Voters in the Kenosha Unified School District will have a diverse field of candidates from which to choose — four challengers and two incumbents — vying for three School Board seats up for election on April 5.
Seeking office are: Eric Meadows, a Pleasant Prairie resident and project manager, who previously ran for the board a year ago; and three newcomers to the race from Kenosha — Jon Kim, grandmaster and owner of U.S. Taekwondo Academy; Kristine Schmaling, a registered nurse; and Sam Roochnik, a student and aftercare specialist.
The race also features just two incumbents, including Atifa Robinson, 44, of Kenosha, a nutrition administrator for Kenosha and Racine counties through University of Wisconsin Extension and Rebecca Stevens, 62, a Kenosha resident and RSVP program director with Kenosha Area Family and Aging Services, Inc.
Robinson is the newest member of the School Board, having been appointed to carry out the term of Dan Wade, who stepped down in July. Stevens is the longest-serving board member, having served five consecutive terms dating back to 2007. Incumbent Tony Garcia said he would not seek a third term and filed non-candidacy papers in December.
Kenosha Unified School Board positions are at-large seats in the district that encompasses Kenosha, Pleasant Prairie and Somers, east of Interstate 94. The three candidates receiving the highest vote totals in the election will each serve three-year terms that expire on April 27, 2025. School Board members each earn $6,500 annually.
The Kenosha News asked each candidate to answer a questionnaire to address and define issues they believe are most important and why they chose to run for office. Here are there responses to the following:
What do you see as the issues in the election?
Kim: The top issue for me is that we have so many policies that complicate what the vision and mission of KUSD is and what the founders intended.
Meadows: Academic achievement does not seem to be a particular focus for KUSD right now. The most recent report card from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction gave KUSD failing grades across the district in reading and math. The achievement gap between different demographics is widening.
A large population of parents feels their opinions are being ignored. The board has cut off public comments, tried to move them to the end of meetings, canceled meetings at the last minute, all so they didn’t have to listen to the public. This has to stop. Schools must partner with parents who know what their children need better than anyone.
Teachers are being pulled in too many different directions as they are sadly suffering from the same labor shortage as everyone else. We need to allow teachers to focus on teaching and less on other lesser priorities. We need to ensure that teachers are fairly compensated and competitive with other surrounding districts.
Robinson: The issue for the 2022 election is equitable learning environments for all students in the Kenosha Unified School District (KUSD). Many students from the black and brown communities have barriers to learning. The goal is to focus on all aspects of a student’s environment, such as housing, food insecurities, health, and learning conditions. Community Partners can work together with KUSD to increase all students’ and teachers’ access to educational resources by identifying the root causes to closing the achievement gaps and removing barriers that students face based on their race, ethnicity, disability, or gender. By creating educational opportunities listed below:
1. Engage students, families, and communities in collaboration workshops.
2. Diversify the educator workforce.
3. Provide meaningful professional development and support for the Teachers/educator to reduce the classroom challenges.
4. Ensure equitable access to a culturally diverse curriculum that strives to include literature from other cultures, parts of the world, and various authors.
Roochnik: COVID broke a system long under strain. While it has been a rough couple of years, and while the education situation is pretty miserable for all stakeholders right now, I see an opportunity to create a learning environment where teachers feel empowered to teach how they want and students feel empowered to learn what they want. School can and should be fun, and we must redesign curricular standards and expectations to have them align with the challenges of our modern world while empowering students to develop individually, socially, culturally, and economically (as put forth by Dr. Ken Robinson in “Creative Schools”). It should be educators that lead this charge, with students and parents meaningfully included in the process, all guided by what we know about the science of learning. To rise from the ashes of pandemic education like a phoenix, we must all work together.
Schmaling: Students first. Has the current board been striving to have academic excellence a priority which then equals students first? STEAM learning should be having a comeback seeing as our students are only 23 % proficient in reading and math. Celebrating diversity without being divisive. Community engagement — Strong communities build strong schools so the board needs to engage with the community in new ways so every stakeholder has a voice, is responded to, and is able to engage in civil discourse.
Unmasking our children. Parent involvement and engagement.Transparency of curriculum and financial accountability.Fiscal Management. The district is going to be facing significant fiscal restraints while developing the 2022-23 budget, a focus will need to be on allocating resources in a fiscally conservative manner that will support ALL students. How will this board manage spending ESSER funds?
Stevens: Our teachers and school staff need more positive support and time for planning in order to create individualized plans for students. The negative impact COVID-19 has had on our community, families and children has been overwhelming and stressful for everyone. Moving forward we need to work together and focus on the positive supports we can put in place to help our students get back on track by setting targeted learning goals, positive social emotional goals to help offset trauma, decrease anxiety and improve behavior to ensure a learning environment in which all our children will thrive. We need additional behavioral health support in our schools to accomplish these goals. Teaching students to use positive self regulating techniques will support better outcomes for educational opportunities.
Why are you running for office?
Kim: We have had a taekwondo school in Kenosha for more than 40 years and have had generations from every school in Kenosha go through our doors. I am running to participate in my community and push for the change that reflects the community.
Meadows: I decided to run for School Board because I strongly believe a solid educational foundation is essential to ensuring a production, and successful future. This was drilled into me by mother, who was an elementary school librarian when I was growing up. I have been happy with KUSD until recently when I noticed a decline of the quality of education I was seeing for my daughter.
I also started to see evidence that parental rights were being ignored and even trampled. Instead of merely complaining, I decided to do something about it. I want to bring a focus back to actual academic achievement that has been suffering in our district. Our district has been focusing time and money on things that do not improve actual learning. Our teachers have been forced to split their time on so many things instead of actually teaching our kids reading and math.
Robinson: I’m running for KUSD School Board to work on an action plan to address the achievement gap, provide innovative health and wellness resources for families around stress, and appropriate coping strategies to prevent Teachers’ burnout in the school system. Kenosha Unified School District has creative and knowledgeable teachers, and it’s critical to retain as many employees as possible in our public schools. We have the third largest district in the State of Wisconsin, and it’s vital to work together and ensure our schools are safe. I hope by 2023 that, teachers, students, and parents have the high-quality tools they need for student success.
Roochnik: I have recent experience and training as a leader, student, and teacher. I attend board meetings regularly, am constantly informing myself on district-, state-, and national-level educational policy, have met with district leadership and employees, teachers, students, parents, and with over 20 principals in the district (and plan to meet with the rest of them), to better understand the challenges facing KUSD and to develop a vision on how to lead us out of our current mess. I loved teaching math at Indian Trail; I love my colleagues and I love my students. As much as I miss the classroom though, I think I can serve them, my own son, and my community better by using my training and experience to improve the public education system for students and teachers alike.
Schmaling: I was presented an opportunity to contribute and improve our community-uniquely positioned to be an advocate for our students. In no other country would I have this opportunity to have a such great responsibility in education. I have a deep appreciation for educators. I personally could never do it. I have had to pray long and hard in regards to taking on such an important role in supporting educators, representing this community and the students that attend KUSD.
According to the DPI, our kids are only at 23.3% of mastering or proficient in math and 23% in reading. Schools are failing our kids and this has been the “score” for the last five to six years. The status quo is not acceptable anymore. We need to be accountable for these outcomes and we need to take action. I would definitely push for and focus on and what I would consider an academic recovery plan.
Stevens: I am running for School Board to help support positive learning goals, designed to support our teachers/school staff and students. I want to continue to work with fellow board members, teachers, our superintendent and staff to create long lasting solutions to address the issues we face in public education to improve education for all students.
WATCH NOW – VIDEO GALLERY: KUSD School Board candidates introduce themselves at Feb. 21 forum
KUSD School Board candidate – KIM
KUSD School Board candidate – MEADOWS
KUSD School Board candidate – ROBINSON (i)
KUSD School Board candidate – ROOCHNIK
KUSD School Board candidate – SCHMALING
KUSD School Board candidate- STEVENS (i)
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