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Collegiate connections: CVTC expands higher education options

After bells ring out at Cadott High School one Friday morning in February, juniors and seniors begin to file into Shari Gunderson’s classroom. Students with gold and black T-shirts and piles of books make their way through rows of desktop computers, as a mid-morning announcements call for a student to come to the office and confirms the JV girls basketball game.

It’s a typical scene that can be found in any high school classroom, yet unlike similar scenarios, these students are earning more than credit toward their high school diploma.

They’re meeting college requirements.

In Gunderson’s financial security course at Cadott High School, students are taking the equivalency of Chippewa Valley Technical College’s personal financial planning, and, provided they earn a C or better in the course, students will have earned credits at CVTC that could be transferable to other colleges and universities.

This transcripted credit class is just one option for high school students beginning their higher education pursuits in the Chippewa Valley. With new partnerships within the University of Wisconsin System and continued higher education opportunities for the high school students through CVTC, options for local students continue to evolve.

Local flavor

That same Friday morning, after learning about apartments, leases and respective rights for landlords and tenants, Gunderson’s students checked investments they had made a week ago.

Playing the students’ “aunt,” Gunderson pretends to give each student $10,000 to invest in the market, encouraging them to research and invest in three stocks for a friendly competition.

Long-term money management, housing options, estate planning, insurance and investments in the stock market are just a few of the topics Gunderson will teach her students as the school year progresses. It’s all part of Gunderson introducing the students to the responsibility of their finances, while also meeting CVTC requirements by bringing topics to a high school level.

For example, when it comes to insurance, Gunderson is going to have her students take inventory of everything in their room, adapting a lesson from the CVTC course to a high school student’s perspective.

But this doesn’t make the courses “easy.”

Students are expected to grasp, pass and understand the college level material, which Gunderson said she has coordinated with CVTC and its requirements. Textbooks used at the high school level are also the same as those used at the college, Gunderson said.

Ultimately, Gunderson said, it’s an introduction to life.

“…expenses, saving money and earning credit is huge, but for my area, putting reality in front of them, that’s just icing on the cake,” said Gunderson, who has worked with CVTC for about 20 years and taught in Cadott for 32 years.

Options for college credit like Gunderson’s course are highly encouraged by Kristel Tavare, K-12 Relations Coordinator at CVTC. On a daily basis, Tavare’s role and tasks can change. She often coordinates with high school partners to help with dual credit opportunities for students.

Last year, Tavare said, CVTC had 37 high schools participate in transcripted credit courses, with 2,848 students and 7,140 credits. This saved students nearly $944,000, Tavare said.

This year, those numbers are poised to increase again, according to CVTC’s numbers. The school’s course offerings have also more than doubled from 98 in 2014 to 262 in 2018.

The offering is free to students, poses a low risk regardless of grade and stays with them throughout their higher education journey, provided the colleges offer the same credit, Tavare said.

“I see transcripted credit as a great way to explore a variety of career paths,” Tavare said. “They can take these transcripted career opportunities free of charge and really at no risk. If they earn below a C, it’s not really going to affect their grade.”

The students in Gunderson’s class agree.

Taking financial security was an easy decision for Rediet Roth, 17, a junior at Cadott.

“You get college credit and save money,” Roth said, adding that she believes these courses give an introduction to reality outside of high school.

Roth, who was never interested in business, now wants to work in management and likes the idea of CVTC’s short college plan versus a four-year trajectory. Some of her peers were interested in the adventure of four-year institutions, into which credits earned in any of the transcripted credit courses offered at Cadott High School could be transferred.

As for students nervous about taking college courses in high school, Roth had a simple piece of advice: “Don’t be.”

Senior Brady Carrell, 18, added that he felt comfortable in Gunderson’s class because he knows her and his peers. Carrell said taking a college course while still in high school can help students feel comfortable while learning harder material.

Other students said the financial course specifically is helping prepare them for hard decisions later on, while others said transcripted credit courses are typically taught in a way where teachers respond to students’ maturity.

Yet, transcripted credit is just one piece of the higher education puzzle for high school students, Tavare said.

A smorgasboard of choices

Other options include Start College Now, where students in area schools take actual college courses, and academies within the high schools.

Thirteen high school academies in fall 2017 offered students another jump start on their education with a series of transcripted credit offerings. In both programs, the school district bears the cost of tuition for students, Tavare said.

The academies run the gamut: gealthcare, welding, machine tool and information technology, Tavare said. At River Falls High School, Tavare said seniors within the Business Management Academy will graduate with both an associate’s degree and a high school diploma.

With CVTC’s partnerships with UW-Stout and UW-River Falls, those students would be able to springboard into their education at four-year schools, Tavare said.

As a former K-12 transcripted credit teacher, Tavare worked with UW universities and other colleges to introduce her students to higher education. High school students’ success in college courses isn’t something people should be shocked at, Tavare said.

“I had freshmen sitting in my classroom who were fully competent. We can’t judge students based on their grade level,” Taver said, later adding. “[I] saw students who took my class and realized they had an opportunity… It allows an open access for every single student to have college success.”

“Collegiate connections: CVTC expands higher education options” is the first part of a Herald series examining higher education within and around Chippewa County. The series’ second part, dealing with a recent merge of several University of Wisconsin colleges, can be found in the Herald’s Monday, Feb. 12 edition or at on Monday.

Study: Mississippi River shutdown could cost millions, increase truck traffic

LA CROSSE — A new study suggests the failure of any one of 25 aging locks on the upper Mississippi River could result in nearly half a million truckloads of freight on highways between the Twin Cities and St. Louis.

University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers estimate that a shutdown of the river at Hannibal, Mo., would require more than 12 million tons of grain during a nine-month shipping season to be moved by truck, costing hundreds of millions of dollars and damaging already stressed roads.

The vast majority of these shipments would travel through southern Minnesota and Iowa, while a smaller amount would move through Wisconsin and Illinois, according to the study, causing nearly $29 million in pavement damage.

The study was funded by the 10 states of the Mid-America Freight Coalition, an organization dedicated to planning, operating and improving transportation infrastructure in the Midwest.

“We’re talking about a system,” said Ernest Perry, manager of the coalition and the lead researcher on the study. “If we don’t take care of this one part of the system it’s going to negatively impact another part of the system.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has estimated the backlogged maintenance costs for locks and dams of the Mississippi and Illinois rivers is more than $1 billion. Mostly built in the 1930s, many of the locks have reached the end of their service lives, and the inland waterway system has earned a D-minus from the American Society of Civil Engineers.

The lock and dams between Winona and La Crosse are more than 80 years old.

Bryan Peterson, navigation business line manager for the St. Paul District, said the Corps has been working in recent years to address maintenance issues as the budget allows.

“We definitely have needs,” he said. “I think we’re maintaining them well enough until we can fill those needs.”

Peterson said over the past five years the river has been open about 99 percent of the time, with most closures resulting from vessels hitting the gates rather than mechanical failure.

“It’s always a potential,” he said. “It’s a pretty good record, but there’s always that risk.”

In the event of a river closure, the study estimates, about 1.4 million tons would originate from Winona and nearly 500,000 from La Crosse, which would result in more than 190 trucks per day traveling through Wisconsin on Interstate 90.

Nearly 5.8 million tons coming from the Twin Cities and Red Wing would result in nearly 600 more trucks per day on Highway 52 through southern Minnesota and into Iowa.

Researchers have previously assumed railroads would absorb most of the displaced shipments during a river shutdown. The study looked at scenarios in which trucking picks up 75 to 100 percent of the load. While it’s likely that more volume would move by rail, Perry said, states were interested in seeing the impact on roads.

One 15-barge tow carries the equivalent of about two trains or more than 1,000 trucks.

The study also focused only on agricultural products, though such products made up less than 30 percent of the total river volume in 2016, according to Corps data.

“There’s stuff moving north as well,” Perry noted.

Perry estimates the total costs of a season-long shutdown would be about $319.6 million, including the social costs of additional carbon dioxide emissions. The costs with failures in following years, he said, could begin to approach the $1 billion in deferred maintenance on the river.

“Everybody knows it’s an issue,” Perry said. “If we don’t take care of this one part of the system it’s going to negatively impact another part of the system.”

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The other side of the desk: New city planner has hyper-local experience

Community development specialist Brad Hentschel has watched downtown Chippewa Falls change shape. From the steady march of Riverfront Park construction to the redesign of the downtown area’s entrance, he’s worked for engineering firm SEH to consult on several high-profile city projects, roughly over the last ten years.

That’s why he decided to apply for the position of city planner, Hentschel said: “It’s kind of a natural fit.”

The city announced Tuesday that Hentschel would take over the desk of recently-retired, longtime city planner Jayson Smith. He may begin within weeks, Chippewa Falls mayor Greg Hoffman said Tuesday.

“I get to see some of the projects we designed … get implemented,” Hentschel said of the job change. “It’s rewarding to be able to see a community implement logical plans and be able to proceed with attracting growth.”

That growth — specifically the redevelopment of River Street and the development of the Spring Street and Bridge Street areas — are projects he’s looking forward to following through on, this time as a city employee.

But Hentschel cited one project as a main driver of the city’s economy: Riverfront Park.

“It’s been a catalyst for the entire downtown redevelopment,” he said. “People are excited to be in Chippewa Falls, businesses are excited and the vacancy rate for downtown businesses is very small. That creates a buzz.”

In his next role, he plans to emphasize the relationship between Chippewa Falls businesses and the broader community.

“That’ll be a very large point of emphasis,” he said. “Making sure our current businesses are engaged … and that we can still offer attractive options to retain and attract new businesses.”

Hentschel’s plate might be full in 2019. In late 2017, the city council voted to move transit manager duties — which include administering the city’s Shared Ride Taxi program — to the West Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission. The program was previously overseen by former planner Smith. But Hentschel may take over transit manager duties after the WCWRPC’s one-year contract is up.

“As long as it’s feasible and everybody agrees, I intend to work alongside (the commission) as they work through this year, and we’ll do an evaluation at the end of the year if that’s something to bring back in house,” he said.

Hentschel completed his undergraduate studies at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wis. and has master’s degrees in urban planning and public administration from UW-Milwaukee. He lives in the Chippewa Falls area with his wife Kristin and two children, six-year-old Shelby and two-year-old Ethan.

“I think it’ll be a good fit, a good opportunity to continue the progressive stance of the city within the region,” he said.

Former Chippewa County prosecutor discusses Eagle Point case on Megyn Kelly TODAY

A former Chippewa County District Attorney appeared on Megyn Kelly TODAY Friday morning, discussing the connection between a murder case from the Town of Eagle Point in 2000 and a double homicide in Florida.

Discussing his experiences with the Eagle Point case as a prosecutor in Chippewa County, Eau Claire County Judge Jon Theisen appeared with Chief Deputy Gary Brannen of Sumter County, Florida and 21-year-old Paige Ruiz, who as a three-year-old witnessed the Florida homicide of her 71-year-old grandmother Margarita Ruiz and aunt Hope Wells.

The connection between the two cases was featured in Investigation Discovery’s documentary “True Convictions” in early 2018.

In Friday’s clips, Theisen discussed the process of his attempt to convict Bill Paul Marquardt in 2000 for the murder of his mother, Mary Jane Marquardt in 2000 in the town of Eagle Point. He was eventually acquitted of the murder of his mother.

“First of all, I’m going to take full responsibility for losing the case, the search warrant, there were other issues, but it was my fault,” Theisen said to Kelly in Friday’s interview. “So, yeah, I feel guilty. I feel terrible. I let my community down, I feel for the people who had elected me, my family, and also I was probably a little bit concerned that my job was in jeopardy.”

Theisen then went on to discuss his search to find the two familial-related women whose DNA was found on a knife—a knife that also had Mary Jane Marquardt and Bill Paul Marquardt’s DNA on it and how that led him to the case in Florida.

Bill Paul Marquardt, now 42, was convicted of the two murders and is on Florida’s death row.

A Megan Kelly TODAY clip showing Theisen’s interview can be found online at