By KELLY T. BURHOP
Former N-O-W School District Superintendent
Ever since I retired as Superintendent of the Norwalk-Ontario-Wilton School District, I have distanced myself from the school. New leadership needs the space to address changes to keep the Norwalk-Ontario-Wilton School District moving forward, providing students with the best educational opportunities in a changing world. For the past year, reading school district board meeting articles in the County Line, some school district constituents are expressing negativity, and at times, unsubstantiated negativity about the school district. This has me very concerned.
Under the leadership of Travis Anderson and the current board, there are many, many positive and exciting things listed as bullet points in the County Line about school board meetings that garner no attention. A few of these things are:
• Numerous internal changes in school district personnel and school day structure engineered to improve student academic achievement.
• Improved access and updated instructional technology to keep students current with the 21st century world.
• Changes and increases in the 7-12 vocational courses designed to give students increased skills in the trades.
• Increased practices in the effort to include all students in regular classroom instruction.
• A continued commitment to small class sizes.
• Efforts to receive many exciting grants with the purpose of continued school improvement.
Can we please celebrate and embrace these positive measures? Negativity has never educated one child. Everyone has the right to be heard if there are concerns about the school district. If you do have concerns or a complaint, there are school board policies in place to better handle these issues rather than starting at a school board meeting. I know that because I wrote them. For regular complaints, there is school board policy 167, and for complaints about reading and literature materials, there are board policies 362.1 and 362.2. For the district to conduct its business properly, these policies need to be followed.
There are a few things I read about in the County Line that have me concerned about the school district’s future. Two of them are to “restore equality, not equity” and “to improve student test scores.” I am all in on improving student academic achievement. Equality, not equity, means all students will need to learn the same way, with no Title Reading or Math Services, ELL services or differentiated instruction provided to those students who struggle academically. Special education services are required by state and federal law; therefore, the school district must provide those services. The classroom teacher will be required to teach one way, instead of being creative to meet the needs of all students. If standardized test scores are a concern, commonsense tells you the scores will lower if you take these services and differentiated instruction away. If these services are not offered, will parents decide to take their children to a school district that offers them?
Another concern is that critical race theory is being taught at Norwalk-Ontario-Wilton. I agree that critical race theory should not be taught, as the Norwalk-Ontario-Wilton Board of Education has never adopted it as part of the curriculum. With that said, I have never heard one specific fact where it has. Therefore, I consider it as hearsay. Once again, if this is a concern, please follow the complaint procedures as specified in School Board Policy 167.
Back in 2005, before I accepted the job as superintendent, I did make a list of positives and negatives about coming to this school district. I had one negative, and that was the Norwalk-Ontario-Wilton School District could easily be dissolved if things went south financially and structurally. Sparta, Tomah, Royall, Hillsboro and Cashton would just absorb the district. In today’s world, rural school districts struggle finding teachers and administrators. The demand is larger than the supply. Larger, higher-paying school districts regularly recruit teachers and administrators from rural school districts, making rural school districts like Norwalk-Ontario-Wilton donors for the rich. If school employees get criticized publicly, and/or if the school can’t find and competitively pay its teachers and administration, and/or the school loses students because educational services are not being offered, and/or if the school district continues to get negative headlines in the media, who would want to work at the school district, and if quality education services can’t be offered, who would want to send their children there?
Dissolving the school district down the road is possible. If you don’t think this is possible, three years ago, I never gave one thought to a global pandemic that changed the lives of everyone. Three years ago, I never imagined there would be a possibility of World War III and the use of nuclear weapons. Three years ago, I never imagined inflation at the rate it is right now. In today’s world, things can change for the worse, very fast.
I understand that every school district receives criticism and complaints about a variety of topics and that public input is important. There is always room for different ideas and academic improvement. Can we please follow school board policies when it comes to complaints? There are a lot of great things being done at the Norwalk-Ontario-Wilton School District. Can we celebrate and bring attention to these measures? Because of the positive things that are going on at the Norwalk-Ontario-Wilton School District over the past two years since my retirement as superintendent, I will be voting for Matt Muellenberg and Cari Keith for the school board. I hope you do the same.