With the Primary Election scheduled for February 16th, WATG posed a few questions to the State Superintendent candidates. Of the seven candidates on the ballot we heard back from five of them. We received no response from Deborah Kerr or Steve Krull. Here are the unedited answers from the five candidates who replied; their names are in an order of random drawing. WATG does not endorse or support any political candidate and the responses to these questions are not a representation of WATG’s views or opinions.
What role should the DPI play in ensuring that advanced learners and highly capable students are served in Wisconsin and how should those students be served within our schools?
Joe Fenrick: Together with families, educators, and students I want education to be a model of bottom up instead of top down. Where parents, teachers, and community members come together to make decisions. These decisions need to benefit the students while providing them an opportunity to grow. Every student deserves an equitable education that promotes future promise. Every student also deserves schooling that enhances their talents and skills.
At Fond du Lac High School I have been a champion of expanding classes that are dual credit where students receive both high school and college credit. We have partnered with UW-Oshkosh’s CAPP program where students can earn up to 30 college credits while in high school. We have also partnered with MPTC for our students to receive credits towards the trades if that is the path they wish to follow. These higher education credits are offered to the students either at half cost or free. Each year we continue to expand our offerings. As State Superintendent I want to expand this program to all schools throughout the state and remove barriers to accelerated learning.
When school districts form partnerships with business, county governments, and universities, opportunities are created to enhance our children’s learning that will prepare them for the future. As Chair of the Human Service committee and Chair of the Social Service committee for the Fond du Lac County Board, I oversee a 40-million-dollar budget and hundreds of employees. I oversee Harbor Haven, Fond du Lac County’s Nursing Home. During our monthly reports we noticed that there was a constant need for CNAs and an opportunity for high school students to gain hands on training in the healthcare profession. As Chair, I approved and recommended a program where Harbor Haven partners with area high schools and offers CNA training to students. These students are then employed at the nursing home and gain valuable hands-on experience.
"To boldly grow where no plant has grown before" was the research that I set up for aspiring students that wanted experience in a formal research lab setting. A partnership was formed between UW-Oshkosh Fond du Lac Campus and Fond du Lac High School where students could apply to be research assistants. Students would take part in research that was out of this world by planting different vegetables in simulated Martian soil. The results of the research are still in pre-publication.
As the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, I will make it a priority to create partnerships and help further the education of children. These opportunities can and will exist in all of our communities and all over the state.
Sheila Briggs: DPI’s role is ensuring that all advanced Learners and highly capable students learning needs are met in Wisconsin schools. This means sharing effective educational practices to address the needs of all students, including a more equitable way of identifying students and working with educators to address issues of disproportionality that often occurs for students of color, English Learners, twice-exceptional students, as well as students from economically disadvantaged environments. It is also critical that we continually promote best practices for working with families of these advanced and highly capable students so they can be, and are, active partners in the identification and programming for these kids.
Within schools, personnel should use multiple measures to identify students in each of the areas of giftedness. Students should be served with a continuum of supports, so students have extensions provided within the general education environment and beyond.
We believe that equity means that every kid has access to the resources and educational rigor they need at the right moment in their education. That includes students identified with gifted or talents and highly capable students. Existing state statutes and administrative rules can help in providing a baseline for what is expected for all districts but that is not sufficient. While accountability is critically important, shifting mindsets from the all-to-common belief about advanced learners (i.e., “they’re smart, they will be fine”) to the more powerful and necessary message that excellence must be fostered and celebrated is needed now more than ever. That means support for these learners in all schools so each and every advanced learner/highly capable student has an equal opportunity to succeed.
Dr. Jill Underly: I am a proponent of all kids having access to content, experiences, and opportunities that engage all students - including advanced learners and highly capable learners. I would love for every school to have a dedicated gifted and talented curriculum and activities coordinator to help coordinate and identify these activities for kids.
Troy Gunderson: My campaign platform of Leaders Ready to Lead, Students Ready to Learn, Teachers Ready to Teach, and Future Ready Graduates calls upon the DPI to lead a statewide discussion on the role of public education in advancing our state forward, ensuring that we meet the needs of each child, advancing teaching as a profession and producing graduates who are career, college, and life ready. To reach these goals the DPI will advance the principle of meeting the needs of each child. This means expanded opportunities to experience challenge in areas of interest for talented and gifted children.
Shandowlyon Hendricks: I am the mother of two children with vastly different academic capabilities: a daughter who attended a school for gifted and talented, and a son with multiple severe disabilities. I have seen both sides of students receiving an education that wasn’t consistent with their skill level. Further, I witnessed the emotional, social and behavioral ramifications when curricula did not sufficiently challenge and engage my gifted and talented daughter. The Department of Public Instruction has a duty to deliver a premier, fully-funded education to all students regardless of academic capability, and students with academic inclinations and talents deserve an education that reflects their potential. I support opportunities for students to receive an accelerated education in public schools through robust honors, AP, IB and G & T programs. As a mother, educator, and administrator, I recognize not all schools are currently in a position to fully serve their students so that students achieve at their maximum potential. Therefore the role of DPI as it relates to advanced learners and highly capable students is to ensure that there is a plethora of schools offering gifted and talented programs throughout the state, no matter a child’s zip code, race or socio-economic level. Further DPI should support a parent’s right to enroll their child in a high performing school.
What is your understanding of State Statutes 118.35 and 121.02(t) and Administrative Rule 8.01(2)(t)2? How should these standards be funded and implemented? https://dpi.wi.gov/gifted/laws
Joe Fenrick: We need the state and local school boards to support funding programs that encourage our children to achieve high standards. They need to fully fund honor, AP, and CAPP level classes in all schools and help fund activities that push our children to reach their full potential. We need to involve parents and let them know what options are available and be completely transparent. Every student also deserves schooling that enhances their talents and skills.
Sheila Briggs: These two statutes and this administrative rule provide the framework for our work, and the work of public schools in our state. They define what gifted/talented means, the different domains of giftedness, the need for a district gifted/talented coordinator and a gifted/talented plan, as well as specifics about identification, programming, and collaboration with families (as described above). Wis. Stat. sec. 118.35(4) gives DPI the authority to promote new and innovative approaches to help advanced learners grow and learn in their area(s) of giftedness.
The current appropriation for this grant is $237,200 but that is clearly insufficient and inequitable given the needs of students all across the state. With additional funding, more projects could be funded and those could then serve as models for other districts or regions of the state where additional support and effective models are sorely needed.
As the Assistant State Superintendent at the Department who has overseen Gifted and Talented for the state for the last decade, we have worked with families and schools to ensure proper identification, access to services, and advocating for additional funding. I have led the work with multiple school districts to ensure they are in compliance with the statutes, and to support their work in better identification and programming for students.
Dr. Jill Underly: My understanding is that every district needs to have plans and a process for identifying kids who are gifted and talented. In addition to the plan, the district needs to have structures in place to provide for ways to serve the identified kids most fully. After that - it’s going to look different in each school district, and a lot of that has to do with resources - both human and financial. It would be great to set-aside funding for at least a 25% GT Coordinator that could be a contract extension or part of a teacher’s job duties/contract. Right now, that’s not the case as it’s an unfunded mandate. School Districts instead often interpret the rules and provide differentiated learning and field experiences and other enrichment experiences for kids throughout the year and during the summer - providing access to enrichment without charge, as required by the rules.
Troy Gunderson: The state of Wisconsin has made a commitment to identifying and serving children who demonstrate exceptional performance and skill and who, as a result, require additional programming to stretch and develop these unique talents. The statutes and rules are designed to ensure school districts comply by identifying a person responsible for the tasks of identifying and serving such children. I believe those children identified as talented and gifted should receive differentiated programming best designed to grow each child. Uniquely talented and gifted children deserve the opportunity to apply these talents and gifts in programming or opportunities designed to foster growth. Each child needs the opportunity for growth that comes from a genuine intellectual challenge.
Shandowlyon Hendricks: I agree with the “spirit” and “mandate” of both statues and the administrative rule. Some would argue that a large part of the difficulty in establishing advanced programming for gifted and talented students is that the process for funding our schools is deeply antiquated. We need an updated state funding stream that goes beyond property values. Local property tax base funding leaves many schools critically underfunded and prohibits gifted and talented students in rural and predominantly Black and brown ZIP codes from accessing opportunities they are entitled to. Wisconsin is in dire need of a funding update for our schools. The per-pupil aid system is inefficient in distributing funds and grossly oversimplifies strategies to power up our next generation of Wisconsinites. Working with the Governor and legislators, we will seek to raise the revenue intake limit for schools, bolster the state funding budget, and eliminate inefficiencies in funding. Sufficient funding will allow schools to dedicate time and resources to identifying students who are gifted and talented. Similar to the identification process embarked upon to identify students with disabilities, the DPI must put in place a statewide plan for identifying students who are gifted and talented and placement in a school offering a rigorous G & T program. Because G & T students are gifted in many areas, my Bill of Rights for Wisconsin Students is critical in ensuring that not only we elevate “gifted” learners in content areas but also “talented” learners in the arts. We must ensure students consistently have access to honors, AP, IB and G & T programs with sufficient funding to secure the future of these programs at our school. Drawing upon my experience as the parent of G & T student, as State Superintendent, I will ensure that the DPI meets statutory requirements as it relates to allocating and disbursing funding to nonprofits, CESA’s and UW System schools to provide services and opportunity to G & T students outside the realms of regular school operations.
We have noticed a troubling trend of districts dismantling advanced programming in the name of equity. How will DPI ensure that districts show accountability for accomplishing both excellence and equity?
Joe Fenrick: For too long we have seen a top down approach to education where the voices of families, students, and educators were ignored. We have seen the effects of high stakes testing where schools are forced to reduce curriculums and eliminate electives, gifted and talented programs, and extracurriculars while focusing on teaching to the test. There is so much more to student achievement than a standardized test score. Teaching not testing is one of my main platforms. The money that is being spent on standardized tests can be shifted to fund the arts, robotics, and furthering the minds of our children. School report cards should reflect the high level classes that are being offered at the schools and the pathways for advanced learners.
Sheila Briggs: While I believe that all children have beautiful strengths, talents, and unlimited potential, and it is our job to foster and support all children in developing these strengths, that is not the intent of the Gifted and Talented statute. The statute is designed to ensure that students that are so advanced that they would need services or activities not ordinarily provided in a regular school program in order to fully develop these capabilities get the programming they require. The purpose of the statute is not to identify more and more students as gifted and talented, but to ensure that those that are, are getting the support they need.
The push to ensure equity in identification is important. But the way we go about this is critically important. If we are applying an anti-biased lens, we will know that we have achieved equity--not by large numbers of identification, but that the small numbers identified mirror the demographics of the population. It is critical that we examine our identification processes to ensure that there is not gross overidentification nor underidentification within populations--we often have disproportionality in gender, race, socioeconomic status, and ability status. When that happens, we must examine our measures of identification to ensure they are free from bias.
Dr. Jill Underly: I haven’t noticed that trend at all. In many of the districts I interact with, they are adding advanced programming and licensing high school teachers with master's degrees to teach college level courses. There are programs such as Start College Now at our tech and public colleges that are opening up lots of opportunities for students. My interpretation of equity is that all children have access to the same robust programming that has been traditionally offered to GT students. Equity is then ensuring that students have access and that they are not underrepresented in enrichment programs and opportunities; and that these opportunities are always provided without charge as part of their public school education.
Troy Gunderson: I find it difficult to understand how eliminating programming for certain students promotes equity for all students. I believe equity is about meeting the needs of each child. I do not believe excellence and equity are mutually exclusive. I believe the roll of the DPI in this scenario is to advance the concept of an individualized approach for all children. Excellence is a reflection of the success of each student and equity derives from opportunities for this success. Eliminating programs for talented and gifted children accomplishes neither.
Shandowlyon Hendricks: My Bill of Rights for Wisconsin Students guarantees a premier, fully-funded education to all Wisconsin students. When a gifted and talented student cannot access programs of the academic rigor they are entitled to, that in itself is an equity issue. Data shows that marginalized students (students of color, students living in poverty, students in rural areas, etc.) are allowed to participate in G & T programs, honors, AP and IB programs at the same rate as their counterparts. Therefore, increasing the number of marginalized students participating in the aforementioned programs is a key strategy in increasing equity in Wisconsin’s schools. As State Superintendent, DPI will set and attain goals for increasing the number of marginalized students who participate in G & T programs. My promise as the next Superintendent of Public Instruction is to guarantee students the education they deserve, no matter their academic potential. Advanced programming – and ensuring students from every ZIP code across the state can access it – is key to ensuring true equity for Wisconsin’s students.
Given that Iowa funds gifted education annually at $37.6 million, Minnesota at $12.5 Million, and Ohio at $73.5 million, while Wisconsin provides just $237,200 per year, how can WATG partner with DPI to increase our state’s investment in advanced learners?
Joe Fenrick: I will work with the State Assembly, State Senate, and the Governor to provide additional funding for our schools. As an elected official, I have experience working with both sides of the aisle to increase funding for social workers, nursing homes, and mental health. As State Superintendent I will bring together all major players and work together to find a solution. The solution needs to be equitable and help all districts involved. Here is where the Department of Public Instruction needs to be innovative and transformative when looking for a solution.
I will meet with WATG on a regular basis to discuss our schools and education. I want to be a voice for families, parents, children and educators as State Superintendent.
Sheila Briggs: The funding that Wisconsin schools receive to specifically support gifted and talented students is grossly inadequate. As you point out, Wisconsin pales in comparison to our neighboring states in investing in our most advanced learners. In the past, I have met with and worked with WATG on the best way to move the legislature on this. We have proposed additional funding in DPI’s agency budget, and I have supported WATG in their lobbying efforts to continue pushing on the legislature. I would continue to seek WATG’s ongoing support and partnership to ensure Wisconsin is supporting our Gifted and Talented Learners.
A large piece of the puzzle is fixing our broken funding formula, prioritizing and fully funding our public schools.
Dr. Jill Underly: DPI partners with CESAs on a lot of things and I think that the best route to advocate for advanced learners is to work through the CESAs for the smaller and mid-sized districts, and directly through the central offices with the Directors of Curriculum and Instruction for the urban districts and large suburban. Since this is already in state law, and it is for all intents and purposes an unfunded mandate, DPI could partner with CESAs as part of their CESA contracts to provide professional development to teachers on differentiated learning, enrichment opportunities and extension for advanced learners. They can also partner with CESA to provide enrichment field trips and experiences.
Troy Gunderson: As indicated in our campaign platform, I believe the next State Superintendent of Public Instruction must begin by hosting a statewide conversation on the role of public education in moving Wisconsin forward. No such exercise is complete without a discussion about the need for a more independent and individualized approach to educating our children. This will include a discussion with the WATG about the energy, resources, and funding needed to foster success for talented and gifted children.
Shandowlyon Hendricks: I believe education is a collaborative process. As a single mother, a paraprofessional, a special educator, and an administrator, I understand and value the contributions of every person involved in our education system. That is why as the next Superintendent of Public Instruction I am eager to work with all stakeholders, including parents, teacher’s unions, nonprofits, and community organizations – WATG included. I will work with the legislature and the Governor’s office to restructure our funding system overall and ensure fair, consistent funding to all schools and districts, but we also must dedicate more money to these programs to ensure we are living up to our promise to students. I will welcome recommendations and collaborations with WATG and organizations across the state. I will maximize potential, create new trajectories and unveil opportunities for success for G & T students, like my daughter.
WATG would like to thank the candidates who responded and we wish them all well in the race ahead!
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