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Superior teacher honored at state event

Lori Danz received a shout-out from the state superintendent for an inclusive lesson.

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School Forest Coordinator Lori Danz, left, looks on as third grader Zianni Calhoun points out a bald eagle in a trail camera picture taken at the Superior School Forest Monday, Feb. 10, 2020. Third graders from Stacy Burfield's class at Four Corners Elementary School spent the day learning about birds and making treats for them.
Jed Carlson / File / Superior Telegram
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MADISON — A Superior High School teacher and her lesson in inclusion were highlighted during State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jill Underly’s State of Education address Thursday, Sept. 22 in Madison.

“Public education must ensure every single student is able to succeed, which requires equity and inclusion,” Underly said.

That means every student must see themselves included, acknowledged and celebrated in lessons, she said.

“Our Black and Indigenous and students of color — they must see themselves reflected in our lessons, and not only in lessons about struggle and trauma in history, but also in lessons about growth and success,” Underly told the crowd gathered in the Capitol rotunda.

She pointed to a lesson Lori Danz, a biology teacher and school forest coordinator, gave to a group of Superior Middle School choir students on the importance of taking on challenges. As the jumping off point, Danz used the perseverance of Emily Ford. Ford is the first African American, the first woman and the first member of the LGBTQ+ community to hike the entire Ice Age Trail during winter.

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“Students learned about Ford’s journey, and how she overcame challenges by hiking through the school forest themselves, all while singing,” Underly said.

Curriculum like the forest lesson are a key to closing the achievement gap, which can be seen instead as a representation gap or engagement gap, Underly said.

“If you can see it, you can learn from it. You can aspire to it. And you can become it — because you can believe in the journey that will get you from here to there,” Underly said.

Danz was one of five educators to be selected a Wisconsin Teacher of the Year for the 2022-2023 school year. Each received a plaque following the speech. From that group of five, Danz was chosen to represent the state in the National Teacher of the Year program.

Much of the superintendent’s speech was dedicated to the need to increase school funding, particularly in light of Wisconsin’s current budget surplus.

“The past 12 years, our public schools have been historically defunded. The funding received hasn’t kept up with inflation. And in 2023, the experimental five year pilot on freezing revenue limits will turn 30 years old,” Underly said.

She likened the state’s education system to a car in need of fuel.

“If our schools were cars, then the last time we filled the gas tank all the way was decades ago. Our schools are running out of gas; we are running on fumes as we spend down the principle of that decades-old investment. We need to keep it strong, to fill up that gas tank and shore up that foundation — for our current generation of students and the generations to come,” Underly told the crowd.

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Investing in schools isn’t a partisan issue, she said, or at least, it didn’t used to be.

“In 2019 — just three short years ago — it seems like forever ago — the bipartisan Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding recommended investments just like this. It’s right there on page three, the very first recommendation: ‘The Commission recommends that the legislature increases the resources for school districts through increases in the per pupil adjustment under revenue limits.’ I agree,” Underly said.

Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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