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(Milton, WI) Hillary Gavan, Beloit Daily News

Converse Elementary School in Beloit was notified by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) it will be featured as a Spotlight School for the second year in a row. Spotlight facilities in the state are observed and emulated by other schools, according to Converse Principal Stephanie Jacobs.

"It's a nice way to confirm that what we are doing here is working. It's also good for the teachers to know their hard work is paying off by receiving the honor and having people come in and see their teaching practices," said Diane Meier, Spotlight coordinator and third grade teacher.

Meier said the nearest Spotlight school is in Milwaukee and then in Wisconsin Rapids, with most of the schools earning the designation in the northern part of the state.

"Less than 1 percent of schools are chosen to be Spotlight schools," Meier added.

The areas that Converse will highlight for visiting districts will be teaching and learning as well as decision making and accountability.

DPI will grant Converse $25,000 to each Spotlight School for both covering costs of visits by other school district teams such as meals, transportation and substitute teachers. The funds also allow Converse to provide professional development training materials and resources for the building.

Last year, Meier said Converse hosted Brodhead Elementary School, Palmyra-Eagle Elementary School, a team from the DeForest School District and Falk Elementary School in Madison.

Visiting schools are given a "menu of options" about what they may learn. Last year the schools sought to learn about Converse's student intervention team meetings; professional learning communities by grade levels; essential learning targets developed by the district in literacy and math; technology integration with the iPad program; full day 4K; and grade level intervention structure and implementation.

"We give them ideas and practices to improve their buildings, but at the same time we have conversations with them about what is working in their buildings that we can implement in ours," Meier said.

Jacobs said visiting school staff were impressed with Converse's culture of collegiality and professional learning communities. She said Converse has great instructional strategies and teachers.

"We have a very driven staff and very high expectations for our kids," Jacobs said. "The cultural piece is huge. Teachers are willing to take risks and are supported. We really work as a team," Jacobs said.

Jacobs also credited the school with a focus on interventions, data-driven instruction, professional learning communities and being welcoming to parents. She noted that while DPI only required 60 minutes of math a day, Converse offered 90 minutes of it a day.

She said the school has overcome a variety of challenges. Its biggest change was with the reconfiguration in 2011 when it picked up students from Burdge and Royce. Staffs had to merge and new students had to feel they were part of the new Converse culture. Then in 2013, the school added 4K after a year of construction thanks to the 2012 facilities referendum.

To be considered a candidate for the grant, a school must have earned Wisconsin School of Recognition status for at least three years, demonstrating consistent success in improving student learning and achievement. Converse earned the recognition 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and is awaiting to hear if it will receive the recognition this year. To be recognized as a school of recognition, a school must have high rates of poverty, based on free/reduced lunch percentages, and have above average student achievement in reading and math based on other schools with similar demographics.

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