Board approves graduation specialist position

Finding funds to pay employee still to be determined
Lee Pulaski
City Editor

SHAWANO — The Shawano School Board approved a new position Monday that would help at-risk high school students get back on track, but it will only come to be if the money can be found for the position.

The graduation specialist position, presented by the Shawano Boys and Girls Club to the Shawano School District’s executive committee last week, is a $50,000 per year position that would be equally funded by the district, the club and the state. However, the state is in the middle of a biennial budget, so money could not be made available until next year. Also, the local Boys and Girls Club does not have the money earmarked for such a position, nor does the school district.

That means the local entities will need to figure out other funding sources for the time being, as the district is interested in having a specialist start work with the next school year, which starts in September.

Board member Chuck Dallas suggested asking Dollars for Scholars and area family foundations if they would be interested in funding the position until more permanent arrangements could be made.

“Why Judge Eberlein gave that money to the (Dollars for Scholars) cause was to keep the at-risk kids off the streets and out of jail,” Dallas said.

Wendy Crawford, co-chairwoman for the Shawano Boys and Girls Club, recommended speaking to other districts that have graduation specialists and see how they have funded their positions to see if there’s a way to bring a specialist to Shawano without breaking the bank for her club or the school district.

Specialists are in place through the Greater Green Bay Boys and Girls Club, the parent entity for Shawano’s club, in the Green Bay, Denmark, Howard-Suamico and Ashwaubenon school districts. There are also graduation specialists in place in Milwaukee, Oshkosh, the Fox Cities and Fond du Lac, and there is interest from school districts in Seymour and West De Pere, according to Alex Garza, director of school-based services with Green Bay’s Boys and Girls Club.

The specialists work through a program called Be Great Graduate.

“It’s really a statewide initiative,” Garza said, “and it works.”

Garza told the board that the program is voluntary for students. Participants can expect to meet with a specialist once a week, and that specialist will help the students by looking at grades, food insecurity and school involvement to help them get back on track.

“What we’re trying to do is serve the whole child,” Garza said. “Yes, grades are important. Attendance is important, but the proof is in the relationship. We’re starting to see some returns on that.”

Because high school classrooms can have up to 30 students, it’s tough for teachers to be able to provide the one-on-one attention that many at-risk students need, according to Garza.

“If they need a place to just share what’s going on in their head, we do everything through a trauma-informed lens,” Garza said.

Randi Anderson, Shawano School District superintendent, told the board that the position would be valuable to the district.

“We have a segment of our population that we’re missing,” Anderson said. “This, obviously, is a good opportunity to build those relationships and is a very cost-effective model. If we can save 20 kids and have them cross the stage and get the golden ticket — a diploma — then it really opens doors.”

Michael Sleeper agreed with Anderson, noting that the transition from middle school to high school can be a difficult one, and many students have at least one failing grade in their freshman year, with a few having multiple low grades.

“Catching those students in the transition from middle school to high school, which is a traumatic step, for the first time in their lives, if they don’t pass a class, there are dire consequences,” Sleeper said. “Focusing on that freshman-sophomore group, having that extra assistance is invaluable.”