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Racine Unified
Shuttered Stephen Bull school to reopen as early learning center

RACINE — Racine Unified is planning to reopen its currently shuttered 104-year-old Stephen Bull building next school year, as an early learning center for 3K and 4K students.

Stephen Bull, 815 DeKoven Ave., was closed at the end of the 2017-18 school year when kindergarten through fifth-grade fine arts curriculum was moved from that building to what is now Gilmore Fine Arts. At Gilmore, the fine arts curriculum was expanded to include the middle school grades.

In the 2019-20 school year, the district plans to consolidate early learning programs currently located at Red Apple Elementary School, 914 St. Patrick St., and the Racine Early Education Center, 2015 Franklin St., at Stephen Bull.

“The Bull building will allow them to have amenities they don’t currently have, such as a gymnasium,” said district Superintendent Eric Gallien. “It would also allow us to address some very inefficient and outdated buildings.”

Administrators say the move will help the district improve support for the early learning programs by housing them in the same building and early learning students will have access to a cafeteria at Stephen Bull, which they do not have at the early learning center building.

Unified expects to educate about 250 students at Stephen Bull next year.

“We have enough classrooms to maintain what we have but there is room to grow in the building,” said Amy Shepherd, the district’s director of early learning.

Aging, inefficient facilities

Administrators say that the facilities currently housing the early learning programs are in desperate need of repair or demolition. The original portion of Red Apple, where the early learning programs are located, was built in 1872, while the early education center was constructed in 1949.

The Racine Unified School Board voted unanimously in support of the move during Monday’s meeting.

Shepherd said she hadn’t heard too many concerns from staff about the move.

“Staff has been hoping, actually, to be able to have a consolidated program, where they can be supported all under one roof,” she said.

School Board Member Jane Barbian expressed worries about parking and handicap-accessibility at the two-story Bull building. Shepherd answered that there was more parking at Stephen Bull than either Red Apple or the early education center. Rosalie Daca, chief academic officer, said that she will work with Chief Operating Officer Shannon Gordon’s team to determine any changes or upgrades that need to be made to the building prior to next school year.

“Ms. Gordon’s team is poised to work with us,” Daca said. “We’ve identified the fact that the space will hold the students. Where everything individually goes, we were waiting for board approval.”

Transportation concerns

School Board member Matthew Hanser asked how student transportation would be impacted by the move, as Red Apple is almost three miles, about a 10-minute drive, from Stephen Bull.

“One of the things we’ve talked about as a board is to make sure we’re shrinking our transportation radius, not increasing it, creating a hardship for parents,” Hanser said.

Daca said that approximately 98 percent of students are transported to Red Apple by their parents, while some children who attend Racine Early Education Center receive transportation, as it is an overflow site that serves 4K students whose boundary-school programs are full. Daca said it would be hard to know if there will be issues or changes with transportation until students enroll next year.

The Bull building was originally opened as Stephen Bull Elementary School in 1914. Unified’s special fine arts curriculum was started at the school in 1975. Between that time and the end of last school year, the inside walls of the school have been decorated with a mosaic and many murals.

“I love the building, so much character, I’m glad that it’s being used,” Barbian said.

“Staff has been hoping, actually, to be able to have a consolidated program, where they can be supported all under one roof.” Amy Shepherd, Racine Unified director of early learning

Barbian


Local
Saturday event
Forum to discuss licenses for undocumented immigrants planned for Saturday

RACINE — Following a Racine Unified School Board proposal supporting driver’s licenses for undocumented individuals, the Racine Interfaith Coalition and Voces de la Frontera are planning to host a community forum this weekend to discuss the proposal, which is gaining traction around the state.

The forum is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday, at the Racine Labor Center, 2100 Layard Ave.

The statewide Driver Licenses for All campaign, that kicked off in Milwaukee a few weeks ago, aims to restore the ability of undocumented immigrants, who are here illegally, to obtain driver’s licenses. Campaigners also hope to help citizens who have never had a license or who lost theirs due to fines to get or re-obtain the ability to legally drive.

According to the Wisconsin State Journal, state Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa, D-Milwaukee, plans to introduce a bill in the coming year that would allow undocumented immigrants to obtain Wisconsin driver’s licenses. Prior to 2007, when state law changed, undocumented immigrants could obtain licenses in the state.

Local support

Jane Barbian, a Racine Unified School Board member and the board’s legislative liaison, on Monday floated the idea of the board putting its official backing behind the driver’s license campaign.

The board is expected to vote on a resolution, in support of a law change allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses, during its next business meeting on Dec. 17.

Some board members on Monday declined to voice an opinion for or against the proposed resolution, but Vice President Mike Frontier said he was in favor, while President Robert Wittke Jr. came out against it. Wittke, a Republican, was elected to the state Assembly last month to represent District 62.

Wittke believes the resolution is beyond the scope of the board and said, “We have other work that is more important to us that is related to student achievement. And I believe this is something that is best handled through federal and state legislation.”

However, supporters on the School Board claim that allowing undocumented immigrants to legally drive will help with school attendance problems for the children of the immigrants.

At the state level

State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester said he learned that the inability to obtain a driver’s license was an issue for undocumented immigrants during a dinner in the spring, hosted by Racine Interfaith Coalition.

Vos said he would not come out for or against the campaign, but said he wanted to hear arguments for and against the proposal, and to sit down with his Republican caucus and discuss it.

“I promised I would consider it,” he said.

Vos said he knows that some Republicans support the idea of licenses for undocumented immigrants, while others oppose it.

Linda Boyle, co-president of the Racine Interfaith Coalition, said the issue is also economic. She claimed that local farmers are having trouble finding workers as immigrants who typically work for them are scared to drive, and buses don’t run to those rural parts of the county.

The Driver Licenses for All campaign is supported by the statewide Voces organization as well as a coalition of local businesses, community-based organizations, youth groups, unions and churches that support the restoration of access to driver’s licenses for Wisconsin residents.

For more information on Saturday’s event, call 262-635-9532.


Local
Worst place for blacks?
After 24/7 Wall St. report, officials point to education as key for minority success

RACINE — When the organization 24/7 Wall St. came out this year with a report calling Racine the nation’s third worst place for black Americans, it got the attention of elected officials.

The organization 24/7 Wall St., a financial news and opinion company based in Delaware, used data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2016 American Community Survey to come up with a list of worst cities for black Americans. The study factored household income, poverty, adult high school and bachelor’s degree attainment, home ownership and unemployment.

When the Legislative session starts in January, some state lawmakers are hoping to try to find solutions to improve the situation for black residents in Racine. Education, job training and criminal justice reform are some of the areas legislators want to focus on to help change the climate for minorities.

State Rep. Greta Neubauer, D-Racine, said the area has a history of racial and economic inequality, and it is one of the central issues her office is focusing on.

“We have systemic and generational poverty in this community that’s a result of a lot of low-wage jobs and under investment in public education,” Neubauer said on Monday at a legislative breakfast sponsored by the Racine Area Manufacturers and Commerce.

Neubauer

Along with increasing funding in local education, Neubauer said the state needs to look into criminal justice reform legislation.

The legislative breakfast was also attended by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester; state Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine; and state Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha.

Overwhelmingly the elected officials pointed to education as a way to move Racine off of the list.

Vos said roughly a third of black students in Racine Unified School District don’t graduate from high school, which is a number that “keeps me up at night.”

“We’re talking about a basic high school education,” Vos said. “What happens when a third of African Americans don’t have a high school diploma? They end up taking a job that probably doesn’t require many skills, which of course is going to mean it's low-paid. That’s the problem.”

Vos pointed the finger directly at Unified, saying the district is “broken” and he has “tried to do something about Unified without much success because some people in the community are fixated on the idea that things are just fine.”

“We have for far too long failed to accept that,” Vos said. “But it’s the reality.”

As a solution, Vos noted the success that some students have had through the Unified school choice program.

“Things are better now that we have school choice in Racine,” Vos said. “When you look at kids that actually go into a choice school, overwhelmingly they graduate and overwhelmingly they have an opportunity to get some kind of advanced degree.”

Racine Unified Superintendent Eric Gallien said the challenges facing the Racine community are “clearly complex and will take business, education, governmental and all community leaders working together to solve them with respect, integrity and purpose. Racine Unified is working to be part of the solution.”

“We have committed tremendous efforts and resources toward transformational changes like the Academies of Racine,” Gallien said. “Transformation doesn’t happen overnight. Yet we are encouraged by the many partners who have joined us in collective efforts to ensure our students do better and become successful contributors to our community.”

Training opportunities

Barca agreed with Neubauer that there needs to be some criminal justice reform in the state and added there needs to be more opportunities for younger minority students to receive job training.

Barca

“When kids are actively engaged and they have summer jobs, when they have internship opportunities and they can see the benefits of having an opportunity to work, I think it can make an enormously positive difference,” Barca said.

The Academies of Racine, which allows Unified students to earn certification and education in a field beyond high school, has been well praised by public officials. The academies program is in its third year and the students who started as freshman in the program are beginning to get a better grasp of the field of their choice.

Wanggaard said the academies are a positive initiative for Unified “but we can’t force (students) to do things.”

Wanggaard

“We have to create an environment that they want to learn and they want to succeed and they want to be able to do those things,” Wanggaard said.

Although he believes education is the best way to help minorities in Racine, Wanggaard added he also believes “its behavioral issues in the classroom” that contribute to some of the issues students have graduating.

“We have to create an environment that they (minority students) want to learn and they want to succeed and they want to be able to do those things.” State Sen. Van Wanggaard

Wittke


Gallien


Neubauer