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A group of students and their parents are fighting an Ashland School Board decision to close Lake Superior High School and Oredocker Project School, two of the district's three charter schools.
The board voted unanimously May 20 not to renew the schools' charters, a decision that stunned and raised the ire of parents and students who said the decision was made without any input from them.
"I was really, really, really pissed," said Lake Superior High freshman Airianna Brown. "I think it was stupid that kids couldn't be in the group when that happened, and say what they wanted to say."
District Superintendent Erik Olson said the schools are being closed to streamline administration and ensure that district improvements would be made in all schools, not just the non-charter schools.
A group of Lake Superior students who sat down with a Daily Press reporter this week said they are angered by the decision and determined to get it reversed.
"It has been tragic and traumatic to all of us, I think," said junior Ella Syverson, who discussed the decision with fellow student Quinn Godfrey, an eighth-grader.
"It was really hard to hear that it was shutting down, and to hear that our family in OPS and LSHS was being torn apart," Godfrey said.
The two charter schools are alternatives to the standard educational model that operate with freedom from many
of the regulations that apply to traditional public schools. By state law, charter schools are granted increased flexibility to design curriculum, instructional methods, and management practices to meet student needs.
Lake Superior High served 14 students last school year, and the Oredocker Project School enrolled 47 kids. Both outperform their traditional counterparts in state test scores.
A closed-doors decision
Charter schools have existed in the district for seven years: Lake Superior High School, the Oredocker Project School that serves middle school students, and the Lake Superior Learning Center for elementary school students. The learning center still has four years left to run on its contract and is not affected by the changes.
School Board President Jessica Pergolski said the action, taken in a closed session of the Board of Education, was properly an administrative decision.
"I don't think it was really appropriate to bring it to the community to weigh in. This is a decision the board needs to make," she said. "We've been elected to make tough decisions like this and represent our communities."
School officials said the model used by the charter schools, which engages students in learning through the inquiry process and included collaborative teacher-guided student projects, would be continued after the charter school contract ends. In a letter to parents outlining the district's plans, parents were told that the board and administration would consider keeping both schools going as non-charter schools within other schools.
That commitment rang hollow for Godfrey's father, Sean Godfrey.
"That's just whitewashing," he said. "That is political speak. There is no truth to that. If it is going to continue to operate, why not put the energy that is already operating, that is already producing better test scores?"
Olson said the school board already had overall authority over the charter schools and that the major impact of the vote would be to eliminate the charter school council that had exercised direct control of charter school operations.
"The programming as you see it today and potentially next year, if the board and the charter council can reach an agreement, will look very similar. That schooling, the multi-age approach, the problem-based environment, that feel of community will continue," he said, asserting that the model he was proposing has been used successfully across the state and nation.
Nevertheless, students told the Daily Press they fear for the future of their community.
"I feel like we are all really close in the charter school. We have all known each other for many years here, worked really closely together," said Cecil Plansky, an eighth grader. "It feels like a family to us, and it feels like that family is being torn apart. I feel even if they do have a have a project-based learning program, I feel like it really can't recreate the same sense of family that we have right now."
Fixing what's not broken
For the 2017-18 school year, the most recent for which state report cards are available, the Oredocker Project School earned an overall rating of 70.2, meeting state expectations. Its traditional counterpart, Ashland Middle School, earned an overall 61.3, meeting few expectations.
Because it is so small, Lake Superior High does not get similar ratings so an apples-to-apples comparison with Ashland High School is difficult. But Syverson is convinced Lake Superior is superior.
"You know, these schools have been really successful. If you look at our school report cards, last year, both the middle school and the elementary charter outperformed their legacy counterparts," she said. "We've also had really good growth rates in reading as well. And we attribute that success to our community focus that makes us all feel safe and comfortable at home within our learning environment."
Nevertheless, Pergolski said bringing the charter schools into the district fold would not cause a downturn in student performance. She said the district is well organized to keep the instructional model going.
"I don't think it's completely dependent on having a separate council," she said, saying the volunteer council might not always be as strong as it is currently, and that being directly under the board would provide more stability.
The board held a series of three meetings following the decision to inform district parents about the decision, but the fact that there was no meeting with parents before the vote still rankles some.
Dale Torres has two children at Lake Superior High School, two at Lake Superior Learning center and will have one in the Oredocker Project School next year. She is still angry about the closed-doors vote.
"It is a decision they made without talking to parents, students and teachers. They just went forward without thinking there would be any consequences, that we should all just go with," she said.
Torres said the kinds of things done at the charter schools now would not be possible once they lose their contracts, because of state regulations that are waived with the charter school.
"They are taking away what makes the school great," she said.
Students — 31 of them from both affected schools — have written to the School Board asking that they have a chance to address the board and persuade them to reverse the decision.
At the very least, the letter says, students asked that the board "Involve OPS/LSHS students in any and all decision making processes related to the future of the Ashland charter schools and the future of project based learning in the School District of Ashland from this moment forward."
People around the globe discovered long ago the birch tree's value for creating both useful goods and pure art forms, but few modern-day folk understand the tree's significance as raw material and cultural icon.
Celebrate Birch organizer Lorraine Norrgard aims to rectify that in June with the help of artisans, forestry experts and a Washburn artist who has spent a lifetime crafting Mother Nature's bounty into beautiful artistry.
"I just think it's time to appreciate birch," Norrgard said.
Celebrate Birch is a monthlong homage to birch trees, especially their strong and waterproof outer layer and their almost limitless uses. Curated by Norrgard, the Washburn Cultural Center exhibit will introduce people to the tree's wonders and the reasons why it should be protected from misuse and climate change.
Norrgard's fascination with all things birch began about 20 years ago. She produced a documentary for Wisconsin Public Television on Jerry Maulson's birch bark baskets
and later received a Jerome Foundation Travel Grant to tour countries such as Finland, Russia, China and Japan for research.
Birch trees form an important link among world cultures because wherever they grow they are used for a variety of reasons, she said.
Norrgard's extensive collection of birch bark objects, begun on her world tour, is a key component of the Celebrate Birch exhibit. But she wants the month to be about much more than art; she hopes to inspire conversations about forest conservancy and climate change's threat to birch trees.
Norrgard scheduled the exhibit and several related activities for June because the end of the month usually is the only safe time to peel the bark from living trees. People must harvest the papery outer skin only when the tree's sap is rising or they will harm the tree, she said.
Nature's art box
Artist Tina Fung Holder will help Norrgard show how birch bark can be transformed into jewelry and decorations when she hosts art classes for youth and adults during June.
Fung Holder's journey into the world of art began in her native British Guyana. As a girl she made fish necklaces to sell to tourists — as well as objects necessary for everyday life — from materials found in nature.
"At the edge of a jungle you pretty much have to make everything," she said.
Spending nearly the first 23 years of her life in the South American country, she followed one of her sisters to Chicago, where she studied art at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and eventually found volunteer work teaching art to students at the Field Museum.
That's how she discovered her calling as a teacher as well as an artist.
During one museum program, Fung Holder escorted a youth group around an exhibit featuring jewelry from around the world. One child, maybe 6 or 7 years old, Fung Holder said, never left her side.
The group returned to the classroom to make jewelry, and the child asked if she could take home her creation. Fung Holder said absolutely, it's "make and take."
"The minute I said you make and you take she said, 'Jewelry! Yes!" Fung Holder said, pumping her fist as the girl must have done so many years ago.
"That's when I realized that this is a gift I have — she was so excited — and this is something I should keep doing," Fung Holder said.
Now a 23-year resident of Washburn, Fung Holder has established herself as a community art teacher and instructs children at Washburn Public Library. Some of the students she once taught now bring their children to the Wednesday afternoon sessions.
Fung Holder is among several artists and experts taking part in Celebrate Birch, funded by the Chequamegon Bay Arts Council's Jim Ramsdell Soaring Spirit Award and Washburn Cultural Center.
A forest of bark
The exhibit opens June 4, and except for a field trip set for June 21, all of the events take place at the Cultural Center. If pre-registration is required, call 715-373-5591 or email email@example.com.
A public reception is set from 4 to 6 p.m. June 20 in the Cultural Center's first-floor galleries.
John Zasada, a retired forester from Grand Rapids, Minn., will speak about the science behind the trees and talk about birch art from around the world at 6 p.m. June 20 in the center's upstairs classroom.
Marvin Defoe, a Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa tribal historic preservation officer and renowned birch bark artist, will discuss the tree's historical and cultural significance to the Anishinaabe at the same time and place. Both presentations are free and open to the public.
Fung Holder is scheduled to host two free classes to teach youth to make birch bark art June 21. Fiveto 8-year-olds will weave fish art from 9 a.m. to noon; 9to 16-year-olds will work on pendant necklaces or medallions from 1 to 4 p.m. Pre-registration by June 14 is required.
She will also teach adults how to make jewelry from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 22. The class is free, and materials will be provided, but the number of participants is limited and they must pre-register by June 14.
Defoe will lead a field trip to a forest near Washburn to teach people how best to harvest birch bark from 9 a.m. to noon June 21. The free trip is open on a first come, first serve basis to anyone who is at least 16 years old and has their own transportation. Participants must preregister by June 14.
At 7 p.m. June 21, two experts give presentations. Colleen Matula, a state Department of Natural Resources forest ecologist and silviculturist in Ashland, presents "The Giving Tree — Birch and Its Multiple Gifts." Alan Wrobel, a forest ecologist with the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Service in Odanah, talks about "Bridging the Gap — Traditional Ecological Knowledge, Western Science and Practical Application."
The exhibit, available to view when the Cultural Center is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, closes June 30.
The Ashland Daily Press has a new publisher/general manager with several years of publishing experience behind him.
James Moran, 55, has taken over from David LaPorte, who will soon assume duties as general manager for Leader Printing in Eau Claire.
After graduating from Menasha High School, Moran leapt into the publishing business with an internship in advertising at the Appleton Post-Crescent. He married his high school sweetheart at age 19 and they settled in the Fox Valley to raise their two daughters.
During his tenure working for the Milwaukee Journal, Moran helped launch a group of weekly newspapers in the Fox Valley, but then he decided to go into business for himself.
Moran bought the Chilton Times-Journal and eventually came to own five monthlies and Badger Sportsman, a hunting and fishing magazine, for nearly 20 years.
After deciding to move in a new direction in life, Moran attended UW-Stevens Point and earned a certificate in aquaponics. He became the greenhouse manager for Superior Fresh, the largest aquaponics facility in the state and the largest in the world for Atlantic salmon.
But the publishing world beckoned him back when Adams Publishing Group began a search for a new publisher at the Daily Press. Although many people believed the newspaper business was all but done for, he was heartened to see that Adams still saw a future.
Coming into Ashland, Moran's focus will be on both of the newspaper's customers: the readers and the advertisers.
For readers, Moran intends to ensure the Daily Press continues to provide balanced news coverage and great journalism.
He also plans to show advertisers that the newspaper can provide them with the best bang for their buck when it comes to spreading their message.
In his spare time, Moran, an avid walleye angler, intends to take full advantage of Chequamegon Bay's fishing scene, put in a few rounds of golf, enjoy his new log cabin in the middle of the Mellen woods and take care of his bees.
To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.