The Blog - Rebuilding For Learning

Together We Can!

Mr. Jrason WIt

La Crosse County Human Services Director Mr. Jason Witt

Together We Can!

Connected systems for meeting the needs of all students.    Our local schools, city services, county programs and community agencies are filled with passionate professionals who have made serving children, youth and families their life’s mission.  What a tremendous impact these heroes have in our community every single day.  By supporting them through improving how our systems work together, just think of the even greater impact we can achieve!

Creating connected systems of care is a key strategy of La Crosse’s Rebuilding for Learning (RfL) effort.  The RfL initiative is directly inspired by the groundbreaking work of Howard Adelman and Linda Taylor.  Their work includes the useful visual linked here depicting ideal connected systems.  Adelman and Taylor note that the collaboration necessary to create connected systems and seamless interventions requires “horizontal and vertical restructuring of programs and services.”  That’s fancy parlance for saying we must change the status quo.  Over the years the children we serve have changed (for example, they tend to be more culturally and socioeconomically diverse, with more complex needs) and the research has evolved as to how we can best serve them.  To be successful, we must respond accordingly.

Each year since the inaugural RfL summit in 2011, we’ve come closer to closing service gaps and creating connected systems.  Thanks to the inspiring work led by Curt Teff from School District of La Crosse and Mandy Bisek from La Crosse County Juvenile Justice, decisions about when intervention from the criminal justice system is appropriate are becoming more coordinated and supports more integrated.  Advocacy by educators like Laura Huber coupled with financial support from the City of La Crosse, La Crosse Community Foundation and La Crosse County, has led to the creation of “neighborhood social workers” who can assist families before problems reach a critical level.

Speaking of filling service gaps, 2015 saw a host of new prevention initiatives1 aimed at assisting “at-risk youth.”  RfL has helped promote an environment where these new programs, far from being isolated efforts, are being coordinated in impressive ways.   This is all in addition to service restructuring underway within La Crosse County and the School District of La Crosse.

Sure, we have a long way to go in achieving our goals for connected and seamless systems of supports.  As we close the year, however, it’s appropriate to pause and appreciate how far we’ve come.  In 2016, we’re poised to continue to make significant strides in that journey, and it’s exciting to think that we’ve only scratched the surface of what’s possible.  Together we can and will ensure every child in La Crosse has the opportunity to succeed!

1Some examples of new programs and initiatives in 2015 include:  New YMCA Teen Center, Mental Health Professional added to the Boys and Girls Club, Host Home Program for Homeless Teens launched by Family and Children’s Center,  United Way Venture Grants targeted at Programs for “At Risk” Youth, YWCA Justice Circles program.



Rebuilding for Learning Summit Continues to Grow

Superintendent Randy Nelson

Superintendent Randy Nelson

On August 12, 2015, the School District of La Crosse, in partnership with La Crosse County and the City of La Crosse held its fifth annual Rebuilding for Learning Summit at the La Crosse Center. This year’s summit grew in size again with more than 230 participants. It’s an opportunity for leaders of the School District of La Crosse to work side-by-side with the many community leaders and organizations who supplement the work of our educators by providing community supports for children and families.

Our overall goal is to provide more than just a ‘safety net’, a hackneyed phrase we use many times to describe the general work that we do in the community to support students and their families. I contend, however,  that a ‘safety net’ is no long sufficient to meet the needs of our community’s children. When I think of a safety net, I visualize acrobatics of some sort…..or the circus and that daring young man on the flying trapeze….swinging from one bar to the next some thirty feet from the hard surface of the floor. Just above the floor, is a safety net which will cushion the fall. Knowing the safety net is there, the acrobat may take additional risks knowing that there is safety below.

In reality, the safety net does nothing more than break the fall to the floor. Through our rebuilding for learning efforts, we try to make the safety net more like a trampoline — something so tightly woven that when one falls on to it, they have the capacity to spring back up in to action at the top of the arena. The collaboration that we do together can tighten that fabric…….and it stands as the primary purpose for this collaborative summit.

In 2016, the summit will be expanded to include all of our teaching staff as well, creating an audience of more than 800. The extent to which we are able to tighten our fabric and make our supports more like a trampoline will directly impact the overall academic performance of our students and close gaps at the same time. Congratulations to the summit planning team for a job more than well done! The work is long and sometimes arduous, but it’s the right work — with our community and its families at the forefront.

The Community’s Family Collaborative

Mr. Steve O'Malley

Mr. Steve O’Malley

August is the 5th annual “Rebuilding for Learning” summit sponsored by the City of La Crosse, the La Crosse School District and La Crosse County.  La Crosse County is proud to be a strong partner with the School District and the City in this groundbreaking initiative.  This collaborative partnership has directly benefited many students and families in the La Crosse area through a variety of improvements to services offered by each organization.

A primary motivation behind “Rebuilding for Learning” is that preventative initiatives are more cost effective than establishing systems of care that people come to depend upon.  Unfortunately, some students within our school district begin exposure to a variety of county services very early in life.  It is our belief that through a continued collaborative effort between the County, City and School District we can reduce the overall demand on our Human Services system, while providing more efficient service delivery and improved outcomes for students and families.

The Community Family Collaborative is one illustration of this type of service integration.  La Crosse County Human Services Director Jason Witt, backed by a wonderful team of dedicated staff and a supportive County Board, has assembled the latest example of evidenced based pursuit of outcomes from the “Rebuilding for Learning” collaboration.

The La Crosse Area Family Collaborative will begin full service delivery in September, using a proactive prevention model to deliver human services to clients where they live; improving accessibility, efficiency and ultimately the level of trust on the part of students and families.  The La Crosse Area Family Collaborative will work with the School District’s teachers and social workers, along with City law enforcement to help identify and pro-actively engage families in better meeting their needs.  Through this method of service delivery, clients gain quicker access, but reduce their long-term service needs as active participants in the process.

The Family Collaborative is a new approach to community human services delivery for La Crosse County.  We look forward to this program’s full implementation in the upcoming months in continued partnership and collaboration with the City, School District and other community organizations.  Over these past five years, the “Rebuilding for Learning” effort has helped shepherd this initiative and other process improvements making a difference in the lives of children and their families in La Crosse.   Keep up the great work.  Together we truly make a difference.


Yes! Neighborhoods Matter!

Caroline Neilsen

Caroline Neilsen, City of La Crosse, Community Development Administrator

In the protests across the country, we’ve witnessed the frustrations of families and youth of being trapped in cycle of poverty, where violence is part of everyday life. In the La Crosse area, we too have large income inequalities whereby the poverty, crime, is largely concentrated in a few neighborhoods. So what?  Does it matter where you grow up in terms of your life outcomes? Do attempts to create more economic equalities and opportunities in our neighborhoods matter?

Results from a new study recently came back with a resounding, YES, neighborhoods matter. Harvard University researchers Raj Chetty and Nathaniel Hendren found that children who grow up in some communities have better odds of escaping poverty than similar poor children elsewhere. (New York Times Article, Study)

“Every extra year of childhood spent in a better neighborhood matters,” stated Mr. Raj Chetty. The study looked at more than five million children who families moved from poor neighborhoods to better neighborhoods. The study found that every year a child spent in a better environment, improved their chances at upward mobility and potential to earn more income.

Improving the neighborhoods where poor children grow up in isn’t easy however.  Long-term, powerful economic forces have led to a situation where wealthier families have consistently moved out of the city of La Crosse and lower-quality housing and lower-income families have concentrated in a few areas.

And so our community finds itself at a critical stage too- do we continue pressing forward with initiatives such as La Crosse Promise, community policing, housing re-development, neighborhood-based programs, which aim to improve the quality of life in the poorest La Crosse neighborhoods? Do we continue to attempt a “whole of government” approach to finding joint-governmental solutions to these complex issues? Or do we remain siloed in our departments, our respective organizations, thinking we can go it alone or continue to do what we’ve always done and expect different results?

To successfully address these complex issues, we must build on the positive momentum that’s started. Creating meaningful cross-sector partnerships, with an open mind, is the only path forward to ensuring that families, no matter their income, can move to this beautiful city to find better opportunities and upward social mobility.




A Call to Action

This month’s Rebuilding for Learning Blog Post features an article that you may have read in the La Crosse Tribune this past fall.  The author, Rick Blasing, issued “A Call to Action” after attending the Rebuilding for Learning Summit, and as the school year draws to a close for thousands of students in our area, it is a good time to read this again as we reflect upon the past year  – did you answer Rick’s call?


Mr. Rick Blasing

It’s school picture day at Lincoln Middle/SOTA II/Coulee Montessori. In schools everywhere, it is the season. Students are excited as they line up, waiting their turn to be captured on film. Every hair in place, a pose that has been practiced in the mirror, a desire to be photographed in the most flattering way. It is human nature, something that we all share.

It is also the power and the mystery of the photograph – the mystic of the captured image, a moment frozen in time.

At times it seems that with the technology of the age, we live our lives at a quickened pace. With fleeting images, digital pictures so quickly captured and deleted. And, in some ways, many family conversations have also faded, becoming rapid exchanges in cyberspace that simply cut to the chase.

Sometimes late at night I pause at the photograph in the antique cabinet in our living room. It’s my great-uncle Art looking back at me. He was already advanced in years by this time – sitting proudly, beaming behind the steering wheel of his bright, red Farmall model H tractor. He was in his glory on that machine. He bought it brand new after the war. I took this picture of him in the early 1970’s.

I’m looking at uncle Art in this picture, remembering all that we did together and those many things that he taught me when I was young. I still miss him dearly. I am gazing at him with the knowledge of what events took place since his passing. I am living the future, something that he could only wonder about. Much like the many times that I can remember him looking at me, with a grin, when I was a teen. He was probably thinking of what future events he already knew that I would encounter as a young man about to enter high school. It was only when I reached adulthood that I was able to fully understand the wisdom in his guidance and the impact of his mentorship.

It strikes me, as I watch our students, how quickly time passes and how rapidly they will leave their youth for adulthood. What little time we have as parents and family members to guide and mentor, for teachers to educate and inspire. In some ways, it seems that there is something sorely missing in aspects of our advanced society, a void of guidance and direction for many youth.

I have yet to attend a graduation or school promotion of some kind and not see some teachers with tears in their eyes. It is easy to understand this, for dedicated teachers invest themselves in the lives of those young people in their charge. Educators seek to empower their students with essential knowledge, to ignite within them a zeal to pursue their own goals and dreams in life.

It was during the 4th Annual Rebuilding for Learning LaCrosse Community Summit, held in August at the LaCrosse Center, that more than 200 community members gathered to consider ways to bridge the traumatic experiences of individuals, continuing efforts to counter such barriers to learning in life. Sponsored by LaCrosse County, the City of LaCrosse, and the School District of LaCrosse, attendees considered different approaches to support youth and families by creating a trauma-responsive community.

The keynote speaker, Jim Sporleder, discussed the trauma of adverse childhood experiences and the impact that it can have on individuals throughout their life. He stressed the importance of adult guidance and mentorship of youth, that these young people must have a sense of being valued and connected. Mr. Sporleder observed that “caring adult relationships can change a life”, that “hopelessness can become hope.”

Indeed, for young people, there can exist the trauma of rejection, an emotional trauma of feeling unimportant or irrelevant to those adults in their lives. If not receiving it at home, youth will surely seek affirmation and acceptance elsewhere.

And time marches on.

Yet, the passage of time is not inherently sad and need not be maudlin. The future can and should be exciting, the newness of future opportunity and growth; to be able to marvel at the promise of what our young people may accomplish during their lives.

It should not, however, be the time for us, as parents and adults, to focus primarily on our own hobbies or interests, to be self-absorbed, but rather to put those things behind the most important responsibility – the raising, guiding, and mentoring of our young people. This is a call to action. Parents, guardians, extended-family members – it makes no difference. We must not look back with regret, years later, at opportunities missed.

The nervous smiles on school picture day continue. The photographer continues with his tried & true jokes, to put his subjects at ease. The students are looking forward to sharing their pictures with others – sharing and trading that moment in time with their friends.

A moment in time; that is, in essence, all that we have as parents, as families, as educators to guide and empower our young ones. We must not squander this opportunity, this gift to positively impact the precious life of another.

Rick Blasing

School Counselor

Lincoln Middle/SOTA II/Coulee Montessori

School District of La Crosse

Ask The Ocean The Ways It Is Wet

Dr. Troy Harcey

Dr. Troy Harcey


Submitted by: Dr. Troy D. Harcey, Associate Superintendent of Instruction,

School District of La Crosse


I once heard it said the proverbial litmus test for any relationship (personal or professional) could be boiled down to answering the following pragmatic question…

“Does my relationship with [enter any one of your relationship connections here] compliment, or complicate, the goals and ambitions I have for my life?”

Clearly, the healthiest relationships are those that compliment your life’s journey—not “every minute,” or even “every day” of course, but the general trend should be in the affirmative. One of many necessary attributes when analyzing complimentary relationship development is favorable communication (i.e. transparent, on-going, honest, etc.).

Further, if effective communication is going to create common ground, springboard deeper insights, and provide a catalyst for mutual growth within a relationship, then it must be renewed, refreshed, “rinsed-n-recycled,” and given a Phoenix-like rebirth periodically. Call it (metaphorically) a spring cleaning of the relationship closet. Okay, poorly done on my part there, but hang with me as I believe this is leading somewhere!

With communication in mind as a staple ingredient for relationship development and maximization, it will come as no surprise that from time to time communication effectiveness ebbs and flows. Sprinkle in the seismic, exponential, and dynamic changes within organizations (e.g. school districts, city and county government, etc.) in our state over the last 5 – 10 years, and it is no wonder that communication can suffer, causing the mist in our minds to become the fog in our common understandings. What we once thought we knew to be true of an organizational practice may be antiquated and obsolete.

A critical aspect of the Rebuilding for Learning effort (a collaborative design including City of La Crosse, La Crosse County, School District of La Crosse, and many frontline youth and family service organizations) is to identify and mitigate overlaps, while also identifying and filling gaps in services to youth and families. We strive for effective communication yielding … you guessed it … complimentary relationships.

For example, as a new member to the Heroin and Other Illicit Drug Task Force, I was asked, “What does the school district do in terms of mental health and AODA efforts.” It is a fair and appropriate inquiry to be certain. That said, as I thought about my response I mused that the question is akin to asking the ocean the various ways that it’s wet. That is to say, it is merely “who we are” in as much as it is “what we do” to support youth in myriad aspects of appropriate development. Still, I did take the opportunity to craft what can most accurately be described as a rather pedestrian “tip of the iceberg” document for review and discussion.

Are you curious as to the various ways the ocean is wet? If so, take a “peek at the peak” of who we are and what we do in the School District of La Crosse as related to mental health and AODA by clicking on the following link:

Heroin and Other Illicit Drug Task Force System of Supports

We will tirelessly seek to harvest and provide stewardship for complimentary relationships as we collectively strive to enhance living, learning, and playing in our outstanding La Crosse Community.

Rebuilding for Learning Requires Good Health

Mr. Douglas Mormann

Mr. Douglas Mormann

Howard Adelman and Linda Taylor’s “Rebuilding for Learning: Addressing Barriers to Learning and Teaching, and Re-engaging Students”  helps us all remember that a student has a much better chance to learn to become a happy competent adult by being healthy and coming from a healthy family and community.  We, the people that live and work in La Crosse County, rank in the top quartile of the healthiest counties in Wisconsin as determined by the University of Wisconsin – School of Medicine and Public Health in their  ranking of the health status of States and Counties .  We are at this level because we work together to make the decisions and take the actions needed to keep ourselves and our children healthy and able to learn.


The School District of La Crosse and other school districts in the La Crosse County Health Dept. have established a number of ways to work together reach the goal of healthy children able to learn.  The attached table describes several of our Points of Communication and Coordination.  These efforts are successful.  We are pretty healthy.  Could we be doing better?  Sure.  All we need to do is look across the Mississippi River.  Our health status is good in La Crosse County and in Wisconsin but Minnesota is much better.   If you have interest and time to help our children become like the Minnesotans, take a look at the table and find a place to help us move forward.  Or look at the table and help us figure out what we are not doing that we should be.


We are really doing well now.  Many more of us are living longer and with a better quality of life than our ancestors but we can help our children do even better.  Thanks for doing what you do now and thinking about doing more.


Submitted by Doug Mormann, Dir. La Crosse County Health Dept.

Engagement: What Does It Mean?

Mr. Karl Green

Mr. Karl Green

Engagement, a word in itself familiar to many, but perhaps we often miss the real meaning this word has and the magnitude of this word in lives of youth in our area.

France is currently reeling from violence associated with disengaged citizens.  Ultimately, the violence expressed in many parts of the world in regards to radicalism is often tied to a lack of engagement between these individuals and the communities for which they are a part.  Why?  Lack of engagement creates a potential for isolation.  A broad body of research illustrates engaged youth are less likely to participate in delinquency and interpersonal violence.  While we are on far opposite sides of the continuum between radicalized youth in France, and our current student population in our La Crosse Schools; the takeaway is the importance of the work we have done locally to engage the youth in our schools.

But this doesn’t just happen to youth in our schools.  There also is potential for this in our neighborhoods.  Isolation in our neighborhoods can pervade as neighborhoods transition in type of use.  Some of La Crosse’s neighborhoods that once represented major population sources for the school district became dominated by residents with higher mobility rates (moving into and out of the neighborhood).  Neighborhoods more transient in nature, may lack core families or residents and have the potential of reinforcing isolation to the neighborhood’s children.  These children may once again “slip through the cracks”.

Rebuilding for Learning efforts led by the La Crosse School District, La Crosse County and the City of La Crosse, are directly tied to better engagement of students.  Rebuilding for Learning emphasizes the role that blighted neighborhoods may have in disengaging students, and the impact this plays on student’s ability to learn in the classroom.

The City of La Crosse is recognizing the importance City neighborhood’s play in the City’s overall health.  A lack of reinvestment in some neighborhoods is very strongly correlated with the challenge of higher mobility rates.  The City and County’s local economic development efforts have tried to support neighborhood activities with staffing resources for programs such as La Crosse Promise, the La Crosse Neighborhood Development Corporation, Reinvest La Crosse, Project Restore, and other various initiatives.

Rebuilding for Learning illustrates to the City, County and School District the intricate role each organization plays in the efforts of each partner.  Rebuilding for Learning illustrates that student reengagement will be very difficult for a School District, if the City and County are not on-board with some of the external factors that disengage students.  It is interesting to me how full circle the role of engagement plays in our world.  Students, youth, I would even go so far as to say “people” thrive when they are engaged in their environments.  Engagement by students in the classroom, in their families, and in their communities is the work that Rebuilding for Learning efforts aim to support.  As we see the current issues affecting our Country and world, we are once again reminded on the critical importance that engagement of our youth plays in a well functioning, democratic society.

Karl Green

Community Resource Educator – La Crosse County UW Extension

Ensuring Every Child Has An Opportunity to Succeed

Jason Witt

Mr. Jason Witt

Submitted by:  Jason Witt, La Crosse County Human Services Director

Under the Rebuilding for Learning Initiative, we are united in the goal of ensuring that every child in our community has an opportunity to succeed.  It’s a goal that has never been more ambitious or challenging.  Children passing through the doors of La Crosse schools today face more barriers to success than ever before.  Evidence of this shows up in some troubling human services statistics.

  • We have seen a 52 percent increase in children whose home environment is so unsafe that they have been removed and placed in foster care. How difficult is it to show up “ready to learn” with such turmoil and emotional stress going on with the family?
  • More La Crosse County youth are arrested than almost anywhere else in the state. These youth are often from troubled homes or families with a history in the criminal justice system.  An arrest may saddle them with lifetime barriers to education and employment, making it much more likely that a family cycle of crime and poverty will continue.
  • African American youth, who are among the fastest growing racial group in La Crosse schools, are approximately nine times more likely to be arrested than their white counterparts. They are also suspended from school at much higher percentages.  An arrest record and disrupted education add to the list of barriers many of these youth already face individually.  Collectively, the grossly disproportionate racial impact erodes confidence in local institutions of authority.
  • Teachers are seeing more mental health and behavior issues among the children in their classrooms.  These problems seem to be arising at younger ages and with increased intensity.  Without a consistent and aggressive early intervention response, we exacerbate the barriers these children will face as they grow into adulthood.

With regards to all of these issues, wouldn’t it be nice if someone were to create a really great program to fix them?  Someone else, that is.  After all –whether it be teachers, county social workers, or community therapists– we all have enough on our plate with our day to day tasks.  Besides, isn’t there a “system” that’s supposed to be addressing these issues?

Rebuilding for learning recognizes that there’s no magic fix.  Certainly there is not a fix we can pass off to someone else.  As the County, City and School District, in partnership with community agencies, we are the system.  Only through working collectively and bringing a willingness to change longstanding and comfortable practices is there hope of improving the future of our community’s most troubled children.

We can be proud of our efforts.  There’s a level of cooperation and passion around Rebuilding for Learning that is the envy of other communities.  The dedication we’ve seen on display at four annual community summits has sustained itself in “roll up your sleeves” projects that continue throughout the year.  We see the fruits of our work in improved communications, a better understanding of what we all bring to the table and a shared attitude that “we’re all in this together.”  What follows is just a sampling of the fruits of our collaboration that will be moving forward in a significant way in 2015.

  • Trauma Informed Care: We will continue the work from this year’s summit towards “creating a trauma informed community.”  The year 2015 will bring several opportunities to progress in learning and practice.  Collectively, we will increase our ability to base our intervention strategies for children on knowledge of their unique Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).
  • Juvenile Justice Reform: Work will get underway to implement the recommendations of last year’s Juvenile Justice Task Force, which was co-chaired by School District of La Crosse and La Crosse County.  At the top of the list will be formulation of an agreement establishing clear thresholds as to when youth misbehavior at school warrants an intervention from the criminal justice system.  Exploration will be done to fill current gaps related to prevention services and arrest alternatives.
  • Neighborhood-Based Services: A new prevention initiative will be launched to identify and stabilize families before they enter child protective services, the criminal system or other emergency systems of care.   As part of this initiative, newly created community social workers will be “embedded” in two of our most challenged area neighborhoods.  The workers will coordinate services with a core team of teachers, police, public health nurses and others to identify and pro-actively engage at-risk families.  Rather than offering help as a stranger, these workers will approach families as a trusted neighborhood presence.
  • Mental Health: Capitalizing on opportunities brought by recent State initiatives in the mental health area, we will significantly expand certain types of mental health resources for children.  Multiple stakeholders from across the Rebuilding for Learning spectrum will be focusing on tools and consistency in early identification and treatment.  The focus will be on making sure every child needing help is connected to appropriate care.

With these and other collaborative efforts, 2015 is sure to be another year of progress in keeping opportunities for success alive for our community’s most troubled children!  As we anticipate the good things to come, let’s take some time during what’s left in the current year to soak up all that’s good about the Holiday season.  Thanks for your tireless efforts on behalf of our community’s children.  As mentors, coaches and caregivers to so many, may you experience your own joy and healing during this special season!

Making Connections: Teen Services Providers Network


Sarah Johnson

Ms. Sarah Johnson

There are many area organizations assisting with various transitions for youth and families throughout La Crosse County.  In 2014-15, the Rebuilding for Learning “Transitions” Content Arena plans to focus on transitions that teens face (at home, school and in the community).  This month, we highlight the Teen Service Providers Network (TSPN):

n February 2013 the Y Teen Center established the Teen Service Providers Network (TSPN) in order to connect teen-serving organizations so we can identify what our community has to offer for adolescents, find opportunities for collaboration and establish ongoing communication. Our first meeting included 47 attendees representing 30 agencies. Since that time, TSPN has been meeting quarterly to enact the following mission and vision: Sustain effective communication and collaboration between agencies serving teens in the La Crosse area in order to have a community where all teens are safe, supported and have their needs met. The addition of a Google+ Community will now allow us to facilitate communication among agencies throughout the year.

New members are welcome to join us at any time by attending TSPN quarterly meetings, via the Google+ community, or both! Our next meeting is Thursday, October 23, 2014, 10am-noon at the main Y in La Crosse. Lunch is provided (courtesy of Kaitlyn’s Table).  For more information or to RSVP, please contact Teen Center Director Lisa Luckey at 784-8490 or [email protected].

Instructions for joining Google+ Community:


-Log in to your gmail account (or create a free gmail account if you do not currently have one).

-From your gmail inbox you can join Google+ by clicking on your email address in the top right corner then clicking on the button ‘join Google+.

-If you are already a member of Google+ you will see +yourname.

-Once you create your Google+ profile you can click on the dropdown menu called Home and find the tab for communities.

-Search for ‘Teen Service Providers Network’ and ask to join.


*Notifications from the community will be sent to your gmail account but you can change this to have them sent to your work email if you would prefer.