EM school board receives Magna Award for leadership

By LeAnn R. Ralph

ELK MOUND — The Elk Mound Board of Education has been selected as a winner in the 2014 Magna Award program sponsored by the National School Boards Association.

Magna Awards are presented in three categories each year to schools that have been nominated nationwide: schools with an enrollment under 5,000; schools with an enrollment between 5,000 and 20,000; and schools with an enrollment of over 20,000. Each category has one grand-prize winner, five additional winners and five honorable mentions.

Elk Mound is being recognized as an honorable mention in the under 5,000 category for supportive school board leadership in implementing the use of technology in the schools.

According to the nomination submitted by Dr. Ron Walsh, superintendent, the Elk Mound school district has an annual technology budget of between $100,000 and $750,000.

“This award recognizes the consistent vision our board has for improved student achievement. The focus of the award is related to how we have steadily been focused on and supportive of technology as a way to improve student achievement and their chances for success in a global 21st century world and economy,” said Tim Sivertson, school board president.

Technology improvements in recent years have included a fiber optic network between school buildings, a direct pipeline to the Internet backbone running along Interstate-94, virtualization of the school district’s servers for security, multiple access platforms for students and staff, such as laptop lab stations, as well as a technology incentive for teachers that provides a stipend of up to $500 each year for using technology in the classroom.

“What it is really about is the consistent and steady manner of working year after year to provide the best opportunities, interventions and tools we can for our students,” Sivertson said.

“I think (the Magna Award) means a lot to our community in terms of pride and trust (in the school board). Our constituents have been very supportive of our efforts to improve student achievement through technology. This trust has enabled our board to become a very seasoned and effective board that will, hopefully, be a model for future boards and board members,” he said.

Strategic plan

The Elk Mound Board of Education has developed a Strategic Plan for Technology that includes both short-range and long-range goals.

“During the stages of development sessions to work on a Strategic Plan for Technology, the board clarified that it would demand an expert technology director, teachers who use technology appropriately, and assurances from graduates, parents and community members that we meet the 21st Century skill needs of all of its students,” Dr. Walsh wrote in the nomination.

“The school board worked hard to develop a system to reward teachers for using available technology appropriately and resourcefully. As part of the compensation plan teachers are granted salary increases using a newly developed salary grid designed to reward continuous improvement. As a part of this system, the board developed a supplement to the compensation system it calls the Technology Incentive Plan. Under this plan, each teacher can earn up to an additional $500 per year for improving their use of technology,” Dr. Walsh wrote.

Elk Mound’s “Teacher Compensation Guide has been innovative in Wisconsin and has been presented to various school district leadership teams and to the Cooperative Educational Service Agency #11 Professional Advisory Committee … (the school board) has directed the administrative team to review and update action items each fall to ensure that the goals within the plan are met,” he wrote.

Tech spending

In the last ten years, the Elk Mound school district has spent about $3 million on technology improvements in the schools.

Since 2004, the Elk Mound school district has had an average general fund budget of about $8.5 million and has spent about $6 million on short-range planning, of which 50 percent of those expenditures have been on technology infrastructure, according to Dr. Walsh.

“These are dollars spent beyond what was required to maintain facilities, daily operations, salaries and benefits. The Teacher Compensation System including the Technology Incentive Program is a relatively new concept to Wisconsin schools. The board provides bonuses for promotion every three years as part of its evaluation system. On top of this is the possible annual stipend for demonstration of skill and expertise in using technology in daily teaching. The (school board-directed) annual survey of graduates shows that the vast majority of our graduates are doing what they want to be doing in life and feel they have been well-prepared,” Dr. Walsh wrote.

The Magna Awards began in 1995 to recognize school boards for taking innovative steps to improve their educational programs.

The Elk Mound Board of Education also was recognized as a Magna Award winner in 2008.

All Magna Award winners and honorable mentions are featured in a special supplement to the “American School Board Journal” and were recognized at the Best Practices School Leaders Luncheon at the NSBA convention in New Orleans on April 5.

A total of 250 submissions were received for this year’s Magna Awards.