How do you feel about school districts across the country that have tried to remove books from libraries?
Emily Berry - I find book banning to be both repugnant and ineffective at keeping “objectionable” content from children. It seems to me the best way to make a book of great interest to people of all ages is to ban it. It has never worked as a way to limit access to ideas, but that doesn’t make it less troubling to see. Most Americans don’t support banning books, and I’m glad it’s been limited in its most recent manifestation.
That said, I think context and guidance are always important when introducing any content that is likely to be upsetting, challenging, emotionally difficult or otherwise triggering for a student. This is one reason that skilled teachers are so important.
Becky Freer - I do not agree with removing books from libraries and I would not support it in my district. I believe that through books we can learn about history and other peoples’ experiences, expand our ideas, and strengthen our empathy skills.
Andrew Frey – I do not feel like removing books from libraries is a good thing. I think that all books lead to an opportunity for learning. With that being said, I do feel there are some books that students need to be mature enough to understand and learn from. All books that students receive from the library should be age and maturity appropriate. There are some books that would be better lead by a teacher or parent to allow for discussion and learning.
Under what conditions do you think you would recommend, if ever, a return to virtual schooling or mask mandates?
Emily Berry - The vast majority of our students are now learning in person, which is ideal. In-person learning works better for nearly all students, and fully in-person teaching is easier than virtual or hybrid modes. That said, we should always keep student, teacher and community health top of mind as we change learning modes.
Effective March 7, masks are optional in our schools for all but the youngest students, who cannot yet be vaccinated and will continue to wear masks in class.
Our district has delegated operational decisions around COVID-19 protocols to our Superintendent. We did this to allow for rapid response to changing conditions, and to keep the decisions grounded in education and safety rather than politics.
As she makes those decisions, I expect her to always follow public health guidance, local conditions, alignment with nearby schools and other public institutions, and to ensure we will have adequate staffing to operate safely. She has done that this year. I support our current guidelines, which call for a return to universal masking if we see 3% of students and staff testing positive for COVID-19.
In the cases of a terrible scenario in which another variant emerged that prompted a public health emergency, if we faced a severe staffing shortage, or a dramatically heightened risk of children becoming seriously ill from a new variant, I would support virtual learning as a short term strategy to slow spread of the virus.
Becky Freer - Our ability to respond to this pandemic has dramatically improved since spring of 2020 and I believe we can safely hold school in person with masks optional for students ages 5 and up. Having said that, I understand that the Covid-19 virus (and potentially future viruses) could mutate and resurge in unexpected ways. With this context, I would consider transitioning to virtual school if circumstances become dire (e.g., hospitals are overstretched with pandemic related illnesses). Similarly, I could see us returning to mask requirements in this pandemic (or a future one) if masking is believed to slow the spread of the virus and reduce deaths. Factors such as contagiousness, mortality rates, positive cases, vaccine effectiveness, mask effectiveness, etc. should be looked at for each new virus or variant. Overall, I would look to the CDC and our local public health officials for guidance.
Andrew Frey – I want nothing more than students to have the ability to learn via in person learning. For me to recommend a return to virtual learning, we would need to have a determined threshold community spread of any type of virus or disease. Along with this threshold we would need a trigger to move back to in person learning. I would rather see more in-depth testing in schools to avoid spread than a return to virtual school. Another reason to move to virtual learning would be a new virus that we don’t understand that spreads rapidly and has unknown outcomes. It is crucial that we have a more robust and equitable virtual option for students that need to quarantine, or if the entire district ever needs to go virtual, for all students. I think that we learned that virtual learning affected our most vulnerable students and has made our gaps grow even more. As far masking I think asking our medical advisory board to come back and make recommendations at what level of spread and cases we should mask and unmask for. This would work well with in school testing during times of high transmission.
What in your background or experience makes you a good choice for the school board?
Emily Berry - I am seeking a second term on our board, so as with any incumbent, that experience is my primary credential. I would argue that the last three years have presented the most extreme challenges possible to our board, and we weathered them well. As a group, we were able to navigate COVID-19, the departure of our former Superintendent, the shortfall of state revenue to cover our district’s needs, and still make progress toward our strategic goals. I emphasize our group success because I think it’s important that board members work with the others on the board in a constructive way for the good of the students we serve.
My personal and professional experience is also a strong complement to my service. I am an active community member and a parent to two Shorewood students. My background in journalism, communications and marketing has been helpful in serving on our board. I spent years honing my listening and communications skills as a journalist. I also learned how to research effectively, how to fact check, and how to look beyond spin. My current work in Marketing is at a fundamental level about empathy - about imagining an audience’s needs, and offering solutions.
Beyond what I do for a living and my understanding of the issues before the board, my temperament is well-suited to board work. I am often a skeptic, but not a cynic. I am organized but flexible. I can comfortably consider gray areas where others see black and white. I can absolutely work alongside those who disagree with my politics, but I will not compromise my core values.
Becky Freer - I grew up in the city of Milwaukee where I attended public schools. My experiences in MPS have shaped my commitment toward equity, my mindset that students of all backgrounds have qualities that guide their success, and my foundational belief that communities benefit from strong schools. In college, I pursued a degree in secondary education where I student taught at Bay View High School and gained licensure to teach middle and high school English and mathematics. In graduate school, I pivoted my career toward higher education and focused on students’ transitions to college. I have devoted my career to identifying concrete strategies to address structural inequities so that students of all backgrounds, identities, and abilities can achieve their highest goals.
Currently I am an associate dean of students at a university. I have taught students of diverse backgrounds, written policies, analyzed data, researched students’ experiences, implemented support programs, and led equity action plans. Additionally, I have two kids in Shorewood schools giving me first-hand knowledge of what students are learning and experiencing in our schools. I hope to use my knowledge and experience to serve the Shorewood community as a member of the school board.
Andrew Frey – I am a former teacher and assistant principal. Those two positions give me a unique understanding of what students and teachers are experiencing within the schools. It also gives me an understanding of what are realistic expectations for teachers and how much change and growth is attainable in a year. I am currently a small business owner that has helped me learn more about budgeting and working with a variety of people in various places. Finally, being a parent gives me a new perspective from the parent point of view and expectations from a school.
Are there any curriculum or diversity/equity issues that you think the current Board members are not addressing? If so, what would you do differently?
Emily Berry - Our board has worked very diligently to advance our district’s goals around academic excellence and equity. COVID-19 made our work to guide and monitor our district’s performance more urgent than ever, but also more difficult. Data and test scores from 2020 and 2021 will forever have an asterisk beside them, because on a practical level we were not able to deliver education in the same ways, and did not measure proficiency and growth the same way as in the past. Although our district found innovative ways to adapt and even improve our measurements around academic growth and proficiency, tracking trends will be complicated by that COVID-19 asterisk.
Rather than suggesting a different path forward around our equity work, I ask for community support. District leaders and teachers are working very hard to navigate the “new normal.” Remember that they are working with a shortage of resources thanks to insufficient state funding, and they are still emerging from two years of pandemic learning. Many are struggling to push past burnout and stress worsened by the pandemic. Like districts around the country, we are seeing more teachers retire and others leave the profession entirely. As a board member, it is my difficult task to both support those teachers, staff and administrators, and to ask for more from them.
The next few years will be challenging in new ways: our work implementing a new framework for excellence and equity in learning is challenging. It requires patience, while time and energy is already scarce. We will face a major budget shortfall in the next year due to the legislature’s refusal to increase state aid. Our board will benefit from experience, patience and steady leadership as we continue to press for equity, growth and excellence for all students.
Becky Freer - I hesitate to state that the district is not addressing specific curriculum or equity issues as I suspect that I may not be aware of everything. Nonetheless, here is my plan if elected to the Board.
I believe we must critically examine data on school perceptions, student engagement, and achievement broken down by multiple intersecting factors (e.g., income, race, disability) to identify gaps and areas of concern to guide priorities (e.g., writing skills, reduce suspensions, more diverse advanced learners, resources for students with IEPs). Additionally, student focus groups will yield a nuanced understanding of challenges, perceptions, and needs of students.
In coordination with district employees, we should identify key metrics and set targets for which to be accountable. For example, our district has five strategic priorities; however, targets are not posted. Furthermore, strategies should be aligned with desired outcomes (e.g., writing-focused instruction), be evidence-based (e.g., authentic learning), minimize obstacles to learning (e.g., reduced/no activity costs), and be affirming.
In addition to the above ideas, all students, employees, and caretakers should feel they belong. Our efforts must be proactive and intentional. Further, several small acts can greatly impact our climate. For example, a supportive nudge to join a club can boost a student’s confidence, and better information sharing may engage more caretakers. One possible strategy is to ask all employees to complete self-guided inventories of large and small action items that foster inclusion. This approach introduces new ideas, reinforces both autonomy and collaboration, impassions employees to act, and can be done alongside more comprehensive structural equity efforts.
Advancing equity must be a community-wide effort where we all are included and invested in advancing a vision where all students can achieve at high levels. As a school board member, my approach will be inclusive, strategic, and practical.
Andrew Frey – I think the current board is doing a fantastic job making diversity and equity a priority. If I were on the current board, I would ask the district administration for data driven programing to reach the diversity and equity goals of the district. I would then insist on public meetings to present the program and allow for a question-and-answer period after the presentation allowing for questions from all parties.
As far as curriculum goes, I would like to see more opportunities for students of all ability levels to reach their full potential and close academic attainment gaps.