I've collected a long-form letter from one of the candidates for School Board from Gerry Steele.
Here's an into piece from the Advocates for Education Winter Newsletter:
Gerry and her husband Chris have lived in Whitefish Bay for over 19 years. They have two children who attend the Middle School and High School and Gerry, herself, attended both Richards Kindergarten and Whitefish Bay High school.
She is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin Madison and currently a Corporate Event Manager. Her service to the community includes six years on the Advocates for Education Board and six years on the Whitefish Bay Civic Foundation Board along with a number of positions on the Richards PTO Board of Directors.
When asked why she chose to run, Gerry replied, “We are facing increasingly difficult times in finding ways to deliver high quality public education in Whitefish Bay. The only way to continue the legacy of excellence is through strong leadership on the School Board with a team willing to provide thoughtful, long term planning, communication with all stake holders, and fiscal responsibility.
With four candidates running for three open seats in this year’s April 7th election, I urge voters in Whitefish Bay to compare the candidate’s qualifications and ideals. I have lived in this school district for 34 years and attended Richards Elementary School for kindergarten, and Whitefish Bay High School. I graduated from UW-Madison with a BA in Communications. I am married with two children, ages 12 and 15, grades six and grade nine, attending Whitefish Bay Middle and High School. I have served on the Whitefish Bay Civic Foundation Board for 6 years; Whitefish Bay Advocates for Education Board for 6 years, and held various positions on Richards PTO. I work outside the home as a corporate event manager.
I believe that working hard to advocate on behalf of our children is an honor, and my responsibility. For the past eleven years, it has been a priority in my life to learn as much as possible about how our schools work, get to know staff and administrators, and continually communicate and advocate about the issues affecting education.
School Funding is one of the most pressing issues facing our district that has a direct impact on our children’s education. What classes are offered? How do we apply and integrate technology across disciplines? What extra-curricular activities are offered? What world languages are taught, and how many world languages are offered at the elementary schools and middle school? The list goes on.
Our schools are operating in a very lean mode right now. When adjustments to the district budget are made, it should be through a combination of three factors: cost avoidance measures, revenue enhancements, (such as reviewing the number of seats available to students through open enrollment, increasing of rental fees for facilities, increasing student fees, and expanded use of Bay Ball and Education Foundation Funds) and last, adjustments in our budget through expenditure reductions. In the past, the district has tried carefully to weigh the reductions as they relate directly to our children in the classroom.
Funding for facility maintenance in particular is something we must face. While this is a very tough time for everyone economically, w need to consider going to referendum in Fall 2010 or Spring 2011 to ask voters whether or not school projects should be funded.
There are pressing needs facing our old buildings. If we do not carry out the maintenance projects, we may face even more costly and unavoidable repairs in the future. We have to take a long view on education, and that includes preserving our facilities while bringing them into the 21st century to make them current and competitive. Ultimately, our role is to consider the impact of our facilities on our student’s opportunities.
The school board must take the time to create meaningful discussion opportunities and listening sessions for all stakeholders about budget discussions, and around the possibility of a referendum, in order to understand fully what the facility study committee’s final report recommends. We need to determine what we see as critical needs, and most importantly, how facility maintenance directly impacts our children’s learning.
Finally, at the high school level particularly, I believe strongly that the school board and administration must closely monitor the balance of academic excellence and high expectations, with the fact that our students are still kids. Our children consistently exceed Wisconsin and the nation’s averages in ACT, SAT and AP scores. The curriculum is rigorous. Challenging curriculum is essential to preparing our students for success. We need to stay on track, continue to see progress, strive for fairness and continued excellent outcomes.
We also have to allow these kids to enjoy the experience and create positive memories. By and large, the expectations are high. That message comes from the schools and from our homes, a strong sense of community, family, and parental involvement. Residents hold the district to high standards and parents hold their children to high standards. These are strong partnerships. Taken together, this is what our kids need to move forward and continue as critical, life long learners. These are the years to set the standards for our children, or more importantly, these are the years for our children to learn to set their own standards.
Gerry C. Steele