Seven candidates are running for three seats, all with three-year terms, on the Franklin School Board this year.
Two of the candidates on the ballot — Claude Lewis and Ann Sepersky — are incumbents. Angela Bier, Angela Christie, Dr. Jeffrey Hall, Dr. Maqsood Khan and Shuchi Wadhwa are challengers.
Now News Group questioned all the candidates on three issues: Franklin Public Schools’ reopening plan, a petition to diversify the curriculum and one or two Franklin Public Schools services they would like to see improved.
Here are the questions, part or all of the answers given, and my reaction:
How would you assess the district’s plan to reopen schools during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Lewis: I believe Franklin did a great job this fall by giving families the option of virtual or in person school for their children’s education. With the safety of both staff and students in mind, Franklin public schools along with the Franklin health department track cases in each school and publish the results dashboard weekly as part the school district communications plan. I believe the districts plan is best for the students, is safe, and working well.
My reaction: Good, safe answer. This was a softball and Lewis hit the meatball that came right down the middle of the plate.
Sepersky: The safety of our students and staff is always the most important. Franklin has followed the science and our internal metrics tell us that our community, students and staff are doing all they can to keep our schools open. so that each family can make a choice that is right for them.
My reaction: Same as Lewis.
Bier: I was concerned that re-opening in the face of a high community burden was risky. However, students and staff have gone above and beyond to work for the common good, follow recommended safety protocols, and truly limit spread in school. I’ve never been so happy to be proven wrong.
My reaction: Bier was initially wrong and admitted it. But she should have been supportive of in-person school from the beginning.
Christie: FPS did an amazing job with their plans for re-opening schools. They surveyed parents and 79% of parents agreed they felt safe with their children, in class. As a parent, I felt their safety plan with social distancing, keeping students in the same groups and staggering class transitions was adequate to keep my child safe during their time at school
My reaction: See Lewis and Sepersky.
Hall: I would be lying if I said we weren’t nervous to send our kids back to school. I thought the district handled the situation very well though. I was happy the district was able to offer a choice of virtual or in-person. We debated what to do, but ultimately choose in-person for our children. To that end, I have been very satisfied with how they have handled in-person throughout the pandemic.
My reaction: OK, but I’d prefer a stronger stance on in-person school.
Khan: Franklin Public Schools made a good effort in reopening its doors during the COVID-19 pandemic. I realize it’s difficult for parents who quarantined their kids often because a classmate became infected. But frontline workers, like school nurses and me, got vaccinated. Teachers will too. According to the Jan. 20 Monitor and Transition Dashboard, 0.5 percent of the student population have tested positive — a low rate. I know the district carefully considers four trigger points before deciding to close a school for a two-week period. As a physician, I believe we must continue to wear masks, socially distance and get vaccinated.
My reaction: Seems more concerned about preaching about COVID than what school district policy should be.
Wadhwa: Our school district’s safety and implementation plan to reopen schools during the COVID-19 pandemic was, in my opinion, stellar. The commitment and dedication to keeping the staff and our kids safe was remarkable. To be frank, I was hesitant and fearful to send my children back to school in-person last fall. However, the Franklin School District’s administration, with thorough knowledge and great communication, created a safe environment for our kids to learn and thrive during these difficult times.
My reaction: Wadhwa loses points just like Hall and Khan.
A petition to address diversifying the curriculum was sent to the school board last year. Where can the district make the most improvements on diversifying the curriculum?
Lewis: The Teaching and Learning Team which is charged with addressing curriculum issues is evaluating where improvements in diversifying the curriculum can be made. The district’s curriculum remains relevant, research based, and is a continuous improvement process. Franklin public schools will always look to diversify it’s curriculum to provide students the best education possible.
My reaction: Much too general a response.
Sepersky: More than ever our society as a whole needs to change and include the voices of all. Schools have always been the place that have helped us grow as a nation and we’ve seen that this year as well. We need to ensure that our educators feel supported to include diverse perspectives and underrepresented voices, and that the perspectives of our own diverse student body are included and celebrated.
My reaction: I understand the candidates were asked about diversity. This emphasis on diversity instead of the basic and critical components of learning for the future that Sepersky fails to mention is political correctness. How about a response like: Diversity, while important, should not be our highest priority.
Bier: As with all high-stakes changes, significant curriculum change should involve all relevant stakeholders, including informed parents, community members, teachers, and content experts. If changes are recommended, we must then assess what is being lost and whether it is a good tradeoff. Perhaps as important as diversifying curriculum, Franklin should focus on hiring a diverse, qualified professional staff. All students deserve to have teachers that look like them, as well as those who do not, in order to prepare them to work in a diverse economy and world.
My reaction: Again, too much focus on diversity. What is this? An affirmative action test?
Christie: It’s my understanding that the group of alumni students that sent the petition to the superintendent and the school board has been addressed and it continues to be a work in progress. The district currently has equity as a core value and has included all staff/teachers in that learning.
My reaction: That’s better than the above responses.
Hall: I believe the first step to diversification should include both examining hiring practices as well as reviewing the curriculum. I would fully support an effort to add more people of color to the teaching faculty. I would also support including courses focusing on both current events as well as historical issues relating to race, religion, ethnicity and sexual orientation.
My reaction: the worst possible answer. I don’t want the school district offering classes on any of this. Automatic disqualifier for Hall.
Khan: Currently the school curriculum involves superficial knowledge of different races, religions, communities and physical abilities. My daughter felt extremely uncomfortable when her classmates were picking on a student with special needs. Most curriculums address Japanese internment, but lessons should also combat misconceptions of racial minorities, religions and cultures. We must teach students about the variety of cultures that make up our world. Our curriculum needs to present history from many viewpoints, focus on contributions of all communities who have made the U.S. a great nation. The curriculum must empower students of all backgrounds.
My reaction: And who, which ethnicities, get included in the curriculum and which do not?
Wadhwa: Teaching for diversity refers to acknowledging a range of differences within a classroom. Teaching for inclusion signifies embracing those differences. Teaching for equity allows the differences to transform the way we as humans think, teach, learn and act so that all experiences are handled with fairness and justice. Educators in the district must recognize how the intersections of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and/or socio-economic status impact us individually and use this premise in the classroom to show children that diversity is a strength.
My reaction: More of the same nonsense, good grief.
Name one or two specific services provided by the district that you would like to see improved and describe how you would pay for those improvements.
Lewis: The Franklin public school system has state of the art facilities and is continuously rated as one of the top school districts in the state. The board continually reviews areas of improvement across the district. However, as a board member we must always evaluate costs of improvement and any resulting burden on our taxpayers. As a taxpayer and board member, it is our responsibility that FPS remains fiscally responsible.
My reaction: If not a HR a triple for sure. I have it from a very reliable source that Lewis initially reacted to the question wondering how you make and pay for any improvements. What funding? He never said that to the reporter. Too bad. That would have been refreshing and noteworthy, and would have cleared the fence.
Sepersky: The answer to educational improvement does not always include spending more money. We can have an impact on student growth and achievement using our existing resources.
My reaction: I know a gazillion school board members and candidates who said that, but very few who actually meant it.
Bier: Franklin has long needed an improved high school gymnasium and associated facilities. This should be a public-private partnership, maximizing fundraising arms of the district to leverage motivated private entities’ philanthropic missions. If public funding via referendum is still required, we must commit to robust public access to the space for recreational programming.
My reaction: We already spend a fortune on our schools. Another referendum to increase spending and taxes is absurd. This is an automatic disqualifier.
Christie: Communication with the community, parents and students as two-way communication on social media would be one way the district could improve. It would take a dedicated person to take the time to communicate and would be a minimal cost to the district.
My reaction: As a life-long communicator I love this answer.
Hall: Overall, I think the FPS does an excellent job providing the necessary services resulting in an excellent learning environment. I do feel the elementary schools are in need of updating. This should include but not be limited to providing dedicated lunchroom space, increasing locker availability, updated gym facilities, increased technology and general updates to facilities. I also believe the high school athletic facilities are in need of upgrade. I would recommend the funds for be obtained via a temporary tax which can be approved via referendum.
My reaction: A laundry list of costly recommendations that arguably would do nothing to increase GPAs, etc. In my view, Hall just eliminated himself.
Khan: The district could improve ACT prep for Franklin High School students beyond the ACT Aspire program, which just teaches students the basics about the test. A high GPA and ACT scores are important in achieving academic scholarships and student loans. The district must improve its investment in providing better training to all students of every background to get the best score they possibly can. I plan to look at the budget and find out which support services and community education and recreation funds can support more ACT prep.
My reaction: How about looking at the budget now as opposed to later?
Wadhwa: As I am working on my second Masters in Information Technology/Cybersecurity, my experience shows me that the success of today’s educational initiatives is supported by having the right, up-to-date technology at the educators’ and students’ fingertips. Technology can not only increase engagement but improve student outcomes while enhancing collaboration. One reason I am running for school board is to ensure that proper budgetary allocations are dedicated for our district’s and our students’ technology needs, including applying for the many Federal and State grants that are available for this purpose.
My reaction: We need more tax money. The answer to everything, especially in Franklin.
The top 6 candidates in the primary move on to the general election. You can vote for up to 3 candidates.
Important point: You don’t have to vote for 3. And I don’t think I will.
At this point I believe (and this could change) I will vote for Angela Christie and even though I said in the past no incumbent would get my vote I might change my thought and go with Claude Lewis who has some experience, some common sense, and the advice of his son who once sat on the school board.
As for the rest, I’m not interested. They don’t deserve my vote and won’t get it. And then we’ll sort it all out come April.
The Journal Sentinel story on the candidate interviews.