RACINE — Racine Unified School Board candidates have a lot of ideas when it comes to supporting the city’s most at-risk kids.
Some see parental involvement as key, others say the community must step up and still others call for the aid of mentors.
Candidates discussed those suggestions, as well as other topics like political influence in schools, during a video forum hosted by The Journal Times last week.
All six Unified School Board candidates attended. They are running for three board seats. The election is April 2.
Aiding those at risk
Students “need to know that they’re valued and they need to know somebody cares about them,” incumbent Julie McKenna, a 51-year-old respiratory care practitioner of Racine, said in response to a forum question about ways to beef up help for students at risk of performing poorly in school.
McKenna suggested Unified increase volunteers and community partnerships and that everyone simply say, “Hi,” to any kid they see.
“Even if you get one person that smiles at you it gives you hope,” she said.
Select assets, like going to church or being part of an after-school club, also help, said Michael Frontier, 70, of Racine, a retired educator still working with students at the John XXIII Educational Center. Frontier mentioned a survey that assesses 40 possible youth assets; Racine students have only 16 on average, he said.
“We need to surround these kids with love and care and we should do this by embracing those assets and focusing on one a month or one a quarter,” he said.
The community must come together in other ways too, said incumbent Christopher Eperjesy, a 45-year-old Caledonia man who is Twin Disc’s CFO.
“I think the answer to this question is the community has to get involved: businesses, the city government, the county government, charitable organizations, foundations. We have to come together and find solutions for some pretty complex problems,” he said, mentioning poverty, unemployment and homelessness, “because we can’t expect teachers to be teachers, social workers, disciplinarians (and) safety specialists.”
Parents have a key role to play too and Unified should have more parent-centered programs, said Robert Wittke Jr., 55, of Wind Point, a software implementation specialist. He mentioned a Chicago study that showed school improvement efforts that target parents have better results than those that solely target students.
Kristie Formolo, of Mount Pleasant, a 52-year-old personal care worker for handicapped adults, suggested at-risk students could be helped by expanding support for school clubs and by having more peer mentors, especially in early grades.
“We have to catch these children young,” she said.
Roger Pfost, 81, of Racine, a retired real estate agent and insurance claims manager, said increased parent and teacher involvement in students’ lives would help but added, “I have to admit I’m totally unfamiliar with the (current Unified) programs so I don’t know what more can be done.”
Putting politics in its place
All six candidates agreed politics have no place in schools unless all views get presented equally. They disagreed on what that means in practice.
Eperjesy and Frontier said all viewpoints should be presented in open class discussions but teachers should not advocate certain sides.
Pfost and Formolo said they know of instances where teachers crossed lines, encouraging kids to protest Act 10. Pfost said it concerns him and Formolo called for better district policies about what is allowed and not allowed in schools.
McKenna said that parents can request their children not participate in certain activities or read certain books and that political class discussions should be tied to curriculum.
Wittke said those discussions should focus on respect.
“We need to work more at showing people how to respect someone else’s decision,” he said.