Herald and Journal, July 24, 2000

'Perfect practice makes perfect' at HLWW

By Andrea Vargo

"'Practice makes perfect' is not true.

"Perfect practice makes perfect," physical education teacher Merrill Skinner told the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted (HLWW) School Board last Monday.

Skinner referred to the difficulty teachers have with learning to teach the new, state mandated, graduation standards and the opportunity for them to get three more staff development days.

"We need to get organized. We have so many teachers who need time to get organized," Skinner said.

HLWW teachers made a bold statement when they elected to teach 17 graduation standards, recently, Humphrey Elementary Principal Dean Wessman told the board.

According to the ruling by the legislature, they could have voted for fewer standards.

"They wanted students to be challenged," he said.

But in order for that to happen, "Our teachers need to know what they are doing," Wessman said.

Last year, the legislature mandated three extra student contact days. This year, because of the need to train teachers in a new way of teaching, the state legislature allows school districts to switch the three student contact days to staff development days, he said.

Wessman strongly urged the board to allow teachers that time for staff development.

"We don't have a lot of time for our teachers to be together for staff development. I understand how the board feels about student contact days," he said.

"I don't want to be another district that is just trying (to teach the graduation standards). I want to be known as a district that is succeeding," Wessman told the board.

"We have to have time. This is a different way to teach and teachers need time to work together with a professional that knows how to teach this way," Wessman said.

Board Member Randy Heuer had concerns from a teacher contract negotiation standpoint.

Since the contract is in place for this year, he said, he hesitates to change anything.

Board Chair Gene Lorentz said it could be done with a letter from the teacher's association.

"I don't think you will have any trouble with the association, (because it is so difficult to prepare for the grad standards material). We need time to prevent overlaps (in curriculum)," Skinner said.

Lorentz wanted to know if Wessman is asking for just this year or for this to be a permanent situation.

Wessman said he was asking for one year, but more may be needed in the future for those teachers who are struggling with the new way of teaching.

Others felt it is questionable whether the extra training will result in higher quality student contact days, and there needs to be a balance between those contact days and staff development days.

"There is no question that I've changed in philosophy (about) teacher time," said HLWW Superintendent Riley Hoheisel.

Hoheisel told the board he thinks this (the agreement with the association) can be done, but he wants Wessman to return with a program for each of the proposed extra days.

Phy. ed. curriculum

"Physical education was an activity fun time and students don't believe you have to sweat," said Skinner.

That perception is changing, and he said the graduation standards work the students will have to do will involve sweat.

"This is a process that is growing. You can't change a set attitude instantly," he said.

The standards call for students to develop a physical fitness program for themselves, keep a journal, do the work, and report on their goals.

There are several age levels where this takes place, he said.

In general, Wessman told the board, the phy. ed. program has its strengths, as well as its weaknesses.

On the positive side, the department is able to provide sound, basic skills instruction before students participate in any activity, specialists teach classes in phy. ed. and personal fitness, and there are a variety of activities.

A real plus is the fact that elementary students meet every day, and this is not something many schools can offer, Wessman said.

Limitations of the program include: class sizes that are too large, lack of pool and track facilities, only one elective in the high school program, no female phy. ed. instructor in grades seven to 12, and a poor teaching/learning environment for the Howard Lake Elementary students.

Needs include budget increases and a new facility to include storage, weight room, and pool, Wessman said.

Skinner said that most schools have electives, and HLWW only has weight lifting. That took place before school last year and will be third hour this year.

"I'm dreaming here in a way, because we are a small district. It would help to add a female and electives," Skinner said.

Health curriculum

Several recommendations were made regarding the health curriculum.

The only health curriculum in junior high is a quarter of life skills in the seventh grade and a semester of family life/human sexuality in eighth grade, Wessman said.

There is no health at all in the ninth grade, and many components of health are not covered in other classes because of lack of available teaching time and space.

Electives aren't even offered, he said.

And, if the teachers are trying to teach good health practices, the pop and candy machines in the school building should be removed or at least turned off during the student day.

Fruit, juice, and other healthy snacks should be available, he said.

All staff need to have knowledge of the district's standards on issues of personal behavior, rules, and consequences, Wessman said.

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