The April 2 election has just one contested position in local politics, for seat No. 1 on the School Board, pitting incumbent Phil Kroner against challenger Carmela Rios. The candidates were asked to choose two issues facing the board, and to provide a response to each issue of no more than 300 words. Their responses appear unedited.
Kroner, the incumbent, has served two full terms on the Wauwatosa School Board. Prior to serving on the board, he was part of committees that put together a long-range plan for the district. He teaches at Milwaukee Area Technical College, and has two sons, one in college and the other a student at Wauwatosa East High School.
Maintaining High Quality Educational Programs With Uncertain Funding:
For several years, schools across our state have struggled to maintain high quality educational programs in the face of uncertain, and recently, significantly reduced, funding. Wauwatosa has fared better than most school districts because of key policy choices made by the school board, and because district administrators choose high quality, cost-efficient educational programs. The conservative management of district finances allowed the Wauwatosa school district to not only improve the educational programs it offers, but to add new programs as well.
For example, during my 6-year tenure on the board, the school district reviewed and updated all curricular areas, which is a very significant achievement. In addition, the school board selected reading as the district focus, expanded the STEM program at all four secondary schools, increased the number of AP courses offered, increased online learning for district students, expanded Summer School, and installed district-wide wireless computing capability.
These accomplishments were completed while at the same time keeping class sizes low, maintaining high-quality music, art, and theatre programs, strengthening the security systems throughout the district, hiring full-time security officers to staff all four secondary schools, and updating worn out athletic facilities.
As a school board member, I am very conscious of the fact that in addition to my responsibility for helping students achieve at the highest level, I am also a steward of your tax dollars. I will continue to focus on providing high quality educational programs in the most efficient way possible.
Increase the Success of Struggling Students:
Despite the success most students experience in Wauwatosa, there are students who consistently struggle to learn. Students most at risk for being in this group include students with disabilities, socio-economically disadvantaged students, and black students, but there are also many other students who simply fail to thrive in our classrooms. To reach our ultimate goal of having every student in the district achieve at the highest level, we must redouble our efforts to help low-achieving students.
The district is not ignoring these students. In fact, new programs to help struggling students have been initiated, and new approaches are being explored. We are moving in the right direction. However, test scores for this group of students remain low. These students can be successful, but we must identify struggling students early, apply effective targeted interventions, and rigorously monitor improvement. Success will also likely depend on hiring additional teachers dedicated to this effort. This increased commitment may require that we reexamine our priorities, as redirection of resources from other district programs will be necessary.
In the end, our district is no more successful than our least successful students. To become a truly great school district we must help our struggling students achieve at a high level. Doing so will not only make a tremendous difference in the lives of those students, but it will also increase the success of every student in the district.
My name is Carmela Rios, and I have built my career as a lead high school science teacher and curriculum facilitator of both middle and high school. I made a promise to myself long ago, that one day I would take my life's work as an educator and put it to use for the district my children attend. Now, with my oldest in first grade, I am seeking a seat on the school board. There is a need in this time of change to have someone on the board that knows how all policy will directly impact our children in the classroom.
Positive Change Requires all Stakeholders:
This is a time of change in public education, not only for the Wauwatosa School district, but across the state. There are new freedoms in scheduling, staffing, teacher evaluation and retention. In addition, higher standards are being set with the adoption of the Common Core State Standards and the development of the Smarter Balanced Assessments; all of this at a time when funding is limited. Change brings about opportunity for growth, but to enact it effectively, communication among all stakeholders must occur. Any policy and reform that is set in place will affect our children for years to come. Policies that the board votes on have to be looked at from the vantage point of students, teachers, administrators, parents, and taxpayers. Everyone needs a voice in these decisions so that positive change occurs.
Ideally, the board should be made up of seven members who can each contribute their unique skill set and effectively collaborate to make the best decisions on critical topics. Currently, there is no one with working classroom experience. This is where my skills can help the Wauwatosa School District. My experience as a teacher, curriculum facilitator, parent of young children just beginning in the district, will allow me to fill in the void that is missing. In the boardroom I will know the important questions to ask, and make sure that there is a structure in place for input by those working with our children daily. During this time of change, we need work together so that Wauwatosa Schools continue to be a place where every parent feels privileged to have their children attend each day.
As a former lead high school science teacher and curriculum facilitator with ten years of experience in the classroom, I am thrilled that the high school science curriculum is currently being updated. Building on the important work that was initiated last year in the middle school, the high school program is starting the board adopted Aligned by Design curriculum work, and changing science course sequence and structure. This work will ensure that our science courses are aligned to the new Common Core State Standards and the ACT college readiness benchmarks. This is a research-based instructional framework that can guide our educators to ensure that all of our students have the college and career readiness skills needed to find success. Part of the structural change includes lengthening core science classes from one semester to full year, a step that is necessary for proper depth of knowledge and meaningful laboratory investigations.
As a board member I will work to ensure that the adoption of both Aligned by Design and new course structure are implemented with integrity. The curriculum is not a script of day-to-day lessons; instead, it provides an organized scope and sequence of learning targets. Teachers now need continued professional development to build their understandings of how to best facilitate student learning and achievement under the new structure. With the change towards year long courses, classroom teachers can move science towards an inquiry-based approach, one in which students are not simply given steps to follow or information to memorize, but rather support to design their own laboratory experiments, collect real-time data, and write their findings in a laboratory report. This engages our students in the actual doing of science, sparking their curiosity and critical thinking skills. The more hands on experiences we give our students in science, the more enjoyment and deeper comprehension we will spark in them.
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