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Education
Mitchell School
Parents speak out about challenges at Mitchell School

Tapp

RACINE — Despite widespread criticism from the community and parents, the Racine Unified School District has remained relatively quiet regarding the grievance filed by 70-plus teachers at Mitchell K-8 School last month that alleges that violence has become a common occurrence at the understaffed building.

The teachers’ complaints came to the public’s attention last Thursday, when a parent, Tabatha Cruz, shared a copy of the six-page grievance on Facebook.

At about 4:45 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon, Racine Unified issued a phone call from Mitchell’s new principal, Demetri Beekman. In a recorded message, Beekman asked for parents’ support as Mitchell tackles its challenges and asked parents to avoid making social media posts that “sensationalize” the situation at the school.


Beekman's message to Mitchell parents, Nov. 14

Cruz spoke with The Journal Times after she received the voice message. Cruz said that although she felt the school had already made some positive changes since Beekman became principal about three weeks ago, she disregarded his request to keep quiet.

“(The recording) was pretty much telling us parents that this was our fault for making (the school) look so bad,” Cruz said. “My goal is not to make Racine Unified look bad … If more people can get involved, then we can help.”

Cruz said that she met with Beekman on Tuesday and was pleased with what she heard from him. However, she said that Mitchell “is still a hot mess.”

Little communication

The Journal Times spoke with nine parents and grandparents of Mitchell students on Wednesday — some of them before the voice call was issued, some of them after.

Each of those family members said they only heard about the grievance from their children, on Facebook or from news outlets — excluding Cruz and one parent who also works for Racine Unified. They said the school never informed them directly of the ongoing issues.

In Cruz’s Facebook post, published Friday, she wrote: “I need your help. I need your help in sending a message to Racine Unified. They need to know that I am done. The Parents are done. The Teachers are done.”

The Journal Times asked Racine Unified via email late Wednesday afternoon why parents weren’t notified about the teachers’ concerns or threats to the safety of students and faculty, but the district had not replied as of press time.

Multiple parents have told The Journal Times or posted on social media that they are considering pulling their kids out of Mitchell.

“There’s no control for these students. They do whatever they want,” said Jill Nowik, a mother of two Mitchell students. “There’s not enough faculty to deal with all these kids.”

Racine teachers protest transfer of Julian Thomas principal

RACINE — On Oct. 19, Julian Thomas Elementary fourth-grader Serenity Avila came home from school crying after hearing that the Racine Unified School District was transferring her award-winning principal, Demetri Beekman, to Mitchell Elementary School mid-semester.

Too many kids

One Racine Unified employee and several parents told The Journal Times that Mitchell’s problems began at the outset of the 2018-19 school year, when Mitchell was forced to take on additional students for which it wasn’t equipped.

For example, some sources said that some of the students in the dual-language program didn’t have all of their textbooks until midway through October, five weeks after the school year began.

Newly drawn district boundaries caused Mitchell’s upshot in enrollment. The new boundaries, which took effect this year but were approved in July 2017, include an overlapping area for Mitchell and Starbuck middle schools.

In grades K-8, Mitchell had approximately 987 students last year, according to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. As of press time, Racine Unified had not replied to an email asking how many students are attending the school this year.

The principal swap explained

The teachers’ grievance, titled “Mitchell Middle School is in Crisis,” was filed on Oct. 11. About two weeks later, Demetri Beekman — who had been a well-respected principal at Julian Thomas Elementary — became Mitchell’s principal.

Mitchell’s former principal, Esteban Malacara, was transferred to Goodland Elementary. Goodland’s principal, Janet Colvin, was moved to Julian Thomas.

Several Julian Thomas teachers told The Journal Times in October that Principal Beekman was the sole cause of a turnaround at that school. Julian Thomas’ test scores have risen every year since 2015, when Beekman took over.

Unified hopes Beekman will be able to inspire a similar turnaround at Mitchell, Racine Unified Spokeswoman Stacy Tapp confirmed.

“Since receiving the grievance, the district has provided additional support to Mitchell,” Tapp said in an email. “That includes making a leadership change at the school last month. We are hearing from individual staff and families that they are already seeing progress and improvement.”

It appears that since Beekman became principal, rules have become more strictly enforced.

Nowik’s seventh-grade daughter told her mom that students are being suspended more quickly for infractions such as skipping class or cell phone use. Beekman requires suspended students to meet with himself and at least one of their parents before they’re allowed back in school, according to Nowik.

Racine Unified did not reply to an email regarding the institution of this policy.

“They have to set an example,” Nowik said. “If suspensions is how they have to do it, then I hope it works.”

Improvements during student pickup

As students left Mitchell just after 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, at least one Racine police SUV drove slowly past the school on Drexel Avenue, keeping an eye on the home-bound children.

Dela Sauceda, who has three grandchildren attending Mitchell, said a police presence has become common at the school. Over the past month, she said that it seems like police have been called to the school every day because of violence and/or threats of violence.

“It’s getting really scary,” she said.

Sauceda wishes more parents would visit the school to see what’s going on in the classrooms and hallways. The teachers’ grievance alleges that there had been more than three suspensions per day on average this school year (120 total suspensions as of the sixth week of school), that 15 faculty members had been injured by students, and students will oftentimes skip class to pick fights with kids in other rooms.

In the last two weeks, the students’ behavior at the end of the school day appears to have improved, according to a Racine Unified staffer who has multiple children attending Mitchell. She said that she’s seen the students becoming more orderly and less disruptive as they board their buses or get into their parents’ cars.

The Racine Unified staffer said she didn’t want to have her name published, for fear that her job would be endangered by speaking with the press. The Journal Times confirmed that she is an employee at another Racine Unified school.

More parents’ stories

Despite scant communications from the school, many parents were already aware of the ongoing problems.

When Gabriel Maldonado comes to pick up his child from Mitchell, he said students and other parents often swear at him and make obscene gestures while they stand in the middle of the street, blocking traffic. This wasn’t an issue last year, according to Maldonado.

“There’s no respect,” he said. “This year is no good. Every other year was okay.”

Juan Gonzalez has four children who attend Mitchell. He said that last year his son, then in second grade, was “jumped” and beaten up by five boys on the playground, but none of them were suspended.

Hearing about the teachers’ grievance only confirmed his suspicions about the growing problems inside the school.

“Since Starbuck sent kids here … it became a nightmare for the kids,” he said. “They have to downsize the school. The population is too much, especially for the teachers to handle.”


Gregory Shaver, For The Journal Times 

Football players, Jayden Houston, No. 8, Michael Jacobsen, No. 5,and Tyler Tenner, No. 5, scream "The Lord's Prayer" along with their fans and family during a community pep rally Wednesday evening at Racine Lutheran High School to send off Lutheran's football team to the WIAA Division 6 state championship game. Lutheran will play Iola-Scandinavia for the state title on Thursday at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison. For more on the game, see Sports, Page C1. For more photos from the rally, go to journaltimes.com


Local
Racine
Free holiday meter parking in Racine recommended

RACINE — Pending final City Council approval, free meter parking will be available on select upcoming dates during the holiday season.

At the request of 1st District Alderman Jeff Coe, the Public Works and Services Committee on Tuesday recommended that the city offer free meter parking on a handful of upcoming dates in Downtown, Uptown and West Racine, on streets, in parking lots and at the McMynn ramp. Those dates are: Nov. 23, the so-called Black Friday; Nov. 24, the so-called Small Business Saturday; Dec. 1, 8, 15 and 22, all Saturdays; and Dec. 24, Christmas Eve.

The committee’s recommendation is scheduled to go to the City Council for consideration on Tuesday. The estimated revenue loss to the parking system is $14,000.

“Normally, meter parking is an efficient way to provide short-term parking for customers and encourage the use of parking ramps for all-day parking,” said Kelly Kruse, executive director of the Downtown Racine Corporation.

“The holiday season, however, provides a wonderful opportunity to be as welcoming to as many people as we can,” she said. “New or occasional visitors might not be familiar with paying for parking or the location of the ramps. Parking in ramps will still be available for reasonable rates.”

According to the city, DRC said, the parking utility has held parking promotions in December for the past two years. The first year it was free meter parking on Saturdays. Last year it was a promotion for merchants to download and utilize the Passport parking payment app. The promotions received positive feedback the last two years from merchants, residents and visitors, Kruse said.


Local
Mount Pleasant man dies after Saturday's Hwy. 20 crash

MOUNT PLEASANT — A Mount Pleasant man has died following a Saturday morning crash at Highway 20 and Highway V, police said Wednesday.

The man, identified as 31-year-old Richard Keller, died on Tuesday as a result of injuries sustained in the crash, according to Mount Pleasant Police.

Mount Pleasant Police responded, along with the South Shore Fire Department, at approximately 7 a.m. Saturday to a report of a two-vehicle crash at the intersection of highways 20 and V. A caller said there were multiple injuries, and one of the vehicles — a Honda Civic — was on fire.

Keller was reportedly driving the Honda Civic west on Highway 20 while a 34-year-old woman from Racine was driving a Mitsubishi Outlander south on Highway V. Keller’s Honda reportedly entered the intersection of the highways and crashed into the Mitsubishi.

Police said Keller’s vehicle came to rest in the southwest ditch where it caught fire. Several citizens who police called “Good Samaritans” pulled Keller out of the burning car before police and firefighters arrived.

Keller was transported to Froedtert Hospital in Wauwatosa, while the Mitsubishi driver was transported to Ascension All Saints Hospital, where she was treated for nonlife-threatening injuries.

Police did not believe driver impairment was a contributing factor in the crash, and no citations had been issued as of Saturday afternoon.

The Wisconsin State Patrol assisted in the reconstruction of the crash. As of Wednesday afternoon the crash was still under investigation and no further information was released.

A news release from Mount Pleasant Police initially incorrectly named the victim. The first name has been corrected.