Incumbent Kim Schroeder will face challengers Merry Stern and John Michels for two open seats on the New London School Board as voters go to the polls on April 1. The County Post East sent questionnaires to each candidate, and their responses are listed below.
Please tell us about your background, qualifications, and why you are interested in running for the school board.
Schroeder: I have been married to Thomas R. Schroeder for 31 years, and am the mother of six children, five who have graduated from New London High School and an active junior in the district. I have a Master’s Degree in Theological Studies from St. Norbert College in DePere and a Bachelor of Science in Human Services with a Minor in Psychology from UW-Oshkosh.
I have been on the board for nine years. It is amazing the amount of positive change that has taken place in those nine years. I am proud to be called a “Bulldog.” We are a school district to be watched with amazing educators, staff, students, and community!
Stern: I believe the school board can use my experience as a mother of four who came through this school system, as a grandmother of fourteen children, with some coming through the New London system, and as an active co-owner of a successful business for the last 25 years (along with my husband Al). I am one who works with children, as the leader of Awana Club of New London for the last 12 years, and I am involved in my community as a member of the board of His Way Events.
It is easy to step back from community involvement at this stage of my life, but I do feel called instead to become more involved. The temptations that can lead children and youth off-track are way more than 40 years ago. Citizen involvement is the key to combating this. I also feel there are way too many federal and state mandates that prevent teachers from being able to do their best, mandates such as the Common Core Standards. One-size fits all for the whole nation is not practical, nor good for our district.
Michels: My wife Chris and I have lived in the district for the past 25 years. We have a son and two wonderful grandchildren. I am a Professional Engineer and recently retired after 35 years with a local Consulting Engineering firm. I have had a long relationship with UWSP’s Department of Paper Science and Engineering as an Adjunct Professor and member of the Academic Advisory Council. I attend Faith Community United Methodist Church in Greenville where I serve as unofficial music coordinator and lead the adult and youth praise teams. I have been active with the School District of New London for the past several years as a traditional board member and currently as President of the Charter School Governance Boards for Next Generation Academy and Catalyst Academy. I also serve on the CTE/STEAM Advisory Board and help out with the sound and technical aspects of the High School plays, concerts and Show Choir Competition.
My priority is our students. I want to continue to work as hard as I can to make sure that all stakeholders are represented and that we work together in a financially responsible manner. Our mission statement “Success for All Students” isn’t just words, it is a commitment to action for all of us.
What areas of the school district’s budget do you think should be looked at when considering future budget reductions? In your opinion, are there any areas in which the district should allocate more funds?
Schroeder: Part of the District’s strategic plan is to Pursue Sustainable Practices. This plan enables the district to operate efficiently by managing expenses and maximizing resources. This can only be accomplished by working in combination with the other two objectives within the strategic plan to Build Staff Capacity and Maximize Student Achievement. Each year it becomes more of a challenge to allocate funds under the current budgets. Long term we need encourage school finance reform at the state level.
Stern: There is no “sacred cow” that should be protected during tough times. Shared sacrifice is best. Act 10 passed in 2011 gives school districts greater flexibility than they had in the past to allow local citizens to make the determinations, rather than any one group. Ultimately, it is the board’s job to let local voters determine what they should be taxed, and what the spending and cutting priorities should be, rather than state or federal mandates. Common Core threatens to be a federal mandate for standards. Spending to comply with federal standards is not the American system of self-governance. I will try to get our board to work with legislators to release us from mandates like Common Core. I don’t believe we need any new taxes. If there are areas that need more funds, it should only come from savings in other areas.
Michels: Ultimately all areas must be reviewed for opportunities. With declining enrollment offsetting increased aid we have a situation where we will be spending the same revenue three years in a row. One opportunity will be to reduce our open enrollment net loss. There are two charter school options that will encourage our students to stay in the district and perhaps attract more students from outside the district.
Our current operating fund balance is below 5 percent when recommended levels are above 15 percent. In the long run the greater balance will result in taxpayer savings because of improved bond rating, availability of funds for emergency or one-time expenditures and reduced operational borrowing during the year.
We should be allocating more funds for student instruction. If we truly want to close achievement gaps, increase student opportunities and improve teacher effectiveness it takes more resources to do this.
Test scores are often used to measure student achievement. What do you think the district should do to boost student achievement on those tests? Who should be held accountable for student achievement?
Schroeder: Looking at New London School District’s Strategic Plan, whose objectives will continue to improve opportunities for our students, including an increase in test scores. During February’s Special Board Meeting we were presented a Monitoring Report that outlined progress related to the goal of: Maximizing Student Achievement. Gains in mathematics are evident but need to be sustained, and plans are in place to realize improvements in literacy. Board members follow this data closely and will support efforts that positively address this objective. The work by educators to improve test scores in the New London is commendable. We should all be held accountable for test scores: educators, administrators, board members, parents, students, and community.
Stern: I’m not sure we should focus on standardized test scores. I am more concerned about increasing the graduation rates, literacy rates, and successful matriculation into the next phase after secondary school, whether it involves higher education or not. We also need to focus on a safe, drug-free environment; I am not in favor of encouraging teachers to “teach to the standardized tests.” Accountability should be for standards set by the local district in tune with the citizens of that district. It is OK to look at standards and optionally use them, but mandates are not good. The administration and the teachers have a responsibility to enforce the standards set by the district, but ultimately the law holds the board as responsible, and the voters should also.
Michels: I believe that the continuing implementation of clear learning targets and rigorous and relevant standards will result in significant opportunities for educators to be more creative in the development and presentation of curriculum. Programs such as Early Intervention and Math Expressions will help prepare our students. We need to continue to offer choices such as the charter schools (personalized learning) and high school academies that will create more student interest and engagement in their own education. My expectation would be that this will result in higher student retention, graduation rates and test scores.
However, I believe we need to be very cautious with how we use test scores during this time of transition to the Common Core State Standards. We need to get some experience and calibration with the new testing regimes (Balanced Assessment and ACT) before they are used as more than additional input to measure teacher performance, curriculum effectiveness or district rating. We must continue to monitor this transition and be ready to adjust our means and methods as we get more experience.
All of us have some responsibility for student achievement. We need to create a positive environment in which the students have the best chance to succeed. We are all part of the process of nurturing and learning. Achieving the mission of the School District of New London is a responsibility shared by students, families, employees of the district and community.
What types of incentives, if any would you support to either retain students or increase the number of students who enroll in your district?
Schroeder: There is no question that families look for a district that meets their needs. New London has much to offer. It has been innovative while retaining a rigorous and relevant educational experience. New this year was the Next Generation Academy, a charter school open to grades 7-12. Here students work with an advisor to create an individual plan for each student; a combination of project based learning, online with the support of advisor, and “traditional” classroom settings. Beginning in the middle school students learn about career pathways that lead into the career academies in high school. At the high school students can focus more on specific classes of interest. Beyond excellent academics New London also offers an array of co-curricular opportunities and clubs many of which have reached state and national recognition.
Stern: The best incentive is to have good teachers, and good local standards, and to make good decisions. We must recognize that public school education is just one alternative that includes home-schooling, private schools, and be supportive of parents who choose other alternatives.
Michels: We must continue to offer choices to accommodate differences in interests, abilities and learning styles. Personalized learning and relevance to career choice are key components. We have a good start with the transition of the High School to a Career Academy format. The development of the Next Generation and Catalyst Academy Charter schools will provide a blended learning experience combining on-line, project based and traditional course work.
Why should people elect you?
Schroeder: I love the New London Community and the New London School District. I have witnessed tremendous growth and opportunities for success for all students. I want to ensure that this positive work keeps moving in the right direction. Thank you to all who have voted for Kim Schroeder in the past – let’s do it one more time!
Stern: Select me as your candidate only if you want: 1) More parent and citizen involvement in the policy making and the choosing of curricula, and if you want a board member that will listen to citizen input; 2) Less interference from state and federal mandates, such as Common Core Standards. Such mandates, I believe, are a recipe to lessen local control; and 3) If you feel taxed enough already, and would like to have folks on the board who do not want to see any new local or other tax increases.
Michels: I believe I have the experience and commitment to well serve our students, staff, taxpayers and community. My priority is our kids and their education. I have no other agenda.