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Thursday, August 18, 2016

Questions About the November 8 Referendum

Why is the school district focused on facility needs at our high school?
In 2011, the school district completed a comprehensive analysis of all district facilities.  The analysis identified tier one, two, and three needs throughout the school district.  Tier one needs spanned all schools and totaled $10 million.  These needs were addressed since the study was completed, leaving tier one needs remaining at the high school.  The school district made the decision in 2014 to complete a comprehensive analysis of tier one needs at our high school.  The district is now focused on how to address the substantial needs at our high school.  Both the 2011 and 2014 studies are located on our website.  

Will other schools receive facility upgrades from a successful referendum?
In 2014, the school district completed a safety audit of all schools in the district.   All schools need upgraded entrance systems that meet 2016 safety standards.  Our school entrances are currently not safe.  Consistent with 2016 standards, safe-school entrances allow building staff to “buzz” a visitor into a secure-office area, complete a background check, and then allow the visitor access to the rest of the school.  The school district’s community survey shows more than 85% of responding citizens support safety renovations.    

Why isn’t the school board recommending building a new high school?
The comprehensive cost of a new high school built to serve 1,100 students is in excess of $110 million dollars.  Current needs at our high school equal $48 to $50 million.  There is approximately $60 to $70 million of structural value in our current school.  Our high school is land rich and is conveniently located near a major highway.  The architectural and construction firms the school district has contracted with do not recommend building a new school.  

Will the district propose a “quick fix” or address all needs at the high school?
Ultimately, the community will decide the level of investment that is made in our current high school.  The community survey results show that 68% of respondents support a comprehensive solution to our high-school facility needs.  The referendum question posed to voters on November 8 will address all high-school facility needs and safety-and-security needs across all schools.  The solution the school board is proposing to the the community represents a long-term (25-30 years) solution to our high school facility needs.

How can the public give input?
There are a variety of methods for community members to provide input.  The school district is seeking input through community tours of the high school on August 8 at 6:00 p.m.; September 6 at 6:00 p.m.; October 3 at 6:00 p.m.; October 10 at 10:00 a.m.; and November 1 at 6:00 p.m.  The school district will host a call-in radio show on WBEV at 11:10 on August 23, September 27, and October 25.  The school board hosts a drop-in coffee discussion at Edith’s Cafe the second Thursday morning of each month from 7:30 am to 8:30 am.  The district answers all questions presented on the district’s Facebook page or Twitter account.  Lastly, the school district’s website has an open-comment and question page under the facilities tab that offers anyone in the community opportunity to ask questions or give input.

How old is the high school?
Our current high school was built in 1958 to house 800 students and approximately 85 staff.  The building currently holds 1,100 students and 110 staff members.  The technology-education wing was built in 1976.

Will the district remove all asbestos from the school as part of a major project?
Yes.  Plans to abate all asbestos is included in the proposal of the extensive renovation of the high school.

Is the school district currently working with MPTC, and how can they help with our needs?
MPTC and BDUSD have an excellent working relationship.  Superintendent Steve Vessey meets with representatives from MPTC no less than four times a year.  BDHS offers more than 15 courses where students can earn both high-school and MPTC credit for their work.  On average, more than twenty high-school students spend a portion of their school day at MPTC.  

What was the process the school district used to decide a referendum is needed and for what amount?
Over the course of the 2015-2016 school year, the school board and administration shared information and listened to input regarding whether a referendum is needed to address facility needs at the high school and safety-and-security needs at all buildings in the school district.  A community survey was distributed in May 2015 to all residents of the school district  asking residents if they support a referendum.  The results of the survey shows 73% of all residents approve pursuing a referendum and 68% of residents support a $48.9 million referendum to address high-school and safety-and-security needs.  The board unanimously voted to move to referendum on November 8, based on input from Beaver Dam citizens and the results of the community survey.

How does our high school compare to other area high schools?
BDHS does not compare well with area high schools. BDHS is at a competitive disadvantage attracting students and families when comparing the following facilities:
  • Waupun High School is newly built
  • Dodgeland High School is newly built
  • Randolph High School is currently being built
  • Watertown High School is newly built
  • Ripon High School is newly renovated
  • Sun Prairie High School is newly built
  • Fond du Lac High School is newly built
  • Lomira High School is being built
  • Slinger High School is newly built
  • Oconomowoc High School is newly built

Why can’t the district pay for the facility needs at the high school within its current yearly budget?
Comprehensive needs at the high school exceed $40 million; this is more than the total budget for the school district.  While city, county, and state government can increase taxes for building needs, a school district cannot.  A school district can only present the public with a referendum to raise funds for major building projects.

What facility work has the district completed over the past five years?
The school district has completed more than $10 million of facility work since 2011, without asking taxpayers for more resources.
  • $3 million addition to Prairie View Elementary School when Trenton Elementary School closed.
  • $1 million electrical upgrade at the middle school.
  • $1 million rebuild of high-school science labs.
  • $2 million district-wide technology rebuild.
  • $3 million of upgrades to roofs, parking lots, classrooms, and heating-and-cooling systems throughout district schools.

Does the public have access to our high school for non-school related activities?
Our high school was utilized 360 of 365 days in 2015 by community groups for various reasons and activities.  Building use includes walking clubs, youth sports, community meetings, community trade shows, first responder training, etc.  Our high school is the most used public facility in the City of Beaver Dam. The proposed high school renovations will increase opportunities for public use of the facility.

How long will an extensive renovation of the high school take?  What impact from the construction will students experience?
A major renovation of the high school will take approximately 15 months, spanning two summers and one school year.  A successful November 2016 referendum would result in a completed high school by fall 2018.  Students would remain in the school during construction.  This is a common project in the State of Wisconsin.  This type of renovation is currently underway at Ripon High School by the construction firm that is consulting with BDUSD.  

What is the proposed completion date of the safety-and-security upgrades?
The project goal is to have major safety and security upgrades completed by September 1, 2017.

How do I know the school district is fiscally responsible?
BDUSD has the lowest tax mill rate in a five (5) county area and has the lowest spending per student in the county.  

How does the achievement of our students at BDHS compare to area high schools?
Beaver Dam High School has been recognized by U.S. News and World Report as one of the top high schools in the country (Silver Award Winner: top 10% of all high schools) in 2015 and 2016.  BDHS is an Advanced Placement Pacesetter School in the State of Wisconsin and a member of the 6th Annual Advanced Placement National Honor Roll.  BDHS has the highest ACT score (2015) in the area, outpacing Oconomowoc, Sun Prairie, Fond du Lac, and West Bend.  

Friday, July 29, 2016

2016-2017 Brings New Faces

The start of each school year brings new faces to our schools and changes to many of our school district’s processes and programs. The 2016-2017 school year in the Beaver Dam Unified School District (BDUSD) is no exception. As we prepare to start the new school year, we will welcome 35 new teachers and 5 new administrators to Beaver Dam. Students will be excited to see new technology in their classrooms as they return, and parents will be elated to realize that school-supply lists have been reduced at every level; saving parents an average of $30 per student on school supplies.

Beaver Dam High School (BDHS) will welcome Crystal Bates as the new principal. Ms. Bates previously served as the associate principal overseeing assessment and curriculum at BDHS. Long-time Beaver Dam teacher Peter Woreck will move from the classroom to the office as he fills the position vacated by Ms. Bates. Former BDHS Principal Mark DiStefano is enjoying his new role as the school district’s Director of Human Resources. Beaver Dam Middle School (BDMS) will welcome Andrew Christophersen as the associate principal. Mr. Christophersen comes to BDMS via the West Bend Area School District where he enjoyed time as a lead teacher. Dan Lueck will assume the principal duties at the Don Smith Learning Academy (DSLA). Mr. Lueck will continue to teach at DSLA as he splits time between the classroom and building leadership responsibilities. Paul Friedmann will also move from the classroom to the office as he assumes the role of Coordinator of District Technology. Mr. Friedemann has been a teacher leader at BDMS for more than 25 years.

Turning to technology, all BDMS students will receive a Chromebook computer at the start of the year to use throughout the school year. The students will take the device home each night with the responsibility for care of the device, much like the textbooks distributed each year. The only cost to parents is a $15 insurance fee that will cover normal-use problems. The insurance cost is balanced against a reduction in items on the start-of-the-year school-supply list, which averages a cost savings of $31 for each middle school student. This is an exciting change for our middle school, and one we have been planning for more than 15 months. If you have questions about this initiative, please contact BDMS Principal John Casper.

At BDUSD we simply cannot wait for our classrooms and hallways to fill with children and young adults again. The Beaver Dam Unified School District is an exciting place to learn and work. We will continue to work tirelessly each day to lead the way in student growth and achievement as we guide students and empower futures. Thank you for reading!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Avoiding Power Struggles with Students

As the weather warms and flowers bloom, we are reminded that summer break for students, families and school staff is right around the corner.  The closing days of school can present unique challenges for students, parents and school staff.  This is a good time of year to take a moment and reflect on the importance of avoiding power struggles with children and young adults.  The piece below was taken from the National Education Association's  website ( and is a quick read that reminds all of us about the Dos and Don'ts of avoiding power struggles with our students and children.  You will find additional resources at the end of the article if you would like to explore this topic in more detail.

“I hate you, and I hate this school!” This isn’t the reaction educators are looking for in the middle of class. But disruptive and confrontational students are sometimes an unavoidable challenge. If handled poorly, these confrontations can lead to power struggles – and more disruptions.
Fortunately, many educators have developed strategies for dealing with confrontational students. At the top of the list: “Never get into a power struggle,” says Mary Barela, a middle school teacher in Fort Collins, Colorado. “You are the adult and know better. If the conversation feels like it is slipping toward a power struggle, find a way to change the course.” 
That may feel like it is easier said than done, so we asked educators for their advice on defusing tense situations with students. Here's their list of  Dos and Don’ts.


Dr. Robert Feller from the University of Washington believes these hooks prevent potential disruptions and stimulate students’ minds so they focus on the upcoming lesson. Teachers can do anything from a simple science experiment to a game that connects students’ lives to the lesson.
“Attention grabbers may be used to provoke thought, facilitate active learning, or just share experiences, says retired teacher LaNelle Holland in Whitesburg, Georgia. “The teacher who asks challenging questions stimulates student interest. Empower your students by encouraging them to participate in activities of the whole group or in smaller groups.”

Problems at home or a difficult home life are often a reason for disruptive children. If you know where your students are coming from, you are in a better position to relate. Author and education researcher Dr. Elise Trumbull believes that a connection with students creates a level of respect and trust between students and the teachers. If teachers can start to understand students’ cultures better, a partnership can be formed between school and the home with the parents.
“Taking the time to learn about a child’s background can make the difference between compassion and callousness,” says retired teacher Diane Postman of Yorktown, Virginia. “Knowing a child is dealing with family issues or poverty can lead a teacher to make allowances or adaptations to help a struggling child succeed. This can ward off some behavioral problems and help the child to save face.”

When a disagreement or confrontation arises, show the student how to deal with it in a dignified manner and maintain the integrity of your classroom. Frank Iannucci, a math and computer science teacher from West Orange, New Jersey, says teachers should immediately stop the confrontation and arrange to discuss it with the student in a mature, adult manner, regardless of the age of the student, after the period. This demonstrates to students that fights can be stopped before they get out of hand.
Amy Van Wormer of St. Petersburg, Florida, agrees. “Respectfully remind them of why they are there, and continue with the lesson. If [the behavior] continues, request to meet [the student] privately outside of the class,” she says. “[Ask the student] to make the right choices and ask why they are having trouble doing the right thing.”

Never engage a student in front of classmates. It embarrasses the student in public, sends a message that you don’t care for the student’s feelings, and could potentially escalate the situation.
“Maintain control of your own actions and somehow find a way to give the disruptive student an ‘out’ so that he or she can back down without losing too much face,” says Barela. “Another option, if possible, is to remove the student from the learning environment so that the two of you can deal with the issue privately. Even taking a short walk out in the hall can do wonders for both of you.”



If you react to everything that goes on in a classroom, you’ll lose too much valuable teaching time. If the primary problem is one child’s behavior, you can talk to him or her in private, but as long as the student isn’t disrupting the class, it’s not worth stopping instruction to address a situation.
Linda Marino, a special education teacher in Mexico, New York, has one method to avoid power struggles. “I have certain students who love to instigate and distract each other, so I made distraction tickets. I give students a ticket when they ignore the negative behavior of another and do not let that student distract them. At the end of the day, we have a lottery drawing with the daily distraction tickets and the winner gets a special prize from me.” 

Keep your composure while dealing with students, because disruptive students will look for any opening to create chaos. You need to be a role model for students and show how to properly deal with an argument.
“Don't get ‘in their face’ and stay calm!” says Holland. “Also, don’t take it personally. Kids run rampant on emotions and if handled correctly, you can usually keep it under control.”

Fighting for the last word in an argument only prolongs the argument. Try to understand where the student is coming from, but don’t add more fuel to the fire by adding a quick jab at the end.
According to Christopher Perillo, a high school science teacher in Kenosha, Wisconsin, “Teachers who insist on having the last word are bringing themselves down to a juvenile level. Students will remember this and that teacher’s value will be diminished.”

It is much better to focus on what you don’t understand by using “I statements” and “feeling statements” rather than “you statements.” This will allow the student to explain instead of argue their point. It also allows the student to understand that the teacher isn’t trying to pin them into a corner or assess blame, but rather understand the student’s actions.
“We all can get angry at some point in our lives, but how we deal with it constructively is important,” says Patrice Palmer, a second-grade teacher in Las Vegas, Nevada. “Using ‘I’ messages and not ‘you, you, you’ messages is important because it doesn’t put someone on the defensive.”
Following these dos and don’ts should help you run a smoother classroom and allow students to be academically engaged instead of engaging in arguments.

The above article was taken from:  

Avoiding Power Struggles with Students

Monday, May 9, 2016

State Testing: Why it's Important

In education today, students are quite familiar with mandated-state testing.  Letters get sent home to families explaining the test, and staff appropriately prepares students in hopes for each student’s success on the test.  Starting early in students’ educational years, they understand that there will be certain days dedicated to this type of testing.  By the time students get to high school, the testing plays a major role in their goals and plans for after graduation.  

At Beaver Dam High School, freshman and sophomore students just completed the state test called the ACT Aspire.  This test is an indicator of where the students will score when they take the ACT during their junior year.  Students are tested in the areas of reading, math, science, writing, and English.  It is a time-based test that is completed on a computer, and the high school has an adjusted schedule for two days to ensure a positive environment.  Students are reminded of doing their best on the test, but why is it so important?

When results are made available (usually over the summer), administration begins to read through and analyze the results.  The student-service department places students in appropriate classes depending on the student scores.  Staff get the opportunity to discuss and analyze the scores within their departments and make changes to their instruction if needed.  Based on scores from the tests, students can begin to narrow down their choices of colleges or other plans after high school, continue to work in areas that need improvement (as indicated on the test), and take appropriate classes that will challenge them the last two years of high school.  According to Crystal Bates, Associate Principal of Curriculum and Instruction, “The results we receive are key to the future pathway of all students.  They provide additional benchmarks and help teachers with their instruction.  Students are able to see if they are at grade level in each subject and on track to be college and career ready.”  

When you hear a statement that includes “state testing,” understand that schools, specifically Beaver Dam High School, take this exercise seriously because of the impact it has on the future of our students.  Students put forth their best efforts this year on the ACT Aspire,  and we hope that the results indicate that our ACT scores will continue to be the highest in the area!  

Sunday, May 1, 2016

An open letter to the teachers of the Beaver Dam Unified School District:

As National Teacher Appreciation Week falls upon us, I am reminded of a Japanese proverb: “Better than a thousand days of diligent study is one day with a great teacher.”  The students that comprise the Beaver Dam Unified School District have experienced unprecedented academic growth and success over the past 18 months.  Without underestimating the hard working students and wonderful families that populate Beaver Dam schools, our world class teachers who serve these students are the foundation of the advancements we have made.  

Our teachers who work with our students are incredibly busy people because schools are busy places.  It is easy to forget the profound impact that great teachers have on students.  This week provides all an opportunity to stop and reflect on the great teachers who have reached out and touched our lives and the lives of the students they serve.  At times this is done with an inviting smile, an encouraging conversation, or a push to reach for goals once seen as unattainable.  Take a minute to think about a teacher who impacted your life.  Think about the footprint they left on you.  Send that person a note this week, thank them, and remind that person of the impact they have on the future world in which we will live.  Remind our youth to focus on the positive aspects of their lives, to reflect on the growth they have made this school year,  and to recognize the tremendous impact a teacher had on their successes.  

This letter is my opportunity to thank the teachers of the Beaver Dam Unified School District: past and present.  I want to extend my most heartfelt thank you to the teachers who shaped my future as I moved through BDUSD as a student and as a young professional.  Most importantly, thank you to our current teachers who work diligently every day to create a better tomorrow for the children and young adults of our community.  Any effort to create a kinder, brighter future for our community and country will begin and end in our schools.  Together we are building tomorrow by guiding our students and empowering their futures.  

Thank you!

Steve Vessey
Beaver Dam Unified School District

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

BDHS Ranks Among the Best Two Years in a Row

The Beaver Dam Unified School District is proud to announce that Beaver Dam High School has earned national recognition for the second year in a row.  Once again, the Beaver Dam High School community has been identified as one of the top high schools in the state of Wisconsin and nation through U.S. News and World Report.

Specifically, Beaver Dam High School has been identified in the top 10% of all high schools in the state of Wisconsin, placing BDHS in the Silver Medal Award rating for Best High Schools in the country.  This year’s report and rankings reviewed 468 high schools in the state of Wisconsin and more than 28,000 high schools across the country.  

BDHS demonstrated notable growth in the college-readiness category.  This growth and other documented improvements contributed to Beaver Dam High School’s ability to move up 80 spots in the national rankings of all high schools in the nation for the second year in a row by the US News & World Report.

Beaver Dam High School was the highest ranked high school in the area and in the Wisconsin Little Ten Conference.  Moreover, BDHS outpaced 13 schools in the Badger Conference that BDHS will join at the start of the 2017-18 school year.  These rankings are another indicator of the outstanding students, families, and dedicated staff who comprise the BDHS learning community as well as the Beaver Dam Unified School District as a whole.

When asked about his feelings regarding the high school earning this distinction for the second year in a row, BDHS Principal Mark DiStefano stated: “I couldn’t be more proud of the work our staff and students do to make this a reality.  It is a reflection of the value our students, staff, and parents have for high expectations in their education throughout our district, as well as a reminder that hard work does pay off!"

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Children's Mental Health Matters

Good mental health is vital for learning and life. Children are able to enjoy and benefit from good mental health as it helps them form positive relationships and with everyday experiences. Developing emotional health and experiencing school success depends upon the care that children receive at home, in our community, and at school. Developing and maintaining positive relationships, learning to cope with adversity and stress,  and maintaining a healthy lifestyle are ways to help our children face challenges. We can help children develop these skills, work through adversity, and build resiliency.

At some point, most every child faces some difficulty. When students experience problems such as getting along with peers, sadness, depression, anxiousness, or loss of a loved one, there are supports at school to assist our students. School psychologists, school counselors, social workers, and nurses routinely support students with mild to severe needs and identified mental-health conditions. On a daily basis, the student-services staff consult with teachers, parents, and community providers. In the Beaver Dam Unified School District, our student services staff provide classroom presentations about social/emotional development, protective behaviors, and social skills. Some students who are experiencing more struggles may receive individual counseling or work in a group with other students. When needed, our staff partners with community professionals to help the student(s) and parent(s).

As a parent, you can help your child face challenges by thinking positively. Modeling positive attitudes and positive emotions is very important. Using a “can do” problem-solving approach to situations teaches children a sense of power and promise. Express love and gratitude! Praise should always occur much more often than criticism. Positive emotions buffer kids against depression and other negative reactions to adversity. Express yourself! Parents who help kids become more aware of emotions, label emotions appropriately, and help children deal with upsetting events are giving their children useful life skills. Get fit! Healthy eating habits, regular exercise and adequate sleep protect kids against the stress of tough ordeals. Regular exercise also decreases negative emotions such as anxiety, anger, and depression. Foster competency! Children who achieve academic success and who develop individual talents, such as playing sports, drawing, making things, playing musical instruments or playing games are much more likely to feel competent and contain the ability to deal with stress positively. Having friends, staying connected to friends and loved ones, and helping others can also foster and increase resiliency.

If you would like more information about children’s mental health or have questions about services, please contact your child’s school and speak with a student services staff member.You may also visit our district website to learn more about our services at the following web address: or

Excerpts from: “Resiliency: Strategies for Parents and Educators,” Virginia Smith Harvey, Helping Children at Home and School II: Handouts for Families and Educators, NASP, 2004