Caledonia Patch started its Racine Unified School District Board of Education election coverage this week with profiles of the five candidates competing for three positions.
Each of the candidates were interviewed individually and asked to comment on identical questions. The candidates’ responses will appear over the next few days.
Three incumbents and two challengers are seeking three-year terms on the board. Members are elected at-large to the nine-member School Board, which sets policy for RUSD—the state’s fourth largest school district.
Pamala Handrow, 59, of 1601 Grand Ave., Racine, is a seeking a second term on the Racine Unified School District Board of Education.
She has a lengthy background in youth and social services. Handrow is currently executive director of SAFE Haven of Racine, a nonprofit agency that provides shelter, crisis support and community intervention for youth and families.
Prior to that, she was an instructor in interdisciplinary studies-organizational studies at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, practiced law and was a social worker. Handrow is also a member of the Countryside Humane Society Board of Directors and serves on the Racine Park and Recreation Board.
Q: The Racine Unified School District has long struggled with an achievement gap between its white students and its students of color. What do you believe can be done to improve the learning of all RUSD students?
Several efforts are under way. It’s recognized that students entering school need to be ready to succeed. That’s being address with 4K (4-year-old kindergarten) as well as efforts to work with parents of young children, so they are helping to prepare their children.
The achievement gap is being addressed at the middle school and high school levels as well. There are after-school programs, Saturday school, special attention for at-risk students and continual efforts to get families involved.
All that is easier said than done, but I believe we’re breaking down those barriers.
Historically, students weren’t being challenged or encouraged. But that has changed. There are more challenges for students at the high school level. The infrastructure is now in place to address those things. A lot of that is in the North Star (a shared vision among RUSD administration, staff and the School Board that all students graduate career and/or college ready.)
Q: RUSD currently has a building maintenance backlog in excess of $80 million. What should be done to address this?
Actually the referendum that was approved three years ago addresses that. And, the current referendum addresses some of it. (Voters approved a 2008 referendum to spend $16.5 million over five years on building maintenance projects. On April 5, voters will be asked to approve an $83.5 million bond issue that district officials say will remove about $13 million from the backlog by replacing five elementary schools and constructing additions to five others.)
Obviously, it’s very difficult economically, but we are looking at some of those issues. Unfortunately, emergencies have to be tended to first. That means other projects get pushed back.
The referendum addresses that. It frees up additional dollars that can be spent on maintenance projects. The (upcoming) move of the Central office (to a former manufacturing complex) will put money back into classrooms as well.
Q: In your opinion, does the general public have a favorable or unfavorable impression of Racine’s public schools? Why?
I think it depends on who you talk to and when. Quite honestly, with any large bureaucracy, people will feel that they’re getting a run-around and their concerns aren’t being addressed. But, I think when you drill down, there are some very positive things happening in Racine Unified.
Over the years, at least with some people in the community, Racine Unified is the organization that people love to hate. Yes, we have huge achievement gaps. Yes, there is a great deal of poverty. But, there are steps being taken to address these issues.
It’s the district’s responsibility to do better customer relations and to advise the public about its accomplishments. There are efforts being made to do that.