Podcast: Patricia Deklotz on High School Transformation

High school change efforts are often complex and contentious—that’s particularly true big suburban schools with pretty good college-going rates and avid sports fans. The challenge of smart suburban school redesign is the subject of our conversation with Dr. Patricia Deklotz. 

Things were in pretty good shape in 2006 when Deklotz took on the leadership of Kettle Moraine (KM) School District (@kmdistrict) serving 10 small municipalities halfway between Milwaukee and Madison. All 10 of the schools had received Blue Ribbon designation by the federal government. 

Despite relatively high performance, the school board adopted a motion charging the superintendent with the transformation to meet the needs of all students including struggling students not being well served and gifted students that weren’t challenged. 

After a career developing banking software (what we’d call FinTech today), Deklotz was expert at weighing customer demands with internal capabilities. She launched a planning process that considered multiple scenarios and respected input from business partners, the concerns of parents, and the expertise of teachers. 

The plan identified the need to boost student engagement and make learning more relevant. Several ideas for new high school academy were collaboratively identified. 

New state law allowed districts to form charter schools that were exempt from some state policies but allow teachers to remain district employees. Deklotz pushed for authorization of two charter academies in 2010, one focused on performing arts and one on global studies. Only one received a state planning grant but the district moved forward with both. 

The two small charter academies opened in 2011. KM Perform had 60 students, KM Global had about 25. Each school had a slightly different pedagogy, but they both featured interdisciplinary studies with five or six deep dive inquiries each year. KM Global featured a public dissertation defense. KM Perform featured public musical and theater productions.  

In 2014, a third charter academy opened. The High School of Health Sciences features partnerships with local hospitals and prepares young people for health careers from technicians to surgeons.

The high school was remodeled creating collaborative learning spaces that better support personalized learning in the academies and the comprehensive school. 

Principals of the charter academies sit on Deklotz’s leadership team. She has created a collaborative environment where leaders learn together. 

Deklotz sees a big improvement in agency and ownership of learning especially in the three academies, graduates are “better prepared to succeed in work and college.”  

The path forward in Kettle Moraine includes more place-based learning available for all students particularly more work-based learning for high school students. 

Lessons Learned – Deklotz recommends: 

  • Distribute leadership and value the people you work with. 
  • Create a culture that it’s “all hands on deck” for meeting the needs of the customer.
  • Teachers need to experience personalized learning for themselves 
  • Build support for an R&D agenda using rapid prototyping to develop and test new approaches to teaching and learning.
  • Don’t wait until you have perfect conditions–you will never get anything done. People need models of the future.  
  • Start small, start with the willing, stay nimble so that you can change quickly. 
  • Going faster is not always better, make haste slowly. 
  • Remember that community is always evolving, you need to constantly be communicating why and how.

Key Takeaways:
[1:05] About Dr. DeKlotz’s previous appearance on the Getting Smart Podcast.
[1:21] Dr. DeKlotz speaks about her 20-year private-sector career and what provoked the switch into education.
[2:57] Dr. DeKlotz speaks about the communities that she serves as Superintendent of the Kettle Moraine School District.
[3:45] Dr. DeKlotz’s early strategic planning in 2006 at Kettle Moraine as it pertains to the high school. She speaks about the condition of the high school and the community conversation she tried to create.
[6:25] Dr. DeKlotz shares the origin story of the high school transformation.
[8:44] What led Dr. DeKlotz to explore the option of a charter school?
[10:15] Where did the proposals that Dr. DeKlotz looked at in these feasibility studies come from?
[12:10] Dr. DeKlotz speaks about her experience launching two academies in 2009/’10.
[14:05] Was it initially a challenge to support these small teacher teams in these new academies?
[17:45] Dr. DeKlotz shares how the learning experience was different for students in the first few years as compared to a traditional school.
[22:00] Would it be fair to say that all three academies have a high degree of autonomy?
[23:14] The impact that the academies have had on the traditional comprehensive high school.
[25:26] Has the facilities’ modernization helped to create a learning environment that supports Dr. DeKlotz’s mission?
[28:17] 10 years into high school transformation, how would Dr. DeKlotz say they’re doing?
[29:45] Would Dr. DeKlotz recommend her same approach to comprehensive school reform to others?
[31:44] Could the approach have been faster than it was? And would that have been a good or bad idea? And if she could have done things differently, what would she have done?
[32:40] Dr. DeKlotz describes the path forward for the high school, the three academies, and the comprehensive high school.
[33:43] Tom recaps a couple of the things he’s witnessed at Kettle Moraine that they do really well.
[34:57] Dr. DeKlotz elaborates on the pieces Tom highlighted.
[36:06] Tom thanks Dr. DeKlotz for joining the podcast.
[36:18] Where to learn more about the great work being done at Kettle Moraine.

Mentioned in This Episode:
Dr. Patricia DeKlotz
Kettle Moraine School District
Getting Smart S2:E12: “Kettle Moraine’s Pat DeKlotz on Building a Culture of Innovation”
TransformEd at Kettle Moraine
Power of Place

For more see kmsd.edu summer and sign up for the Two-day June TransformED.

Stay in-the-know with innovations in learning by signing up for the weekly Smart Update.

Getting Smart Staff

The Getting Smart Staff believes in learning out loud and always being an advocate for things that we are excited about. As a result, we write a lot. Do you have a story we should cover? Email [email protected]

Subscribe to Our Podcast

This podcast highlights developing trends in K-12 education, postsecondary and lifelong learning. Each week, Getting Smart team members interview students, leading authors, experts and practitioners in research, tech, entrepreneurship and leadership to bring listeners innovative and actionable strategies in education leadership.

Find us on:


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. All fields are required.