Sun Prairie teachers, administrators at odds over proposed health class cutbacks

Union head: Administration won't listen to staff

Ahead of the school board meeting Monday, the union representing Sun Prairie’s public school teachers came out against a district plan to cut back on health education classes.

At the meeting, an overflow crowd of teachers and parents, numbering more than 100, packed the Sun Prairie school district board room to hear a presentation of the proposal and offer comment.

The plan would eliminate separate health classes taught by a health educator for some elementary and middle school students.

Fourth- and fifth-graders would have weekly health classes, eighth-graders would be required to have health classes every other day and high schoolers would be required to take a half-credit of health education.

On the elementary school level, state-required health concepts would be integrated into other classes, according to a district presentation.

District officials said they want to make the change because the district spends far more time on health than a lot of other districts around the state and they want to focus on improving test scores, particularly in math, by spending more time on core academic subjects in class instead of health.

“We look at language arts and math as two of our most important subjects because they really provide the basis for everything else that we do,” Tom Weber, Sun Prairie school board president, said. “Right now, we do more direct instruction of health than nearly any other district. We’re not talking about going to the state minimum as far as health instruction, but we are looking to pare it back some.”

Kent Wedemeyer, president of the Sun Prairie Education Association, the union representing the district’s teachers, said teachers are very concerned about the proposed changes.

“The health educators believe that health education, at this point, with all the mental health issues that our students are experiencing, is very important,” Wedemeyer said. “We don’t understand why we should be getting rid of that, done by health education professionals.”

Wedemeyer said elementary school teachers are worried about an added workload.

“Classroom teachers in elementary are already overwhelmed with what they’re being asked to do, and now we’re giving them something extra to do,” he said.

Wedemeyer said the health education issue is indicative of what his members see as a larger problem with district leaders.

“Really that was just the straw that broke the camel’s back,” he said. “Over the past half a decade, three to four years, there’s been a deterioration of the committment of current district leadership to involve teachers in the decision-making process and actually have our voices being heard and having us be in charge of our profession.”

Wedemeyer said he believes these issues are negatively affecting students. He cited his members’ issues with transfers into the district’s new elementary schools, the district’s move to advance eighth-graders into Algebra I and discussions over the district’s budget as examples of administrators failing to listen to teachers.

“We are told what to do, rather than being asked to be partners along the journey, and we think this is starting to negatively affect the education of our students in Sun Prairie,” Wedemeyer said. “What we want is our current leadership to listen to and value teacher voices and be a partner in education rather than being a management team and telling us what we need to do.”

Weber said he stands behind Superintendent Brad Saron and he and school board members actively value teacher input.

“The school board’s extremely happy with the direction our leadership is taking the district,” Weber said. “We have a great appreciation for our teachers.”

The school board did not make any decisions on the health education proposal; in fact, the decision is not up to the board at all, Weber said. Instead, it is up to Saron and his administration team.

Wedemeyer said he hoped the large turnout at the school board meeting will show top district leaders that teachers have a voice.

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