PWHS touts positives, comes to grips with score

Administrators emphasize graduation rate, lay out plan to address school’s slide on state report card
Ozaukee Press staff

Port Washington High School administrators led with the positive last week when presenting their school’s state report card, which gave it an accountability score that was nine points lower than the previous year and the lowest of any school in a district that trailed every other school system in Ozaukee County.

“A major glow is that our students are here in school, they like to be here and they are graduating,” Assistant Principal and Athletic Director Nate Hinze told the Port Washington-Saukville School Board, using the district’s terminology for positive outcomes — “glows” — as opposed to areas of concern — “grows.”

Hinze’s assessment was based on the fact that Port High’s graduation rate climbed seven points to 96.2% on its 2021-22 Department of Public Instruction report card, which was released in November, and its chronic absenteeism rate fell by four points to 7.3%.

Administrators noted that the school’s graduation rate is well above the state average of 89.4%, although that is true of all high schools in Ozaukee County.

Cedarburg High School has the highest four-year graduation rate in the county at 98.8%, followed by Homestead in Mequon at 98.4%, Grafton at 97.8%, Ozaukee in Fredonia at 97.8%, Cedar Grove-Belgium at 97.4% and Port at 96.2%.

Port High does, however, have the highest seven-year graduation rate in the county at 99.5%. A seven year rate is calculated because some students with special educational needs have until they are 21 years old to graduate.

Most high schools in the county also have fairly low rates of chronic absenteeism. Grafton leads the way at 3.4% followed by Cedarburg at 3.8%, Cedar Grove-Belgium at 4.7%, Ozaukee at 5.2%, Port at 7.3% and Homestead at 14%.

Administrators also touted Port High as a truly comprehensive school that offers everything from technology education classes and apprenticeship opportunities to Advanced Placement courses and a multitude of music and art classes.

“We really pride ourselves on how comprehensive of a school this is and all the awesome options our kids have available to them,” Assistant Principal Dan Solorzano said.

But there is no escaping the fact, administrators said, that the school’s accountability score dropped significantly. While its 70.2 score falls into the state’s “exceeds expectations” category, it does so by only three-tenths of a point and was higher only than Ozaukee High’s score of 69.6 among high schools in the county.

Port High’s score was also a significant factor in the district’s overall score of 75, the lowest among school systems in the county.

“The coach in me knows there are glows but there are also grow areas,” Port High Principal Rachel Biertzer said. “To look at our report card means we also have to look at areas where we can improve.

“The reality is our report card score dropped from 79.7 to 70.2. We acknowledge this as a staff.”

Of concern is the school’s performance in reading and math.

While the number of students who are considered proficient in English language  arts decreased by about 3% to 36.1%, the number of those who have a below basic mastery of the subject matter increased by a similar percentage and is now at 20.6%.

The number of students who are proficient in math dropped by about 7% to 25.8%, while those considered to have a below basic mastery of the subject increased by 3% and is now at 31.4%.

“When you have to look in the mirror at a report card that goes the opposite direction of maybe you’d like it to go, it can be personal,” Biertzer said. “But we really want to look at it from an objective standpoint and say, ‘What is the data saying and where do we shrink those gaps?’”

To do that, the school will study the ACT and Pre-ACT scores of its students and rely on data collected during what the district refers to as learning walks focused on Tier 1 instruction, or core classroom teaching.

Learning walks began at the high school in fall with members of the Port High Building Leadership Team sitting in on classes to observe.

By December, all teachers were given the opportunity to participate in learning walks, a process that concluded last week.

“Now we’ll really dig into the data from the learning walks and take a look at what are those things we’re doing really well in Tier 1 instruction and what are those things we might want to focus in on a little more,” Hinze said.

For instance, Hinze said, educators will consider such things as whether students are being asked “depth of knowledge questions” and being given enough time to answer them.

Port High is also working to improve student engagement using the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support model, which staff are currently being trained in, Solorzano said.

“Ultimately, we want to increase engagement of our students and connectivity with the staff,” he said.

Biertzer said staff members will do what it takes to improve student achievement.

“We’re committed to each other and doing the work it will take to really improve,” she said.

Biertzer, who came to the district at the beginning of this school year, inherited a report card based on 2021-22 data and a school that experienced turnover in its highest ranks last year.

Longtime Port High Principal Thad Gabrielse was placed on administrative leave in December and resigned weeks later after being ticketed for drunken driving.

Solorzano and Hinze divided the duties of running the school with help from now-retired Director of Special Education Duane Woelfel until Biertzer came on as principal on July 1.


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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