An Open Letter to Dr. Shaw and the RUSD Board of Education

This is Part 1 in a series of open letters to our leaders to encourage debate on how we, the public, can regain trust at the local, state and national levels.

Dear RUSD Leaders:

The biggest problem you face is not whether or not you need new facilities or more revenue.  The biggest issue before you is summed up in one question; “How do you regain public trust?”  The answer isn’t simple, but without trust, any plans or ideas to better educate our children will fail.  The colossal failure of the referendum questions was a message from your employers that the status quo is unacceptable and the time is now to right the ship.

In Caledonia, a vast majority has been unhappy for some time, and has even launched attempts to leave the district and start our own school district.  Others have decided, individually, to send their children to other districts or private schools.  Approximately half of our school age children do not attend RUSD schools and we have voted a resounding no to many of your referendum initiatives.

It is no longer acceptable to be one of the worst districts in the state.  It is no longer acceptable to hear excuse after excuse why our children have some of the lowest test scores in the state.  We didn’t elect or hire you to make excuses.  We want answers and solutions, and we want them now.  It is not our perception of what is happening in our district.  It’s the results of your activities and ideas.

Over the past 10 years, I have met with our local leaders and fellow citizens and have listened to what they think could lead to regaining trust in the district.  I offer up some of the ideas so that future actions you take can lead to a better cooperation between the district and the people that pay for it.

1.     The board should be numbered seats.  Each board member should be held accountable by the taxpayers for his or her own actions.  Under the current ad-hoc election process, board members are elected purely based on name recognition, and not on their votes.

2.     Reduce central office staff by at least a third.  We have a superintendent, a deputy superintendent, three area superintendents, four principals at each of the comprehensive high schools and a barrage of directors.  That is where it needs to start, at the top.

3.     For at least a decade and survey after survey, 70 percent of all our communities want neighborhood schools.  It is time to implement this.

4.     Reduce class size at the high school level by going back to the junior high configuration of K-6, 7-9 and 10-12.  Also, expand Walden and the Real School to double their current enrollment.  This can reduce the comprehensive high school’s enrollment by up to 30% and expand our two most successful programs.

5.     Once the first four steps are completed, there should be no need to address major construction at the middle and high school facilities, other than renovation.  Then redistrict the elementary schools to the desired class size and come to the community with a referendum to build and renovate elementary schools, which is far cheaper than secondary education facilities.

I can almost guaranty that the community as a whole will buy into this plan and the cost savings it can bring will help regain trust.  This will also help reduce class size fitting in with your existing plans and Northstar.

We truly want you to succeed because we want our children to succeed.


Brian Dey

Former RUSD Board Member (2005-2008)



Heather Rayne Geyer April 19, 2011 at 02:09 PM
I will not pretend to know how everything works "behind the curtain" at RUSD. It seems as though it is much more complicated than it needs to be. I do not know who does what as far as employment and I hate to rush to eliminate jobs in this economy. But, perhaps, it is necessary. I have worked in several businesses which it seemed there were 2 mangers per employee. Ridiculous. I really can only speak as a parent. I do agree completely that 9th grade needs to go back to middle school. This is not a financial concern for me but a social/parental one. High school is a whole other animal than elementary/middle school. And even more now, kids are forced into growing up far too fast. The gap between 14 years old and 18 years old is just too wide - socially, emotionally, cognitively. I also support neighborhood schools. I grew up on the north side and I walked to all three of my schools. I just like the idea of the hominess of it. And people seem to care more when it can be seen from their front window. But in the same breath, I also am not a huge fan of school choice, charter schools and the voucher system would infuriate me. I just feel that it would be nice (though probably not possible) if kids could just simply go to school in their neighborhoods. Then the parents and community may care more - step in more to help the school, students, teachers. If Gilmore is your district, you go to Gilmore. Why bus the kid across town because that is where their buddy goes to school?
Heather Rayne Geyer April 19, 2011 at 02:12 PM
Or because the parent thinks it is more fashionable to go to one over another. And why are 10, 12, 14 year olds being allowed to decided where they go to school? You go to the school in which you were assigned. Period. One more thing, and I totally know it is way off topic...our schools need to have uniform policy. Hmm, maybe that will be my next editorial. It is nothing but beneficial. Better for education, social issues (MANY of them), easier, more affordable...I see no down side.
Heather in Caledonia April 19, 2011 at 02:27 PM
Heather, I agree with you on the neighborhood schools and moving 9th grade to Jr. High. That's how it was in Kenosha when I was there. I also think uniforms would be a GREAT idea. Of course, we would all be buying clothing for a large number of students who "can't afford it", but I think it would have many other benefits in the long run. It would be interesting to find out how many kids are being bused due to school choice (I thought if you pick school choice, it's up to you to get your kid there) as opposed to how many are being bused so the school is "diverse" enough. If you're looking for a topic, how about busing black and Latino kids across town to boost the minority quota of the school? Don't agree on the charter schools, school choice, etc. My students attend a charter school in Northern Ozaukee County because there is no way I want to send them to our local school. If school choice was removed and charters were not granted, we would be homeschooling our children. I don't think I'm personally able to give them a good education that way, so I'm pleased to have this opportunity. They are both learning very well without having the social issues of RUSD public schools.
Susan Spring April 19, 2011 at 03:04 PM
My neighborhood school is GOODLAND, and it has a greatschools.com rating of 1 which is the lowest number possible; would you use this school? I am thankful for the magnet school choice in the district. While we might not be entitled to GREAT SCHOOLS as a community we need to support leadership that is able to improve education in district schools. This is not an easy task, and real change will be difficult.
JW April 19, 2011 at 10:00 PM
I hate the idea of uniforms. Too punative to those who do not deserve it. Let individuals be individuals and define themselves they way they like rather than the way you like. I feel uniforms are just a costly way to ATTEMPT to correct or avoid problems at the wrong level that I do not believe would work in a public setting. 9th grade being a part of high school is the way it was where I grew up and it seemed just fine to me. 4 grades in high school is the more traditional way... freshman, sophomore, junior and senior. In worring about the bullying and such that can go on in high school and moving the 9th graders down, you increase the bullying that can go on in middle school by keeping the 9th graders there. A 9th grader is older and wiser and better able to deal with potential problem upper classmen than a 6th grader is. I do dislike the voucher system and school choice and favor neighborhood schools. I have a son that went through both MPS and RUSD (the supposed worst school districts in this State) and he did very fine and had many great teachers, schools, and opportunties at all levels. Some school districts are doomed to have bad scores purely because there is a high percentage of students who do not care that reflect the breakdown of the city the schools are in. It is not always the school district's fault that average scores are bad and sometimes there is not much that can be done about bad average scores. School uniforms certainly are no fix for that.


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