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PW-S district lauded as mental health leader PDF Print E-mail
Written by Bill Schanen IV   
Wednesday, 10 August 2016 21:45

Initiative in local schools to erase stigma of illness, educate students and staff earns praise from experts

The featured presentation at the Port Washington-Saukville School District’s opening day assembly for staff members later this month won’t focus on the latest in educational technology, current trends in curriculum or strategies for standardized test-taking. It will focus on mental health — no surprise for a district that experts say is a leader in Wisconsin and beyond in providing mental health programs for its students and educators.

“I’ve taught in special education for 25 years, and I’m here to tell you that what the Port Washington-Saukville School District is doing is extremely unique,” Carol Rybak, youth program coordinator for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Wisconsin, said. 

“This district realizes we have a mental health problem — a serious problem — and when you have a school district and a community that acknowledges that and actually does something about it, that’s very unique.”

The district’s initiative, which focuses on mental heath education for students and educators, seeks to erase the stigma associated with mental illness and provides treatment and support for young people who suffer from it, began early last year and today thrives with the support of a coalition of community agencies and organizations, Supt. Michael Weber said.

Chief among those organizations is Character Counts of Port Washington-Saukville, which in March 2015 formed a mental health committee that has fueled the school district’s programs.

“It really started as one of those side conversations at a Character Counts meeting and just took off from there,” Weber said. “It’s such a natural part of our philosophy as a school district, that we have to educate the whole child. If children are struggling with mental health issues, it’s very difficult for them to thrive in school.”

Other organizations involved in the initiative include NAMI Ozaukee County, the Ozaukee County Department of Human Services, Ozaukee Family Services, United Way of Northern Ozaukee, public libraries in Port Washington and Saukville and Wisconsin Family Ties, a nonprofit organization of families that include young people who suffer from emotional, behavioral and mental health issues.

“I’ve only been in Port Washington for three months, but I’m so inspired and impressed that the community has taken on such a difficult subject,” Tom Carson, the newly hired director of the Niederkorn Library in Port Washington and a member of the Character Counts mental health committee, told the School Board Monday.

The reason the initiative has been successful, Weber said, is that instead of just fostering a dialog about mental health issues, it’s focused on action. And instead of consisting of sporadic in-service sessions and inspirational daily announcements, the initiative is a series of ongoing programs that have become an integral part of how the district provides services for its students, Rybak said. 

“The reason we’ve attracted so much attention with what we’re doing is that we’re organized  and action packed,” Weber said. “Our mission is to take action, to do the things that are needed to help our students.”

The district’s initiative was debuted for Port Washington High School students early last school year with a Voices in my Head mental health presentation.

Beyond that, the district has made a substantial investment in mental health services.

A comprehensive counseling center has been established at the high school, where students can make appointments to meet with a therapist during the school day.

And for the 2016-17 school year, the School Board has added a fifth school psychologist, an expensive and hard-to-fill position, so each of the district’s schools will have a psychologist on staff.

The district has also invested in training for its employees. An effort to implement the national Mental Health First Aid program, which teaches people how to understand and respond to people who exhibit signs of mental illness, appeared initially to be too expensive for the district, but administrators found a way to have two employees — Port High Assistant Principal Dan Solorzano and school psychologist Jennifer Eason — trained as instructors who are now training staff members.

In addition, Weber has written a graduate course based on the book, “The Teacher’s Guide to Student Mental Health” by William Dikel. The course is available to district teachers, as well as other educators through Colorado State University-Pueblo.

Both Mental Health First Aid and the graduate courses are intended to help educators wade through the confusing array of behaviors they see in students in order to help those who need it.

“As parents or educators, every time children struggle, you don’t want to send them to the psychologist,” Weber said. “So how do you know what behavior is the product of natural development and what behavior is a precursor to mental health issues?

“It’s not so much that we’re training people to be able to identify a mental health issue but just understand where students are emotionally on a day-to-day basis.”

This school year, the district plans to expand its mental health programming by offering Raise Your Voice, a NAMI Wisconsin program intended to encourage young people to start their own dialog about mental health, at the high school and to eighth-graders at Thomas Jefferson Middle School. The program, which would be piloted in the Port schools, takes the form of a club run by students, Solorzano said. 

“It’s a club where kids can come together to help reduce the stigma associated with mental illness, get help from their peers and work to change the school climate,” he said. “It’s not a place to get diagnosed. It’s a place to share your story, and not just for kids with mental illness.”

In a short time, the district initiative has yielded results, not the least of which is that mental health is now a topic of discussion for students and educators, Weber said. 

“Mental health is no longer a taboo subject in this district,” he said. “The stigma is slowly  starting to go away.”

Patty Ruth, a former School Board president who works for the Ozaukee County Public Health Department and is a member of the Character Counts mental health committee, said, “There is a stigma associated with mental illness, and it’s hard to know where it’s safe to speak up about it. I think it speaks volumes that the Port Washington-Saukville School District is a place where it is safe to do that.”

Grace Boylan, a 2015 Port High graduate and member of the mental health committee, told School Board members that she suffered in silence, assuming a “secret identity” to hide her mental illness from her peers.

“Now I enjoy sharing my story,” she said. “I like touching the lives of others.”

Weber said, “I’m convinced that when Grace was in high school, if we were as far along as we are now, she would have come forward and we would have been able to help her.”

Richard Thomas, a former Port Washington police chief who was instrumental in forming Character Counts of Port Washington-Saukville and serves on its mental health committee, said the district is making long-overdue strides in dealing with mental illness.

“For years we have had a very limited understanding of mental health issues, limited especially in terms of our response to them,” he said. “What is being done now is a model. I just don’t see it being done elsewhere in the state.”

Scourge of ash borer being felt in Port PDF Print E-mail
Written by Kristyn Halbig Ziehm   
Wednesday, 03 August 2016 19:05

As deadly infestation continues to take toll on ash trees, city pursues grant that would help buy replacement species

The mortality of Port Washington’s ash trees, which have been under siege by the emerald ash borer since at least 2012, is beginning to peak, city forester Jon Crain said Tuesday.

“Mortality is exploding right now, especially in natural areas,” Crain said. 

That’s especially easy to see in areas such as the Sauk Creek Nature Preserve and the ravine, Mayor Tom Mlada said.

“You can see the impact everywhere,” he said.

To help mitigate the impact, the Common Council on Tuesday approved a resolution seeking a Forest Service grant that could provide as much as $20,000 to replace trees killed by the emerald ash borer.

If the city were to receive the maximum amount, it would be able to purchase about 200 trees to replace dead or dying ash trees, Public Works Director Rob Vanden Noven said. Most would be planted along the streets, but some would also go in the city parks.

The city would provide the required 25% match through the labor needed to plant the trees, he added. 

“I anticipate we’ll be planting over 400 new trees next year,” Vanden Noven told the Common Council. That number includes replacements for not just ash trees, but also maple trees that are in decline as well.

Last year, the city cut down almost 250 ash trees that were growing along its streets, Crain said.

“We really focused on getting a lot of the larger ones out last year,” he said.

Of the approximately 1,100 ash trees that once grew along the city streets, about 600 are being treated against the borer, Crain said, and 400 have been cut down.

In addition, roughly 200 ash trees in parks and natural areas have been cut down, he said.

The remaining 200 or so ash trees along the streets that haven’t been treated will die in the next several years, Crain said, as will untold numbers in the natural areas.

The city will take down those in natural areas depending on the risk they pose to pedestrians, he said, while the majority will be allowed to fall naturally.

“There are a lot of areas that are just too dangerous to get to for us to remove them,” Crain said, particularly along the bluffs and ravines. “We’re going to handle them on a per-case basis.”

The emerald ash borer was first discovered in Wisconsin near Riveredge Nature Center in the Town of Saukville in 2008. 

The borer, a bullet-shaped insect about one-half inch long and one-eighth inch wide, infests all types of Fraxinus ash trees, including green, white and black ash. 

It burrows into the bark and lays its eggs. When the larvae hatch, they chew through the fluid-conducting vessels under the bark, cutting off the flow of water and nutrients to the tree and eventually killing it.

Port Washington was the second location in Ozaukee County to report the borer, and Crain said the damage it’s caused is proceeding along a timeline that’s long been predicted.

“It’s happening right on the timeline we expected,” he said.

Models show that in the first seven years or so after the borer infests trees in a community, mortality is 20% to 30%, Crain said, and in years eight to 11, it’s 80% to 90%.

“That’s what’s happening right now,” he said. The borer was first discovered in Port in 2012, but was likely in the city for several years before that.

 The trees that the city has treated are doing well, Crain said.

But the remaining ash trees are dying, he said.

“This year and the next the numbers are going to be huge,” Crain said. 

In a couple years, the borer will have destroyed virtually all the untreated trees, at which point the city can evaluate the treatments it is using and perhaps scale back on them, he said. Instead of treating ash trees every two years, the city may be able to stretch that out to three years.

“At that point, the insect is going to run out of its food source. Its numbers are going to go down, and it’s not going to pose as much off a threat,” Crain said. “We’ll see how it’s going.”

Vanden Noven said he’s sure the city will be able to scale back treatments in a couple years, or that the invasion will be on the decline then.

“I’m not quite as optimistic as Jon,” he said. 

But, he said, the city’s decision several years ago to treat many of its ash trees was a good one.

“A lot of communities have decided to let their entire ash tree population go,” he said. “To lose that in a year or two would just be devastating.”

Long-awaited subdivision finally begins to take shape PDF Print E-mail
Written by Kristyn Halbig Ziehm   
Wednesday, 27 July 2016 18:33

Despite delays, developer hopes to begin construction on Cedar Vineyard this fall

People driving along Highway C on Port Washington’s south side have been expecting to see shovels in the dirt as the proposed Cedar Vineyard subdivision takes shape. 

Plans for the subdivision are proceeding, albeit slower than originally expected, developer Tom Swarthout said this week.

Swarthout, president of the Highview Group, said he plans to purchase the 227-acre property off Highway C in August and begin work on the subdivision this fall.

“Things have not gone as quickly as we had hoped,” he said. “Land is a very unique transaction in today’s world. It’s just taking a little longer than we had projected, but we’re close to completing the transaction.

“Everything is falling into place.”

Surveys and engineering for the property are completed, he said, and he hopes to announce a groundbreaking soon.

Negotiations with the City of Port Washington on a developer’s agreement are progressing, he said, and the document could go before the Common Council for approval in the next month or two.

Swarthout said he plans to begin work on grading and utilities on the property this fall, as well as preparation work for streets within the complex.

In spring, the roads can be built and the property prepared for home construction, he said.

Spring is also when the City of Port will extend utilities and make road improvements to the property, City Administrator Mark Grams said.

“He can do his work on the property, and when we extend the utilities next year they can be connected,” he said. 

The land, which years ago was slated for an intensive subdivision by VK Development, is primarily on the east side of Highway C between the Kingdom Hall and Stonecroft Drive. 

A portion of the property is on the west side of Highway C, south of Stonecroft Drive.

Swarthout said he has reservations for 14 of the 82 lots in the subdivision, virtually all through word of mouth.

“I haven’t advertised,” he said. “Once we start to market the property, I think we’ll be in terrific shape.”

Swarthout said the economy is coming back in southeastern Wisconsin, and his development will benefit from that.

“Port Washington is a gem, and you’re going to see more and more people coming here,” he predicted.

Swarthout, who plans to build a home in the subdivision, said everyone else who has reserved a lot in the subdivision is from the area or has roots in the area. 

So far buyers have come from Mequon, Whitefish Bay, Cedarburg and Sheboygan, he said. The farthest away is a Maryland man who grew up in Port Washington.

“It’s a real mix of people,” he said. “We have one couple with an 18-month-old baby, retirees and everything in between. It’s the mix we had hoped for.”

He said he expects that when he markets the site, some buyers will build second homes in the subdivision as well.

Homes aren’t the only attraction for the subdivision.

Within minutes of buying the property, Swarthout said, the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust will purchase 102 acres from him for a nature preserve.

That property will preserve the environmentally sensitive Cedar Gorge and Port Washington Clay Bluffs as well as land along the bluff, ensuring public access to the lakefront.

As its name indicates, the subdivision will also be used for a vineyard that will run along Highway C and be developed over five years, as well as a winery developed by Steve and Maria Johnson, who own Parallel 44 Vineyard and Winery in Kewaunee and Door 44 Winery in Sturgeon Bay.

Swarthout said orders have already been placed for grapevines that will be planted in the vineyard next spring.

“We have identified the varietals,” Swarthout said, noting two-year-old vines will be delivered from New York State next year.

While he had planned to use a dilapidated barn owned by We Energies for the winery, Swarthout said that building had high levels of lead paint, so it wasn’t used.

Instead, he is working with Ozaukee County to take down a barn it owns in the Town of Saukville this fall and use that structure — supplemented with pieces of another barn — to create the winery.

“It’s in design right now,” he said. “It’s going to be a very cool building. You’ll have oak beams, 125 years old — you can’t replicate that. There’s a certain patina to it.

“It will create a story to the building.”

Developers fine-tune pitches for lakefront lot PDF Print E-mail
Written by Kristyn Halbig Ziehm   
Wednesday, 20 July 2016 19:01

Ansay, Stephen Perry Smith continue to tout potential benefits of proposals in bid to buy city-owned parcel

With the Port Washington Common Council slated to hold a public discussion next month on the potential sale of a city-owned car-trailer parking lot next to the marina, the two developers who have proposed buying the property for residential uses made another pitch to aldermen last week.

Jim Voelz of Redmond Co. touted the economic benefits of a plan by Ansay Development to create a 44-unit apartment building that would encompass both the city site and the adjoining Victor’s restaurant property.

He estimated that the tenants of the building would spend $893,000 annually on retail goods, compared to $286,000 for a plan for 11 townhouses submitted by Stephen Perry Smith Architects.

“It is absolutely huge,” Voelz said. “That’s one of the main benefits we feel our project brings to the community.”

He also estimated that the annual budget for the tenants of the apartment building would be $2.8 million, compared to $903,000 for the townhouse plan.

“This is an opportunity,” Voelz said. 

Ald. Doug Biggs questioned where the apartment tenants would spend their money, be it downtown Port or at shopping venues elsewhere in the county or beyond.

“How much of that money will stay in Port Washington vs. Grafton, for example?” he asked.

Voelz said the demographic information did not delineate that information.

“Certainly, a portion will be spent in downtown Port Washington,” he said. “The point is the massive difference in buying potential.”

Architect Stephen Smith told aldermen that a main difference between the two proposals is that he is not asking for any city funding while Ansay is seeking $1.5 million in development incentives from the city’s tax incremental financing district.

Because of that, his project will begin paying off for the city immediately, Smith said, estimating the townhouses will pay $79,000 in taxes annually.

The Ansay project, he said, won’t have an immediate impact because its tax payments will offset the incentives.

Smith also noted that several city committees expressed concern about the density of the Ansay proposal, the size and scale of the structure and its impact on the neighborhood.

“I think the (Ansay) building will dwarf the neighboring buildings,” he said. “The question is, is that the right location for the project. The question is how do you do density and do density right?”

Voelz and Tim Wolosz of Engberg Anderson Architects addressed the aesthetic concerns expressed by the city committees.

“We think it relates very well,” Voelz said.

The mass of the building is broken up by vertical elements and varying materials, as well as green screens that will be artistic and provide interest year-round, Wolosz said.

Voelz also noted that apartments are needed in the area, and the building’s location in downtown, close to businesses and restaurants, and on the lakefront will help attract tenants.

Smith, too, said his proposal has attracted interest from prospective buyers. 

The Common Council is expected to have a public discussion on the proposals and perhaps make a decision on which developer to sell the land to next month, City Administrator Mark Grams said.

Originally slated for the Tuesday, Aug. 2, meeting, Grams said this week that the decision may be postponed until Aug. 16 because several aldermen will be absent for the earlier meeting.

Regional music lineup to highlight Fish Day PDF Print E-mail
Written by Kristyn Halbig Ziehm   
Wednesday, 13 July 2016 18:29

Saturday festival in Port to feature performers with area roots, run/walk, parade and plenty of fried fish

There will be a distinctly regional flair to the music heard Saturday, July 16, at Fish Day, Port Washington’s largest festival.

The list of performers from the area starts with country artists Josh Thompson, a Cedarburg native whose mother lives in Port, and Nora Collins, who hails from Brookfield. They will headline the Main Stage, with Collins opening for Thompson, just as they did in 2014.

The list extends to the side stages, where Milwaukee area groups like the Briton, Road Crew, Bobby Way and the Way Outs and The Rush Tribute Project will perform.

“There’s such a huge contingent of talent in the region,” Fish Day General Chairman Mary Monday said. “When we got Josh back and Nora back, we said let’s see if we can really make this a celebration of the talent you can find here.”

This year’s 52nd annual Fish Day celebration — the oldest festival in the city —  will follow the theme “Fishmas in July.”

It includes something for everyone — an 8-kilometer run and 2-mile fun walk and run, parade, carnival, classic car show, arts and crafts area, smoked fish-eating contest, music, fireworks and, of course, a bounty of golden fried fish and chips.

Fish and chips are sold at seven stands run by local civic organizations that use the proceeds for community projects such as park improvements and scholarships.

In addition, chicken strips, cheese curds, craft and traditional beer, nonalcoholic beer, hard lemonade, Gatorade, soda and water will be sold at the stands.

 Fish Day kicks off at 8 a.m. with a run and walk to benefit Portal Industries. The race will be chip timed, providing precise information and almost instantaneous reading of the results.

The parade starts at 10 a.m., with units stepping off from the corner of Wisconsin Street and Walters Street, proceeding south on Wisconsin to Grand Avenue, then continuing west to Wisconsin Street.

Among the units will be perennial crowd favorites such as New Generation and the South Shore Drill Team from Chicago.

Representatives of Port Washington State Bank, the longest-standing sponsor of the festival, will be the parade marshal. Alyssa Lanagan of Grafton High School, who designed the Fish Day logo, will be the junior marshal.

On the festival grounds, music is the main attraction.

This the first time Fish Day has had a repeat Main Stage headliner, Monday said.

“Josh was such a hit, people were asking for him to come back,” she said. “And then we thought, if we’re going to bring him back, why not Nora?”

Thompson, whose latest album “Change: The Lost Record, Volume One” is described as his most introspective, will take the stage at 8:30 p.m. 

His first single “Beer on the Table,” hit No. 16 on the Billboard country chart, and his second, “Way Out Here” hit the top 40.

Thompson’s sophomore disc, “Turn It Up,” debuted in the top 10 and produced two singles —“Cold Beer With Your Name On It” and “Wanted Me Gone.”

Collins will perform at 8 p.m.

 Also performing at the Main Stage during the afternoon will be Road Crew.

The headliner for the Blues Stage is Dynasty, a Chicago blues band.  

The Bandshell Stage headliner is The Britins, while The Rush Tribute Project will headline the Lakeview Stage. 

Local and regional acts will perform on stages throughout the day.

All the music at Fish Day is free, with the exception of the Main Stage acts. A Fish Day button is required for entrance there. The button is $2 before the festival or $5 at the gate.

A number of the food stands will also have musical groups.

Fish Day features a wide variety of events for families, including a carnival with a large Ferris wheel. 

Helicopter rides will take off from Upper Lake Park.

The traditional smoked fish-eating contest will be at 2:30 p.m. at the Lakeview Stage.

The soccer water fights in Veterans Park will begin at 3 p.m. Teams of three youths can sign up for the fights at 2:30 p.m.The Upper Lake Park bluff is the location for the arts and crafts show and the classic car show, which run from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The festival closes with a fireworks display at 9:30 p.m. Fireworks are set off from Coal Dock Park, which will be closed after 1 p.m. as crews prepare for the show.

Free shuttle buses will run throughout the city, stopping at designated points marked by signs.

In addition, buses will pick up and drop off passengers at the Ozaukee County Justice Center on South Spring Street, Harbor Hills on Port’s west side, the Ozaukee County park-and-ride lot off Seven Hills Road on the city’s north side and Walmart in Saukville.

Pets are not allowed on the grounds, and visitors are not allowed to bring backpacks into the festival. Bikes, skates and skateboards are also prohibited.

For more information, visit

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