Hey! On Tuesday, February 16, there’s another election! The 2021 Spring Primary! Fun!

Only one statewide race is on the ballot—the State Superintendent of Public Instruction. The nonpartisan position was held by Tony Evers before he was elected governor two years ago; it’s currently held by Evers appointee Carolyn Stanford Taylor, who is not seeking a full four-year term.

Seven candidates are vying for the position of Wisconsin’s head education official. The top two vote-getters will face each other in the 2021 General Election on April 6.

What does the State Superintendent do? According to the ever-handy Ballotpedia: “The superintendent’s responsibilities include providing leadership for Wisconsin’s public school districts, providing the public with information about school management, attendance, and performance, licensing the state’s teachers, and receiving and disbursing federal aid for schools.” (Find a more thorough job description HERE.)

There are also a handful of district-specific elections that may or may not appear on your ballot. (Find information on some open Milwaukee School Board seats HERE.) According to the Wisconsin Elections Commission:

In this primary, all voters will have candidates for Superintendent of Public Instruction while voters in two legislative districts will have partisan primaries in a special election. The special primaries are in State Senate District 13 and State Assembly District 89.

In addition, there will be 101 primaries for county, school district, city, village and town officials, according to data compiled by the WEC. There will be one local referendum on the ballot.

Get some more important voting reminders from the WEC HERE. Find out what is on your ballot, how and where to vote (including voting absentee), and more HERE.

Here are the seven candidates for superintendent, with information from their websites. (Candidates’ stances on private school vouchers have been taken from THIS article.) Vote!

STATE SUPERINTENDENT OF PUBLIC INSTRUCTION

Jill Underly

BACKGROUND: With over two decades of public education experience, including her current 6 years as the Superintendent of the Pecatonica School District and 5 years at the Department of Public Instruction in both Educator Licensing and Title I, Dr. Underly has been committed to ensuring that every child, every day, has the opportunity for a first-class public education in the State of Wisconsin.

ISSUES: Every Child, Every Day Deserves: High Quality Early Childhood Education no matter their zip code. Adequate and Fair Funding – regardless of where they live. All Wisconsin public schools must be able to fund schools to 21st century standards for personnel, facilities, technology, required programming and curriculum…and staunchly opposed to private school voucher expansion. Mental Health and Emotional Wellness Support. Top-notch, specially trained teachers in rural and urban school settings. Education equity for all students, especially students of color, LGBTQ+ students, students with disabilities, and all other students that face inequity in our public schools.

DOES NOT SUPPORT PRIVATE SCHOOL VOUCHERS

Deborah Kerr

BACKGROUND:
• 40 Years in Education
• 21 Years as Superintendent of Public Rural and Suburban Districts (Stepped down in June 2020 after 13 years as proud Superintendent of Brown Deer Schools, a majority-minority district with 80% students of color and 50% in poverty)
• Co-Chair of the UW System Task Force (To Advance Teachers and Leaders into the Pipeline)
• President of National and State Superintendent Associations (The School Superintendents Association (AASA) and Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators (WASDA))
• Worked in All Sectors of Education (Parochial, charter, private and public schools)
• Adjunct Professor at Local Universities
• Champion of Excellence and Equity for ALL Students
• Mentor and Advocate for Women Leaders
• Founding Member of Women Leading Wisconsin
• Coach of Back-to-back Girls Varsity Basketball State Championships
• Athletic Director, Physical Education Teacher
• Middle School Principal, Assistant Principal
• President of North Shore Rotary
• Mom of Rizzo, Beloved 3-year-old Labrador Retriever (Rizzo is a friend of many Brown Deer Students and staff!)

ISSUES:
Ensure Success for All Students through Equity with Excellence
• Ensure success for every student by creating schools that prioritize character education, with rich social-emotional and mental health supports
• Laser focus on literacy and numeracy skills with defined outcomes for all kids
• Create strength-based pathways for all kids that provide career and college opportunities
• Require rigorous and relevant learning opportunities that culturally reflect the real world and the needs of our learners, so that all kids are well prepared for success in life after high school

Innovate and Personalize Learning for All Students
• Deliver child-centered personalized learning with innovative experiences and opportunities taught by learner responsive educators
• Eliminate digital divide & access to robust internet, especially in rural areas and underrepresented communities
• Provide staff and parents professional development with digital tools to meet the needs of all learners
• Foster and celebrate innovations in our Wisconsin schools

Engage Families and Communities as Partners
• Aligning resources to ensure that all children and families are well served
• Find creative ways to engage families as valued partners in supporting their children’s learning
• Elevate all children and families to break down barriers to ensure access and opportunity
• Foster partnerships in our respective school communities to serve as catalysts for a world-class education

Lead with Strength and Respect, and Honor all Stakeholders
• Support continuous improvement and expect increased student achievement and accountability from all schools and opportunities taught by learner responsive educators
• Honor our teachers, staff, administrators, school boards, business, and community leaders
• Tell the great education stories of all kids in our Wisconsin educational system, and retain our students as life-long Wisconsin citizens
• Promote the profession to recruit the best and brightest to work in our schools

SUPPORTS PRIVATE SCHOOL VOUCHERS

Steve Krull

BACKGROUND: Steve Krull is an Air Force veteran and a proven leader for change. Dr. Krull has vast experience coordinating and implementing successful programs that lead to higher levels of student achievement. Steve met his wife Amanda in the Air Force and recently celebrated their nineteenth wedding anniversary. They have two children, Imogen and Keith. Imogen is a freshman in college, and Keith is a sophomore in high school. The Krull family enjoys playing games, watching the Brewers play ball, and outdoor activities.

ISSUES: On October 1st, 2020, Steve declared his candidacy for State Superintendent of Wisconsin Schools. Steve sees our public educational system crumbling in Wisconsin. There is a teacher shortage in the thousands. Children receive vastly different services depending on what district or school they attend. Also, there is a student loan debt crisis. Steve believes to solve these issues, we need to reform school financing. He also believes we need to focus on the bread and butter fundamentals needed to expand great schools across our state.

“I’m running because I believe we can build an educational system in Wisconsin that can be a model for the nation. A system that no matter where you live or where you move, there will be a great school waiting. A system where our college students can begin their lives because they aren’t stifled with mass amounts of student debt. Essentially, a system where every child has a chance for a better life.”

Shandowlyon Shawn Hendricks-Williams

BACKGROUND: Dr. Hendricks has over 25 years of experience in public, private, charter and higher education. She has served as a Teacher Assistant, Special Education Teacher, Supervisor, Assistant Principal, Principal, District Administrator, and Adjunct Faculty prior to serving as the Assistant Director of the Teacher Education, Professional Development and Licensing (TEPDL) team at the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI). Dr. Hendricks served as Director of the Milwaukee Office of the Governor. Having been in the “eye of the storm”, she has mastered the ability to adapt to change while leading others.

ISSUES:
Students
• Developmentally appropriate early childhood experience
• Eliminating achievement gaps
• Essentials for all – art, music, physical education, computer science, library media, health, world language, civics, financial literacy and economics

Parents
• Elevate home-based parental involvement
• Create innovative opportunities for school-based parental involvement, beyond fundraising
• Parent/family coordinator in every school
• $350 rebate for expenses associated with virtual learning during the pandemic

Teachers
• Elevate the teaching profession
• Increase teacher pay
• Develop, recruit and retain a diverse teacher workforce
• Student released time for assessing student performance, collaboration, planning and professional development

SUPPORTS PRIVATE SCHOOL VOUCHERS

Troy Gunderson

BACKGROUND: Troy Gunderson grew up in Colfax, WI attending kindergarten through twelfth grade at Colfax Public Schools.

Following graduation from the University of Minnesota, Gunderson embarked on a 35-year career in public education including seven years as a classroom teacher at Melrose-Mindoro High School, and 16 years as a high school principal – one year in Princeton, WI and 15 years in West Salem, WI. He then served 12 years as a school superintendent including two years at Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau School District in Galesville, WI, and ten years for the School District of West Salem. Gunderson currently serves as an adjunct professor of school finance in the superintendent certification program at Viterbo University in La Crosse, WI.

Troy and his wife Jill live in West Salem. Jill is retired from her career as a middle school science teacher at Melrose-Mindoro Middle School. Troy and Jill have two adult children, Kelsey and Kirsten, who are both graduates of West Salem High School and the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

“I stand here today as the product of public education. I received an outstanding educational experience as a child growing up in rural Wisconsin. My wife, mother, and father-in-law all enjoyed successful careers as public school teachers. The wonderful communities in which I served as a teacher, coach, principal, and superintendent each afforded me the opportunity for personal and professional growth. I have literally been given the gift of a lifetime. I owe it all to public education. It is now time to give something back. Let’s get ready.”

ISSUES:
Create a Vision for Wisconsin
• Use the framework offered by “No Time to Lose: How to Build a World-Class Education System State by State” as our guide
• Expand upon the work completed by the recent Blue Ribbon Commission on Education
• Ensure all efforts are clearly aligned with the vision

Children Ready to Learn
• Increase investments in programs to better serve 3-year old and 4-year old children
• Work with communities to improve and expand options for affordable daycare
• Work with communities to better serve families with school aged children

Teachers Ready to Teach
• Commit to the notion of teaching as a professional career
• Support programs to attract the next generation of teachers
• Offer additional support and coordination for professional development
• Lead a coordinated effort to offer world-class curriculum and instruction

Graduates Ready for Their Future
• Apply the framework offered by Redefining Ready to ensure all graduates are career, college, and life ready
• Improve the connection between secondary and post-secondary institutions
• Expand private industry participation in career and technical education

Joe Fenrick

BACKGROUND: Joe is a Fond du Lac High School science teacher and UW-Oshkosh geology lecturer. He also is in his 3rd term as a Fond du Lac County Board Supervisor.

Most importantly Joe is the father to four children. Joe and his wife, Laurie have children in High School, Middle School, Elementary school, and one who is just learning to talk. Joe knows that the future of our public education system is extremely important to everyone in Wisconsin.

Joe also knows that teachers are the bedrock of Wisconsin education and he pledges to use that teacher context and experience to energize public schools by working with highly trained experts to improve student experience and outcomes across the state.

ISSUES:
Testing
• Teaching not testing

Community
• Great schools that are the center of a community

Curriculum
• Fully developed PK-12 curriculum where every child has a chance to enhance their skills and talents

Educational Staff
• Highly trained educational staff in every school

Budgets
• Transparent, predictable, and fair so every child has a chance to succeed

Resources
• Modern facilities and resources everywhere and for every child including technology and internet

Sheila Briggs

BACKGROUND: I began my 30-year career as a kindergarten teacher. Then, as a principal, I had the pleasure of working with an amazing group of teachers to move our third-grade readers from 58% to 100% proficient and advanced – despite poverty levels tripling during that time. I later worked at the Madison district office as the Elementary Lead Principal, supporting 32 school principals and leading the charge to bring 4K to the district.

I couldn’t have imagined leaving my position until Tony Evers called me in 2011 and asked me to join him at the Department of Public Instruction as an Assistant State Superintendent. I jumped at the opportunity and was later re-appointed by Dr. Stanford Taylor in 2019.

Over the past decade, I’ve seen first-hand the quality and caliber of DPI’s staff. I know where things are working well, and I know where things need to change. I believe this is a moment in education when we must improve what is working, leave behind what is not, and move forward toward something better. I want to re-evaluate Wisconsin’s approach in three key areas: the outcomes we value for our kids, the role of the teacher, and the structure of the school.

In order to make these changes and advocate for our kids, our teachers, and our public schools, the Department must be proactive in addressing policy changes that are aligned with a coherent and bold agenda.

ISSUES: I’m running for State Superintendent because I want to wake up every day and fight for our kids. Right now, Wisconsin is not meeting its constitutional obligation of providing every child with a high-quality public education. We need to make sure that all our kids and teachers – regardless of their race, income, or ZIP code – are receiving the very best in their classrooms. This is a moment when we must improve what is working, leave behind what is not, and move forward towards something better.

I’ve spent my 30-year career in education focused on equity and ensuring better outcomes for kids and families in public schools. My experiences as a kindergarten teacher, a principal, a district administrator, and now an Assistant State Superintendent make me qualified to lead on Day 1. I’ve led teams to successfully close opportunity gaps and I’m currently working with all 422 of Wisconsin’s school districts to get real results for our kids. I know what’s working in education, but I also know what needs to change.

It is beyond time to fully fund our public schools and take a stand against the private vouchers that are funneling millions of dollars from them. We must reduce high-stakes testing, improve access to broadband, and finally close the digital divide. We need to work closely with our unions, involve teachers in decision-making, and offer well-rounded curriculum and quality mental health services in every school. There are a lot of challenges ahead of us, and we need experienced leadership to help our schools recover from this crisis.

DOES NOT SUPPORT PRIVATE SCHOOL VOUCHERS

About The Author

Co-Founder and Editor

Matt Wild weighs between 140 and 145 pounds. He lives on Milwaukee's east side.

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