Voters will head to the polls April 5 to choose a representative for the newly created Racine Unified District No. 7; incumbent Don Nielsen or Brian O’Connell.

Both candidates support block scheduling and the Academies of Racine model, and both of them believe greater communication with constituents is key to garnering support for public education.

Click here to see a map of district No. 7 boundaries.

Don Nielsen

(i) Don Nielsen, 69
3317 N. Wisconsin St.
Retired high school counselor from RUSD. Masters in Education – Guidance from UW Oshkosh I am a life long resident of Racine. I attended Fratt, Mckinley and Park. After college I worked as a child abuse investigator and foster care supervisor for Racine County for 2 years. I then returned to college for my masters and worked for RUSD after graduation.

I have been married to my wife Nancy for over 35 years and have two adult sons who attended RUSD.

I have been on the board of directors for both the Racine County Opportunity Center and Developmental Disabilities Information Services for over 20 years.

I have been legally blind for over 20 years and my guide dog is named Conway. We visit schools and groups when asked and provide information on the guide dog life style and vision loss.

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

I feel my experience would be valuable in transitioning the board to its new format. In addition I feel strongly that the district needs to develop a 10 year plan focusing on student achievement, facilities and school climate.

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

We are finally starting to provide our students with facilities that can meet the needs of a challenging new and ever changing educational process. We cannot afford to allow our facilities to go back to the neglect of the last 25 years.

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

We can improve student achievement by focusing our resources on things that impact achievement. These include technology, facilities, school climate and professional development for our staff.

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

Public support follows public engagement. We have to get as many people involved in our schools as possible. This can range from parents supporting teachers in areas of discipline and homework to corporations collaborating with the district in providing both experiences for students to helping provide needed equipment.

Do you support block scheduling? Why or why not?

Yes I support block scheduling. It can offer the additional time needed for experiments and other interactive activities. My concern is our ability to implement it in 6 months. If block scheduling was the only change involving high school staff that would be one thing, but that is not the case. There are a number of other initiaves being planned for next year. Why or why not? *

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

Yes, very much so. These academies will finally give non-college bound students a viable alternative to college prep classes. In addition all students will benefit from the internships and career exploration aspects of the process.

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

I would like to see public education in the United States and in Wisconsin in particular valued as it is in other parts of the world. Public schools need to have a public that is engaged in the educational process and not expecting teachers and school districts to have all the answers.

Brian O’Connell

Brian O’Connell, 62
2326 N. Main St.
Racine’s Director of City Development before retirement in July 2015. Master’s degree from UW-Milwaukee; bachelor’s degree from Marquette University.

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

As Director of City Development, I was frequently asked “How are the schools?” by businesses considering locating to or expanding in Racine. Businesses want to know that they can find capable workers for their jobs and that their employees can find quality schools for their children. I know RUSD is a critical factor in the economic health of our area. I will work to make RUSD an asset for the growth of Greater Racine.

I want to serve on the school board now because the district is under intense scrutiny by residents, businesses, and the state legislature to make progress now. I feel that urgency and it will guide my decisions on the board.

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

RUSD has the right vision: its North Star vision that “All students will graduate college and/or career ready.” I fully agree with that vision and will work to support it with programs and facilities. RUSD has made progress in closing achievement gaps and improving graduation rates. We need to continue that progress.

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

We need to end factions and foster collaborative decision making on the Board. As Director of City Development, I staffed and participated on boards and committees that regularly faced hard decisions. For decades I have successfully guided elected and appointed bodies to well-reasoned, consensus decisions. I will use that skill and experience to ensure essential decisions by the RUSD board are made without delays.

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

We need more accomplishments to report to the community; as the community is more aware of the progress that RUSD is making, it will be more generous with its support. This enhanced outreach and communication has begun; as a board member it will be my priority to continue it. We should also have a well-reasoned list of requests for the community. For example, we need local businesses to offer internships for our high school students so they can add work experience to their resumes. Another example: we need more volunteers to participate in United Way’s Schools of Hope initiative as tutors for students in grades one through three.  The community will respond if we make these needs, and the positive effects of responding to them, known.

Do you support block scheduling? Why or why not?

I support block scheduling in the high schools. The subject matter is complex, and more time in class is needed for students to understand it and retain the information that they learn. The old model of a brief classroom introductions with the expectation that homework will produce mastery of subjects is not working. Block scheduling has been in the planning stages for months. The 2016 – 2017 school year is the appropriate time to implement the change. Delay only raises questions about the district’s ability to advance.

The real question appears to be: are the teachers adequately prepared? If that is a concern, then extra training should be provided – over the summer if necessary – to ensure the change is ready to launch in the Fall.

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

I support the Academies of Racine initiative. The Academies will provide high school students with more direction on the path to graduation. As the father of a Horlick High School graduate, I know that the existing process can be too vague and undefined. I particularly like the creation of the Freshman Academy and the Freshman Advocates (Counselors) to provide more, early, open-ended guidance as the students consider their interests and options for careers.

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

We need to improve teacher morale. The changes that followed Acts 10 and 32 devastated morale. Yet the implementation of RUSD’s goals depends on the people who have the one-on-one contact with the students. They will not be fully committed to our efforts if they do not feel appreciated and involved. Board members represent the whole community, not the employees, but I will also remember that teachers and staff are essential to the success of the district.

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