State Legislators split up Racine Unified into districts, which means several incumbents will be facing one another on April 5 ballot. All nine seats are up for re-election. For district 2, long-time incumbent Dennis Wiser will face John Koetz, who was appointed to his seat in October.

Click here to see map of Racine Unified District 2

The two have very different backgrounds. Wiser has a background in teaching for the Racine Unified School District while Koetz has a background in business in working for Joy Global.

Here’s how they stand on the issues:

 Dennis Wiser

Age: 66

Address: 2517 Pinehurst Avenue, Racine, WI

Professional and education background: Retired, BA from UW Madison, MA from UWM, employed almost 30 years as a classroom teacher by RUSD.

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

A strong educational system is an essential tool for moving children and communities forward. Without a strong educational system, our children have an uncertain future and our community has a troubled future. I believe that my 40 year involvement with the Racine schools and my strong background in elected offices makes me uniquely qualified to be serve on the school board.

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

RUSD has done a good job of publicizing our successes as a school district to build our image. I believe that we can go even further in this area if we can build a stronger sense of unity within the district.

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

I believe the District would benefit from a greater sense of involvement on the part of both internal and external stakeholders. The more people that truly support improvement, the more likely we are to find successful paths to improvement. As one member of a nine person board, the solution is for the board to set higher, clearer, stronger standards in this area.

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

As a board, to encourage greater support for students, we need to assure the community that their current level of involvement has made a difference in real, understandable terms, and that expanding their support will make a greater difference. This involves building a significant level of trust between Racine Unified and community members, which requires honest, ongoing communication.

Do you support block scheduling? Why or why not?

This is not an appropriate question for a board of directors. The board of directors for the Green Bay Packers does not vote on which plays to call in a football game. They set expectations, and evaluate management staff based on those expectations. The RUSD board needs to do the same. We currently have not evaluated the management staff for 16 months.

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

This is not an appropriate question for a board of directors. The board of directors for the Green Bay Packers does not vote on which plays to call in a football game. They set expectations, and evaluate management staff based on those expectations. The RUSD board needs to do the same. We currently have not evaluated the management staff for 16 months.

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

I would like to see shared goals. Whether it is a student, a parent, a teacher, support staff, administration or the board – when asked questions about Unified’s future, they all give the same answer.

John Koetz

Age: 52

Address: 4165 Sheridan Rd, Mt Pleasant, WI

Professional and education background: President, Joy Global Surface Mining. MBA, Loyola University of Chicago; Masters of Engineering, Carnegie Mellon University; Bachelor of Science, Mechanical Engineering, University of Illinois; Maine Township East High School graduate; US Army veteran

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

I am a resident, taxpayer, a regional business leader, and a parent of two RUSD graduates. I’ve seen the potential and opportunities that Unified can offer students to not only be career and college ready, but to excel. I am running for Board of Education for:

  • Student achievement – to accelerate improvement, aligned with our community, parents, teachers, administration, in a fiscally responsible manner.
  • Partner with the community — Mt. Pleasant, Elmwood Park, Caledonia, Racine, businesses, and community organizations
  • Focus on safety and development to enhance learning environment for all students
  • Responsible steward of taxpayers’ funds as we deliver on needed improvements.

My experience in driving business growth, and as a local resident, taxpayer, RUSD parent, and multiple board experience enables me to lead and collaborate to accelerate growth in partnership with the administration and communities.

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

Student achievement has improved based on multiple measures in early childhood, elementary through high school programs – culminating in the largest increase in high school graduation rate in the state last year, and most recently significant increase in 9th graders on-track for graduation.

These are great moves with much more to do in closing remaining gaps. The administration, teachers, and assistants are all creating and executing on improvements in achievement that we need to accelerate and go further. The construction of the three new school facilities is expanding and improving our facilities to better serve our students for years to come. These projects are progressing on schedule, and we look forward to opening them for the 2016-17 school year. The Knapp Community School is particularly important as the district has partnered with United Way to help build relationships with families, students and the neighborhood – and exciting program launching in our new facility to address the challenges in our community.

The 1-1 technology initiative – bringing individual tablets to students as an integral part of learning. This pilot project, that was funded by the recent referendum, is showing good early progress in aiding learning, achievement, and is certainly a key part of preparing students for career and college readiness in today’s marketplace.

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

We need the board to partner with the communities – Mt Pleasant, Caledonia, Sturtevant, Elmwood Park, Racine – in communicating what is working, what challenges exist and how we can collaborate for the greater community, aligning on goals for our schools. If we’re not talking, aligning, and driving to common goals then we are all missing the mark for residents.

We’ve renewed this engagement these past few months since I joined the board, and I will push to do more – with a regular cadence and shared goals. The Unified board must develop a Strategic Plan, in conjunction with the Northstar goals, aligned with the community goals, that guides the administration and district planning. I am currently part of the team working on Raising Racine 2020 goals, and with my strategic business planning experience I can do the same with the board members on long-term planning.

The Board must also address the looming financial deficit. In light of changing demographics, state & federal funding legislation, and the great opportunities in front of us, we have to have a sustainable model to improve the district without increasing our tax burden. I have the experience in overseeing revenue, investments, and operating budgets for multiple larger businesses to successful outcomes. I’m ready to do the same with Unified’s leadership team.

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

We need to celebrate the excellence and successes in our students, educators, and schools every day – not just occasionally. Every day we have amazing students, educators, and school leaders changing our community for the better, for the future. They are the future leaders of our community, and we need to engage them now in the forefront of the community.

As the Career Academies launch, we need the community to be an integral part of these programs: businesses and community organizations engaged in apprenticeships and project based learning exercises, continued volunteers in programs like Project Lead the Way, Junior Achievement, United Way’s Community School programs, etc.

These engagements aid student achievement now, and build opportunities for them post-school. We also need the board to partner with the communities – Mt Pleasant, Caledonia, Sturtevant, Elmwood Park, Racine – in communicating what is working, what challenges exist and how we can collaborate for the greater community, aligning goals for our schools. The board recently started with the first meetings – but this should be a regular cadence of partnership.

Do you support block scheduling? Why or why not?

Please see Academies response.

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

The Academies are probably the biggest step change opportunity to accelerate the improvements we’re already seeing in the high schools, and moving our transformation program into results. As the pinnacle of our RUSD programs, this is our final point in a students’ career to prepare them for career or college.

We’re already seeing successes: Last year, Unified had the greatest increase in graduation rate in the state, and recent results showing over 90% of freshmen on track with credits towards graduation. The Academies can help this go even further. The Academies can be a key enabler for career and college readiness to take a significant step forward. An integral component is the block scheduling, which leverages project based, cross-curricular, team learning that is critical to successful transition to workplace of today and the future. And the block schedule provides more depth, focus, and time with students in developing, understanding, and retained learning. However, there are key readiness indicators that I believe we have to review and evaluate the district’s readiness for implementation this fall, or later: – Readiness for special education. IEP time and support for students in the new schedules. The district is working right now on this determination.

This is essential to closing achievement gaps, and to the overall program success for all students – Scheduling. We need to be certain that the students can successfully build their class requirements, schedules, and transportation in next few months. – Teacher professional development and planning support. This process has started, and needs to ensure sufficient progress to indicate readiness to meet the fall cohort and curriculum readiness.

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

Racine Unified as *the* educational program of choice for families in SE Wisconsin. If we continue to drive forward on the Raising Racine and Northstar goals, and implement the improvements and changes necessary, this goal is entirely attainable!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Denise Lockwood has an extensive background in traditional and non-traditional media. She has written for Patch.com, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine and the Kenosha News.