Tomorrow will mark the end to a seven-way battle royale for Wisconsin’s state superintendent seat. Seven candidates enter, two will leave — with the victors heading on to the spring election on April 6th.
The winner of the April election will replace outgoing State Superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor, whose term will end this July. The race is nonpartisan, meaning that none of the candidates have formally filed with a political party.
The seven candidates largely share the same view on one of the most pressing issues in modern education: school during the age of COVID-19. All seven support returning students to schools in the near future, most recommend offering virtual alternatives and almost all believe reopening efforts should be left up to individual districts — not the state.
For more on their platforms, let’s meet the candidates:
Shandowlyon Hendricks-Williams has a doctorate in Educational Leadership from National Louis University. She’s had stints at nearly every level of the public/private education system — from a teacher’s assistant all the way up to a district administrator.
She also worked for the state’s Department of Public Instruction under then-State Superintendent, and current Governor, Tony Evers.
On policy proposals: Hendricks-Williams supports school choice and defending “every parent’s right to send their child to a high performing school. Public, private, charter, or otherwise.”
She supports amending the state’s school funding system and is calling for a Task Force for School Funding Reform to address the issue.
Listen to Hendricks-Williams’ interview with Wisconsin Eye here.
Deborah Kerr has a 40 year history in education, and spent 21 years serving as superintendent for rural, public schools – most recently at Brown Deer Schools. She’s also served as the President of both the National School Superintendents Association and Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators.
Recently, her fundraising efforts have attracted some media attention. She pitches herself as a “pragmatic Democrat,” but she’s received $15,000 from a Republican mega-donor and has received endorsements from Republican politicians.
On policy, Kerr supports expanded literacy and reading programs, which she also advocated for during her tenure with Brown Deer Schools. She’s also proposing a pedagogy of “character education” to reduce in-school violence, suspension and misbehavior.
Listen to Kerr’s interview with Wisconsin Eye here.
Sheila Briggs serves as an assistant state Superintendent of Education at the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, a position which she’s held since 2011. She was recruited to the role by then-State Superintendent Evers. Prior to that position, she worked as a principal and kindergarten teacher here in Madison.
Briggs does not support expanding taxpayer-funded private school voucher programs. She supports statewide assessment tests, although she does endorse reforming and rethinking their design and application.
Listen to Briggs’ interview with Wisconsin Eye here.
Joe Fenrick has been a science teacher at Fond du Lac High School for about 15 years. He also teaches Geology courses at the University of Wisconsin – Oshkosh. He’s served three terms as a Fond Du Lac County Supervisor.
His campaign website is light on specific policy proposals, but Fenrick told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he’s looking to reduce dependence on standardized testing and increase after-school activities. Fenrick also proposes shifting the state’s funding from being dependent on a three-year average enrollment rate to a five-year cycle, which he says will lessen the blow of sudden enrollment drop-offs.
Fenrick has not participated in Wisconsin Eye’s candidate interviews, a Wisconsin PTA state superintendent forum, a candidate forum on issues facing Black and brown students and their communities, or Wisconsin Public Radio’s candidate interviews — so we don’t have tape for him.
Troy Gunderson has spent 35 years in public education, during which he’s served as a teacher, principal and superintendent. He’s currently an adjunct instructor at Viterbo University in La Crosse, WI.
Gunderson’s website is also light on policy proposals, but – speaking with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel – he endorsed collaborations between public schools and private industries to fund and expand educational programs.
In addition to those partnerships, he’s also voiced support for cooperative mental health programs with clinics and mental healthcare providers.
He supports police in schools, but believes in reducing the use of punitive measures such as suspension and expulsion. He does not support private school vouchers.
Listen to Gunderson’s interview with Wisconsin Eye here.
Jill Underly has served as a teacher, principal, school administrator and in the state’s Department of Public Instruction. Most recently, she’s spent the past six years as the superintendent at the Pecatonica School District.
Underly is “strongly against” the expansion of taxpayer-funded private school vouchers, as well as the expansion of “school choice” programs. She supports reforming how the state funds schools in line with recommendations put forward in 2019 by the state’s Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding.
She’s also a proponent of expanding mental health resources for students, including adding a mental health professional to school staffing requirements.
According to the Journal-Sentinel, Underly supports school resource officers, but believes their roles and priorities should be shifted.
Listen to Underly’s interview with Wisconsin Eye here.
Steve Krull is an Air Force veteran and is the principal of Milwaukee’s Garland Elementary School. He’s spent the past thirteen years in education and received a PhD in urban studies at UW-Milwaukee in 2016.
Krull believes in reducing class sizes to allow teachers to spend more time with each individual student. His website does not clarify how he will accomplish this. He also supports improving school infrastructure.
Krull believes the state superintendent, an automatic member of the UW Board of Regents, should play a role in reducing and addressing the student loan crisis.
Listen to Krull’s interview with Wisconsin Eye here.
Thanks to Wisconsin Eye for providing the audio for this story