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Who will next steer the Wisconsin DPI ship?

February 18, 2009

Yesterday was the primary elections in the state of Wisconsin. Probably one of the bigger races I care about is the State Superintendant of Schools position. Our current Superintendant is retiring, so there were lots of new names in from both parties. The primary yesterday brought the field down from 5 to just 2.

One candidate served under the current Superintendant. Tony Evers is experienced & qualified. Despite how he claims he will be different, it is likely that we can expect that not much would change under his administration. Which in some ways is unfortunate, because the biggest complaint I have about our current administration is that it is often concerned with the issues of politics before the issues of children, and rarely if ever strays from the party line our Governor dictates. But Wisconsin schools, at least on paper – the stuff the politicians care about – are really good. And while other states have experienced teacher shortages, Wisconsin has historically always had an abundance of qualified, certified teachers. I don’t care too much about Evers one way or the other beyond that. In the next few weeks I suppose I will tune in a bit more and learn more.

The person running as a conservative bills herself as a “Mom on a Mission.” This morning on the radio I heard Rose Fernandez tearing down Milwaukee Public Schools – our largest single school system, and arguably the one facing some of the greatest and most difficult challenges due to its size & demographic. (A large number of students living in poverty in families that often feel powerless over their own destiny.) When the state teachers union, WEAC, backed the liberal candidate *as unions tend to do* she began blasting the teachers of our state and how parents are tired of “WEAC” (read “teachers”) running the Department of Public Instruction in our state.

As the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel pointed out this morning in their election coverage at, there was little interest in the top post from anyone who had any REAL experience with K12 education.

By the way, it took quite a bit of searching to find any coverage on this at all. The day after the primary. Yeah. I’m not sure there is much interest at all.

While she doesn’t yet have the support Evers does, Fernandez interprets her advancing to the election is already “a victory for real people over the special interests.”

Probably not if you’re a child in this state Ms. “Mom on a Mission.”

You should probably know about me that in addition to having spent my personal and professional life in and around public and private schools and non-formal learning environments like museums, I am also an Adult Boy Scout leader. There is a high correlation between successful leaders in our world, and their involvement as youth in the Boy Scouts. “Scout” is derived from a French term which means “to listen.” In our programs we teach young leaders about listening, and service leadership. Our highest honor in the Boy Scouts is to earn one’s Eagle, a process which demonstrates showing outstanding leadership and service to one’s community.

If I could advise BOTH candidates between now and April I would tell them to not head down the slippery slope of making friends by promoting “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” But more specifically ~ Fernandez, in my view, needs to do a lot of damage control by already having attacked teachers as a “special interest.”

I’m not sure how well the campaign would go if one needed to be elected to run a hospital by attacking the Pediatric Trauma Nurses as special interests or not understanding how best to do their jobs. I guess that kind of reasoning only makes sense when highly trained and experienced teachers who excel at what they’ve dedicated their life’s work are “promoted” for their knowledge and competence to work in our state’s highest office of educational oversight. Perhaps Pediatric Trauma Nurses perform best when space issues force patients to remain in the hallway, diagnostic equipment is tampered with, and they’re unable to treat patients whose uninsured parents can’t cough up the nickel & dime fees at every turn because while saline is covered by State & Federal programs, the clean IV needles required to deliver it were diverted in earmarks.

Each day teachers work off of carts travelling from room to room maybe getting to decorate a bulletin board they can call home. Students sit in “relocatable trailers” in the parking lots, with less square footage per student than their highest earning unfortunate parents can muster in a 10’x10′ cubicle for the rest of their lives. Fast talking self-pretentious politicians tie school funding to one size fits all assembly line tests that can consume up to 20% of instructional time in a year. Then they fail to deliver on their promises proclaiming they are “just short” of what was promised and necessary. No problem. If we’re “just short” ~ let’s have a bake sale.

Maybe, just maybe, while my son occupies his 36 square foot of non-private instructional space equipped with a very comfortable hard plastic resin chair and work surface custom fitted to his growing physical needs his special interest minded teacher will use part of her daily allotment of 6 minutes per student to provide him with a piece of paper and a pencil so he can say THANK YOU and GOOD LUCK to both Evers and Fernandez as you each seek the glory that comes along with such a prestigious office such as heading up the Department of Public Instruction.

No wonder paper & pencils aren’t provided.

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