There are no restaurants, banks, grocery stores, or other everyday establishments or public places specifically for people with special needs, different education levels, or specific skin tones. Thankfully those places are there for everyone’s use. Shouldn’t students be educated the same way, with all their peers, as much as possible? That would be a great start to teaching and learning acceptance, care, empathy, and respect for others while creating a foundation to help students navigate life.
When I started at Stoughton High School ten years ago, I found a school ready for a change. At that time, the overall graduation rate was 84 percent—65 percent for students with a disability. There were over 600 failing grades marked per semester, and 24 percent of our student population were receiving IEP services. The school district was in the middle of a multi-year Office for Civil Rights review and was on the state DPI disproportionality list. The school climate was negative and the culture showed little school pride.
I knew that we needed to roll up our sleeves and get to work. Our students, families, and community deserved a better learning environment. We needed to transform Stoughton High School into a place that everyone felt welcome and all students were able to achieve success.
This transformation process was like turning around a big ship. From the start we knew that we were creating a place for all students. Based on the work of Colleen A. Capper, Elise M. Frattura, and Maureen W. Keys from their books, Meeting the Needs of All Students of All Abilities and Leading for Social Justice, we committed ourselves to an Integrated Comprehensive Services model. Using this model, we focused on full inclusion for all of our students.
Through good planning and hard work, we completed all parts of the Office for Civil Rights criteria, lowered our students with disability percentage below the state average, and became one of the few schools in the state that has been able earn their way off of the DPI disproportionality watch list. Our staff did amazing work on accommodations, modifications, and differentiation of lessons to keep all students in their regular educational settings with their peers. We do not have pull-out special education classes at Stoughton High School; all students are educated with their peers.
Not only did we need to shore up our social justice lens, we needed to tend to our overall school student expectations. Again, through the hard work of our staff and systematic planning with Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, we have been able to create a fantastic learning environment for our students. We stress that our students are ready, respectful, and responsible. We increased the academic rigor by adjusting our curricula, increasing our graduation requirements, increasing AP offerings, and teaching college classes on campus. Our average graduation rate for all students has risen to 97 percent. The other piece of the puzzle was to strengthen our extracurricular offerings and increase avenues for students to become involved. We now offer so many opportunities for students that we have over 70 percent of our students involved in school activities.
There is always work to do, but when I look at what we have accomplished, I am amazed. Our staff has done a fantastic job and put in many hours of hard work helping students and families.
As a school, we have exceeded expectations on every state report card, received the State Spirit of Excellence award, and the WIAA Award of Excellence, and have been nationally recognized for our inclusionary work. Stoughton High School has become a wonderful place for all students.
Watch the video we created on school culture and inclusion.
How do you make your school work for all students?
–A native of Iowa, Mike Kruse holds degrees in science education and education administration from Northwest Missouri State University. He also earned an educational specialist degree from the University of Wisconsin in educational leadership and policy analysis. In 2006–07, he was named Wisconsin Associate Principal of the Year while at Verona Area High School. He became Stoughton High School principal in 2008 and was just recently named the 2018 Wisconsin Principal of the Year.