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1,000 Educators Declare Their Pride in SAGE


More than 1,000 educators and guests packed the state's first conference on the highly successful SAGE class-size reduction program Monday and Tuesday (March 6-7, 2000) in Milwaukee.

"Today we gather here as part of our Great Schools effort to celebrate one of the true victories for all Wisconsin citizens ... that is the promise and the possibilities of the SAGE program," WEAC Executive Director Michael Butera told the enthusiastic crowd.

The SAGE Schools Are Great Schools Conference was organized by WEAC, in partnership with the Wisconsin Federation of Teachers and the Wisconsin Realtors Association. SAGE stands for Student Achievement Guarantee in Education, a program that reduces class size in primary grades in schools with large numbers of children from low-income backgrounds.

Butera said SAGE is closely linked to the goals and objectives of WEAC's expansive Great Schools initiative.

"Gathered here today, teachers, good union members, parents, administrators and public officials will work cooperatively to collaborate in the best sense of the word in ensuring that every kid deserves and receives a Great School," Butera said.

"Thanks to hard work by people like you in this room, Wisconsin will invest in its children through establishing as many as 500 SAGE schools across this state," he said. "We should be proud of what we have done, what we intend to do and of the political necessities we have engaged in to make this a reality."

Pointing out that the SAGE conference is a union activity, WEAC Vice President Stan Johnson said, "We're here for the achievement of our students." And, he said, "it's about making our profession a better profession."

Wisconsin Federation of Teachers President Bob Beglinger said SAGE "is an example of why Wisconsin schools continue to rank high and among the best schools in the world."

Bill Berland, president of the Wisconsin Realtors Association, said good schools sell houses. "Our partnership brings to light the clear-cut link between education and real estate," he said. "The quality of schools directly impacts the vitality and viability of neighborhoods."

State Superintendent John Benson and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Professor Alex Molnar were presented special awards for their key roles in the development of the SAGE program.

"I believe SAGE is a model for partnership and collaboration," Benson said. He said he accepted the award on behalf of "our littlest children ... who will have a much better chance of getting on that plane and soaring to success."

Molnar, who headed a task force that came up with the idea for SAGE, credited all the task force members and Benson, who appointed Molnar to the post after Benson defeated Molnar in the race for state superintendent. Molnar said had he won that election, SAGE probably never would have been created.

"Thank God I lost," Molnar said. "And thank God he (Benson) showed that trust in me."

SAGE, Molnar said, "demonstrates that everyone benefits when we all work together."

Conference keynote speaker NEA Vice President Reg Weaver said the success of SAGE proves that class size does matter, and so does funding for education. Yes, he said, SAGE costs money, "and the students are achieving." The next time someone tells you money doesn't matter, Weaver told the participants, tell them about SAGE.

It's another example, he said, of why Wisconsin schools are Great Schools.

"And every kid deserves a Great School," he said.

"Keep up the good work. I am so proud of you."

Conference participants spent most of Tuesday attending a variety of workshops on topics such as Understanding Fiscal Issues, Understanding SAGE Program Requirements, Developing Accountability Plans, Encouraging Professional Development Opportunities, and Increasing Parental Involvement.

Representatives from many of the existing 80 SAGE schools shared perspectives with representatives from schools that are considering joining the SAGE program next year, when it will expand to as many as 500 schools statewide as the result of increased state funding.

Posted March 7, 2000