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ADAM ROGAN adam.rogan@journaltimes.com 

Patrick Cafferty, left, sits with his client, Racine Police Department officer Brinelle Nabors, who has been charged with three crimes related to excessive force he's accused of using against a Park High School student in 2015.


Local
Racine Unified
Racine elementary schools work to lower black suspension rates

Wytonick

Dekker

RACINE — Two Racine Unified elementary schools are making targeted, team-focused efforts to reduce suspension rates for black students.

As The Journal Times reported earlier this year, out-of-school suspension rates for black students are high across the district. About a quarter of black Unified students were suspended in the 2015-16 school year, compared to 5 percent of white students and 7.2 percent of Hispanic students.

Knapp Elementary School, 2701 17th St., has set a goal of reducing the rate of suspensions given to black students to 35.5 percent this school year, from 60.5 percent last school year.

Dr. Jones Elementary School, 3300 Chicory Road, has a similar goal to cut out-of-school suspensions for black students to 29.5 percent, from 37.5 percent last year.

Rich Wytonick, directing principal at Knapp, said that office referrals and suspensions are already down significantly this year. Last year, the school had 900 office referrals, and is tracking to have fewer than 400 this year. The school handed out almost 600 suspensions last year and is tracking to have fewer than 200 this year.

“So we’re super excited by the progress that we’ve seen,” Wytonick said.

Dr. Jones School successfully reduced office referrals for special education students by 42 percent last year, another group that typically has a higher rate of suspensions than other students.

Dr. Jones Principal Sherrie Hopkins said the school is working to identify students with behavioral issues and take a look at the whole child and his or her needs.

To decrease office referrals and suspensions at Knapp, the school has established areas in each classroom where students can go to take a break, redirect themselves and refocus. If that doesn’t work, students are sent to a “take a break” classroom.

Racine Unified School Board member Matthew Hanser said it is important for the public to understand that a decrease in office referrals does not mean that administrators are ignoring inappropriate student behaviors.

Wytonick answered that he believes a high staff retention rate this year of 92 percent has been the most significant contributing factor in decreased office referrals and suspensions. He said this has helped to build continued student-teacher relationships.

“These teachers are choosing to come back and stick it out,” Wytonick said. “That’s something that’s been missing at Knapp for quite some time. If we treat them right and support them, they want to work for us, they want to stay.”

Staff at both Dr. Jones and Knapp spoke positively of the Unified program Circles of Support, which places youth advocates in schools to help a targeted group of students master the behaviors expected of them at school and in the community.

“I believe that having a youth advocate in the building for our students has made the difference for Dr. Jones as a school community,” Hopkins said. “When I first arrived five years ago, the relationships between the school and the families was broken.”

Attendance

Another goal for Knapp this school year is to increase average daily attendance to 95 percent. In previous years, the school lost five points on the state report card because it didn’t meet Wisconsin’s attendance requirements. The school did not lose points for absenteeism this year, but Wytonick said it probably will again next year, as absenteeism data used in the state report cards has a two-year lag.

“We know that this is a big issue for us,” Wytonick said.

Currently, the school is at 92.3 percent average daily attendance, which he called a “nice increase” from last year’s 89.9 percent.

Some strategies the school has used to increase attendance include daily 20-minute morning assemblies, structured around a theme, with each Thursday focused on attendance. Classes that have 95 percent attendance or better are recognized and a traveling trophy goes to the classes that have the best attendance.

As Knapp Assistant Principal Danielle Dekker assumes is the case at other schools with students who live within walking distance, Knapp struggles with attendance during the bitterly cold months of January and February.

Wish list

During a presentation to the School Board during a Dec. 17 meeting, School Board member Jane Barbian asked representatives from Knapp and Dr. Jones what was on their wish list.

Hopkins said at Dr. Jones, she would like more time to work collaboratively with staff, some of whom are part-time. She would also like to see a full-day 4K program implemented at the school.

Wytonick asked the board to continue to fund student advocates and instructional coaches to help teachers at Knapp, which became Unified’s first community school in 2016. As a community school, various programs and services beyond education are offered at the school to aid students and their families alike.

“Continue to give us what we’ve got,” he said. “We’re happy with what we’ve got. Right now, I don’t feel the need to come to you and ask for anything else, but don’t take away the resources that we currently have.”


Local
Waterford
Waterford Balloonfest 2019 canceled

WATERFORD — After an eight-year run, Waterford Balloonfest will not be returning in 2019. Neither will the Waterford Area Spring Expo, a yearly home-improvement show, which marked its 24th annual event last March.

The Waterford Chamber of Commerce said that planned major construction on Main Street (Highways 20/83) and near the field where Balloonfest has been held have made it impractical for hot-air balloons to take flight this summer. The road construction, as well as dwindling attendance, led to the cancellation of the Spring Expo, which is usually held at Waterford High School, 100 Field Drive.

The field where Balloonfest has always been held — behind Fox River Middle School, 921 W. Main St., and Evergreen Elementary, 817 W. Main St. — will likely be occupied by construction equipment this summer, after district voters in November approved a $25 million referendum to allow for the expansion of Fox River. Construction is expected to be underway when the ninth Balloonfest would have taken place, according to Waterford Chamber of Commerce Office Manager Shelly Kurhajec.

“That doesn’t leave us with a lot of space to hold the event in the correct manner,” Kurhajec said.

An uncertain future

Will Balloonfest return in 2020? Kurhajec doesn’t know.

“That I’m unsure of, as of right now,” she said. “That’ll depend on the new board (of directors) we have for the chamber and what can be done.”

Ken Walters, the owner of Waukesha-based WindDancer Balloon Promotions — the company that had put on Waterford Balloonfest for each of its eight years — was saddened when the Chamber of Commerce decided to cancel the event altogether, rather than relocate it.

“It’s one of my jobs that got taken away … I’m as disappointed, if not more disappointed, than anyone else,” he said. “I thought plans were in place for making a change (of venue). We’ve known for years that the road would be under construction.”

Walters said that the Waterford event was the only one he hosts in southeastern Wisconsin. The next closest event that WindDancer Balloon Promotions puts on is in Grayslake, Ill., about an hour’s drive south of Waterford.

“Waterford just washed their hands of having a balloon event,” he said. “I don’t think they (the Waterford Chamber of Commerce) would do it again … it’s really unfortunate.”

Unsmooth sailing

Several recent Waterford Balloonfests have been marred by unfavorable, and sometimes dangerous, weather.

Last July, the eighth annual event only saw one of seven planned flights actually occur due to rainy and windy conditions. The U.S. National Women’s Hot Air Balloon Championships was supposed to take place that weekend, but not enough flights took place for a champion to be crowned.

In July 2015, high winds caused the restraints on a grounded hot-air balloon to snap, allowing the balloon to be lifted away with two people still in its basket. They were both unharmed, but at least nine other people were reportedly injured as balloonists tried to keep their balloons on the ground. Cars and tents were damaged as a result of the winds in 2015, too.

Expo could return

Kurhajec did say that there’s a good chance the Spring Expo will be back in 2020.

“We are looking at new ways to reconstruct it and modernize it,” she said. “We had a little bit of a lack of attendance, which is why we’re restructuring.”

“Waterford just washed their hands of having a balloon event ... I don’t think they (the Waterford Chamber of Commerce) would do it again … It’s really unfortunate.” Ken Walters, owner of WindDancer Balloon Promotions

PETER JACKEL, peter.jackel@journaltimes.com 

Jack Grunert of Oak Creek waits for a pitch from Ben Randow of Whitewater on Saturday morning at the Haban Jensen Hitting Center, which moved from Machinery Row to High Street in November. The Racine Baseball Co-Op is hoping for more teams to rent space at the venue to make it financially viable.


Crime-and-courts
Marijuana OFFENSES
Two weeks after Racine marijuana directive, many questions remain

RACINE — On Dec. 18, the Racine City Council passed a communication directing the Police Department to defer to a city ordinance and issue citations, rather than criminal charges, for first-time marijuana offenses under 25 grams and set the forfeiture between $1 to $75.

More than two weeks later, questions remain as to how, or if, the directive will move forward.

What’s next?

One of the first steps would be for Municipal Judge Rebecca Mason to set the forfeiture so officers can issue citations. The Journal Times attempted to contact Mason at her law office since she was not expected back at municipal court until later this week but did not receive a response. Her clerks didn’t know of any timeline for setting the bond.

The bigger question is: Once law enforcement are able to follow the directive, will they?

Wisconsin Statute 62.02(13)(a) states that, “The (police) chief shall obey all lawful written orders of the mayor or common council.”

What’s up for debate is the term “lawful.”

During discussion with the City Council, City Attorney Scott Letteney said that he believed the order was lawful, but Police Chief Art Howell has disagreed, saying that the directive is outside the council’s authority.

“As of this time, no (new) local ordinance has been drafted and passed for law enforcement officers to follow. If such an ordinance is eventually adopted, the Racine County District Attorney and the State Attorney General will need to determine if such an a ordinance is in line with (and not less restrictive than) existing state statues,” Howell said in a statement. “Once the various process and policy questions are resolved, and clear direction is received from the Attorney General, we will move forward as dictated by law.”

The Journal Times contacted incoming Attorney General Josh Kaul’s communications team, who said Kaul would not be available until after his inauguration on Monday.

Howell also stated that the issue with the directive isn’t its objective but the legality of the order and clarity for the policy department.

“In concluding that marijuana possession (less than 25 grams) should be exempt from criminal exposure, the Common Council communicated a clear message, that being, the Council is not in support of the criminalization of minor offenses. The discourse before us is more process-oriented than differences in policy preference,” Howell said. “Once legislation is passed and enacted (whether state statutes or local ordinances) law enforcement officers are obligated to enforce such laws. As such, the most effective way to define police action is to enact statutes and ordinances that provide clear direction.”

The Journal Times contacted the city attorney’s office, the mayor’s office and some members of the City Council with these questions, but did not receive a response last week.