The new Racine Unified District No. 6 is a city district, and two residents without previous school board experience are running for the new seat: John Heckenlively and Jim Venturini.

After the Board of Education deadlocked last year over filling a board vacancy, the state legislature ordered the district to divide the community into nine districts of equal population. This is the first election during which voters will choose new representatives for one-, two- and three-year terms, depending on district.

Click here for the district No. 6 boundaries.

The winner of this contest will serve for two years. The general election is April 5.

John Heckenlively

John Heckenlively, 52
410 Seventh Street
Writer – MA, History, UW-Milwaukee; BA, Political Science, UW-Milwaukee; Certified as Social Studies Teacher, UW-Milwaukee

Why do you want to serve as a member of the Racine Unified Board of Education?

I have always been interested in education. My mother was a teacher, and so I come from a family that values education. I have many friends who are educators, and several friends who serve on the Board of Education. I believe that the future of public education is severely threatened in the United States and I want to serve on the board to fend public schools against the forces that are trying to destroy them.

What do you think Racine Unified is doing right that you want to build on?

I think that the education gap is slowing reducing, and that graduation rates have been improving. I want to continue programs that promote those trends.

What do you think Racine Unified can do better and how would you tackle this challenge?

I think the administration has been very dysfunctional in regards to labor relations. We need to value our faculty and staff — they are the ones of the front lines, tackling one of the toughest jobs there is with creativity and dedication. I hope to promote policies that indicate that we value the professionals who teach our children.

How can we encourage our community to better support our students?

I have been a supporter of the Alliance to Reclaim out Schools, which strongly promotes the idea of community schools. I think if the community feels that the administration values their ideas and wants them to be active participants in making our schools better, people will be eager to get involved.

Do you support block scheduling? Why or why not?

I am very leery of block scheduling. While it has worked well in some districts, they have not tended to be urban school districts. And RUSD is an urban district.
I also think that block scheduling is being pushed through much too fast. It is a major curriculum change that requires a great deal of planning and professional development. Given the proper planning, it might work, but we need to take the time to get it right.

Do you support the Academies of Racine concept? Why or why not?

The concept is fine. There are students who would not do well in college, so providing them with other avenues is a good idea. In Europe, business and the educational system actively work together, so that schools know what the job market will be. They can then train students so that when they graduate, they have the skills for jobs that are available. There is no reason we could not institute something similar.

What idea would you like to see come to life – no matter how impossible it might seem?

I would love to see the History of the United States taught with textbooks that teach real history, not boring packaged patriotism. Unfortunately, Racine does not purchase anywhere near enough textbooks to make the slightest dent in the textbook market. I am a big fan of James Loewen and think that “Lies My Teacher Told Me” should be mandatory reading for all social studies teachers.

Jim Venturini

Jim Venturini, 57
35 Harborview Dr.
Sales Executive at David Insurance working with local businesses, Attended UW Parkside, Owner of Gingiss Formalwear Franchises from 1980 to 2012.

Why do you want to serve as a member of the Racine Unified Board of Education?

As a lifelong resident of Racine, a business owner and now someone who works with business owners on a daily basis I see that one of the most vital keys to the success of our city and the businesses here is our school system. We need to provide a safe and productive environment for our students, close the achievement gap and prepare all students for a career or college education.

As someone who does not have any special interest group in mind I bring an unbiased opinion which is based off of logical thinking and I look to do what is best for the whole. We need to spend our tax dollars wisely, work hand in hand with fellow board members, the teachers and administration to achieve the ultimate goal of improving our school system to the point where our businesses will have a well educated work force to draw from and businesses will not hesitate to open here because of a failing school system.

What do you think Racine Unified is doing right that you want to build on?

First of all there are many things which RUSD is doing right; we have a tremendous core of qualified and committed teachers who care about the students and their futures. We have added some badly needed new buildings and continue to look at ways of improving how our students learn, but if I have to pick one topic I would say the Mental Health Clinics which they are opening within the schools. Last October a clinic was opened in Johnson Elementary School and the results have been amazing. One of the biggest problems teachers face is disruptive students within their classrooms which takes away from the quality learning time of other students. Teachers saw immediate positive results and I think it’s important that we continue to build on this concept.

What do you think Racine Unified can do better and how would you tackle this challenge?

Test grades and the achievement gap. While I have stated in the past that I think board members, teachers and the administration need to work together in order to achieve what is best for our students and the final results, I want to be more specific as to what we need to achieve by those efforts. All students need to be held to a higher level of accountability and be career or college ready when they leave RUSD, so we need to look at programs, such as the high school academies, which will bring those who are struggling in today’s learning environment so we can give them the opportunity to succeed going forward.

How can we encourage our community to better support our students?

I think our community does support our students. I am a Rotarian and we have an awesome program called Career Discovery Solutions or CDS. The program involves students in solving real world problems that are set up through local businesses, government agencies and non-profit organizations. Through the process of team-based problem solving, students engage in a dynamic learning experience in areas in which they have expressed a career interest. These students are then asked to come back and present to the Rotarians their results and what they have learned, and it’s amazing to see how their eyes have been opened to how they can apply what they learn in school to what happens in the real business world. Rotarians are working with teachers and administrative staff and since the program’s inception seven years ago, over 40 local businesses, government agencies and non-profit organizations have generously given the time of key personnel in order to bring valuable learning experiences to students

Do you support block scheduling? Why or why not?

Yes, The concept of block scheduling will better prepare the students for college or a career by giving the students a hands on learning opportunity. Block scheduling will allow for implementation of the academies, providing students with a real world relevancy to what they are learning , which leads to improved engagement. While there is a learning curve for everyone involved I think it’s time that we implement block scheduling and gradually introduce to all grade levels.

Do you support the Academies of Racine concept? Why or why not?

Yes. The Academies of Racine concept will give students the opportunity to focus their learning on areas which interest them. As I mentioned earlier when students are given the opportunity to visit businesses and they see how they can apply their education to real life careers which will someday make them an active and productive member of society, their interest peaks and they will have a more enthusiastic attitude when it comes to learning. A cookie cutter approach to learning does not work in today’s society and we need to show students that there is something for everyone and RUSD is going to give them options and direction so they are better prepared for the real world.

What idea would you like to see come to life – no matter how impossible it might seem?

I would love to see new and improved schools with a safe environment for our students to learn in. I am a firm believer in watching how we spend our tax dollars and to be fiscally responsible so this may be a struggle due to budget restraints, but many of our schools are old and in need of improvements. Sometimes it makes more sense to build new schools compared to trying to repair the old. When I am on the board I will learn more about our budget and what we can do moving forward but I believe students will thrive and have more pride in what they do in a safe and positive environment.

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