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Op-Ed by Superintendent Steve Pophal

Janesville Promises Deliver Hope

In August 2017 the School District of Janesville (SDJ) Board of Education approved the Janesville Promises (, a five-year plan developed around the core deliverable that “every student will graduate ready for college, career and life”.

In a world that is changing at lightning speed, the district recognizes that education must evolve in order to graduate students prepared for their future, not our past. The district believes all students have limitless opportunities if they are equipped with the necessary skills. STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) skills are vital for students to become collaborative, creative, critical thinkers who are well-able to communicate with others. The district wants to graduate students who are nimble, adaptable, entrepreneurial, and willing to take risks. But why is it so essential to the district, and, maybe even more importantly to you, that the district fulfill the promise that every student will graduate ready for college, career and life?

The obvious answer to this question is to prepare students for their future; however, public education is also about the greater good of the community. I don’t need to retell the story of the great recession of 2008, the closing of the GM plant and the dire impact of those events on the City of Janesville. Janesville might have been down, but Janesville definitely wasn’t out. Due to powerful collaborative efforts among the City of Janesville, Forward Janesville and the business community, Blackhawk Technical College, UW-Rock County, and the SDJ, the City is on the pathway to recovery. But, this recovery can only be maximized if the community continues to scale-up living wage jobs with benefits and the SDJ graduates students with skills that equip them to fill those jobs.

My evidence for this claim is straightforward. The current unemployment rate in Janesville is 2.8% which is an historically low rate and a strong indicator of a thriving local economy. However, while there are jobs available, regrettably many of them are low wage jobs without benefits. As a result of parents working at low wage jobs without benefits, the district’s free lunch rate remains near its all-time high. In 2006, 29% of district students qualified for free lunch. In 2014, the free lunch rate peaked at 50% and today, in spite of the current low unemployment rate, the free lunch rate remains high at 47% (to qualify for free lunch, the annual income for a family of four must be below $32,630).

The SDJ is committed to transform education for all students. We cannot afford to continue educating students to sit in rows, listen to a teacher deliver content, and recall that content on factoid tests. This type of education prepares students for jobs that no longer exist in today’s economy. Besides, the reality is nearly everyone has the facts of the world at their fingertips via smartphones. Education today is about preparing students to apply knowledge to novel situations. In short, we must graduate students who know how to do something, not just know something.

To accomplish this type of education, the district is scaling-up high quality, job-embedded professional development for staff, reinvesting limited district resources into classrooms, and forming partnerships with the community and selective vendor partners like Discovery Education. Beginning this fall, Discovery Education will work with the district to provide STEAM training and on-the-job coaching for staff with the ultimate goal of providing students with the vital skills needed to become collaborative, creative, critical thinkers who are well-able to communicate with others. For example, what if students in a web design class partnered with local small businesses that do not have the knowledge or resources to have an electronic presence for their business? Rather than students sitting in a classroom creating a web page for a class project with a teacher as the audience, the students could partner with local businesses to build a “real world” electronic presence for the business. This type of education gives students desperately needed real world experience while helping grow the local economy.

Graduating students who are ready for college, career, and life is a big promise for the district to deliver; however, it is a promise the district is serious about keeping. The community needs high school graduates who are committed to continuing their training beyond high school to prepare them for living wage, not minimum wage jobs. The community needs high school graduates who will create new solutions to old problems. The community needs high school graduates who will become our leaders and raise the next generation of kids free from the damaging effects of poverty. In short, the district promises and emerging partnerships with the community are essential to ensuring Janesville is a destination of choice for the next generation.

Mr. Steve Pophal

Superintendent School District of Janesville

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