Friday, March 18, 2016

News and Notes: Volume 2, Number 24

$5 Million in Taxpayers' Savings Thanks to Successful Bond Refunding
I get excited about all the great things going on in our district and look forward to sharing them with you each week. This week in particular included National Honor Society inductions, the annual Lasagna Dinner fundraiser, a book drive for Flint residents, and the list goes on. It is a constant reminder that our schools are loaded with outstanding people.

Our district office has some good people, too. In fact, I am proud to share with our community that we have completely refinanced all 2005 and 2006 bonds, resulting in saving our taxpayers approximately $5 million.

After much collaboration with our financial and legal advisers, the WLPS Business Office, led by our Director of Business and Operations, Denise Kerrigan, began exploring refinancing bonds late last year. These bonds were originally sold in order to finance our new high school and make upgrades to existing buildings. The WLPS Board was extremely supportive and demonstrated strong financial leadership throughout the process. And at the end of the last school year, the WLPS Board approved refunding a portion of those bonds, amounting to approximately $3.5 million in taxpayers' savings. This was great news for our district's residents.

Refinancing has been looked at a couple of times in the past, but the market and financial status of the district were not in a good enough position for the time to be right. Thanks to successfully increasing our fund balance this year, our credit quality improved (as rated by Standard & Poor's), and it made sense to move forward with a complete refinance of all bonds. By refunding the remaining bonds, an additional $1.5 million in savings was realized. That means, in combination with the efforts last year, we have saved our taxpayers approximately $5 million over the lifetime of the bonds!

We value and recognize the continued support our community gives WLPS and take the responsibility of being good stewards of our tax payers' dollars very seriously, as I know our efforts here demonstrate.  

I'm sure we all would agree, it's a great day to be a Trojan!

MAP to Khan Academy: Adding Up to Personalized Education
Last week our WLHS Algebra 1 class experienced how technology in our classrooms, when used effectively, helps further our goal of providing exceptional, personalized education.

Teachers Mr. O'Connell and Ms. Gordon gave each student a copy of her or his fall MAP math test scores and a document called "MAP to Khan Academy." This document gave students access to her or his individual scores related to Geometry, Operations and Algebraic Thinking, Statistics and Probability and the Real and Complex Number System. Based on their score (referred to as RIT in school -lingo) for each topic, students were given access to online learning tools, including videos and activities on Khan Academy specific for their learning level in that topic. For example, say a student received a low score on congruent angles. He/she is given specific activities to complete to help gain a better understanding of the fundamentals which can be done at her or his own pace, with immediate feedback, in class or at home. Even if a student continues to struggle during the activity, the program provides hints, showing him/her a step-by-step process to solving the problem at hand, helping the students grasp the content from start to finish, never leaving them behind.

For our 7th and 8th graders who are taking their MAP tests this week, these timely practice sessions could prove extremely beneficial in improving their test scores. Improving their competency of math fundamentals, our 9th graders, who will be taking the PSAT when we return from Spring Break, will also benefit. And it doesn't end there. On the district-level, being able to compare last year's test scores to this year's test scores will provide excellent feedback to our teaching staff on how beneficial activities like this are for our students.

Typically, after a test is given, a teacher finds a common area of weakness that is reflected in the majority of classes. Reviews and lessons are then based on those results. Given the individualized nature of using the technology-based tools to really hone in on specific areas of improvement for each individual student all at once, our staff is confident the results will be positive. 

 "This activity allows the student to really individualize his or her learning. The MAP assesses students overall math knowledge, not just focusing on one class such as algebra or geometry. Though the lessons are based on standardized test scores, giving students the opportunity to work on a plan aimed at improving their specific level of knowledge will have long-term benefits, breaking down the fear that we are just teaching to the test," said Gordon.

"Our goal at WLHS is to build a strong base of math fundamentals that will benefit our students' future math classes at WLHS and beyond," Gordon added.

Khan Academy isn't just limited to math. It isn't just limited to the secondary level, and it isn't just limited to the classroom. It is one of those free online learning tools that can be personalized so learners can study at their own pace at school and at home in a variety of subjects. They cover subjects including science, computer programming, history, art history, economics and more for grades kindergarten through twelfth.

For more information on Khan Academy check out their website here:

WLES is Wild about Reading!
Each year, schools across the country find creative and fun ways to motivate students to read every day of the year. And each year, our staff at WLES up the ante. This year, WLES is "Wild About Reading." So wild in fact that each grade level has been transformed into different "biomes", from a swamp, to the arctic, to a rainforest and more. (Who needs Spring Break? Just head to the hallway for a little get-away.)

To give you a snapshot of the cool things our students are doing, just this month they participated in a school-wide read-in where they gathered in the hallway in their pajamas with their favorite stuffed animal, animal crackers and a book in hand to spend some time reading. Last week they met Miss Michigan, Emily Kieliszewski, who read them a story from her favorite children's author, Robert Munsch, and answered their questions which included her favorite color, month, season, dog and if she had a Valentine. (Thanks to our local PS Food Mart/CITGO station who sponsored the event.)

If that wasn't enough, students also met Michigan children's author/illustrator, Lori Taylor, known for her Michigan-inspired books Let Sleeping Bear Dunes Lie and Bamboozled on Beaver Island. During both the K-2 and 3-6 assemblies, which were sponsored by our WLES PTA, Taylor spoke to students about nature, giving them tips and tricks to deciphering animal tracks, eggs and droppings, and discussed how she was able to integrate her love of nature into her writing and art.

Despite two snow days trying to foil the event, Family Literacy Night earlier this month was a huge success. Between the Girl Scout Taste of Nations, readings by our teachers and the demonstrations of our 1st and 2nd grade Project Based Learning projects, it captured the thriving environment that is WLES perfectly. If you didn't make it to the event, check out the PowerPoint on the first graders’ project
HERE. It is a cool combination of community involvement, teamwork and use of technology to learn about a topic from all angles.

In addition to providing activities to benefit our own students, our students and staff are reaching beyond the Whitmore Lake borders with a book drive to support the children in Flint affected by lead poisoning. Details are available
HERE. If you would like to support this program, sponsored by the WLES Builder's Club, our elementary-aged service organization, you can drop off gently-used or new books to both the WLES and WLHS buildings until April 1. They have already collected nearly 700 books! 

For the rest of the month, our students can look forward to a visit from Mother Goose, among other special guests, and Listening Friends Day where community members will come listen to WLES students read to them. Thanks to support from the WLES PTA, the month will wrap up with an Animal Magic assembly on March 31. Everyone is pretty excited about their visit as they were voted Nickelodeon's “Entertainer of the Year”. The festivities will end with the closing assembly on April 1, where students can look forward to celebrating meeting our school-wide goal, drawings for prizes, and presenting the United Way with all the books collected in our district-wide book drive to celebrate another successful “March is Reading Month” in the books...pun intended.

I want to thank the entire WLES staff for their efforts, especially the committee in charge of coordinating it all which includes Aimee Taylor, Tracy Carbary, Lisa Shanks, Heidi Roy-Borland, Deb Moran, Jane Hill, Andrew Gustafson, Sue Wanamaker and Pam Blount.

I also want to encourage all our parents, grandparents, any family member to soak in just an ounce of the excitement our students ooze for reading during this month to help reignite your own love for reading year-round. 

Enjoy some pictures highlighting the activities thus far below.

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