The Chippewa Falls School District may not have managed to pass two multi-million-dollar referendums in 2016, but its emphasis on helping students plan future careers won praise from Wisconsin’s top education official on Wednesday evening.
Tony Evers, Wisconsin Superintendent of Public Instruction, spoke to a crowd of Chippewa County teachers and retired educators at the Heyde Center for the Arts.
The American Association of University Women (AAUW), that invited Evers to speak in Chippewa Falls, invited the superintendent before he announced his run for Wisconsin governor as a Democrat in 2018. “This is not a campaign stop,” AAUW member Arlene Wright said Wednesday.
Evers began the evening with a call for bipartisan support for public schools – and praised Wisconsin’s recent record of passing school district referendums.
“If you look at the last three elections in the state, over a million people voted to increase taxes on themselves to support their public schools,” Evers said. “Of those million people, I guarantee almost half were Republicans and half were Democrats. It’s close. What that tells me is, public education in the state has managed to thread the needle.”
Chippewa Falls was not one of the Wisconsin districts that successfully passed recent referendums. In November 2016, the community voted down two referendums that would have replaced Stillson Elementary and Chippewa Falls Senior High School. The Chippewa Falls School Board is currently conducting a survey to gauge community support for potential future referendums.
Hard to find
Peggy Nehring, a former McDonell Central Catholic High School teacher, asked Evers how to promote the teaching profession. Evers agreed that teachers are becoming harder to find, especially for rural districts. “There was a time when it was a revered profession, but it’s been a while,” he said.
He concluded that communities need to speak to their representatives to emphasize the importance of teachers – but also that a big part of the problem begins at college.
“Funding is a huge issue,” he said. “In many cases, higher education leaders think education courses are a good golden calf. They have a low cost, compared to, say, engineering. I think we need to work at the higher education level to make people understand how important (teaching) is to a city’s economy.”
Evers admitted fighting the educator shortage is a slow battle. “It’s going to be tough. It’s going to take some time.”
Career planning a hit
Evers also praised the Academic and Career Planning initiative (ACP), which helps students experiment with potential careers.
On the local level, Chippewa Falls has taken the program seriously. School District Superintendent Heidi Eliopoulos explained on September 19: “All nine of our schools have some level of academic career planning… students start at late elementary, 4th and 5th grade, where they start to explore what types of careers are out there. In middle school they…start to do research on a career field that peaks their interest.”
In high school, students start to think about the workplace, Eliopoulos said. Chippewa Falls Senior High School offers “deeper electives,” multi-tiered classes in subjects such as engineering and the opportunity for students to earn college credits in advanced high school classes.