WIND POINT — Dressed in khaki pants and suit jackets, about a dozen high school students greeted area officials as they entered Wingspread Tuesday for a gathering to learn about the Racine School District’s plans for the next five years, a plan called “Raising Racine 2022.”
It was recently reported that if the Racine Unified School District fails to meet state testing minimums for a second year in a row, the state and county could take over as many as five district schools.
Concern about the possible takeover came up Tuesday morning, but the main focus of the event at Wingspread was on accomplishments and plans to move the district forward, and that largely focused on those teens who stood at the entryway of the event — teens who are entering their sophomore year and last year declared a career pathway through the Academies of Racine, the district’s new career-development program for high school students.
Raylee Nelson, 15, a student at Case who was at the Wingspread event, said she recently declared an engineering pathway and wants to become a biomedical engineer. Her father and stepfather both went into engineering and, after her experience with the engineering club at Starbuck Middle School, she knew she was interested in going into the field.
“I’m very fortunate to know what I want to do,” Nelson said.
Some of her friends were a little uneasy about committing to a pathway so early, but, she said, they believe it will help them in the long run, because through the experience they may be able to narrow down options and decide what field they want to pursue.
Also, specialized classes will look good on college applications, Nelson said.
Her experience has been eye-opening, she said. “This is going to be a good change,” Nelson said about the academies program.
As Nelson spoke, Racine Police Chief Art Howell commented quietly in the crowd: “Wow. That is what matters.”
In addition to highlighting the youths in the room, Racine Unified officials said they have been advancing toward their goal of having all district freshmen finish the year with seven or more credits.
In 2015-16, only 52.5 percent met that goal; in 2016-17, 60.6 percent met the goal. According to Unified officials, if they have seven credits by the end of the year, they are four times as likely to graduate.
Along with improving credits, the graduation rate has been slowly increasing. In 2013, the district had a 72 percent graduation rate; in 2016 that rate increased to 76.8 percent. There was a dip when the district fell to 74.4 percent in 2015; but officials said that some years there can be an outlier statistic and, in general, the graduation rate has steadily risen from 67 percent in 2010 to 76.8 percent in 2016.
It’s a rate that is still below the state graduation rate, but one that the district is working toward increasing by 2022 to the state average, which is currently 88.2 percent.
Jeff Neubauer, executive director of Higher Expectations, a data-driven initiative committed to building a capable and employed workforce, said the state should give Unified more time to see if initiatives are working.
If interventions are needed, Neubauer said, local officials need to work with the Legislature to put in more sensible interventions and look at what other states have done.
A community challenge
As part of closing remarks, School Board President Robert Wittke reminded the public to take an active interest in the board and not let seats go unopposed in next spring’s local elections.
“As a community, your greatest impact is at the board level,” Wittke said. “You influence how that trajectory will be as we move forward. I will just say the last three seats we had up for election were unopposed … start looking at the April elections. Hold the board accountable. We need to be held accountable. We need to hear more voices.”