STURTEVANT — For Michelle Duchow, a school social worker and former Racine Unified employee, the Racine Unified School Board’s shortage of members with experience working in public schools is “troubling.”
“I feel like I understand what happens in schools; I care about what the teachers think, and of course the students,” she said in an interview this week. “You don’t really know what goes on in school if you haven’t worked there, spent enough time there.”
The one candidate in the only unopposed race for a School Board seat this spring, Duchow is all but certain to take the 1st District’s seat on the board after the April 5 general election, representing all of Sturtevant as well as parts of Mount Pleasant and Racine.
Duchow acknowledged the possibility of a write-in candidate rising to challenge her, although Unified officials said Wednesday afternoon that no one has filed to run as a write-in candidate.
Experience in public schools
Duchow, 42, of Sturtevant, has spent most of her career as a social worker in public schools — including about 11 years with the Appleton Area School District — and currently works at Milwaukee Math and Science Academy, a charter school on Milwaukee’s north side overseen by the City of Milwaukee.
She also worked in the Racine Unified School District twice — from 1998-2000 as a counselor, and again for a year in 2012 as a social worker at Olympia Brown and Roosevelt elementary schools until she resigned in early 2013, according to district records. Duchow said she left in 2000 on good terms with the district and was happy to return to the area in 2012.
When asked about her resignation in 2013, she said in an email that changes were made to the Student Services department and “I did not click with the leader at one of the two schools I was placed at.” She did not elaborate. Unified was unable to immediately provide records related to the resignation.
Giving voice to teachers
Although Duchow said she has a lot to learn about the district, she noted that she particularly wants to be a strong advocate for teachers and staff in schools.
She said the district should collaborate with its employee unions on changes to the employee handbook — an issue that drove a deep and bitter wedge between district administrators and unions last year and led to months of deadlock between two factions on the School Board.
Duchow pointed out that she took part in protests to Act 10 in 2011, joining tens of thousands of teachers and public employees opposing Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal — which eventually passed and became law — that severely curtailed public employees’ rights to collectively bargain.
In her 16 years of employment in public education, she said she has never been active in a public employee union. But she said she was “fortunate to work in schools with strong union representation” and that “it will influence me on the board, so that I carefully hear what teachers need in order to be successful.”
She also noted that the district should give teachers’ concerns more weight on block scheduling, a system of fewer but longer classes that the district plans to implement next year despite strong opposition from employee unions.
In addition to her run for School Board, Duchow is once again running for a seat on Sturtevant’s Village Board, a year after she narrowly missed out on a seat on that board to incumbent John Johnson, losing by a single vote.
She noted that one of the biggest issues crossing between the two races is the number of families who use the state’s open enrollment program to send their children to public schools in Union Grove and Yorkville after elementary school.
Although she opposes the outer villages breaking away from Racine Unified, she said she would like to see the district give Sturtevant its own K4-8 school as it is currently doing for Caledonia with Gifford, 8332 Northwestern Ave.
“It just would provide parents more of an option that they feel good about if they didn’t have to be nervous about what middle school to send their kids,” she said.
Sturtevant Village Board President Steve Jansen agreed, saying that a Sturtevant K4-8 school, specifically at Schulte Elementary School, 8515 Westminster Drive — where Duchow said two of her nieces go to school — would give many local parents peace of mind and students a stable transition to middle school.
Jansen commended Duchow for running for the seat and said he looked forward to having a local voice on the School Board.
Duchow also said she supports the district buying or leasing the Sturtevant Sportsplex, 10116 Stellar Ave., and making it into a school as another way to keep local families in the district. Unified has a tentative agreement to buy the complex for $5.2 million, but the School Board is awaiting more details before the May deadline to sign off on the deal.