Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Our National Tragedy

    In communities across the nation, parents, teachers, and citizens are collectively and individually trying to make sense of the deplorable act of violence that occurred last week. Each of us will find a path forward in our own way as we rebuild the sense of security and tranquility so deeply valued in our community and necessary for the wellness of students.  While our schools and the students they serve continue to be as safe and secure as before, perhaps more so, it would be natural to have a heightened awareness and focus on safety.

    While the tragedy occurred over a thousand miles away, the resulting sadness, fear, and concern is not softened by geography. There are local emotional impacts that need a carefully considered response, both in our homes and our schools. As students become more aware of the details, it is possible they may feel scared, uncomfortable, sad, distracted, or at least curious. Fortunately, some, through their youthful innocence, are oblivious. Teachers and employees of Cashton Public Schools are committed to the support of our students and their families as they respond and react.  The topic is sensitive and is likely best addressed by parents, given the varied ages and emotional maturity of each student as well as the range of beliefs and values of their families that may influence which information is shared and that from which we hope to shield them. Teachers have been reminded of the importance of modeling calm and control, to focus their comments on helping students to feel safe in our schools and classrooms, and to remind them that there is a safety plan in place that is frequently updated and practiced.

    It may be even more important at this time to be aware of the emotional well-being of the young people you encounter. Should you notice changes in behavior, appetite, or sleep patterns, it may indicate an increased level of grief, anxiety, or sadness. For those who have had a past traumatic experience, or who are more prone to anxiety or depression, be particularly alert.  Should you have any concerns, please contact Mr. Stitchko, Ms. Mass, or a health professional.   

    Although there is no foolproof prevention for all acts of man or nature, an emergency response plan continues to be in place to ensure that students spend their days in safe facilities with staff trained and prepared to act in the event of an emergency. Although the emergency response plan is thoroughly reviewed and updated annually, district leaders and student support personnel immediately revisited the plan after considering the available information from this tragic test of a distant district’s plan and facilities. Minor adjustments have been already enacted.  Additional safety measures including updates to the entrances of both buildings continue to be thoughtfully explored by the Board of Education and a representative committee of community members.   

    As always, we offer our full support to you as you help students through this challenging time.   Our teachers, guidance counselor, psychologist, and nurse will be available to assist, as will the administrative team. Please do not hesitate to contact any of us if you need support, guidance, or advice in the coming days.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Happy Holidays

Students at Cashton Elementary enjoyed a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus.  Thanks to the PTO for organizing and sponsoring their appearance.  Students who visit with Santa each receive an age appropriate book.  Even Santa is an advocate for literacy!

Please join us for the Cashton Elementary Holiday Concert December 10th at 6:30 PM in the elementary gymnasium.  A collection box for non-perishable food items will in the lobby.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The New Normal for School Entrances?

     Much has changed since the designers of Cashton Elementary School first worked with community stakeholders and district leadership to draft the plans for the core of our current buildings in the early 1950's and 1960's.  Many local residents remember the significant change the construction of a centralized elementary school in the Village of Cashton represented.  After many years of growth, consolidation, and change among the several outlying rural schools that had served the region well such as Melvina, Portland, Clinton Center School, Clinton Ridge School, and the Clements School just to name a few, the moment came when citizens recognized a need for realignment to continue to meet their collective vision for education in the Cashton area.  That facility has served us well for many years.

     In the last few decades, the needs of our community have continued to shift with new challenges, opportunities, and technologies while continuing to embrace a culture rooted in the values and norms that appeal to area families.  Those changes have reshaped our facilities a great deal since their original construction.  Recently, a conversation has been started among area citizens that explores the alignment between the mission, vision, and purpose for the district updated by community members in 2008 and currently available information from external reports projecting population growth, current building conditions, and economic factors such as record low interest rates and the nearly repaid loans from the 1998 building projects.  The conversation will soon expand as citizens share their perceptions and values through the largest survey in the district's history.

     School leaders are working to inform citizens of the strengths and challenges of current facilities and to help provide useful and accurate information from which to base perceptions, opinions, and decisions.  One topic of discussion has involved the current structure and design of entrances to both school buildings.  While functional, the entrances were designed during an era that faced different challenges and expectations.  Entry to each building has since been limited to one main entrance which has been retrofitted with security cameras.  In addition, the elementary office has been reconfigured to provide better observation of traffic through the main entry.  These actions have improved school safety, but it is interesting to learn how architects have addressed the problem when designing new structures or additions.  In the upcoming survey, community members will be asked whether they support increasing the safety of school entrances.  The examples below illustrate how structural changes can potentially improve school safety.

     School improvement projects in neighboring districts incorporated updated design elements that Cashton citizens could consider.  In the examples below, you will notice an updated school entry design used at Bangor Elementary School and the NOW Elementary / Brookwood High School facility.  Each example has the traditional interior and exterior doors common in commercial buildings and both Cashton school buildings.  However, the examples pictured below have an additional design element, an additional doorway used to divert entrance to the building through the main office during school hours.  During the high traffic periods such as morning drop-off or dismissal, the interior and exterior doors are unlocked.  For the remainder of the day, the outer doors are unlocked while the inner doors are locked.  Entry to the building is then diverted directly into the school office.  The design balances the need for appropriate building access, but prohibits unauthorized or unexpected access during school hours.  As citizens consider their position on school entrance updates, perhaps the images below will help one better understand the options.

Exterior doors of main Bangor Elementary entrance.  During high
traffic periods, these doors and the interior set behind them are
both unlocked for efficient access.

This image shows the view of the entrance from
inside the elementary office.  The exterior doors
are visible through the glass.

Access to the building during non-peak
periods is through this door into
the main office.  This image shows
the area between the interior and exterior

Brookwood/NOW entryway:  This image shows the area
between the interior and exterior doors and the
access to the main office that is used during school
From inside N-O-W, the interior doors are visible to the
left.  Through the glass, you can see the diverting
entrance through the main office that is used during school
hours.  The wooden door is the interior access to the main

The view from the main office depicts the two doors that
connect the exterior entrance to the interior of the school
facility through the office.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Stretching Resources

     While we are thrilled at the growth in enrollment at Cashton Elementary School which, for likely the first time, has a higher enrollment than the high school, we have perhaps stretched our building in ways its designers hadn't anticipated.  We are fortunate that the community has provided an outstanding facility for our students and helped it to improve with changing instructional practices, the values of smaller class sizes, and the importance of understanding the benefits of technology for future success.  In the pursuit of instructional practices that target the individual needs of students, there is an increased need for space beyond the traditional classroom walls.  The staff has demonstrated considerable flexibility and embraced creative solutions, but each time the building is stretched further, there are fewer options remaining.  Students today are learning is a safe and time-tested environment that is appropriate for their needs.  The question at hand, however, is whether the resources of today will be ideal for tomorrow's students.  Consider a few ways we have stretched our building to support its largest student body in decades.

What was once an employee lunch area, now serves multiple purposes including housing copying services, centralized printing, laminating, materials preparation, and instruction...and it continues to be the employee lunch area.  Overlapping the uses of this space freed space in other parts of the building for instruction.

This year, students outgrew the seating capacity in the cafeteria.  Serving lunch in three shifts and borrowing tables from the high school has enabled a quality, yet full, lunchroom, but there are few options for future growth.  Nearly 250 of the 300 students participate in the school lunch program each day.

What was once the copier room is now the office and instructional classroom for Speech and Language services.  This creative solution provided the privacy and quiet environment needed to support the needs of students.  The impressive job Mrs. Miller did in transforming the space was much appreciated.

The original stage built in 1964 now serves as in instructional classroom for reading and writing classes.  The square footage is well used to provide more individualized instruction in a safe environment, but the performances by elementary students are certainly missed.

Noticeable to many families is the dramatic increase in class size at grades four and five.  After years of experiencing smaller classes due to SAGE, a state funded program that supports small classes in grades K-3, fourth grade students are having a different experience.  This year, students are learning to succeed with 27 students in each fourth grade classroom and 24 in each fifth grade classroom.  While that may be below class sizes in large districts across the country, it is far different from what Elementary families have valued and appreciated in past years.  With all classrooms currently used for instruction, the building could not house a third section. 

Mrs. Johnson has done an commendable job of encouraging families to read with their children in the library.  That space is well used!  The increasing needs for housing technology tools has pushed the space farther than originally planned.  Thankfully the space was designed with growth in mind, but it is clear that the LMC is often at full capacity.

Other responses to growth include the doubled classroom at grade three that includes two teachers to support a larger class size that is still within SAGE limits, the dual use of a small room that houses both the curriculum director and the server for the building's computer network, and a larger classroom that was split with a portable room divider to meet the needs of two instructional specialists.  As the community grows, the elementary will stretch, flex, and adapt to the fullest extent to support students.  The question however exists, how much farther will it stretch? 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Welcome Back!

With the first two weeks complete, students, families and staff have made it through the transition from summer vacation to the excitement and promise of a new school year. We begin a season of successes, challenges, change and growth, all against the backdrop of the ultimate goals of student achievement and social growth.

This is a year of great potential and certainly one of new experiences. As we welcome one of the largest groups of students to the elementary in decades, we also welcome eight staff members, stretching opportunities and facilities further. We thank our staff and maintenance crew for the many days of preparation and flexibility needed to help our resources meet the expanding need.

This year, you will also notice the local impacts of several State and Federal reform initiatives especially in the areas of curriculum and assessment. For better or worse, it is clear that much more is expected of our children at even younger ages. Within two years, all math and English-Language Arts curriculum will be rewritten to align with the Common Core State Standards and the newest version of testing accountability for students and schools will be in place. The adoption of Math Expressions is a visible result of changing expectations.

Families will soon see a public report of state testing results from last Fall’s WKCE. Performance expectations on the otherwise unchanged test have risen significantly which will certainly make nearly all schools in Wisconsin appear as though students have suddenly become less proficient. Data from the past will be remeasured with a different stick.

Each year brings change and challenges. Teachers, families, and students have always worked together to adapt and succeed. I would like to remind everyone that parents are teachers also! You are the first and most important teacher in your child’s life. The environment you provide for your child makes a critical difference. We thank you for your many efforts and sacrifices in pursuit of success for your children, especially taking the time to read to them every day. There is no better way to support your child’s academic progress.

We encourage communication and cooperation. School staff and parents share the common goal of providing children with the experiences necessary to enable students to achieve their dreams. Together, we make the very real difference.

-Mr. Alderson

Friday, July 27, 2012

Meet the Teacher Night at Cashton Elementary School

Meet the Teacher Night at Cashton Elementary School

     Cashton Elementary will be conducting a “Meet the Teacher” night on Thursday, August 30th from 4:30 PM until 6:30 PM for students (5K-Grade 5) and their families.  The purpose of the event is to help families to become more familiar with the school, the curriculum, and teachers with the hopes of supporting a strong connection between home and school.  This partnership is essential to the learning process and helps teachers better meet the unique learning needs of each child. 

     With exception of the time scheduled for grade-level meetings, Cashton Elementary teachers will be available in their classrooms for open house visits with parents and their children.  Parents have a wealth of knowledge about their children’s social, emotional, and academic needs.  In many cases, they will be able to help their child’s teacher better meet their needs by helping them understand their individual strengths, challenges, and interests. 

     Grade-level teaching teams will conduct a 15-minute group meeting to provide an overview of the skills and topics to be addressed, explore curriculum handbooks, explain classroom routines, share topics that are unique to the grade level, and answer any general questions families may have.  This meeting is also an opportunity to meet the additional teachers who will be working with each child.  Sessions are staggered in the interests of families with more than one child in the elementary school.  It is understood that some families may have a conflict with the assigned time and will not be able to attend. 

Scheduled times are as follows:  5K 4:30-4:45, Grade 1 4:50-5:05, Grade 2 5:10-5:25, Grade 3 5:30-5:45, Grade 4 5:50-6:05, Grade 5 6:10-6:25. 
(Note:  4K families will be scheduled for individual meetings with their child’s teacher and should contact the Elementary office if they have not received the orientation letter by late August.)  Families are welcome to bring their children’s school supplies to this event to lighten their backpacks on the first day of school.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The New Summer School

Video Game Design - Gamestar Mechanic

"Summer School" is a concept that for some conjures images of struggling or disengaged students battling through sweltering summer days in a school library who are trying to convince the assigned school teacher that there was just enough remediation work completed to replace a sub par grade.  Granted, that is a likely reality in a minority of circumstances, but summer school has become so much more.  One must remember, during the summer, the vast majority of summer students are choosing to spend their fleeting vacation days intentionally in a classroom.

In contrast to the teaching and learning environment during the traditional school calendar so strongly influenced by outside factors, summer school remains something of a academic laboratory for teachers and students alike.  While the expectation of learning and excellence doesn't rest in the summer, there is an opportunity to try something new, expand or improve past practice, experiment with current technologies, and attempt to connect to and build upon academic interests with less fear of embarrassment if all doesn't go as hoped.  It has become an environment where failure is recognized as an element of learning and an unavoidable side effect of the pursuit of innovation and experimentation.  The result is an increased willingness among students to engage and explore and for teachers to offer newly-created classes and learning opportunities .

Already this summer, through the coordination of our district summer school program, one that has expanded from three weeks to twelve over the last five years based on the ever-increasing student interest and participation, I have witnessed the enthusiasm of our students as they have explored interests ranging from the staples of reading and math to the enrichment opportunities of health and wellness classes, band, agriculture, robotics, graphic design, and video game creation with so much more yet to come.  I am proud of our students and teachers for their enthusiasm for learning, exploring, attempting, designing, and engaging.

Lego Robotics Programming

Lego Design Challenge

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Couldn't be more proud of our third grade team...

Schools and organizations are infinitely more successful when talented individuals are enabled and empowered to use their unique talents and strengths to achieve a shared mission and vision.  Recently I was approached by one of our outstanding teachers who had an idea.  Being a tech savvy, creative, and outgoing teacher, he saw an opportunity to teach his students how use technology to share a message that mattered, the message that bullying is destructive, hurtful, and not welcome by students at Cashton.  The idea, create a lip dub that promoted our vision and value of being a "bully free" school.  (A lip dub is a type of video that combines lip synching and audio dubbing to make a music video. It is made by filming individuals or a group of people lip synching while listening to a song or any recorded audio then dubbing over it in post editing with the original audio of the song. -thanks Wikipedia) As soon as he finished explaining to me what a lip dub was, and I heard his enthusiasm as he shared the plan, I knew the project had merit and would be a great learning experience for kids no matter how the actual project turned out.  At worst, students would learn another use of the abundant technology tools in the district and reaffirm their beliefs that bullying is not part of who we want to be.  Today I saw the end product, and I couldn't be more proud of what he, with the support of his excellent and supportive colleagues and a top-notch group of third graders, was able to teach and create even as the school year comes to a close.  Nice work, Mr. Brown!

(Wondering about the T-shirts...they were created by students in the high school innovations lab learning valuable job skills.  The text is not quite clear in the video, but the message is still strong..."Hey bully,  Who do you think you are?")

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Ooblek - Fun or Physics?

Ooblek...have you heard of it?  I hadn't either until I discovered a group of first grade students at Cashton Elementary were planning to use the substance as part of a discovery lesson.  What group of engaged and excited six and seven year olds wouldn't be interested in non-Newtonian fluids?  Students were deep in thought as they made predictions, observations, and formed hypothesis about the bowl of strange pink...something in the front of the classroom.  Sure, it was just a basic mixture of cornstarch, food coloring, and water, but to challenge the students to understand a substance that isn't classified as a solid, liquid, or a gas certainly made for an interesting, if somewhat messy, first grade science class.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Digital Cameras and 1st Grade Geometry

Digital Geometry Scavenger Hunt
 Cashton 1st grades students were able to demonstrate their understandings of geometric shapes by finding real-world examples and taking a digital photograph.  After finding and photographing an example of each of the polygons the students had been recently reviewing, they shared the images with their teacher...no worksheets here, just a group of engaged students applying their learning and tech skills.
Formative Assessment - How did I do?

Friday, February 3, 2012

Microsoft Photo Story and Research

As I walked down the primary hallway, I noticed classrooms full of engaged and motivated students who appeared to be focused on the lesson at hand. That's not unusual, but the intense focus still piqued my interest. The topic, I discovered, included practicing the skills needed to gather information in preparation for writing a biography. Students were to use on-line and text resources to gather information about a famous individual and then present a summary of their findings using Microsoft Photo Story, a free application that allows users to create a visual story from digital photos. The value of effectively researching, summarizing, evaluating information, digital editing, and presentation were all on display, not too bad for second grade.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Adding "Heat" to Breakfast in the Classroom

Just a little background:
In hopes of improving access to breakfast for students in the elementary, reduce costs, and improve program efficiency, the breakfast program shifted from a traditional cafeteria based program to a classroom-based program during the 2009-2010 school year.  The well-established program of the past provided a chance for students to eat breakfast for under $2.00, but participation was typically limited to 10-15% of the school population.  With the combination of reducing the price per meal to $0.50 and serving meals in the classroom setting, the goals of the transition were met.  Whether as a result of eating breakfast in the more-comfortable classroom setting with classmates or a simple price reduction, participation rates have increased to nearly 60% of the student body.  Not only do students have access to a proper and inexpensive breakfast, the combination of increased efficiency and participation made the program financially self-sufficient.

Heat and Eat Mini-Cinnis
So, what next?
Given the need for portability and food safety, menu items included a variety of pastries, fruits, cereals, and breakfast bars.  Each met or exceeded the dietary requirements and were actually well-liked by kids.  However, as our food service director continued to explore new menu items to maintain interest and variety, he discovered several products that would be popular, but really needed to be eaten warm, not for food safety purposes, rather to improve quality.  Most people don't prefer cold pancakes over warm ones.  How could we provide a warm breakfast without increasing food or labor cost?

Insulated Food Transport Bags
With the purchase of insulated food transport bags, under $15 each, we discovered that warmed breakfast items could be delivered to the classroom using the normal schedule and still be served warm to even the latest-arriving students.  Again, these items are not temperature sensitive for safety, rather satisfaction.
A little creativity and cooperation makes a big difference.  Kitchen staff lay out the fruit strudel, mini-pancakes, cinnamon rolls, etc. on trays the day before, a sorting practice that would happen for other items anyway.  The trays are placed in the warmer, but not yet heated.  Each are prepackaged and do not require refrigeration.  When the morning custodian unlocks the building, his one flip of a switch on the warmer makes it possible for the usual morning kitchen crew to arrive at their usual time and still be able to deliver a warm item to the classrooms.  Thanks to the cooperation and support of amazing support staff and classroom teachers always looking to improve, students can start their day with a great-tasting breakfast and the energy they need to learn and grow.