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Shorewood School Board primary candidates weigh in on the issues

Three newcomers, two incumbents vie for two seats

Jan. 22, 2014

In the coming Feb. 18 primary, Shorewood School Board incumbents Ruth Treisman and Paru Shah will defend their seats against newcomers Gregg Davis, Margaret Schmidt and Wendy Daniell-Rhodes.

Whoever receives the fewest votes will be eliminated and four candidates will advance to the April 1 spring election. In that contest, the two candidates with the most votes will win the open seats.

NOW caught up with the candidates and picked their brains on four issues the School Board will be tackling in the near future: teacher compensation, the concept of switching to merit pay, and how to fairly pay employees; the perennial issue of the achievement gap and how to go about closing it; the topic of starting the school day later and the impacts such a change could have on the school year; and what an in-house district daycare program would look like if the district decides to replace or supplement the Milestones program in the 2015-16 school year.

Here's what they had to say:

Wendy Daniell-Rhodes

Newcomer Wendy Daniell-Rhodes, age not provided, has been a Shorewood resident since 1989. She is a married mother of two whose daughter has graduated from the district and her son is a junior at the high school. Daniell-Rhodes graduated from Wauwatosa East High School before attending the University of Wisconsin. She later lived in France and Florence, Italy, before returning to major in French and minor in Italian at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Since then she has worked as a retirement financial planner, marketer, administrative assistant with the Shorewood Police and Public Works departments, customer service representative for US Cellular, and currently works for Saz's Catering.

Daniell-Rhodes said she moved into Shorewood all those years ago for the schools, and the post-Act 10 shake-up is what motivated her to run.

"I'm very concerned about the quality of education in Shorewood," Daniell-Rhodes said, "keeping good teachers, and encouraging good teachers to apply to the district."

So far as the teacher compensation is concerned, Daniell-Rhodes sees the need to reward teachers for their experience — the district currently retains the pre-Act 10, "steps and lanes" salary schedule based on degrees and years of experience — but is intrigued by the idea of merit pay. While she doesn't think test scores should be a factor in pay, she said student and parent feedback should.

"Do (students) come home and do homework and are they willing to come home and do the work?" Daniell-Rhodes said. "I think a teacher can make a child want to learn or can make a class interesting."

While she didn't have a strategy in mind for addressing the achievement gap identified between minority students and low-income students and their peers, Daniell-Rhodes stressed the importance of diversity.

"I think that enriches Shorewood," she said.

On the issue of starting the school day later, Daniell-Rhodes said the district should move toward an 8 a.m. start time and trim the district's 50-minute minute lunch period instead of adding days to the end of the school year.

Daniell-Rhodes said that creating a district-run daycare program would be a "natural transition" for district students.

"To streamline them into our school district makes absolute sense," she said.

Gregg Davis

Gregg Davis, 48, moved into Shorewood about three-and-a-half years ago with his wife and son, who is a sophomore at the high school. Davis was born in the suburbs outside Chicago but moved at a young age to Maryland, near the District of Columbia. He graduated from high school in Maryland and later graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in political science and history.

Afterward, he moved to Chicago, where he served on two Chicago Public Schools school boards for about eight-and-a-half years. Much of the work of those school boards, Davis said, was using available funding to push down the student/teacher ratio and preserve subjects like music, arts or gym.

Davis works for BMO Harris Bank as a network administrator.

Like Daniels-Rhodes, Davis said he was compelled to run after teachers have been "demonized" in recent years.

"I just have a big problem with demonizing people who are educating our kids," Davis said. "...(I want to be) that advocate for public schools and teachers. Just because we can take things away doesn't mean we should."

With regard to teacher pay, Davis leans more toward the current "steps and lanes" approach than toward merit pay, about which he harbors suspicions of manipulation and "teaching to the test."

"To make it as fair as possible, if you're going to do that, is to have as many inputs as possible," Davis said, suggesting things like student and parent feedback, as well as student engagement, as criteria.

On addressing the achievement gap, Davis said he has seen firsthand while volunteering with Our Next Generation in Milwaukee how tutoring can help, particularly with one young girl whose progress he has seen grow over the years.

"It made a tremendous amount of difference," Davis said. "Without that help, that gap probably would have widened."

He said that he wouldn't have a problem starting and ending the school day later at the high school if it helps the students and would be open to considering school year changes.

On the possibility of a district daycare program, Davis said it would have to be as good or better than what Milestones provides, and in the name of fairness, the district would have to solicit bids from any interested providers.

Margaret Schmidt

Margaret Schmidt, 47, is a "lifelong East-sider" and eight-year Shorewood resident who graduated from Riverside High School. She is divorced and has three children.

Schmidt studied French and history at the University of Wisconsin and later earned a master's in French from the University of Texas. Schmidt taught English as a second language for several years in West Bend before teaching in Shorewood for 18 years. She is currently a full-time doctoral student at UWM going for a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction.

Schmidt protested Act 10 in 2011 and describes herself as a "very pro-union" candidate.

She said she is running to help bring back the culture, roster of veteran teachers and 'you've really arrived' atmosphere she felt when she was hired in Shorewood.

She is opposed to the concept of merit pay.

"There's low morale (after Act 10)," Schmidt said. "Messing around with pay scales is a mistake."

On closing the achievement gap, Schmidt said the district should continue with its Response to Intervention and hold back students who aren't performing at grade level. Other than that, it's more about support, she added.

"The achievement gap starts even before school starts. We can't negate that," Schmidt said. "We can only encourage them to like reading, learning and to follow their interests. Standardized testing them to death doesn't help."

As a member of the district schedule committee, Schmidt supports pushing start times back and is open to the idea of changing the calendar to minimize the regression which occurs over the long summer break.

Schmidt said the district does not have an obligation or capacity to provide childcare.

Paru Shah

Incumbent School Board member Paru Shah, a four year Shorewood resident, was appointed in late-2012 to fill a vacancy left by longtime board member Michael Mishlove's resignation and was elected in 2013 to fill out the remainder of his term. Shah, 41, is married with one child in second grade and another in kindergarten.

Shah earned a bachelor's in philosophy from the University of Michigan Ann Arbor, a master's in public health from the university of Illinois, Chicago, and a PhD in political science from Rice University. She spent four years in Americorps and later taught at McAlaster College before her current job, teaching political science at UWM.

Now in her second year on the board, Shah said she's survived the steep learning curve and feels like an incumbent. Shah said she wants to continue rolling out a science technology engineering arts and math (STEAM) curriculum as new courses are created and approved "in waves."

"Finding the fit that would work with Shorewood is what we're working on now," Shah said.

While the idea of merit pay doesn't seem to fit the Shorewood culture, Shah said she would be interested in striking a balance between the "steps and lanes" model and some sort of performance-based system.

"We're going to be looking at something that allows us more flexibility and allows us to assess teachers' work in the classroom," Shah said. "...But we wouldn't want to make a system that doesn't have input from the union."

To close the achievement gap, Shah said it's up to the School Board to support teachers with additional resources and use Response to Intervention.

"That we're acknowledging a problem can hopefully push us toward a solution to make a difference," Shah said.

Shah is on the scheduling committee and said that she would be open to making changes to school start times and the school year if research and community members support the changes.

On the daycare issue, Shah said that, depending on what the administration finds as it polls the community and works with Milestones, she could see creating a complementary program to operate alongside Milestones if need be.

"I think there's a possibility for both of us to co-exist in the district," Shah said.

Ruth Treisman

Incumbent Ruth Treisman, 57, is in her 13th year on the School Board. Treisman grew up in Michigan, earned a bachelor's degree from Oakland University and a master's in nursing from the University of Michigan Ann Arbor. Treisman is married with two children in post-graduate programs and a third who will soon graduate from the high school. She teaches nursing at UWM and is a working nurse practitioner.

Treisman takes pride in the accomplishments the board has made in her time and said that if elected she would work to keep the district moving forward.

"I think I make thoughtful decisions, and because of my experience on the board I've learned a lot," Treisman said.

When it comes to teacher pay, Treisman said the current model is working, but she would be willing to put the idea through the School Board's various committees for community vetting.

"I'm sure there are 10 different ways to approach merit pay," Treisman said. "That will probably...be on the HR committee, to get some ideas, go to finance, then the board."

Treisman said that with regard to the achievement gap the board has "slowly made some difference over time, but we could do more," namely hiring more specialists to work individually with students and focusing on Response to Intervention.

On changes to the school start time or calendar, Treisman said she would need to study the topic.

"This would be a huge change for our district," Treisman said. "I'm not saying I'm for or against it, but there are so many moving pieces that we need to be educated about this kind of thing."

Treisman hopes the coming daycare survey will produce more perspectives on the issue, and if the board decides to come up with a district program, she trusts Recreation Department Director Deb Stolz to get it done.

"I have total confidence in the school district and Deb Stolz, that she would build a great program."

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