In support of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning (LGBTQ+) Pride Month, Chandu Vemuri, executive assistant to the superintendent, read a proclamation during the Monday June 13 Sun Prairie School Board meeting.
Put together by Vemuri and Board of Education Deputy Clerk Diana McFarland, the proclamation declares the month of June as Pride Month to “inspire equity, celebrate diversity, and establish inclusive environments in our district.”
The proclamation — approved by all board members — states the school district board and staff are committed to “honoring, valuing and affirming our LGBTQIA+ students and staff,” and that they take seriously the responsibility to “provide safe, nondiscriminatory and inclusive environments for people of all orientations and identities as they reflect our diverse community around us.”
The proclamation (which is posted with the online version of this story at sunprairiestar.com) also states the Board of Education rejects any legislation or action that would dehumanize, marginalize, or violate the rights of any and all LGBTQ+ students.
Student handbook changes reviewed
Several changes were made to all levels (4K-high school) to the student handbooks through a routine Sun Prairie Area School District student handbook development and review process for the 2022-23 school year. The student handbooks’ purpose is to promote a safe and positive learning environment and high student achievement.
The changes were presented to the board as informational – no board approval occurred during the meeting. There were significant revisions made in the behavioral section of the 4K and elementary handbooks to remove language that wasn’t developmentally appropriate for younger students.
“We also made an effort to remove language that would criminalize the behavior of young students,” said Nick Reichhoff, SPASD Director of Student policy and School Operations. “The new language focuses more on developmentally appropriate terms and clearer documentation of behavioral errors by students in the elementary grades.”
Board of Education Treasurer Latoya Holiday asked what exactly was changed in the behavior section. Reichhoff said it seemed “like the elementary behavior was modeled after secondary level” and criminalized the behaviors of small children.
Carol Albright, board clerk and a retired teacher, enjoyed reading the 4K handbook about learning through play.
“It’s interesting for me since I was a high school teacher,” she said.
At the elementary level, Albright raised the question, how do you explain the rules of the handbook to a kindergartner?
Reichhoff answered that expectations are taught and reinforced through their schools’ branded policies that better connect to young students. Those are not included in the handbooks.
A lot of work was done with the handbooks at the middle school and high school levels as they consolidated all of the school’s separate handbooks into one to maintain consistency. As of next year, there will be one middle school (grades 6-8) handbook for Prairie View, Patrick Marsh and Central Heights, as well as one high school handbook (grades 9-12) for Sun Prairie East, Sun Prairie West and Prairie Phoenix Academy.
“We worked diligently paragraph by paragraph and section by section in each building handbook in order to create consolidated handbooks,” Reichhoff said.
Albright appreciated the middle school make-up work policy, referring to the handbook that states, “students will have two days to make up work missed for each day they are absent without a penalty.” She said it was important to teach those strategies at that level and also found it helpful as a teacher to efficiently grade assignments.
The bulk of the handbooks are completed, but the middle and high school handbooks still need to be updated for parking lots, traffic flow maps and new staff hires this summer.
Board Governance Officer Tom Weber questioned why there isn’t an executive summary for a 57-page handbook. Reichhoff’s reasoning is that changes would need to be made to multiple documents then. Albright added that the detailed table of contents is very helpful.
In addition, the athletic and activities handbooks updated extra-curricular to co-curricular to reflect that these activities are outside of school, but compementary to the district’s curriculum. A new state law requires the addition of concussion protocols be included in handbooks. Also, language and conference affiliation was updated to reflect opening the new West High School. The handbooks will be available electronically in early July. The school board did not vote on the handbooks as it was just the first review.
Student handbooks are reviewed twice a year for any changes and updates. According to Reichhoff, it can be updated more frequently if there are specific concerns brought to the administration’s attention. After changes are suggested, they work with the group to address and make those changes if necessary.
Board of Education President Steve Schroeder wondered what happens if students and legal guardians don’t sign off on the checkbox, stating that they read it.
“We still require people to say that they read it. If they don’t check it off we highly encourage it and there is some follow up, but there’s no serious consequences.”
He noted that they won’t prevent anyone from coming to school. He prioritizes the purpose of the checkbox to raise awareness rather than compliance. He added that the handbook is important and families should know what it consists of, but “we don’t want to put kids in the middle.”
Board welcomes new Creekside principal
The board of education approved the addition of the new principal of Creekside Elementary, Kyle Walsh.
Walsh earned a bachelor’s degree in education, a master’s degree in educational leadership and policy analysis and another master’s in curriculum and instruction with a concentration in English as a second language from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
He comes from Akira Toki Middle School in the Madison Metropolitan School District where he served as principal for three years. Prior to that, he was an elementary school principal in the Pecatonica Area School District and was a first-grade teacher in the Verona Area School District.
Walsh has experience working with students in both urban and rural settings, and told the board he is excited to develop relationships with elementary students, staff, parents and guardians in the Creekside community. His goal is “to serve and lead an anti-racist and equitable school so that all students can and will learn and thrive in a safe, innovative, restorative and justice-oriented community.”
The expansive process for selecting the principal for Creekside School involved surveys of students, staff and caregivers, as well as multiple rounds of interviews with staff, caregivers and school district administrators.