Prairie Phoenix Academy (PPA) is a collection of alternative education programs through the
Sun Prairie Area School District serving students in need of an
alternative to the traditional high school to meet their educational and
career goals. Wendi Tavs is the Principal. School of Alternative Resources (SOAR) is a day high school program at PPA. Students who meet requirements graduate with a Sun Prairie High School diploma. You may meet and hear from PPA students by watching this video: School Views: PPA Below is the speech made by Elijah Kellum to his SOAR peers and families the day before regular high school graduation. I found it quite moving and wanted to share his perspective.
Elijah and Wendi
"The Prairie Phoenix Academy, I can say, really changed my life, never have I ever seen teachers go out of their way to see their students achieve their goals and dreams. Everyone here has their own life struggles whether its your personal life, or school life, we all fight for what we want. And to have that support system behind you if you fall is a great feeling, the PPA is my support system they’re here when I need them or even when I don't need them. I will never forget all the times life threw curves at me, when I didn't have anyone to run to, SOAR was here, WHEN I GAVE UP ON MYSELF SOAR WAS HERE TO PUT ME BACK TOGETHER when I was lost and needed to see the light again SOAR was right there guiding me to the light and for that I have nothing but love for everyone here at SOAR. And to all the teachers that stayed on top of me (Joe, Ray, Jerry, Pat, Ann, Anna, Travor, Wendi, Tobi, Kathy, Sue, Nan, Cindy, Ms. G) I thank you, even though I know I'm a social butterfly and need to be guided back to the right tack sometime but still I thank you. Saying goodbye to this wonderful place is going to be the hardest thing for me, to my peers all I ask is never let anyone tell you what you can't do, as PPA students we all know what people think of us, “they’re dumb” or “they're just taking the easy way out” but as I stand before you today, I see a group of smart, beautiful people, people that at times weren't doing their best, or on the edge of just giving up but still you fought to see this day and I know that has
to feel great! ... congrats PPA class of 2013. WE DID IT ! !"
Dr. C congratulates Elijah at graduation
Indeed you did. Best wishes to Elijah and all others whose journey to graduation was impeded by more than a few obstacles to overcome to achieve this accomplishment. Much gratitude to those educators who went above and beyond to support these students' accomplishments.
Remarks at the Sun Prairie High School Graduation Ceremony on June 7, 2013 upon the Acceptance of the Class of 2013:
Last week I was picking out my annual batch of graduation cards and kept noticing ones that say something like, “Congratulations…You made it.” This seemed a like a mixed message…like perhaps “WHEW” there was some doubt you would make it, or perhaps this has been some kind of ordeal to get through. Perhaps for some of you or at some moments it did seem this way.
But it caused me to reflect on what it means to have "made it." The next day I visited the Home Construction Program Open House: a concrete example for some of you who "made it": a beautiful home. I was so impressed with the students who showed us around, especially with their pride in craftsmanship. I asked to take pictures of them with parts of the home they were most proud of...their personal trademark left for some future family's benefit.
If I asked you for a picture of yourself with some thing you made during your education thus far, what would it be? A championship? A project? An obstacle overcome? A relationship? You have made your marks on our community in many ways. Which ones represent you best? I hope you are proud of the things you made during this educational journey we began together 13 years ago. I suggest one thing you have made is the foundation for your future. The pyramid of your education is not finished; you've finished building the first few layers. I hope your foundation is strong and wide; upon which to build a great and happy future: making friends, making discoveries, making homes, making business, making a life, and making your family and your community even prouder of you than we are tonight.
Congratulations. You have indeed made it. At this time, will the class of 2013, please come forward to get what you deserve.
Best wishes to all members of the Class of 2013 and congratulations to the families who support them.
As I reported to you on March 23 (see here),
we had a very serious accident at the district pool when a middle school
student was rescued after a near-drowning during a March 20 physical education
(P.E.) class.The ending to this
nightmarish story is a good one.The
student involved in the accident has recovered, is back in school, and I have
been told he has been running on the track team this spring.This potentially tragic incident provided
opportunity to analyze in detail what we need to do to make the pool the safest
educational environment it can be.
Since then, we have done a full internal review to
determine what could have been done differently to prevent such a horrific accident.While there have been more than 600 hours of
P.E. instruction in the pool to date without incident, the accident means whatever
we are doing is not good enough.Therefore,
an administrative team has interviewed the 6 staff members who were present, reviewed
student statements, discussed standards with Dane County Public Health and analyzed
the security videos from four different cameras in the pool area. While a lot
of good intentions and good practices have been in effect to ensure the safety
of students, based on what we’ve learned, we decided to adopt written
Administrative Guidelines to provide clear and consistent direction to all principals,
teachers, and pool staff with regard to future physical education classes held
in the district pool.These
Administrative Guidelines are currently in draft form and are being distributed
to our teachers, principals, and staff for review and comment.You may review the draft document here.Questions and
feedback on these guidelines may be addressed to Deputy District Administrator Phil
Frei at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This work has been ongoing since the March 20
incident.Focus on the severity of this
incident was never lost during the internal investigation and subsequent development
of the guidelines.The fact that we might
have lost a student in our care was horrifying and devastating beyond
comprehension, most terrifyingly to the family of this student and
traumatically to the 5 teachers and Pool Manager with the class at the pool
that day.It has also affected all the
staff members of Patrick Marsh Middle School who consider this student part of
their family, and all of us who care about children.
This past week, we were reminded that we haven’t yet shared
with other parents of the district or the community the work we’ve been doing to
prevent such an accident in the future. Channel
3 asked to interview me to discuss the security video tapes of the class. The
station obtained a copy of the video from the Sun Prairie Police Department
through a public records request and wanted to talk with me about what they had
seen.After an interview that lasted
almost an hour, I maintain a great deal of respect for Channel 3 Investigative
Reporter Adam Schrager for the background work he did. He reviewed the video tapes
in great detail, he’d spoken with the family of the student, and he even had a draft
copy of yet unpublished administrative guidelines obtained from the parent.His questions were well researched.He asked them fairly and persistently in the
manner of a reporter who wanted to know what everyone else wanted to know:What went wrong?
While many things were “right” (e.g. presence of trained
lifeguards in zones, instruction of students at the school and the first day,
provision of life jackets) some things could be improved – and not all of them
occurred on that day in the pool.For
example, all parents were notified that students would be going to the pool via
email, but some families do not have an email account on file.Lifeguards were appropriately trained, but
the paperwork for certification was not properly filed.Another example, lifeguards were trained to
watch the water surface for signs of a struggling swimmer, but in this
situation, there were no signs that the student struggled on the surface of the
water.He was not seen on the videotape
after removing his life jacket and jumping into the water. While there were 3 designated
lifeguards and 3 additional teacher observers, the nature of the swim as primarily recreational (i.e. there was no direct instruction on the second day) required
lots of attention to many student needs. (The complete report on the
incident is here.)I’m not certain
any of these examples or other variables you’ll read about in the report alone are
“the wrong” but collectively they were not good enough practice to prevent such
an accident.We must do better.
Therefore, new written guidelines will give our teachers, pool staff, and
principals consistent guidance to better ensure students are safe.
As District Administrator for the school district, I accept
responsibility for this horrific accident. I have apologized in writing to the
parent and now extend my apology to all parents if this has caused you to doubt
our interest in safety at our pool.It is my responsibility to make sure that our organization,
teachers, staff have the clarity and direction needed to make sure our students
are safe when they are in our care.They
will have this in the future and our students will be even safer in the pool as
Thank you for your kind encouragement and generous
support of the student and his family in response to my last message.Thank you for sending words of encouragement
to Patrick Marsh staff members as they work through this trauma.Finally, thank you for expecting the best
from your public schools.We will do our
best to live up to that expectation.
Dear Sun Prairie School District Families and Community Members,
As we begin Spring Break, I want to share an update and some thoughts on the accident that
happened at the high school pool on Wednesday March 20. If you do not have children at Patrick Marsh
or have not seen or read the news this week, one of our 7th grade
students needed to be rescued from the pool during a PE class that was part of
the school’s unit on swimming.
First and foremost, the parent has shared with the school that
the student involved is communicating and progressing well. He is still being monitored in the hospital. His
family has requested no visitors at this time, but wants to express how
thankful they are for your continued support and prayers.
I am very proud of the emergency response our pool staff and teachers had
during this very serious situation.
also proud of how our Patrick Marsh House 7B students responded to the
direction of their teachers and immediately evacuated the pool and cleared the
Along with other agencies, we are reviewing the incident to determine whether
there may be further precautions that could be taken in the future to ensure an
accident like this does not occur again.
It’s important to note that this was an accident -- a horrific accident that deeply affected all those who were involved, but nonetheless
an accident. The supervision at the pool
by three certified lifeguards went beyond what is required. Three additional
adults from Patrick Marsh were also supervising students. It seems incredible that something like this
could happen with six adults monitoring the pool, but sadly it did.
Those who were there find it the most inexplicable. It was an accident. Thankfully, the emergency training of those present helped to
save the boy’s life.
The media has covered
this matter aggressively. I wanted to share the following excerpt from
the Wisconsin State Journal:
the number of swimmers Wednesday significantly below the pool's 248 capacity,
the three lifeguards on duty exceeded the minimum requirement, said Doug
Voegeli, environmental health director for Public Health Madison and Dane
involving fatalities or serious injuries must be reported to the health
department. Voegeli said there have been no major problems involving the Sun
Prairie High School pool before and called the facility "very well
department last inspected the pool facility on Feb. 5 and found no violations —
a feat that Voegeli said was "almost unheard of."
We’ve heard from many of you in this very caring community
and we appreciate your supportive, kind words and requests for ways to let the
boy and his family know you are thinking of them. You may send cards or other well wishes to
the family via the school social worker
at Patrick Marsh. If you'd like to drop something off at the school over Spring Break, you may bring it to Patrick Marsh Middle School main office on Tuesday, March 26 from 9:00-11:00 a.m. (Please, only nonperishable items.) Kelly Schmelzer, the school social worker, will arrange for
them to get to the family. Kelly's contact information is:
Kelly Schmelzer, School Social
Patrick Marsh Middle School
1351 Columbus Street
Sun Prairie, WI 53590
The following message was sent via phone and email to parents, guardians, and staff on Sunday afternoon, December 16th.
Good afternoon Sun Prairie Families,
It’s been a sad weekend as we learned more about the tragic events in Newtown last Friday.
As we prepare for school tomorrow, I want you to know that school safety is always a priority. Each school in our district has clear and updated crisis plans in place for various situations. These can range from a student or staff member needing medical attention to the most serious of situations, like what happened in Connecticut on Friday.
These various situations all have what we call a “code color”. If a specific "Code" is called within a building, the staff immediately knows what to do. Each building – staff and students – practice their response to these codes. One code used is for the most serious of situations and each school practices their response to this code annually under the direction of the Sun Prairie Police Department. We cannot describe here how we respond to each situation as that could jeopardize the safety of our students if seen by someone who wanted to cause harm. But, please ask your children or principals about the “Codes” they practice and what they do.
When students arrive tomorrow, our teachers and support staff members at each building will be prepared to help those who may be struggling or need extra care and support. If you know your child is having a difficult time, please contact his or her teacher or counselor so we can be ready to help them on Monday.
Lastly, as I read the stories of heroism among the teachers and building staff of Sandy Hook Elementary, it made me proud to be an educator and to lead the teachers and staff of Sun Prairie schools. Our schools are filled with people who care deeply about your children and would be equally as protective. They do so much more than educate and I want to take this opportunity to thank our school staff members for always putting Sun Prairie kids first.
Have a good evening and we look forward to seeing your children tomorrow.
Some charter schools experiment with paying students to attend school. Reality is that in the long run, arguably
each day a student attends school increases his or her earning power. Here’s how:
According to the latest report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the
median annual wage for a person without a High School Diploma is $20,070
while a person with a high school diploma earns $34,180. One way to look at it is that each of the 712
days of high school may be worth $19.81 in future earnings. Planning to get an Associates (2 year)
degree? The median wage rises to $61,590
so each day of high school may be worth $58.31.
Planning on getting a Bachelor’s degree ($63,430)? Each day may be worth $60.89. This is not just a one-time payment…it’s your
child’s salary for the rest of their working life of say 30 years. Arguably, each day attending school could increase lifetime earnings between $594 and $1826.
I’ve been reflecting on
the critical value of school attendance after reading a stunning new report, “The
Importance of Being in School” (Available here
). With excellent
data, the report challenges an assumption of American education that, barring
illness or an extraordinary event, students are in class every school day. It introduces a new school measurement used only
by a few states: "chronic absenteeism".
Chronic absenteeism is not the same as truancy or average daily attendance –
the most common attendance metrics schools use for state report cards and
federal accountability. Chronic absenteeism means missing 10 percent of a
school year for any reason. A school might have average daily attendance of 90
percent and still have 40 percent of its students chronically absent, because
on different days, different students make up that 90 percent.
Prairie, last year 424 students werehabitually truant. This is defined by the state as missing more
than 5 days semester without an excuse. After reading this report, I asked our staff
to calculate how many students were “chronically absent". Last year 969 students were chronically
absent, missing more than 10% of school days for any reason, excused or
These are alarming numbers because students need to attend school daily to succeed. The good news of
the report is that being in school leads to succeeding in school. Achievement,
especially in math, is very sensitive to attendance. Attendance also strongly
affects standardized test scores, graduation rates, and dropout rates. Some specific
In a nationally representative data set, chronic
absence in kindergarten was associated with lower academic performance in first
A Baltimore study found a strong relationship
between sixth-grade attendance and the percentage of students graduating on
time or within a year of their expected high school graduation.
The following chart from the national study
shows the impact of missing more than 10 days of school in 10th
grade, for any reason. Of those with
chronic absenteeism, only 53% compared with 74% ever attend post-secondary education
(Associate or Bachelor's programs). Only
64% compare to 88% actually graduate high school while 11% get a GED and 23%
most stunning piece of data to me was the following chart demonstrating an
alarming 1 to 1 correlation between days of school missed, for any reason (the
numbers across the bottom) and scale scores on the Florida state test (FCAT which is Florida's version of WKCE). For math, each day of school missed results in a drop
of one scale score point! For reading,
one day missed results in about ¾ of a point drop in reading achievement scale
Given how critical attendance is, both for your child’s current achievement, not to mention his or her potential future earnings power, what
can you as a parent do? Here are some excellent
We have to work together if we are to help every child and every student find success in school. There is an old saying that 'showing up is half the battle'. When it comes to attending school, showing up may be more than half.