Introduction by 孙建国 (Jian Sun):
The following interview was written by Zidao Wang:
The YLA reached out and organized an event in Mequon on Aug 19th. Both the Superintendent, Mr. Matthew Joynt, and the President of the School Board, Ms. Kathryn Houpt, attended to answer questions from the local Mequon Chinese community. This is the first event the MCCC has held with the school district. Both sides were very excited and happy not only to open a clear communication channel between the school district and the local community, but also to set high standards for the Milwaukee Chinese Community Center to be involved more in our districts.
Q&A with Superintendent Mr. Joynt:
What new changes can we expect going forward? Please be specific?
We have a strategic plan includes goals in academic achievement and student support, being financially responsible in our community, and growing our human capital which insures that our staff will be better at what they do.
Our students should have access to higher level course at the middle school level we will be instituting changes that allows them to access Algebra 2 by their sophomore year and Calculus by senior year. We currently are updating the elementary libraries, which should allow for more space.
There are no real major changes on the horizon.
Can we expect any major funding reallocations and where?
Every two years the state legislature passes a bi-annual budget which is to be approved around July 1st of every year. It’s August and that budget has not yet been approved, so we are late; the later the budget is approved, the less time we will have to plan accordingly.
We’ve built our budget based on the state allowing us to have an increase of one hundred dollars per student. What’s in the draft right now is a proposal for up to two hundred dollars for per pupil purposes. There has been discussion that that might mean an increase of one hundred fifty dollars per student, or that it might stay at two hundred. Either way, if we allow one hundred fifty dollars more per student or two hundred that will give us an addition of one hundred and seventy five thousand dollars per fifty dollar allotment. We will get another three hundred fifty thousand dollars per pupil if they allow two hundred dollars per pupil. There are two things holding up the budget decision: The Foxconn decision* needs to be figured out, and a piece in budget about transportation which has garnered disagreement.
*Foxconn is a large electronics company that wants to build a plant in Wisconsin, which could produce thousands of jobs.
What is your opinion on the Plus Twenty program replacing Flex Time next year?
Last year we had a system called Flex Time where we plan a day a week where the school day ends twenty minutes early. During that last twenty minutes all teachers would be available for students. However, every year for the past two years we’ve had snow days, so in order to meet our minimum number of minutes students receive instruction, we’ve had to adjust and change Flex Time constantly.
The Plus Twenty program is a program that allows every student to have access to all of their teachers at least once a week for twenty minutes. Every week a period will gain an extra twenty minutes. It will be spent with students and that teacher in each of the classes based on students needs. The benefits to teachers and the school community is that it is something that won’t go away, even if we have snow days in the year. Which means we won’t have to change plans moving forward.
Will it be possible for the district to invite selected Homestead graduates to talk about their freshman year experience in college?
One of our goals as a school district is to make sure students graduate prepared to know what comes next, which is usually college. It would be nice to have students share their experiences in college and tell the students how it went. Many college students will be coming back and visiting and sharing experiences with teachers. I think the ultimate answer is yes, but the challenge is many of our students who have gone to college have already left at that time, so it would be hard to arrange students to come to Homestead and speak directly to the students.
Can the school arrange for more and/or longer recesses for students?
The challenge is that we have a start time and we have an end time. We track the number of minutes that students are gaining instruction each day. Everybody wants more of something, our students want more recess time, some people want more math time, others want more time for science. Time allotments have been discussed, but recess has not come up recently.
Would it be possible for the district to host seminars on career options (medical school, law school, finance, busines) for students and parents?
It’s a focus at the state level. One of the mandates that goes in place this year is in public instruction and how students are engaging in their work to create academic and career plans because they will soon begin to determine the careers that they want to go in. We hired an academic and career coordinator, Mr. Matt Wolf. We are going to be able to better provide students, beginning this year, with insight, speakers, and opportunities.
What are your views on the structure of final exams (Projects VS Tests)?
Our teachers at the high school level have engaged around work to determine how can we create some end of semester projects and assessments that are tied to real world authentic opportunities to determine what we have learned. At the middle school level there has been conversation around this topic as well. It’s more challenging to change final exams at the high school than the middle school because highs schools have exam exemptions, which allow you to not take an exam for a class each trimester. Our real goal is for students to engage in an end of year assessment that ties into real world application of contents that they learned in class.
The district considers a wide range of budget initiatives and picks a few to send to the school board. Can the district make the initiative proposing process more transparent so citizens and parents can better understand which initiatives were NOT proposed to the board?
One of the focus areas of the board is to work with communication and work with more community groups to make more positive changes. The district works around a proposed plan and then we develop an action plan. Each year we have different initiatives to consider and propose to the board. Around December or January, the proposals become budgets.
That strategic action plan is available for anyone to view, and I think the ultimate answer to your question is yes– I think that the strategic action plan will be something that will be more available to the public and that they’ll have a better awareness of what it is we are considering, and we will be able to respond to those questions about why we did or didn’t do something.
What are your views regarding the current homework system?
The national research around homework is that ideally you take an available ten minutes and you multiply it by the grade level. Our elementary kids should be coming with no more than 50 minutes of homework. As students get into middle school, that changes a little. They have different teachers per subject, so it gets harder to limit the homework time. It requires a lot of communication across the grade level teachers.
At the high school, our school counselors are really involved. It’s important that our school counselors engage with our high school students to understand which courses they are selecting and how much time they have because students who choose more challenging courses such as honors or AP courses will have a heavier workload. We feel it’s important that homework should be practice for something that they learned in the classroom, and shouldn’t be new learning outside the classroom. This is something that we have been watching closing.
What are your thoughts on the current school hours across the district?
We require a lot of buses in order to get students to school every day. We run something called a three-tier bus systems. One set of students, the high schoolers, has to go to school first on the bus. The middle schoolers take the second round of buses, and the elementary kids take the third tier of buses. Starting elementary school at 9 AM is the earliest we can start them because of our bus system. As a result of this, the elementary schools end at around 4. Other options could be to hire and run more buses, which would be extremely expensive and would require us to raise the taxes. Another option would be to flip it around. Have the elementary kids go to school first, then the middle schoolers, and then the high schoolers, which doesn’t seem like a good idea.
Would you keep Infinite Campus over Powerschool and what are your thoughts on the two?
We transitioned as a school district to Infinite Campus last year. The first reason was because PowerSchool went up for sale last year, and nobody was interested in buying it. The second reason was that whenever we had technical problems, we kept getting bounced to outside counsel not affiliated with PowerSchool, so we weren’t getting the support we needed. We thought it would be a good idea to look for another company. We looked at many student information systems and ended up with Infinite Campus. It comes with other opportunities for us to utilize Infinite campus for other things we do besides grading. For example, we were allowed to register students online through Infinite Campus online, and we were not allowed to do that with PowerSchool. If you asked me which one was better, I would say Infinite Campus every time.