Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Sunday, February 7, 2016

Gladfelter Award recipients honored during reception

Tammy Conforti (in blue dress) of the Kenosha Dream Playground Project Tammy Conforti (in blue dress) of the Kenosha Dream Playground Project

The La Follette School of Public Affairs honored the four recipients of the 2015 Lloyd D. Gladfelter Award for Government Innovation during its annual reception for alumni and friends Feb. 4 at the Madison Club. Established in 1999, the award recognizes creative ideas and money-saving efficiencies that address a local or statewide issue and improve public service.

The School received more than 40 inspiring nominations from around the state, from which the selection committee chose four projects that most exemplified the intent of the award.
• Tammy Conforti for the Kenosha Dream Playground Project
• Jared Knowles for the Dropout Early Warning System
• Sarah Turner and the Barron County Community Coalition for the Teen Driving Summit
• 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

Conforti, a longtime special education teaching assistant in the Kenosha Unified School District, spearheaded a grassroots initiative to build an inclusive accessible playground for people of all abilities. “Tammy has provided the inspiration, determination and organization over the last three years needed to raise $1 million for this project,” State Rep. Tod Ohnstad said in his nomination.

Through Conforti’s tireless efforts, all children now can play side-by-side at the 15,000-square-foot playground. She garnered public and private support and engaged more than 3,000 volunteers who designed, built and raised funds for the playground at Petzke Park in Kenosha.

“I want to share the joyous accolades of this award with my steadfast partners from the city of Kenosha, the Kenosha Achievement Center and everyone in my community for their unwavering commitment to the project,” Conforti said after receiving a certificate and $4,000 award.

The second place award of $2,000 was given to Jared Knowles, a research analyst with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI). Knowles developed the Dropout Early Warning System (DEWS) to help schools identify students in grades 6 to 9 who are most at risk of not graduating from high school.

Most of the estimated 6,000 students who drop out each year do so during 11th or 12th grade; however, they typically exhibit characteristics associated with dropping out during middle school.

“The DEWS provides a red flag to schools early enough to make data-based decisions, provide interventions and focus available resources,” said Erin Fath, DPI’s policy and budget director, in her nomination. “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 recipient Sarah Turner received a $1,000 award for the Teen Driving Summit, which brought together more than 400 students from Barron County’s seven high schools. The idea for a summit started with a student whose brother died in a texting and driving crash. Public and private entities funded and staffed the event.

The summit brought together the Crossroads Teen Driving Program, Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald, Lakeview Medical Center and the Safe & Stable Families Coalition. Data shows that the efforts are working. From 2012 to 2014, Barron County’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey showed a decrease of more than 10 percent in 16-, 17- and 18-year-olds who are texting, emailing or talking on their phone while driving.

The fourth-place award of $500 was given to Diane Rondini Harness and the Student Expulsion and Prevention Project (StEPP) Committee of Matthew Giesfeldt, Richard Jones, Gina Pruski, Eileen Fredericks, Puck Tsai, Catherine Dorl and Evan Nordgren.

StEPP provides pro bono attorneys to ensure that students involved in expulsion hearings have an advocate looking after their welfare and rights. The State Public Defender’s Office, which does not have broad authority to represent children in expulsion matters, developed a list of private attorneys willing to volunteer their time and expertise. It also coordinated training sessions for the attorneys and set up a mechanism for students to request an attorney.

“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,” State Public Defender Kelli Thompson said in her nomination.

The Lloyd D. Gladfelter Award for Government Innovation is given to non-elected municipal, county, state or federal employees who have helped solve a problem for Wisconsin residents and improved public service in the state. The award was established in 1999 by the family of Gladfelter, a 1926 UW-Madison alumnus, who was a government reporter for the Milwaukee Journal.