out each day by having her 4K students pick out their names and then “yes” and “no” answers on small notecards and attach them to a board when asked questions by the teacher. The activity keeps the students' attention as they learn sight words Harwick reads to them. Students also must learn to reply back to their teachers in full sentences.

Enrollment in district 4K program has remained steady. As of Thursday, there were 442 4K students in 22 classrooms around the district. With 478 students enrolled in kindergarten, Montpas said it appears the majority of children in Beloit are attending 4K. Because 4K is not compulsory in Wisconsin, the district strives to educate the community about the benefits of 4K. In addition to doing child searches in the spring, the district sends out information and teachers canvass neighborhoods to hand out fliers about it.

"It's an opportunity to start with a more level playing field. When they come in, they are exposed to a lot of language and early readiness skills and we keep tabs on how they are progressing," Montpas said. "Benefits are being in a structured environment providing rich opportunity for math and reading, physical, social and emotional learning opportunities they might not have in a daycare situation."

The School District of Beloit offers full-day 4K, which is a benefit for many working parents. However, if parents don't feel their child is ready for full-day 4K students can attend half-day. Students can also take advantage of the universal free lunch program in the district.

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(Beloit, WI) Hillary Gavan, Beloit Daily News

Beloit Memorial High School (BMHS) students will be able to learn about careers and educational opportunities during a hands-on and interactive career and college fair set for Sept. 24 from 8 - 11 a.m.

Businesses involved in manufacturing, construction, hospitality, healthcare, welding, information systems, graphics arts and more will be represented. The fair is designed to expose students to what career opportunities are available. The career portion of the event will be set up in the Barkin Arena. Businesses interested in signing up can still do so online at:

In the fieldhouse, Wisconsin Education Fairs (WEF) will be taking place, allowing students to talk to representatives from more than 100 post-secondary educational agencies. WEF includes in its participant list of all University of Wisconsin universities and centers, the state’s independent colleges and universities, Wisconsin technical colleges and many out-of-state institutions. In addition, many community colleges, trade schools and the national service organizations such as the armed forces are represented.

The fair is for all high school students as well as middle school students in the district enrolled in career and technical education classes.

Approximately 40 companies will be attending this year’s event, according to Ryan Rewey, the district’s career and technical education director.

Many of them will do hands-on activities. Last year, for example, Corporate Contractors, Inc., (CCI) was hosted an interactive activity where students competed to drill a screw into wood the fastest. The winners of each round were then entered into a drawing for an iTunes card.

Some of the new companies on board this year include Fairbanks Morse, Starbucks and SSI Technologies.

“We are fortunate that people are coming to us and want to work with us,” Rewey said.

Rewey said the goal is to eventually give companies students through its youth apprenticeship program.

“Those companies need workers and we have an avenue for them through youth apprenticeship,” Rewey said.

Rewey is working with SSI and Fairbanks Morse to create curriculum.

Youth apprenticeship is a work-based learning opportunity for students where they simultaneously earn college and high school. They leave school during the day to gain experience at area companies.

“The goal is students who are interested in manufacturing or trades to have a work-based learning opportunity,” Rewey said.

The district already works offers youth apprenticeships with students getting experience at Scot Forge Finley Dencker, ARAMARK and Frank Bouchet in Janesville.

Interest in the career and technical education continues to grow at BMHS.

In 2013-2014 students enrolled in the Project Lead the Way engineering classes was 38, and it grew to 57 in 2015-2016; information technology went from 54 students to 90 students; automotive grew from 62 students to 186 students; welding grew from 89 to 192 students; and construction grew from 33 students to 215 students.

On Sept. 10, the Assembly Speaker’s Taskforce on Youth Workforce Readiness held a public hearing with invited speakers from various entities across the state including the School District of Beloit’s Superintendent Tom Johnson, the district’s career advocate Lindsay Healless and Rewey. The three testified on how BMHS transformed its career and technical education space and programming to provide college as well as career readiness to students.

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(Janesville, WI) Excerpts Courtesy of the Gazette and WEDC

The Janesville City Council on Monday unanimously approved a Tax Increment Financing package worth $11.5 million, one of the largest TIF deals in Janesville's history, to help the retail giant select the City's STH 11 Business Park. Monday's Council vote moved the project another step closer to becoming a reality, as a number of key milestones remain outstanding before things are considered official.

The proposed distribution facility will be located at 3598 Beloit Ave. and it is expected to create up to 552 full-time jobs by 2019. 

Council members called the deal a victory for the entire region—one that will inject new economic life into Janesville and cause ripple effects in wages for the surrounding area.

In anticipation that all of the necessary permits and approvals will be secured for its proposed project, Dollar General issued a prepared statement that read: "Dollar General is excited about our proposal to build a new Distribution Center in Janesville / Rock County Wisconsin. Janesville offers an ideal location to service the growing needs of our business in the upper Midwest. In addition to great location, the area offers first-class infrastructure, a strong business environment and an excellent workforce to draw from.”

The deal includes these provisions:

—Dollar General will pay $1 for 124 acres of land valued at $4.3 million and invest approximately $70 million + in the building and its equipment. The project must be completed by July 1, 2017.

—Dollar General will create up to 552 full-time positions by the end of its third year of operation. They must be maintained for 10 years. The city will pay Dollar General $178,830 over 10 years to facilitate its job creation activities.

—The property will have a guaranteed $40 million value after the facility is built, and the equipment will have a guaranteed $25 million value, which will be amortized over 10 years.

—The city will contribute $3.9 million over 10 years to help pay for the building and $1.3 million over 10 years to help pay for its equipment.

—Dollar General will receive a rebate of $232,000 in permit fees.

—Dollar General will pay $250,000 for a traffic signal at Beloit Avenue and the southernmost entry to the property. The city will pay for a traffic signal at Innovation Drive and Beloit Avenue.

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) also said last week it will offer up to $5.5 million in state tax credits for the project. To receive these credits, certain investment and employment conditions must be met by Dollar General. According to WEDC's economic forecasting model, this proposed project is anticipated to boost state income tax collections by over $13 million.

Additional support for this project is also pending from Alliant Energy (WP&L), specifically from their discounted electric rate program.

Last week, Janesville  City Manager Mark Freitag noted that, "This is a great example of collaboration between the private sector and state, county and city government."

The sentiments were echoed by James Otterstein, Economic Development Manager for Rock County, who noted, "This project provides a visible example of how strategic alignment, collaboration and positioning generate positive outcomes."

Although Dollar General's proposed project would be the first tenant in the City's STH 11 Business Park, which is a designated as a certified, shovel-ready Park, additional infrastructure build-out along Beloit Ave. / CTH G is required. To facilitate these improvements, the council also unanimously authorized the city's administration to apply for a $1.2 million grant from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. 

In addition, a number of related steps were approved last week by the County of Rock - including granting an access control permit and revising the County / Municipal Agreement that governs jurisdictional issues regarding Beloit Ave. / CTH G.

Headquartered in Goodlettsville, Tennessee, Dollar General has more than 12,000 stores in 43 states. The company's proposed Janesville project, which would represent the company's 14th distribution center nationwide, is designed to service the entire Midwest region. 

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(Orfordville, WI) Excerpts Courtesy of the Gazette

Construction is underway on a 5,000-square-foot gas station and convenience store that also will house a Subway restaurant on the southeast corner of Highways 11 and 213 in Orfordville. Combined, the businesses will add more than 20 jobs with a mix of full time and part time positions.

The gas station and convenience store will be called “The Station,” the latest for family-owned Francois Oil, Ed Francois said. The development is a partnership between Francois and Jon Onsgard of Earth Construction. The building will look similar to one of the same name on West Court Street in Janesville.

Francois Oil has 13 locations throughout southern Wisconsin, including the original station in Belleville and a dealership. Other area Station locations include South Jackson Street in Janesville and East Main Street in Evansville.

Site work started last year when the developers donated two homes to Blackhawk Technical College fire training program to burn them down. A crew then removed the foundations and started to clear the site, Francois said. 

The projected opening date is mid-to-late December 2015.

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