Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Tuesday, December 15, 2015

2015 Gladfelter Winners Announced

The La Follette School of Public Affairs is delighted to announce the 2015 winners of the Lloyd D. Gladfelter Award for Government Innovation. The award is given to non-elected municipal, county, state, or federal employees who, through their careers or through a specific innovation, have helped solve a problem for Wisconsin residents and improved public service in the state. The award honors the creative ideas and money-saving efficiencies people expect from government at all levels.

Established in 1999, the award is made possible through a generous gift from the family of Lloyd D. Gladfelter, a 1926 alum who spent his career at the Milwaukee Journal as a government reporter. Nominations are judged on their creativity, feasibility and potential impact. The Gladfelter Awards are administered by the La Follette School of Public Affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The School received over 40 inspiring nominations from around the state. A diverse committee consisting of University of Wisconsin-Madison faculty, State of Wisconsin employees and members of the private sector met to review the nominations in October. This year $7,500 will be awarded for four projects. The winners will be honored on February 4, 2016 at the La Follette School of Public Affairs Alumni and Friends reception in Madison.

“We were thrilled to have so many creative and inspiring applications for the Lloyd D. Gladfelter Award for Government Innovation,” says Professor Susan Yackee, Director of the School. “We received more nominations than ever before, and it was extremely hard to narrow this down to a few winners. As evidenced by these nominations, the state and our citizens are already the winners due to these ‘above and beyond’ efforts by our public employees.”

Congratulations to the 2015 Lloyd D. Gladfelter Award winners:

First Place $4,000 –Tammy Conforti and the Kenosha Dream Playground Project (KDPP)

Background: Tammy Conforti, a lifelong resident of Kenosha, has worked for Kenosha Unified School District as an Early Childhood Special Education teaching assistant for the past 16 years. In June of 2012 she spearheaded the Kenosha Dream Playground Project, a grass roots initiative to build an inclusive accessible playground for people of all abilities. Tammy's goals were simple but powerful. First, educate and advocate for the importance of inclusive accessible play, second to raise $1 million dollars for the uniquely designed playground and third to plan and execute a community build by organizing over 3000 volunteers. She conducted extensive research and educated and advocated using multiple media outlets throughout the community and state. She attended and spoke at every City Council and Park Commission meeting from July 2012 until September 2015. Through her relentless determination she garnered unanimous support to create a public private partnership and began raising funds. She engaged volunteers from the community and formed her “Dream Team”. Tammy collaborated with numerous schools, churches, day cares, restaurants, police, sheriff and fire departments as well as local service organizations who eagerly conducted independent fundraisers. She began a corporate capital campaign and passionately shared her vision while seeking out higher level donations. Through her tireless efforts along with the support of the City of Kenosha, the Kenosha Achievement Center and the generous community her goal of raising a million dollars was achieved in less than three years. A wheelchair accessible swing and a wheelchair accessible merry go round were two of the top priorities on “Tammy’s must have it” equipment list. To ensure that the playground was accessible to everyone she made sure that the 15000 sq. foot playground be surrounded by poured in place rubber flooring. She engaged over 3000 volunteers from various walks of life to work together to build the Dream Playground.

Impact: This fall, her dream became a reality and as a result children will no longer be left sitting on the sidelines watching others play. The Dream Playground is a testament of Tammy’s vision, perseverance and passion to create a playground for people of all abilities. When she is asked about the project’s success she humbly responds by saying, “The community built the playground and the playground built the community.”

Second Place $2,000 – Jared Knowles and the Dropout Early Warning System (DEWS)

Background: Approximately 6,000 students drop out of Wisconsin public schools each year. While most of these students drop out in the 11th or 12th grades, it is during the middle grades these students typically exhibit characteristics connected to dropping out. Predicting which of these students are at a higher risk of dropping out of school later on can lead to critical interventions that prevent students from actually dropping out. This is why the Dropout Early Warning System (DEWS) was created.

Impact: Jared Knowles, a research analyst with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction played a central role in the development of DEWS, from the conception of the idea, to the actual programming and maintenance of the system, which is available to every public school in the state of Wisconsin. Through DEWS, schools identify students in grades 6-9 who are most at risk and educators plan interventions and additional services before the critical transition to high school. It identifies over 6 in 10 students who will eventually dropout or graduate late. While not all students identified will drop-out or have an unplanned late graduation, for those students that it does identify, the DEWS provides a red flag to schools early enough to make data-based decisions, provide interventions, and focus available resources. Like a “check engine” light on a car, it signals that a closer look and perhaps service is needed. At the beginning of the school year, updated DEWS reports and student rosters are automatically released in WISEdash for Districts (DPI’s online data portal). DEWS reports are available to approximately 1,000 schools in the state enrolling a student in grades 6-9. Each school receives the DEWS score and risk indicator data for all of the middle grade students in their school with data. Schools combine the DEWS risk score with local data (such as current grades, behavior, attendance and test data) to prioritize those most at need of support.

Third Place $1,000 - Sarah Turner and the Teen Driving Summit in Barron County

Background: The death of a young man in a texting and driving crash resulted in a county-wide Teen Driving Summit for all seven high schools. More than 400 students attended the event which was funded by public and private organizations. Students heard from speakers and tried various simulators and activities. Students were trained as advocates and given “tool kits” to take safe driving messages and activities back to their respective schools and communities.

Impact: The summit spawned partnerships between the Crossroads Teen Driving Program, Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald, Lakeview Medical Center (LMC), and the Safe & Stable Families Coalition. From these partnerships a Safe Teen Driving Team was created. Together they purchased a Virtual Interactive Driver simulator to help decrease distracted and impaired driving. The simulator was purchased by LMC and the Sheriff’s Department provides the trailer, storage and staff. The simulator includes two programs: One Simple Decision and Boating Skills. It’s designed to prevent destructive driving behaviors, including texting and drinking and driving. It takes users through the arrest and court process and even a job interview. The simulator has been used in multiple settings including the county fair, senior centers, schools, and DNR boating safety. The effort has other real results as well: the county’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey showed over a 10% decrease in 16, 17 and 18 year olds texting, e-mailing or talking while driving in the past 30 days.

Fourth Place $500 - Diane Rondini Harness and the StEPP committee of Matthew Giesfeldt, Richard Jones, Gina Pruski, Eileen Fredericks, Puck Tsai, Catherine Dorl, and Evan Nordgren for the Student Expulsion and Prevention Project (StEPP)

Background: The Student Expulsion Prevention Project (StEPP) was set up to address a glaring need to guide and assist students facing expulsion hearings. By providing pro bono attorneys, StEPP ensures children involved in expulsion hearings have an advocate looking after their welfare and rights. In the absence of StEPP, children typically would go unrepresented at expulsion hearings and, as a result, potentially face lifelong consequences stemming from barriers to education and future employment. This is sometimes described as the school to prison pipeline, since children who are suspended or expelled are at greater risk of becoming truants, dropping out of school and becoming involved in the justice system. StEPP is a partnership and collaboration relying on volunteer attorneys. The State Public Defender’s Office, which does not have broad authority to represent children in expulsion matters, has developed a list of private attorneys willing to volunteer their time and expertise, has coordinated training sessions for the attorneys, and has set up a mechanism for students facing expulsion hearings to request an attorney. StEPP is a team effort using the commitment and talents of individuals working in partnership to ensure students are receiving legal representation in such hearings. To get the program up and running, a committee was formed consisting of Matthew Giesfeldt, Richard Jones, Eileen Fredericks, Devon Lee, Gina Pruski, Puck Tsai, Evan Nordgren, Catherine Dorl and Diane Rondini-Harness. Each attorney brought their own expertise in training, juvenile law and expulsion law, and collectively developed basic guiding principles for representation. The guiding principles for StEPP include: every student has a story that provides context for their actions; and it is the attorney’s duty to tell that story in a culturally-humble way while protecting the student’s rights to a fair process. Most importantly, remaining in school is best for the student and the entire community. The committee keeps this in mind as they recruit and train private attorneys from the Madison area willing to represent students facing expulsion without fees. The training included sessions on adolescent brain development, interviewing the child client, understanding cultural differences, and the nuts and bolts of an expulsion hearing. Approximately 35 pro bono attorneys participated in an all- day StEPP training in January 2015.

Impact: A pilot project has been operating in the Madison School District since February 1, 2015. The need in Madison is apparent: during the 2012-13 school year, 146 students were recommended for expulsion with 28 involved in an expulsion hearing yet only 2 students were represented by an attorney.

As a result, StEPP has changed the statistics: Last semester StEPP represented six students facing expulsion in MMSD. Of these students, 83% were facing expulsion for possession/distribution of small amounts of marijuana. The same percentage -- 83% -- represents the percentage who were male as well as the percentage who were children of color. It is important to note that in the 2014-2015 school year, the definition of “distribution” of drugs included a student who participated either as the distributor or the recipient of the drugs. This language has been omitted for the 2015-2016 school year. Additional statistics surrounding the students reveal that half had expulsion hearings; and half were expelled, but, most importantly, all of the students were out of school for less time than originally sought. StEPP credits this success to the hard working SPD and pro bono attorneys that take time out of their busy schedules to make a difference in the life of a child.

The program has expanded to all of Dane county for the 2015-2016 school year. With StEPP proving its effectiveness, the goal now is to reach other students in need by expanding into other locations in Wisconsin.

For questions, contact Bridget Pirsch at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..