School officials on Monday expressed concern about proposed changes to math curriculum for Wausau middle schools, agreeing that more discussion and student feedback is necessary before moving forward.
Members of the Education/Operations Committee responded to a presentation by Dr. Jennifer Rauscher, WSD’s director of Secondary Education, and math specialist Mark Schommer relating to proposal developed by the Math Course Sequencing Team that comprised 23 members, including math and Special Education teachers, among others. The changes would be implemented for the 2022-2023 school year.
Some members expressed concern that the proposal could limit possibilities for students who need additional guidance while openly wondering about the impact mixing students with varying math skills would have as a whole.
The new math curriculum proposes that students with variable math skills be grouped together so that students who need help can learn from those who are skilled in the subject, as well specialist math teachers to guide them. The goal, as outlined in the new curriculum, is that “every student leaves middle school ready for Algebra I or beyond, every student successfully completes Algebra II before graduating, (and) every student enrolls in a relevant math course during senior year.”
During the presentation, Dr. Rauscher said she would not bring ideas to the board that she felt were not helpful to students.
“Sometimes we’d be taking some risks so I don’t mean to suggest that the things we are going to talking about tonight are going to be easy…but I do really think they are going to help our students,” she said.
Pat McKee, outgoing board president, asked the presenters whether they had spoken to students about the proposed changes and said he found students do not perform better in a mixed environment. He also asked to see data driving the decisions behind the proposed changes.
“I’d like to see some more options,” said McKee, who asked many questions about the usefulness of the mixed grouping ability. “I understand the goal, but what other options were discussed, like pilot groups, or getting additional pairs or assistance in Basic Math 6 or Basic Math 7?”
Taking a risk with math, McKee said, is not an option.
Board member Ka Lo recounted her own experience in high school where she was placed in a mixed setting, which had students above her capability. “I struggled. Basically, I was told I was not good in math, so I had to be in a different class,” she said, while sharing that the experience stayed with her until she went to college.
Lance Trollop, elected Tuesday as the new Board vice president, also questioned the wisdom of allowing a skilled math student to sit through a class that repeats perhaps 80 percent of the core skills they have already mastered. He asked how the proposal would be a better option than allowing such students to take a more advanced version of the subject.
Karen Vandenberg asked why the new curriculum proposes to offer pre-Algebra courses (for Grade 7) only through WAVE, the district’s virtual learning system, despite data showing that virtual learning is not suitable for all students.
Wausau School Superintendent Keith Hilts proposed discussing the curriculum further and offered to provide students’ feedback, along with data and educational research at the next meeting.
Bouche elected president of the WSD Board
During a special meeting of the Wausau School Board on Monday, James Bouche, who served as vice president during the last term, was elected president. The incumbent president, Pat McKee, did not seek reelection to the role. Last year’s board treasurer Lance Trollop was elected vice president, while Jon Creisher is the new treasurer and Karen Vandenberg was reelected as board clerk. All four board were elected unopposed.
Cassie Peck, administrative assistant to the superintendent, will continue as board secretary and deputy clerk.
Staff raises approved in committee, heads to full board
The Education/Operations Committee on Monday approved salary increases for all staff in the district under a budget reconciliation proposal presented by Chief Finance and Business Services Officer Bob Tess. The reconciliation will be applied while developing the 2022-23 budget.
Now, the endorsement will go to the May meeting of the WSD Board for its approval.