Why Our Schools Are World-Class
Shorewood residents and parents of students Nicholas Hayes and Joanne Lipo Zovic discuss the school district.
Editor's Note: Nicholas Hayes and Joanne Lipo Zovic are Shorewood residents and parents of students in Shorewood schools. The views in this letter are their own and not in anyway representative of the views of Patch or its staff.
If you were to nominate a community and its school system to be a national model, Shorewood would be among the front-runners.
Ask your neighbors. Many, if not most, will tell you they chose Shorewood for the schools. They saw, like our families did when they were younger, modestly higher property taxes in return for a world-class educational opportunity for their children delivered in a multi-cultural, multi-generational community. They’ll add that it’s not just the core curriculum that is attractive, but the deeply talented, stable and creative teaching team, the richly diverse student body, special features and programs like the open campus, Advanced Learners, ELL, New Horizons, and perhaps most importantly, the highly differentiated liberal arts education, something rarely found in a small public school system. Immersed in language, visual art, performance and music from the beginning, Shorewood kids generally learn to learn, to reason, to think, to communicate, and to be appropriately healthy skeptics and eager explorers. As a result, many Shorewood students also happen to perform well on ACTs and SATs and on college applications.
Let’s characterize the environment that makes our place special:
It starts with community and strengthens with culture.
The school and the people of the village are inextricably linked, both economically and socially. Parents move here for the schools, creating demand for housing, stabilizing property values and attracting business investment. Some villagers never leave, sparking development and re-development to make room for the next generation. School playgrounds double as village parks and the library as a study center. Local businesses benefit from foot traffic. Citizens enjoy student art, theatre, music and sporting events of a seemingly professional calibre. The schools spark friendships between neighbors that last lifetimes. We bet you’ve never been to a social gathering in Shorewood where one of main conversations wasn’t the schools.
As is the norm, citizens elect a School Board to act as stewards, and while the board does its work, the schools also depend on vital volunteer support. Parents organize to help in whatever way is needed, raising money for special programs or expenses or to volunteer time.
So Shorewood schools attract great educators who, in turn, work to hone their own techniques and collaborate to continuously improve the system. They know that expectations are high and generally meet them with aplomb. Many choose to live and raise their own kids here.
Most Shorewood classrooms don’t feel like boxes of books encircled in chalkboards, but spaces of imagination and discovery, with context and connections and the personal stamps of the teachers and the kids. Teachers sometimes use technology tools, but seem not to overplay them. Students sometimes need extra help, and when they do, they get it. Academic and social excellence permeates the community.
However, despite deserved accolades, this isn’t utopia. Shorewood has had to deal with pressing funding issues many years in a row and more will come. Shifting enrollment and changes in Madison have put undue pressure both on budgets and therefore on specialized instruction and class sizes and they will again. Like all public schools, Shorewood schools must meet mandates to administer standardized testing, which cuts into personalized instruction and threatens to over-emphasize and homogenize basic instruction. Other changes loom. Leading educators will retire and their experience will be lost. The facilities are aging and will need more upkeep.
Finally, Shorewood schools are not immune to student achievement gaps that confront all public educators. Some kids fall through cracks. The challenge to individualize education within a batch system is complex.
Our continued vigilance and commitment to that which makes Shorewood great is more important than ever.
Shorewood schools will have to be forward thinking; deliberate and strategic in modernizing, adapting and advancing to meet the needs of a constantly changing local demographic and a smaller, more competitive globe.
And the village and citizens will need the same, long-term view. There is perhaps no better example of a community built around a school system and a school system that makes a community. It is easy to say that investing in Shorewood schools is investing in Shorewood, but it can be harder to do. We’ll actually have to do it.
It’s also hard, when we all have a large stake, to not let emotions get in the way of practicality. Our schools are innovative because we generally trust teachers to teach and we give them the resources they need to do it at a high level. The national debate has folks wondering who is responsible for education reform. Here, we understand that talented educators are best suited to lead that hard work.
Indeed, education reform, per se, needn’t be an item on the School Board agenda in Shorewood, because here, innovation is part of our liberal arts formula. Creativity is sparked in the humanities and executed in the skills subjects. So places where reform is needed might look here to understand what they should do, and what they shouldn’t give up.
In the meantime, local leaders should celebrate Shorewood’s public schools as the primary economic and social engine of the village and moreover, since it is a liberal arts powerhouse, as a legitimate platform to make a positive difference in a complex world. Shout it from rooftops: move here for schools!
And specifically, parents seeking a differentiated, world-class education for their children, whatever grade level, should come here, now, and enroll their kids in one of these incredible schools. If you can, come while the kids are young. Your family will surely become part of the fabric of our community. And then prepare to be impressed with what your kids can do.