After many hours of work on it, I’ve finally decided that my DPI Summary Consolidation Application was ready for public release. Please click the link in the previous sentence for more details. In the next few weeks, I’ll be analyzing this data further for Fall Creek specifically, and giving my opinion on what I feel those numbers mean for our school district.
Fall Creek School District Ten Year Long Range Facility Planning
Provided via mail by Ms. Teresa Reetz. Thank you Ms. Reetz!
On top of that, this link is a PDF copy available for download.
DPI Data Errors
I’m currently writing a program that will let me take in all of the DPI’s spreadsheet data, aggregate it, and calculate the state average and ranking for the five main metrics – Overall Score, Student Achievement Score, Student Growth Score, Closing Gaps, and School On-Track and Postsecondary Readiness Score.
However, during debugging the program and getting it ready for release, I’ve found some… issues with the data. Not only are the column headers inconsistent (sometimes it’s called “On-Track”, sometimes it’s called “On Track”), but I’ve also found something completely unexpected:
Apparently, in the 2017-18 school year, the school “Blessed Savior Catholic School” managed to obtain TWO separate rows of scoring data, including two completely different “Exceeds Expectations” Overall Accountability Scores.
What a lucky school, to Exceed Expectations so well, that they get a double score!!!
04.18.2022 School Board Meeting Commentary
This will just be a bit of a meandering commentary as I watch the video a second time. I’ll try to provide a timestamp so that you know where I’m at.
5:48 – Good to see the Pledge of Allegiance. Proud to see my country still being represented in official functions as “low on the totem pole” as the local School Board. I’m curious to learn whether this is done as well in all classrooms, or just some. Does the school have an official policy on this, or is it left to the teacher’s to decide?
7:36 – The board goes through a “Consent Agenda”, which is basically just a quick way, allowed through Robert’s Rules of Order, to push through a whole bunch of more mundane and uninteresting items that would normally take many motions and take up way too much time. This is just fine, although I have contacted Ms. Brunett, the District’s Business Director, to see if I could get a copy of the Financial Statement, Monthly Receipts and Checks, and Student Activity Account Receipts and Checks. If they are supposed to be publicly accessible information, that is. The strange thing is, I don’t see on the Minutes from the previous month that they had actually covered those items in the previous board meeting (which I was unable to attend) in any detail. Also, during the course of this meeting, they didn’t go through similar items for the current month of April. So, that makes me wonder if these are “boring” day-to-day things that Ms. Brunett just handles herself, and while the board officially “approves” these items, they never actually go through the items individually to verify them. I understand in trusting someone to do their job, but at the same time, part of the reason why the Board exists is to act as a check and balance, to ensure that there is oversight on these kinds of things, right? If the Board is just approving these items and is NOT actually performing oversight? That slightly concerns me. Not that I don’t trust Ms. Brunett to do her job, but that if there’s SUPPOSED to be oversight, then there should BE oversight. If there’s not supposed to be oversight by the Board, then you might as well just take those items off the Agenda anyway, if they are never going to be investigated or discussed. Why have it on the Agenda if it’s not looked at and discussed? Just my two cents on that.
08:26 – I was VERY impressed with the way Ashley Mason presented the Curriculum Committee Meeting Report. She was very articulate, and brought up a whole lot of concepts and terms that I’ll now have to spend the next month looking into and learning about. It was very informative, and I could see the enthusiasm for teaching our children in her voice. She does appear to have been an excellent pick to run the Elementary School. That being said, however, I would have liked to have heard some perspective from the Middle and High School Principals, Messrs. Goodman and Ceranski. I can understand that one person in a committee can speak for the committee, but surely they must have had slightly different perspectives on things and additional insight to add? People aren’t a hive mind, you know, at least I hope they aren’t. I may have to talk with these two gentlemen a bit more as my children start to get older, as I’m a bit concerned about the position of the Middle and High Schools when compared to the Elementary School, as there appears to be a bit of a discrepancy and drop off in results at those higher levels.
16:20 – This is fantastic that our teachers appear to have a great and flexible insurance plan, at a decent cost! It was very wise to join the Co-op to get a better deal on this. Good job to the District on taking care of our teachers in this way! Another medal for Ms. Brunett who still did the due diligence on going out to bid to make SURE that the District got the very best deal possible.
20:20 – Again, it’s good to see Ms. Brunett being on top of the Budget Forecast. While we don’t have a “final” budget, it’s a great idea to put together preliminary ones and constantly adjust them as the situation on the ground changes. This gives us a greater flexibility to adapt to change, as well as a lot more power by not being “blindsided” by unexpected things. I do wonder if this budget is available to be seen by the public anywhere though…
21:45 – Student Parent Handbooks – I know that ultimately it’s the board’s decision what gets approved to be in these, but wouldn’t it be nice if the preliminary handbooks were published for all to see so that the public could contact their Board members and give their opinions on the handbooks directly? Right now, it seems that it just goes to the Board members, and the public never sees them until after they’ve been approved and published. We should always seek to allow for greater transparency as well as greater community engagement. That way, we can all win together.
22:52 – As with the other financial statements above, I’ve asked Ms. Brunett (and also Ms. Reetz in this case) to see if the public could have a copy of this 10 year plan for Facilities. It would be good for all of us to be able to see “how the sausage is made”. It’s also good to hear that the District appears to be adjusting that budget smartly and making as much use out of old equipment for as long as possible to save money! As a side note, I had actually asked Ms. Kneifl for a copy of the school’s budget, since she contacted me about three weeks ago regarding another subject, but I still haven’t heard back from her about that yet. I just poked her again just now on that, and I’m hoping to hear back about it soon!
28:42 – Consideration of Revisions to the 2022-2023 Employee Handbook – Again, another document that it’d be good for the public to be able to see! Otherwise, we have no clue what the board is even talking about. Ideally, it would be nice if the whole “packet” that the School Board receives at the start of the meeting is provided digitally the day before the meeting on the school’s website, so that the public has a little time to look at it and consume it, so that they can provide informed feedback.
29:20 – It is at this point in the meeting, when I see the board members and others assembled flipping through papers, I wonder if the board members are not even receiving any of this information until the day of the meeting? If so, then this would be concerning to me, because from outside appearances, it seems the board members are given perhaps a minute or two to read quickly through a document that’s who knows how long before they’re given a chance to ask questions about that document, and then vote on it. I think such deliberations should give the Board members ample time to consume the information in front of them so that they can make a fully informed decision. It’s good that Super Joe (as I call him) gave an “executive summary” of the changes, however, it’d be better if the board had a day or so to view and mull these things over. Even better if the public got a day or more, so that they could look it over as well and contact their board members about it before it’s voted on!
33:58 – It’s good to hear about our educators and students being recognized for their accomplishments by other groups and organizations. We do need more of this. I would like to see more things like this, but done internally. For example, when I was attending Sedgefield Middle School in Goose Creek, SC, the school had an awards program where they recognized not just their athletic stars, but also publicly recognized their academic stars. Awards were given, and appreciated by all students who received them. I don’t know if Fall Creek does anything like that currently – I only have kids in second grade, but I don’t recall being invited to any awards ceremonies so far. I’d like to see something similar to this at the Fall Creek Schools, and even to go one step further – we should be celebrating academic achievement as much as, if not more than, athletic achievement by providing spaces in a place of honor within the High School’s Foyer/Commons space. Because a school should be a SCHOOL first, and an athletic program second. If you walk through that commons area, you’d think it was the opposite. I know that there are a couple of “dull” brass/copper plaques out there in random hallways and entrances that seem to blend in with the brick surrounding them, but these seem like an afterthought, to be honest. I’d rather see these kinds of things displayed in the well-lit trophy cases that the athletics awards appear to receive. I’d like to see visitors and alumni to Fall Creek to come into that area and see that education is the #1 priority of the schools and district by having it celebrated in the same way that other things are.
38:40 – Yes, that is me going to talk to Super Joe. I was confused why it seemed like almost everybody was leaving. Not because I didn’t understand the concept of a Closed Session, but because according to the Agenda, there was to be more of an Open Session after the Closed Session was completed. So, it just surprised and confused me that the majority of the people that were in attendance weren’t sticking around to finish up the meeting after the Closed Session was over! And, for anyone wondering, the mask wasn’t because of any COVID “stuff”, it was because I had a really nasty cold, my nose would NOT stop running, and I’d hate to spread that nasty bug to others!
Overall, I felt that the session was run very professionally by Mr. Wright. You can tell he’s been doing this a long time. However, I would have liked to have seen a lot more interaction and discussion between those involved. There was a lot of “monologue” reporting, which I expected, but not very much discussion about the things that had to be voted on before they were voted on. I attribute much of this (unless I’m wrong), to it being that the Board members don’t seem to receive much of the information about what they’ll be voting on until they’re actually in the meeting and have a pamphlet in front of them. It’s hard to have a discussion about something that you are uninformed about.
I would love to be wrong about this, and if any board member would like to contact me and let me know, I’d be curious to know if the contents of these pamphlets are actually provided to Board members in advance, and if so, in what format and how long before the meeting actually commences.
Fall Creek School Board Meeting 04.18.2022
Please forgive the issues with this very first recording. As I’ve never done anything like this before, I’ll be learning as I go. It appears that I need a better downwards angle so that half of the image isn’t just the top of the wall, and you can see more of the people at the table. Also, the audio quality on the camera is HORRENDOUS, so I have a professional audio recorder on order. It should be available in time for the next meeting.
I apologize for any issues that this may cause. Full commentary coming soon.
Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction Accountability Scores
To Whom It May Concern,
My name is Westley Bennett. I am a citizen of Fall Creek, Wisconsin, and parent to twin eight year olds that are second graders at Fall Creek Elementary School. Recently, I have run for a position in the school board and failed in my attempt to acquire the position. However, during the course of this attempt, I wanted to learn as much as I can about how our school systems work/function, and how they are judged, objectively. This brought me to the DPI’s website, specifically the Accountability Scorecards. On this page – https://dpi.wi.gov/accountability/resources , I came across the “meaning” of the scorecards as well as their “Rating Category”, which I’ll provide below for reference:
This appears to be the way upon which schools and districts are graded. It appears to be (from what I can see), a hundred point scale, just as most of our students, teachers, and parents are familiar with. However, these “Rating Categories” do NOT appear to line up with what I, as a parent, would consider to be acceptable standards for a hundred point scale rating system. For reference, below I’ve provided a graphic of the Standard Grade and Grade Point Average that I obtained from the National Assessment of Educational Progress’ website, colloquially known as “The Nation’s Report Card”:
Now, were I to superimpose this grading scale upon the DPI’s scorecard, this is the results of what the DPI considers to be a proper accountability rating, when compared against the national standard:
A hundred point grading scale is a hundred point grading scale, so I believe that superimposing the NAEP’s national standards on this report card is quite appropriate. I want my children to have the best possible education, and to do that, there must be a consistent objective metric by which we can measure the success of their schools and district. In my opinion, the DPI’s “Accountability Rating Category”, as it stands now, is preposterous and unacceptable. To consider a “grade” that would be considered nationally an F to “Meet Expectations”, and to accept a C as “Exceeds Expectations” to me are outrageous propositions. I would have expected that the State of Wisconsin would have higher standards than this. A rating of a C has been, as long as I’ve been alive, considered to be the standard metric for what’s “average” and expected, therefore I would think that we would set the bar to label a score as “Meeting Expectations” to be at LEAST a score of 70, and so on, and so forth.
Having low numerical values, low expectations, and giving them labels such as “Meets Expectations” and “Meets Few Expectations”, in my opinion is harmful to our children. Our expectations of our school districts and schools should match with what we would expect from our children. If we expect LESS than that, then we are setting our children up for failure when they leave the world of primary education and are expected to take care of themselves as adult citizens in the “real world”. I would like an explanation of how these “Accountability Rating Categories” were determined, and how their thresholds were decided upon.
Upon further research, I have found that, at least according to the MacIver Institute, these scores and standards have actually been LOWERED from previous years (https://www.maciverinstitute.com/2021/11/many-students-in-wisconsin-are-failing-while-95-of-school-districts-receive-passing-grade-according-to-dpi/ ), is this true? If so, how are these lower standards justified?
This is an open letter, upon which I have copied my wife, my State Senator Kathleen Bernier, and my State Representative Jesse James on this e-mail, in the hopes that their attention could assist in getting these concerns addressed. I will also be posting this letter publicly on my personal website, https://bennettforoffice.org/ .
Thank you for your time, and I eagerly await your response.
Tri-County Area Times Survey
As a denouement to the election, I wanted to post a couple of surveys that I took that were sent to me by Sean Scallon, editor of the Tri-County Area Times (formerly called the “Augusta Area Times” before being eaten up by a larger company). Below are my answers to their survey questions. I wanted to be sure that I had them available on my site, as other sites and pages have a tendency to “disappear” given enough time.
Why do you want to serve on the village board?
As a member of the Fall Creek community for a little over a decade now, this place has become my home. I grew up as a Navy brat, moving from place to place, never staying in one place for more than maybe 4 years at a time. I’d been looking for a true home my entire adult life. When I got here, to this community, and found my wonderful wife Rebecca, and looked around… I knew that this was home. And I want to try to help make it the best possible place to be. For myself, my wife, my kids, and for all of my fellow Crickets. It’s as simple as that.
With gas prices high and looking to stay that way for the foreseeable future, is the moment for Fall Creek to try and bring businesses to town like a grocery store or restaurant or others that would save drivers from trips to Eau Claire or Altoona and how should the village go about to attract such businesses?
Well, first of all, we have to reduce barriers to entry in the community. We need to take a good, hard look at our bylaws and ordinances, and ask ourselves if they are really necessary. A business will be less reluctant to move into the community, if they have to go through pages and pages of what are sometimes very archaic and silly rules. For one example, the entirety of section 6.1.6., “Animals, fowl and insects not permitted in the village.” would seemingly preclude most any kind of pet store that would attempt to sell anything beyond a typical dog or cat. No local exotic pet stores allowed in Fall Creek. We have to remove these kinds of barriers to entry. It’ll make it substantially easier for businesses that want to come into the Village to have a chance.
Another issue that’s come to my mind is that some local business owners feel that they have a lack of say or a vote when it comes to village matters, even though they are working to help build the community in their own ways. For one specific example, Kristi LaRosa of Kristi’s Sweets and Treats, a store which has become not only successful locally, but has also become something of a renowned institution. She has stated that even though she owns her business and her building, she cannot vote in elections in Fall Creek and she has no voice at all in the running of the Village, because her home of residence isn’t here. Yet, she provides so much to this community. She provides a gathering place for family and friends to meet, as well as a great place for lunch and sweets! We should be able to rectify such a situation as this, and give business owners the CHOICE over which district they vote in. Not allowing them to vote in more than one, mind you, but letting them choose where they want to voice their opinions, in all of the communities where they have a stake. As it stands right now, she has no chance to speak with her vote when it comes to decisions that the Village Board makes that might affect her business and livelihood. That’s just one example, I’m sure there are many more.
What are some upcoming challenges the village faces and what’s your plan for meeting them?
In the last few years, I’ve been blessed to be able to travel across Wisconsin with my family through areas such as Rice Lake, Spooner, Ashland, Bayfield, Eagle River, and more. And through those travels, I’ve seen the results of rural decline, and it’s not pretty. Communities eviscerated by the consolidation of family farms into corporate farms. Small Towns that dwindle when the factories closed and production moved elsewhere. The slow decay of abandoned buildings, barns, and sheds all over our great state. It’s truly disheartening. Fall Creek, as a small village, may also potentially fall victim to this. I believe, given enough time, it is inevitable if nothing is done about it. We need to do what we can to promote the prosperity of the Village and make it attractive, especially to young people, so that they want to stay after they graduate, and to draw young people from other places as well.
That includes, but is not limited to – increasing our standards at the schools, seeking out and communicating with regional entrepreneurs that wish to create new small start-up businesses, and developing further our recreational resources. We have a lot of beautiful outside space (such as the trail at Keller Park) that have seemingly not been updated or maintained in years from the looks of them. On top of that, we live in part of the world where it’s seemingly winter for nearly half the year and people don’t want to go out – yet we have no multipurpose functional indoor recreation center (not a gym) open to the public, where the public can get together and have fun with each other away from the bitter cold. These things are all within our capability and within our grasp, we just have to be willing to put forth the effort. I hope to be able to help push for these kinds of reforms.
Why do you want to serve on the school board?
I have two children in the Fall Creek School district, my twins Abby and Will, who are in the second grade. I’m running, simply, because I want the best for them. But not only for them. For all of the children of the Fall Creek School District. Our children deserve the best. Our children are our future. What we do now, today, will affect their lives and the future of our community for generations to come. Every little decision will have a big impact on hundreds of lives going forward. I originally put my hat into the ring because I wanted to have a bigger voice, and be a better advocate for my children’s education. But then I found more reasons to get onto the board.
You can find on my website, http://www.bennettforoffice.org, the District’s and the Schools’ numbers for the last five school years that we have data for, along with links directly to the DPI website if someone doesn’t trust the numbers I provide and wants to pull them themselves. After looking at the numbers from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, I was surprised to see that, on paper at least, the Fall Creek School District does not in fact have the results that show that they are a fantastic school district, as public reputation and opinion seem to suggest. These numbers, this objective data, shows that Fall Creek is not in fact a top tier school district like we’ve all been lead to believe. It’s a “middling” school district in terms of actual results. This was again surprising and concerning to me.
We can have all the “good feelings” that we want about how we FEEL about our school, but will those good feelings help our children to be educated? Will those good feelings help them to prosper in the future? They will not. We need to take a serious look at these performance metrics, and at the inner working of the school district itself, find the “pain points”, and fix them.
What should be the district’s policies on COVID-19 or any other kind of pandemic for the future?
I am, politically and personally, a conservative libertarian. I truly believe that the government’s primary role should be to protect its citizenry from harm from others who attempt to violate their God-given rights. As Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence, we “derive rights inherent & inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, & liberty, & the pursuit of happiness”. That should be the single role of our government, to preserve those rights. And the ORDER of those rights is no accident. For you cannot have The Pursuit of Happiness without Liberty, and you cannot have Liberty without Life. That, as framed by the founders of our Constitution, are the order and importance of each of these rights, and the order in which they should be considered. A global pandemic is an extraordinary and rare event. The last time that we had a global pandemic of this magnitude was the 1918 Spanish Flu, which killed anywhere from 17 to 100 million people, making it the second most deadly pandemic in human history next to the bubonic plague of the Middle Ages. COVID so far has killed anywhere from 6 to 24 million people worldwide.
Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. Life should be preserved above Liberty, and Liberty above the Pursuit of Happiness. Death is the ultimate negator of every one of those rights. The District’s policies should reflect this. While I do not believe in vaccine mandates, as those are a violation of a person’s bodily autonomy, I do however believe in mask mandates, for one simple reason. “Your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins”. Your right to expel potentially deadly microbes through the air ends where my breathing space begins, it’s as simple as that. A person should not be permitted to cause harm to another person, that’s the one basic role of government, to prevent that.
I believe in Truth, and I believe in Science. The science has shown us that masks provably reduce (but do not completely prevent, mind you) contagion by the simple matter of blocking or reducing the number of water particulates from exiting them. Other barriers as well, such as distance and plexiglass, also help prevent the spread of those same particulates. So yes, I believe in mask mandates. However, I do NOT believe in living in a permanent state of fear. We must use statistical analysis and modern contagion modeling to determine the course and spread of disease, and adjust our measures accordingly. Mask mandates should only be in place when there is a very good risk of spreading something as extraordinary as a deadly pandemic further. When that pandemic has finally become manageably endemic, and natural immunity and vaccination rates are high enough, then those mandates can and should be dropped as soon as it’s been determined safe to do so. And who should make that call? In my opinion, the CDC. These are intelligent people who have spent a lifetime learning about, and whose entire JOBS are to study disease and its spread. If you’re not going to believe and trust in them to do their jobs properly, are you going to believe and trust in other media personalities that have far less expertise in such matters? I feel that it would be foolish to do so.
What are some upcoming challenges the district faces and what’s your plan for meeting them?
The primary challenge facing not just our district, but many others in Wisconsin, is rural decline, which is a very real phenomenon. Children who grow up in rural areas are much more likely to leave their home town than those in urban areas. While Fall Creek may be partly sheltered from this effect with its proximity to Altoona and Eau Claire (as the statistical data from the Census Bureau shows), it is in fact a very real danger lurking around the corner. The only way that we can prevent this kind of decline, is by providing things that the big cities can’t – a personal touch, a dedication to academic excellence, and the ability to adapt quickly to individual student needs. These are the kinds of things that you can’t get in the larger cities and towns. But in the Village of Fall Creek, with the student population size that we have? This is absolutely possible.
Our teachers are working hard to do their best in educating our children. We just need to ensure that they are getting the right resources that they need in the right places. And seeing many asks from our teachers for additional funds on the DonorsChoose website? I’ve donated to a few of them myself, but the NEED for them to me is indicative of the district failing to meet their teacher’s needs. And if the teacher’s needs aren’t being met, then the student’s needs certainly aren’t. I hope to be able to change that, and to help funnel resources in the right way, in the right places. For example, on the site at the moment I type this teachers have stated that they need more library materials for their classes, curricular materials to help our children learn how to read, and one teacher needed new kitchen and market play sets to help teach young children about those functions in our community. These are important projects, which should be funded by the district. That they are not, means that there is an issue with how we are managing our budget. I’d like to get in there and try to fix that, putting academics and learning first before all other things.
I’ve just added an events calendar to the site, so that I (and others that are curious) can keep track of all of the School and Village Board meetings.
You can find it as the first link at the top of the page, or you can bookmark this link:
Good evening, everyone. Below are the unofficial results of today’s election, as per the Eau Claire County Clerk’s website:
I would like to congratulate Ms. Kaatz, Messrs. Aylesworth, Goodman, and Wright for their victories.
The Mistakes I’ve Made
I started this journey only about six months ago, and while the results were surprising to me, considering the effort I tried to put into it, they were not surprising to my wonderful wife Rebecca. She, having grown up in a small village in rural Wisconsin that’s roughly a quarter of the size of Fall Creek, told me that I’d gone about the process the wrong way.
I had assumed that in the 21st Century, all that was necessary for a successful venture of this nature was for me to push out as much information about myself to the public. Once people knew about me, read my words, saw how I thought, I thought that would be enough. I was apparently wrong. What I did was not enough.
My dear Rebecca explained to me that in a small town, it’s the PERSONAL touch and the personal relationships that you build that make the most difference. Considering the fact that the number of votes I received for the Village Board roughly matches the number of people I met and talked to in person? I suspect strongly that she’s right.
My Attempted Remedy
So, my fellow citizens, I wish to let you know that this is not the end, but just the beginning. I’ve built a life here in our Village, and intend my children to do the same. If it takes me going door to door over the next few years talking one on one with the 1200+ residents of our Village to make a difference… well then, that’s just what I’m going to do.
But, not just that. I’ll still be maintaining this site. I’ll still be updating it with my thoughts, and any information of relevance that I can find. I believe in full and complete transparency. The more we know, the better. This is my true belief.
As such, while both the Village Board meetings and the School Board meetings are open to the public by law, it is fairly inconvenient in this modern era for most citizens to find the time to bring themselves physically to these meetings on a regular basis. It is also inconvenient to do so on the schedule of those boards. And although the Village Board attempts to alleviate this a bit by providing a Zoom meeting to the public, it is by way of a non-clickable URL in a PDF document, which is a hindrance to those that are less “tech savvy”. The School Board, as far as I’m aware, doesn’t currently provide any such Zoom meetings or videos that I’m aware of, at all. All that we are left with are fairly vague minutes, that are pretty barebones, in my opinion.
So, I’ll also be visiting every Village Board and School Board meeting that I can make it to, and, as per Statute 19.90 of Wisconsin’s open meetings law, I will be bringing a video recording device, recording the open portions of the meetings, and publishing them here publicly, on this website, as well as providing my own thoughts and opinions on the proceedings.
Thus, I will be bringing those meetings to YOU, on your own time, to view at your leisure. At least until the boards decide to start doing so themselves.
It is my hopes that by bringing this information to you, we’ll all be more well informed.
Anyone that wishes to is of course free to contact me about any of this. My phone, e-mail address, and even home address are provided on this site. I wish to hear from all of you.
I’m not going anywhere. I’ve only just begun to involve myself in the affairs of our village. I hope to see each and every one of you, soon. I’m in this for the long haul, that’s a promise.