Oak Creek - With four candidates running for two seats, the Oak Creek School Board election April 2 will test whether residents want change or wish to stay the course.
The two open seats, currently held by Frank Carini and Paul Mason, are being contested by Rosemarie Annonson, a former substitute teacher focused on bringing up elementary school scores, and William McIntosh, a father of three children attending Oak Creek schools.
Both Carini and Mason have held multiple terms on the board, with Carini seeking his third re-election and Mason seeking his fifth. The incumbents, while seeing challenges with upcoming budget restrictions from the state and national levels, are looking forward to the expansion of the high school.
The expansion of the high school is tentatively set as a freshman academy and will be located at the current city hall site, which the school district received in the land swap for Drexel Town Square.
Speaking on his longevity in the board, Mason said: "I've never had a burning agenda to push something through. I think that people understand that I try to keep a big-picture view on things. I don't dig into the weeds looking for issues or problems but look for the big issues and for the right direction."
He added that he wishes to build more trust with district staff and educators in a post-Act 10 world.
The final issue on Mason's plate is to address the community and inform them more about the potential construction of a freshman academy where the current city hall/library is located.
Mason said that his deep roots, having been a near-lifetime resident in Oak Creek, help him stay connected on pertinent issues facing the School Board.
He added, "For better or worse, people see that my commitment is to the community and not the issues."
Carini, who lauded the school district for what he called an excellent staff, said he wishes to strengthen the bond between the district and the community.
He added, "I'm really excited to get back on the board and continue the bright future we have for the school district, especially with the expansion of the high school."
Hoping to add his volunteer work with the community center and the Kiwanis Club to the equation, Carini wants to foster dialog between the community and school district, especially with talks on the upcoming freshman academy in the works.
He added that he is undaunted by potential budget restrictions on the state and local level. The district will have to use its funds more and make sound decisions in order to maintain its strong presence in the community.
"I don't know if it's a challenge, it's more of adapting to new ways and new directions," he said.
One of McIntosh's primary concerns is to connect with the community regarding the proposed freshman academy and to explore all options available on the new site, including adding the district office there, building a technology lab and possible public uses.
Regarding the academy, McIntosh said, "It's important to know that about 60 to 70 percent of the community doesn't have children, and we need to let them know how they can get the right bang for their dollar - and the way to do that is to incorporate them in the discussion."
He also said the School Board lacks strong leadership from its president.
Although McIntosh agrees that the district needed a new grading policy, but he wishes the board would have held more information sessions before passing one. He also said the board should look more at teachers' practices surrounding letting students retake homework and tests, and examine enforcement of the policy.
"Policies are a big deal for me," he said. "You can't just write them, stamp them and put them to the side. There needs to be more follow-up."
Annonson laid out a series of complaints, including low elementary test scores, lack of extracurricular participation and too much focus on high-achieving students.
Citing low scores in the elementary classrooms, Annonson said she would advocate for a more drill-heavy curriculum and may possibly visit each school to see how they're run.
She added: "Is it possible that for the past 10 years our teachers employed at the elementary level in Oak Creek have remained relatively constant? Are they responsible for those low scores? I don't know, but if they are, something needs to be done."
Annonson worries about low extracurricular attendance levels. She said that a 20 percent participation rate in extracurricular activities seems awful and that school was the main event for Oak Creek children and teenagers.
She also said there is too much focus in the schools on high-achieving students and that the curriculum should be toned to meet the needs of students of all levels.
Annonson said she would like to gather more information before moving forward with any specific changes.
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