5 things to watch in 2014-15

File photo. Sophomore Maddy Knaack talks with OHS art teacher Michael Derrick about her project on the history of photography for a segment on an outdoor TV show that students were producing last year, just one example of the district’s personalized learning push.

After voters shot down two referenda in 2012, Oregon School District officials are back with a new plan for some old buildings, as well as some innovative ways to recreate school space in the future.

With a vote coming up this fall, the result will no doubt have long-lasting effects for the district and its residents.

In the meantime, district officials and board members will look to continue recent trends of bringing more personalized learning and career readiness in skilled trades to students, and improving labor harmony with teachers and staff.

While the recent drop in state aid to schools has seemed to stabilize, a possible political challenge to the state’s recently adopted “Common Core” standards could also be an issue before the school year is up.

Here are five stories and trends we’ll be following this school year:

1. Referendum (or three)


$54.6 million referendum on Nov. ballot

Oregon School District voters will decide in November on a pair of referendums totaling nearly $55 million.

The two questions are both related to capital projects and maintenance on district schools.

A third potential referendum question that was discussed at the previous week’s special meeting related to teacher compensation was pushed back, as the board indicated a desire to instead put that on the April ballot.

That means the district would be asking taxpayers for money in two consecutive elections, which gave pause to some board members and a longtime district teacher who spoke before the vote.

“I really believe that a voter would ask the question ‘why would you have a referendum in November and now you’re asking me to pony up again in April?’” said board member Rae Vogeler, who was the only vote against the two November referendums, though others expressed hesitation during the discussion as well before ultimately voting to approve them.


ACT scores reach new high

Oregon High School’s class of 2014 graduates set a new high for average ACT scores for the school in 17 years of data.

According to figures released last week by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 2014 Oregon graduates averaged a composite score of 24.7 out of a possible 36 points on the college entrance exam, up from 23.7 for 2013 graduates, and higher than the previous best of 24.2, set by the classes of 2010 and 2009.

Along with the increase in score, the district’s participation rate increased to 66.6 percent, 7 percent higher than last year’s. It’s the highest participation rate the district has seen in at least seven years, according to data on WISEdash, DPI’s information portal.

Among 19 non-alternative Dane County high schools, Oregon had the third-highest average score, behind only Middleton-Cross Plains at 25.4 and Waunakee at 25.3.


School board takes a step back, decides to wait for Aug. 25 to vote on referendum

Taking a step back during a special meeting where they could have set in motion a set of referenda to be voted on Nov. 4 , the Oregon School Board decided Tuesday to wait on approving the measures.

Citing a need for more information and input, the board will take up the potential referenda again during its regular meeting on Monday, Aug. 25.

Board members are considering three separate referenda. One would allow the district to issue up to $54.6 million in general obligation bonds for building improvements; another would allow the district to exceed its revenue limit $300,000 on a recurring basis to cover operational expenses from the capital improvements; the last would authorize the district budget to exceed the revenue limit by $3.5 million on a recurring basis for educational staff compensation.


Board narrows down projects for potential referendum

Oregon School Board members will decide in the next few weeks whether or not to hold a multi-million dollar capital projects referendum in November that could exceed $50 million.

In the meantime, with a sizeable amount of debt set to come off the district’s books, members have been weighing how much to ask for, and what projects should take priority. Aug. 25 is the last date for the board to approve a resolution to go to a Nov. 4 referendum.

At a referendum “work session” Monday night in preparation for an upcoming special meeting on Aug. 19, board members continued to whittle down a lengthy list of repairs, upgrades and new projects to include in the referendum. In recent weeks and months, the list has been pared to around $51 million of items that school officials have essentially agreed are among the highest priority.

District technology director Jon Tanner said narrowing down a list of projects to be funded by the referendum wasn’t easy, though.


Following the footsteps

Photo by Scott De Laruelle. New Oregon High School assistant principal Josh Iverson takes some time out to chat during a day-long session on personalized learning on Monday.

Assistant high school principals often get a reputation for being the “heavy,” or the school disciplinarian. But new Oregon High School assistant principal Josh Iverson comes to his job with a different perspective – a background in special education teaching that carries on a family tradition.

The Viroqua native credits his passion for teaching special education to his mother, a long-time special education teacher.

“I had a connection and a desire my whole life to help out, working with individuals who I felt were really special and important to me, and not only the kids my mom worked with, but kids who were in my own school; they always had a special place in my heart,” he said. “When I went to college, I kind of knew I wanted to go into education of some sort, and it just kind of made sense.”


Trading spaces at OSD

Oregon School District superintendent Brian Busler said the seven changes in leadership positions at district schools is the most in “a number of years” and said he’s pleased at the quality of individuals filling the posts.

“They are talented individuals and will do an outstanding job with our students, parents, colleagues and supporting the greater Oregon school community,” he said. “We are fortunate to have such a mission based group of administrators in the Oregon School District.”

Besides Josh Iverson taking over as a new Oregon High School assistant principal, there have been a bevy of changes throughout the district’s other four schools.

Leslie Bergstrom


Ahead of the game: OSD shows rest of the state how it’s done with ‘gamification’

When Oregon School District director of technology Jon Tanner found out he won a grant to host a summer personalized learning workshop on “gamification” of classrooms, he figured it would be a good learning opportunity for district teachers.

The July 24 event ended up drawing nearly 150 educators from all around the state, from as far away as Green Bay and Milwaukee, proof positive that not only is personalized learning catching on, teachers around the state are taking notice of what’s going on in Oregon.


Board mulls options for green building

With the clock ticking on deciding to pursue a school district referendum in November, school board members explored some “green” building possibilities at a special meeting July 23.

Representatives from Bray Architects and Findorff Co. were on hand to talk about what district officials might want included in a potential Nov. 4 referendum – something that board president Dan Krause said will decided on by Aug. 19.

“There are a lot of things to get done before November, and there are always arguments for going forward and arguments against going forward,” he said. “Let’s try to move forward with the goal of doing this is November. Give your best efforts until Aug. 19 and then we’ll decide if this is the right thing to do.”

The Aug. 19 special board meeting is the latest the board can authorize a November referendum.


OSD candidates spent more than $11K in final week of election

At the conclusion of an Oregon School Board campaign that was well-advertised and highly contested, candidates poured in the money during the final days, according to recently released campaign finance reports.

The quarterly report, which was due Monday and covered March 24 through June 30, shows that in the last week leading up to the April 1 election, school board candidates spent $11,277 – an average of $1,879. Three incumbents, who were defeated – president Courtney Odorico, Wayne Mixdorf and Lee Christensen – spent an average of $2,316, while challengers Charles Uphoff, Gwen Maitzen and Barb Feeney spent an average of $1,442. Uphoff previously served on the board from 1993 to 2002, while the other two were political newcomers.