New format at middle school gets positive reviews from teachers, parents
By Jennifer Eisenbart
Last fall, staff at Karcher Middle School started to look at the possibility of conducting parent/teacher conferences, well, differently.
“The concept has been out there for a while,” said Karcher guidance counselor Steve Berezowitz, of the idea of student-led conferences, where students are involved in walking a parent or guardian through their school portfolio and accomplishments. “They’re meeting with a parent and the student.
“A lot of schools have started going to this to increase the communication,” he added.
Last week, Karcher tried out that format for the first time. Judging by accounts from Berezowitz, teachers and even Karcher parents, the format was a success.
“I thought they did a really good job of it,” said business teacher Kelly Brutlag of the students. “Normal parent/teacher conferences … the student answers questions, but it’s not the same as all the positives.
“A lot of times, we’re trying to work on what we need to work on,” she added. “This way, the students were able to have all the successes. It was all about them.”
After first looking at the prospect of switching from traditional conferences to the student-led process last fall, the idea really gained steam in January.
That, however, put teachers at Karcher in the middle of a time crunch. They had about a month to organize the format, which included students putting together online portfolios of their work.
Brutlag helped all the students pull that together, according to Berezowitz. Several other teachers were involved in the advisory group, including Patti Tenhagen, Marilee Hoffman and Dawn Salbreiter.
With everything placed online so students had access via laptops, parents could follow students through their progress.
“That gave us the vehicle to basically share with the parents,” said Berezowitz. “It was such an easy way of accessing all of the sites.”
Students were given a template to follow. While seventh-graders focused more on the transition from Dyer Intermediate and Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) and Wisconsin Knowledge Concept Exam (WKCE) scores, eighth-graders were focused more on making the transition to the high school in the fall.
Teachers were in the room to mediate, and also to answer questions. Teachers and parents could also conference privately if needed, but the students “advisory” (homeroom) teacher directed the conferences.
Berezowitz said the survey parents took and returned showed a definite appeal to the process, especially since home communication about school and grades doesn’t always take place.
“Those teachers know those kids very well,” Berezowitz said. “There are so many positives we got out of our feedback, but there are some things we’ll tweak next year.”
A Karcher parent who was interviewed said the process promoted students into a leadership position for a change.
“Most time, you’re at a conference, a teacher talks and a student listens,” the parent said. “It’s nice to have a student explain what they’re working on, what it’s about and where they’re going with it.
“I think we got more out of it, but it’s a different more,” the parent added. “You get the student’s perspective, and a little bit about the skills they’re building. It’s more of a student assessment of what’s going on than a teacher’s assessment of what’s going on, but you also have the grades and the teacher’s assessment (to compare).
“It makes for a well-rounded conference.”