Equity, empowerment, excellence
Star Journal photo
Hodag educators, administrators gear up for new school year
By Eileen Persike
RHINELANDER – A new school year can mean new notebooks, backpacks and back-to-school wardrobe for many students. For teachers and administrators in the School District of Rhinelander, a new year means strategic plans and goal setting. Work for the teaching staff began Aug. 28 with a welcome back celebration that included performances by choir and band students, silly songs by a group of teachers and a keynote address by a motivational speaker.
J.C. Pohl is a counselor, speaker and author of several books about building school culture, relationships and resilient students.
“We thought he fit into our mission,” SDR Superintendent Eric Burke said of Pohl. “Our ‘why’ is about equity, empowerment and excellence for all and in order to reach that we have to have students that feel good about themselves and want to learn and feel supported. It’s through our relationships with students – and that trust – that we can help in many ways, students who are struggling.”
The district’s “why,” or the purpose for its existence, is part of the Hodag Circles of Success that are the building blocks to the SDR 2023-24 strategic plan. The other circles answer questions of “what” and “how” each school building, grade level, department and classroom will achieve equity, empowerment and excellence for all.
A key to achieving those goals, and something Burke said Pohl emphasized, is social-emotional learning (SEL) – a concept that can be difficult to understand. A representative of the Wisconsin Department of Education recently spoke to the Rhinelander school board about SEL. Wisconsin DPI defines SEL as “the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships and make responsible decisions.”
Rhinelander High School counselor Lexi Allen followed up with examples of how SEL fits into everyday classrooms, including those that promote internships and school-to-work programs.
“How do we help students have skills that employers want? That’s really what is at the core of what social-emotional learning is all about,” Burke said. “If you have goals, if you’re adjusted well and feel good about yourself, those are the things we have been working on for several years, even before I was here.”
J.C. Pohl held a morning session for parents and students the same day he spoke to teachers. Though it was not as well attended as Burke said he would have liked, the session was added after a group of parents approached the district with concerns about bullying and harassment.
“We invited them in, to make sure that group knew what we’re currently doing to help support kids,” Burke said. “Part of it was information and part of it was listening to their concerns. It was good for them to know there is also a process; when [bullying or harassment situations] happen, there are things that can be said and things that can’t be said, due to confidentiality.”
Burke said he is looking to bring Pohl back in the spring to work with middle and high school students.
As a result the district has created a “Bullying and Harassment” tab on the district web page. It includes information on what it is, how to report it, how the district is addressing topics from kindergarten through high school.
In addition to the new school year, Burke said he is looking forward to sending a survey to all district residents that will gauge the community’s interest in a capital referendum to update the tech ed classrooms at James Williams Middle School and Rhinelander High School. The surveys are expected to be in the mail in the coming weeks. After the results are gathered, the school board will make the decision whether it will go forward with a spring 2024 referendum.