Advertisements

The Racine Unified School District is switching over to block scheduling and an academy model of teaching, and this is a key sticking point between Racine Unified District no. 3 candidates: Pamala Handrow and Michael Frontier.

Both serve on the Racine Unified School District Board of Education. But after the state law changed to a district representation system versus an at-large election, the entire nine-member board is up for re-election on April 5. Handrow and Frontier live in the same district.

Click here to see the map of Racine Unified Election District #3

Racine Unified has looked at implementing a block schedule/academy model since Sept. 2014, but officially rolled out the plan in December. The model features academies that focus on business, engineering, arts and sciences and several pathways that students can choose. However, students would have eight 90-minute periods divided over the course of two days versus eight 51-minute periods in a day. The new schedule would also allow for more electives.

Some teaching staff, students, and parents have voiced the need for the school district to gain more feedback from the community and staff before implementing it.

Here’s where they stand on the issues:

Pamala Handrow

Age:  64

Address: 1601 Grand Ave. Racine, WI 53403

Professional and education background:

Executive Director, Bethany Apartments and SAFE Haven of Racine. BS Sociology, U.W. Stevens Point, MA Counseling and Human Services Adminstration, Goddard College, Plainfield VT, J.D. Chicago Kent-College of Law, Masters in Library and Information Science, U.W. Milwaukee

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

I am completing my 8th year as a member of the Racine Unified School District Board of Education. The district has worked hard to make many positive changes. The referendum passed and RUSD is finally able to build more schools.

Although there remains work to be done, there are programs in place that are positively impacting student achievement, graduation rates, and closing achievement gaps. I firmly believe in the Academies of Racine, and would like to ensure that the academies are launched and have the support needed. I have been a dedicated, diligent, fair minded representative and believe I have a great deal to offer the district.

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

I believe that the district is making strides in improving graduation rates, improving overall student achievement, is working to transform high schools with the Academies of Racine initiative, and is looking to transform the middle schools. The district is building and revitalizing schools.

The district is also working more closely with the community as is evidenced by the development of a community school at Knapp in conjunction with the United Way of Racine County. The Higher Expectations/Striving Together group is also a demonstration of the district engaging key members of the community to work collectively to improve our schools. Although the budget is an ongoing concern, RUSD is effectively using its limited resources while continuing to improve performance. RUSD continues to look for ways to provide a quality education despite its many financial challenges.

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

Although there has been improvement, RUSD must continue to improve the image of the district. There have been increased efforts to provide the community with information about what the district is doing well and to tell of its many successes. RUSD in conjunction with Board of Education needs to increase and improve the level of communication with all stakeholders on all subjects. RUSD needs to find additional ways to provide opportunities for community input and demonstrate that ideas, suggestions and concerns are being heard. I also believe that with the direction of the Board of Education, RUSD needs to engage in long range planning and develop a strategic plan to chart the course for the district.

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

I am pleased that the United Way of Racine County is working closely with RUSD. The Schools of Hope program has put mentors in schools for several years. The new Knapp Community School will provide a variety of programs and services in the school under the coordination of the United Way. Higher Expectations/Strive Together is an effort to augment programming and support to the students and schools in a coordinated effort.

Both the United Way and Higher Expectations are visible in the community and working in a variety of ways to engage community members to become involved in supporting students and our schools. There are numerous other nonprofit agencies and programs that offer support to students and the schools. With increased communication to the public about these efforts, more individuals will become involved. I believe that the passing of the referendum was an indication that the community is willing to support our schools.

The Academies Model will bring our area businesses into the schools to work with students, offer internships, and to supplement curriculum. Again, if the community becomes aware of successes that occur, they will be more willing to become involved.

Do you support block scheduling? Why or why not?

I support the Academies of Racine and subsequently I support block scheduling. Block scheduling has been determined to be a necessity to properly implement the Academies model. Block scheduling has many advantages. The longer class periods can be used in creative, challenging and interesting ways.

Block scheduling is not meant to increase lecture time. Project based learning, interactive learning, group activities, individualized attention are possible in a block scheduling environment. Block scheduling provides students with opportunities to develop positive relationships with their teachers. Positive relationships with the adults in the school environment are critical to student success. Students have additional educational opportunities as a result. Internships and other work experiences are possible in this model. Teachers have shared planning time and other collaborative opportunities.

Students with special needs will be accommodated. Professional development and training for teachers is planned. Clearly, this will require an adjustment for both students and teachers, but with ongoing training, support, professional development and evaluation, this system will be successful as it has for other districts following the Ford Next Generation philosophy.

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

Gave the same answer as above.

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

It would be wonderful if there was a full array of school and program choices available to students and parents within the Racine Unified School District. The district already has excellent programs, but there is limited availability. Students and parents flock to Bull Fine Arts, Jefferson Lighthouse, Walden and the International Baccalaureate programs. It would be real choice if there were science, math, technology and engineering (STEM)schools, a Montessori options, language immersion programs and others, starting at the elementary level. Students in these environments often do well, and the earlier students engage and develop, the higher the probability that they will be successful. The Academies of Racine is big step in this direction at the high school level. Teachers would benefit as they would be paired with programs based on their interests and abilities and would be fully engaged. If every student could have a personalized learning plan and educational opportunities that match, RUSD would be an exemplary district.

Michael Frontier

Age: 73

Address: 1127 Lake Ave.

Professional and education background: Retired RUSD principal, Chair of Racine County Youth Coalition, Secretary of Visioning a Greater Racine, Co-Chair Friends of Myers Park. Elected offices held: Alderman City of Racine 1974-75, current School Board member 2013-2016. Education: Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in urban education; graduated from St. Patrick’s High School in Chicago.

 

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

Our school board oversees one of the most powerful engines for revitalizing our community.  Our schools are moving in some exciting new directions.  As someone who has worked within the schools, and studied effective schools, I feel I bring a unique and important perspective to the office of school board.

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

The district is seeing the power of teachers working in teams.  By creating teams of teachers across the 9th grade we are beginning to see more students on target for graduation.  When teachers work in teams they become aware of student needs: Her grandmother died yesterday, his folks are divorcing. Teams allow all of a student’s teachers to see him/her as an individual.  Teams also re-energize teachers in their demanding work common strategies emerge, successes are shared, and the important, critical work they do for our kids is enhanced.

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

We need to measure school climate more intentionally.  We have tools that utilize student perception to measure things like bullying, violence, and teacher support. By respecting this feedback and measuring this data over several years, we can effectively deal with the behaviors that challenge the quality of the learning environment. This perception of the school climate was found to be the most critical issue in a survey conducted by Superintendent Haws.

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

We need to model healthy personal interactions for our kids.  In a recent study, researchers from Penn State looked at 753 adults who had been evaluated for social competency nearly 20 years earlier while in kindergarten. Scores for sharing, cooperating and helping other children nearly always predicted whether a person graduated  from high school on time, earned a college degree, had full time employment, lived in public housing, received public assistance, or had been arrested. In a nutshell: getting along with others and making friendships are really master skills that affect all aspects of life.(New York Times- 12-8-15)

Do you support block scheduling? Why or why not?

However, this change in instruction requires considerable reformatting of lessons. Some classes, like math, may suffer from not meeting every day.  Additionally, incorporating special needs students into this approach is challenging. We are providing 4 days of training for this block scheduling approach. I have asked for training models from other communities that have successfully implemented block scheduling for comparison.

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

I support the Academies.  Student engagement and ownership for learning is one of the most critical factors in creating passionate learners. I have seen students in the past who have not been aware of the various career paths available to them. I feel more students will blossom when they are engaged in fields they choose. There is considerable research that the jobs we see now will not be there in the future. Therefore, we need to continue our traditions of excellent art and liberal arts classes so our students have the values and life skills that will bring them through a dynamic future filled with unknown work and leisure possibilities.

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

Teaching is energy work.  It is more challenging than ever.  We have a state government that has cut 3500 people from health care in Racine County.  State legislation for college support flounders because there are no funds, yet we have
given enormous tax breaks to the wealthy.

Rejecting medicaid support forces Wisconsin taxpayer to subsidize these costs.  Dentists cannot afford to serve the poor when they are reimbursed 20 cents on the dollar. Half our students live in this poverty!  Despite these enormous challenges made worse by an insensitive legislature -Great teachers bring hope and change lives.  WE must overcome the anger and divisiveness between union and administration.  We cannot dissipate any more energy away from our students.  Future school  boards will  have to take a more active role in mediating this gulf.  When this happens Racine will be the beacon district it was many years ago, and the diverse district of choice that
the community hungers for.

 

 

Love what we do?

In addition to our education features, we’ll be kicking off a series of stories highlighting how parents, students, and educators are adapting to the impact of COVID-19 on education. If this is important to you, please consider donating to our education reporting fund. https://business.facebook.com/donate/1846323118855149/3262802717172659/

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.