Primary Election Preview: RUSD Candidates on the District's Achievement Gap

In the third story this week on the Feb. 19 primary election for the Racine Unified School District Board of Education, Patch asks the 10 candidates vying for three seats on the board how they would address the district's racial achievement gap.

Voters in the Racine Unified School District will head to the polls on Feb. 19 to narrow down the field of candidates running for three seats on the School Board.

The top six vote-getters in the primary election will compete in the April 2 general election.

The candidates are: Cecilia Anguiano, Laura Betker, Tifene Brown, Randall Bryce, incumbent Christopher Eperjesy, Kristie Formolo, Michael Frontier, incumbent board member Julie McKenna, Roger Pfost and Robert Wittke Jr.

Leading up to the election, Patch is profiling the candidates and where they stand on the key issues facing the school district. All information is based on the candidates' responses to Patch's election questionnaire.

Related Coverage

  • Meet the RUSD School Board candidates
  • Candidates weigh in on biggest issue facing the district
How would you address the district's racial achievement gap? Anguiano As a child who lived in poverty while attending RUSD I know that students such as myself tend to live in a challenging family environment and have a smaller support system. All of these factors contribute to increased stress levels that affect how we perform as a group. We can't address the racial achievement gap without addressing socioeconomic status because currently they go hand in hand. 
Additionally, student's of color need to see themselves represented in curriculum, teachers, and role models so that they too can believe they can succeed. From my experience I know that if we show our students that we believe and want to invest in them, then they in turn will learn to value themselves and their education. I understand this missing piece needs to be filled through increased community involvement and support staff. For example:
-Schools should have full time parent outreach coordinators, who are culturally compatible, and will help parents and their students navigate their child’s education throughout their time at that school. Their course of action would be to inform and empower the family as well as establishing connections with similar families.
-Minority students need to feel that they can succeed. We should encourage all students to take AP courses because challenging students should be our priority. If we increase the diversity of AP courses, we can make them more appealing.
- I would make it a priority to increase the number of social workers and counselors present in our schools, especially in poorer performing elementary schools. The belief that you can or can not succeed is determined at a young age by children. Also, in this way teachers can refocus on teaching the child by not having to be their own support staff.
-Minority students need to see school staff that resembles them. We need a better program to recruit these individuals such as promoting aids to become teachers, visiting Gateway and Parkside. We want to have teachers that understand our community and are invested in it. 
I would address the district's racial achievement gap by reviewing all the programs that have proven to be successful. I would continue the programs, such as Read 180, System 44 and CALC. Community and parent involvement would need to be increased. Reviewing other programs that are effective in communities like ours would be beneficial. Class size and data should be reviewed.
Brown Increase support services from Elementary through high school. This is need to enhance the lack of or limited assistance student may not have at home. Student’s come from low income families were their parents are not able to help them because of being out of the home working. If we have support services that can identify some of these needs combined with other services in the community, then there would be a better support network for that student.
Bryce I have found that there is not enough outreach to every group. Outreach needs to be improved in order to get everyone involved. Making the school a center of the community would involve more people, and, give them a feeling of ownership.
Eperjesy In my opinion, this is one of the biggest challenges facing the District – closing the achievement gap. In the short time I’ve been a member of the RUSD Board of Education, I have seen that progress is being made, but clearly a lot more needs to be done. Programs that engage parents to be more involved, expand 4-year old kindergarten, provide additional support for students in need, expand summer school and reduce class size are all programs I would support. I have a lot to learn and I am open to suggestions from all stakeholders, particularly students, parents and teachers.
Formolo We need to go back to neighborhood schools so that parents have the connection to the school in their neighborhood. We need more volunteers in the Elementary schools to help with reading and we need to continue offering more choices for parents who want their children to attend the magnet or charter schools. We also need to strive harder for a zero tolerance policy in the majority of the schools. A teacher and the school district cannot fix a broken home, but what they can offer is a safe and exciting haven for students to spend 5 days a week.
Also, and this is very important, we need to look at what is working at Walden who continually produces outstanding students and has very few discipline problems. We need to encourage more schools in our district to work towards the Walden Philosophy which I've included below.

Walden Philosophy: "Walden III's commitment to non-violence is a tradition that has been an integral part of its philosophy since the school's inception in 1972. Students are expected to solve problems amicably. The school's "no fight" policy means that no one may use physical violence against another. Any student violating the district's code of student responsibility may be removed from Walden III to return to their home school. In addition, a student at Walden cannot demonstrate truancy/tardiness or academic failure over the course of a quarter and remain a Walden student."
Frontier Early childhood is key. All research indicates that student in Head Start despite losing some academic gains still graduate at a much higher level than non- Head start students. This may be a function of more health -dental interventions provided that reduce lost school days.
Alternative instructional strategies are needed for students who lack the language rich environments of more well to do families.
Differentiated instruction is a buzz word that demands considerable preparation for teachers. This is critical if we are to appeal to all ability groups. Considerable staff development monies are needed to create outstanding teachers who can use this approach. McKenna The district has made progress in this area as evidenced by National Blue Ribbon School award for Jerstad-Agerholm, The School of Recognition designation for Jerstad-Agerholm, Rossevelt and West Ridge. We need all our schools to close the achievement gap and do that every year. I see growth in this area as evidenced by the above awards, also by the initiatives of IB programs at Jefferson Lighthouse, MckInley Middle School, Case High School. I am excited by the Science Technolgy Engineering (STEM) many of our schools are going to this and (STEAM) which adds the Arts in Mtchell Middle School. The North Star vision has helped us focus on this issue. The district has to continue to evaluate and do the things that are working , and stop or change the things that have not worked and do other things we are not doing to achieve the closing the racial achievement gap.. The Guilding Coalition and the District Wide School Improvement Council has really focused and continues to focus on this as well as all of our staff in the Racine Unified School District.
I am hopeful and want to be a part of that to make it a reality for all students.The district has a good start need to continue to do more in this area to close that gap for all students.
Pfost Did not respond. Wittke A key piece of addressing this issue will be the hiring of a new Superintendent. The Board’s role is to insure the Superintendent has developed a comprehensive plan to address the issue, monitor its delivery, and hold the Superintendent and his/her team accountable for achieving results. I believe the Board has to set a higher standard of accountability as well as emphasizing a greater sense of urgency towards making progress. There are concepts I believe need to be part of this plan. The focus has to be in the early stages of our student’s development and on the core foundational subjects reading and math. We appear to start losing our students in grade three. The more students that successfully pass this hurdle the better chance we have of improving performance at the secondary education levels. Leverage what is working in our own District. For example, West Ridge Elementary School has shown meaningful results in closing their achievement gap. If other outside programs or methods are considered they should have a proven track record of producing results. Ways to incorporate existing tools designed to supplement our traditional education process such as our technology instruction program, RTI process, Lighted Schoolhouse program, Schools of Hope program, etc.


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