I think it’s fair to say that most people enjoy seeing their hometown sports teams succeed by reading about them in the newspaper. I think it’s also fair to say that most people enjoy reading about students who excel academically. It gives a town a sense of pride.

At the elementary school level, there have been two recent instances that come to mind. First, a group of fifth-grade students from LaGrange Elementary placed third in state in the Battle of the Books competition, a task that took much time, preparation and encouragement to achieve. Second, another group of Tomah fifth graders placed third at the regional math knowledge competition in Sparta, the highest place Tomah has received in the past 11 years. This photo has been placed proudly in the Tomah Journal (Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014). This picture is also displayed on the front cover of the tri-fold Tomah School District Referendum brochure.

This picture has also been placed on the last page of the middle school March newsletter. Why? Because the district is proud when students excel. It makes the schools look successful, like they are doing their jobs. The ironic part about these stories and pictures being in the paper it that the person who is responsible for the success of these students is losing his position next year. Mr. Rocky Shutter is the reason we have a picture of four students holding a trophy on the front of the referendum brochure. Mr. Rocky Shutter is a main reason these kids look forward to going to school each week.

I can speak from experience as the parent of one of those fifth graders. It was a struggle to get our child to go to school for the past three years. Our child was bored, disinterested, felt he wasn’t learning anything new in the regular classroom. Every morning we heard “school is dumb,” “they don’t teach me anything new” and “I hate going because it’s a waste of my time.”

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But we began to see a change last year. Our child began to ask every morning before getting out of bed, what Letter Day it was (letter determines what classes a student has each day). One day a week, when the magic letter is called off, our child still jumps out bed and states “it’s a Mr. Shutter Day!” The Gifted and Talented Program gives our child one day a week to look forward too. We have laws to protect our children with special needs that require additional assistance with learning, communicating and functioning socially. But there is another group of students with special needs that will not be getting what they need to be successful next year at the elementary school level because the GAT program will be cut.

I ask that WHEN the referendum is passed next month that the Board of Education reconsider its vote to eliminate the GAT program at the elementary school level. I ask that Mr. Rocky Shutter continue on as the GAT coordinator in that role exactly, a coordinator. I agree with the idea of elementary school principals ASSISTING Mr. Shutter in educating GAT students by working with them once a week under the direction of the GAT coordinator and then also allowing Mr. Shutter to continue visiting each elementary school, one day per week, and spending 45 minutes with the students himself.

The current education for our students in this program is already inadequate at only 45 minutes a week or less, and removing the program altogether, will ensure that there will no more pictures in the paper of elementary students succeeding at contests or holding trophies. One-on-one interaction with a specialized and skilled teacher who will listen to students and teach them based on their individual needs is not only good for those with disabilities, but for the students on the other end of the spectrum as well. We choose to send our children to public school because we believe in it.

We hope that the school board will take into account the educational needs of ALL students and reinstate the GAT program next year. The operational referendum brochure states, “High Quality Student Learning, Every Child, Every Day,” and without the GAT program, I don’t think this can be accomplished. Please vote “yes” to the referendum.

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Kristen Gerke is a resident of Tomah.


Tomah Journal editor

Steve Rundio is editor of the Tomah Journal. Contact him at 608-374-7785.

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