School board hosts student award ceremony, talks new grading system

By Nicole Brodzik
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The Westonka School Board held their May meeting in a packed Little Theater at Mound Westonka High School.

The board had their Recognition of Academic and Arts Awards on May 1. Students and families packed the theater and had people spilling out into the cafeteria.

Superintendent Kevin Borg thanked the students and their families for being there before giving a quick update on upcoming district events, including the groundbreaking for the new community recreation and performing arts center, which will take place on May 15.

“This is really a fun meeting for us,” Borg said. “No one felt stronger about that than our board member Ann Bremer.”

Next up, Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Mark Femrite opened up the awards ceremony which honored students from Shirley Hills Primary School, Hilltop Primary School, Grandview Middle School and Mound Westonka High School for their successes both in and out of the classroom.

Students from across the district were honored for their successes in spelling bees, math tournaments, as members of choir, band or theater groups, art festivals and destination imagination tournaments, among other activities.

After the ceremony wrapped up, Femrite continued the discussion of the district’s success with the school board.

“When you think about the things that we’ve been doing, the one thing I wanted state on this is we have a very simple process of gaining success,” he said. “It always starts with what is best for kids. We do our research, we do our piloting and we figure out how best to implement.”

He discussed a number of programs that the school has implemented including the K-12 engineering program, High School Integrated STEAM program and the art, theater and band programs in the schools.

“There’s more to come,” he said. “In the next 5 to 10 years who knows where it’s going to go. It’s going to be fantastic. It’s going to be great.”
He also addressed some changes that are coming to the grading system at Westonka Schools.

The Standard Based Learning Framework is a more individual-based system. Femrite said he thinks it will help kids understand what their learning targets are and that it will help measure what students learn.

“No longer the days where if you don’t learn it, too bad, moving on,” he said to the board “Or I already understand this and can show it, don’t hold me back. This grading system can help us with that. Students are able to clearly articulate where they are in their progress. We want students to take some ownership with their learning.”

Femrite said the major differences between this program and traditional grading programs are how the learning is structured and experiences, how grades are used, and the nature and structure of the schools. The shift moves away from teachers being at the heart of learning, to students being at the center of their own learning experience.

“What we’re trying to teach kids is it’s not about the points and percentages,” Femrite said. “We don’t want students to cram for two weeks for a test and then forget it. How do we deepen that learning so it sticks and they can apply it later.”

Femrite, and later Mound Westonka High School Principal Mark Mcllmoyle, spoke about allowing students to retake tests in order for learning. They also said they’d like to get away from the idea of grade inflation and thinking about the students success from a point of overall learning, regardless of how long it takes for students to get there.

Vice Chair Gary Wollner said that some kids aren’t immediately initiative takers and asked how they fit into this system.

“The good news we’re going to figure that out. We have to bring that structure in. We’re going to lead them along the way and hoping that with maturity and good choices, they’ll get there. We have to be really clear in understanding each child and where they are.”

He added that when it comes to elementary school, it’s still going to be very structured based on the maturity of children in that age group. He also added that they the program will be based on students, whether that means more or less structure.

Board member Kelle Bowe asked how parents can keep track of their children’s progress with this.

“We’re going to have very structured communication between the schools and students,” Femrite said. “If a child is struggling, there needs to be communication home to the family, and not just in the last three weeks of the semester. We’re going to have to be very vigilant and focused as staff and teachers to keep that kid from falling behind. We can do that.”

Kevin Borg wrapped up the presentation by thanking the principals from all four Westonka schools for their help with the new program.

The next school board meeting will take place on June 5 at 7 p.m.