Computer Science Programs
Don’t call the Janesville School’s computer science program its “best kept secret.” That makes it sound like a restaurant or travel destination. Instead, the Janesville School District’s computer science department is a quiet powerhouse, a force propelling students into the best colleges and then into high-paying jobs immediately after graduation.
How strong is the program? Consider this:
- The Janesville School District is one the few districts that allows— even encourages-- students to take AP computer science their sophomore year. Successful completion of the AP Comp Sci exam means students can take computer science classes at UW-Whitewater, UW-Madison or Beloit College in their junior and senior years. That’s right, those college credits are free.
- In the 2018-2019 school year, Janesville had 39 students who took the AP Comp Sci exam. Only one school district in the state had more—Madison, a district with four high schools and a significantly higher student population.
- In the 2019-2020 school year, 754 students statewide took the AP Comp Sci exam. Only 181 received a five, the top score. Of those 181, six were from Janesville.
- Every year, the National Center for Women and Information Technology honors a handful of high school girls with “Aspirations in Computing” awards. Last year, the organization honored 101 young women from Wisconsin’s 800-plus public and private high schools. Of those 101, six were from Janesville.
- The district is one of the few in the state that offers the advanced course, “Data Structures,” a college-level course.
- Both high schools have made it to the finals of the international Zero Robotics competition, and they’ve both made it more than once. The competition involves writing code to operate a robot on the International Space Station. The handful of teams that make the finals go to MIT. There, the wining team gets to watch its code used to operate a robot on the space station.
The district’s computer science dynasty started in 2005 when Bob Getka arrived at Parker, and started teaching AP Computer Science. His classroom walls are covered with photos of students who passed the exam. Among the many who have passed, are 48 that passed with fives.
At Craig, Janice Bain started her career teaching math and computer science. She minored in computer science in college, but in those days they were using Pascal and Cobol, defunct computer languages. When an instructor was needed for AP Computer Science, Bain took a deep dive into JAVA, the current language. The district also sent her to a week-long intensive institute on the course.
She also learned from what she calls the “course of Bob.”
Her efforts and her students’ work paid off. In the 6 years she has been teaching AP Computer Science, more than one-fourth of her students taking the exam earned 5s.
In the 2018-2019 school year, 100 percent of her students passed the exam, a distinction she shared with only seven other schools in the state.
She’s had 100 percent successes in other years, too.
Getka, who calls himself as “very competitive person” described her pass rate in wondering tones, calling it “extraordinary.”
What’s the key to their success?
Getka and Bain said the school district has been very supportive of STEAM programs, and acronym that stands for science, technology, engineering, art, and math.
Good teaching and motivated students are a crucial part of the equation, too, and, like any good sports team, it helps to start ‘em young.
Five years ago, the Getka and other started Lego Robotics teams at the elementary level. Now almost every elementary school has a Lego Robotics team, and many of Janesville’s private schools do, as well.
Now, with the elementary school students reaching high school, Getka and Bain expect those students will dominate, both in competition and in class.
Bain wants students to know that computer science is a career for anyone.
“Whatever job you have, computer science can help you get that job done,” Bain said. “It can be used in art, it can be used in ag—that’s really the power of it. It can be applied to any field you go in to.”