Whitefish Bay School Board Questionnaire
What is your response to the attempt to remove books from our libraries?
Kristin Bencik-Boudreau - I was appalled at the attempt to remove books from our libraries. It was an attempt at censorship that had a clear racial and homophobic agenda. Our district has multiple policies in place to review what books are used in our kids education. Any books that might be deemed controversial, especially at the elementary school level, parents receive a notification about prior to children seeing them and parents have the decision if they want their child to read it. I feel it is important that the decision about what books parents are comfortable having their child exposed to occur at the home level. Parents who have concerns about books in libraries or in the classroom can follow district policy to express their opinions and have those resources re-evaluated.
Nathan Christenson - As a community member, I was appalled and dismayed by that email, but like many other community members, also motivated to show that the sentiment in that email was not shared widely across our community. I let as many friends and neighbors know about the upcoming meeting as possible. I was convinced that the more people attending the meeting, the better.
As a Board Member, my concern was for a productive and constructive annual meeting. My role as Vice President and Clerk was to make sure that no matter what happened, we would have an orderly meeting with trustworthy results. After the August masking meeting, we had no idea what to expect. The Board and Administration spent many hours preparing the procedures and materials for that meeting, and I believe we were well-prepared.
In the end, the email had the opposite effect than its author seemed to intend. It did elicit an emotional response and motivate community members, but to come out and support the schools.
I also think it’s important to note that books were never in danger of being removed from libraries. There is an existing process for people to request a review of material in one of the District’s libraries someone feels is inappropriate, and, to my knowledge, no one ever started this process. Removing material was never discussed or considered by the Board or the Administration.
For the record, I believe that it’s essential for information to be freely and widely available to our students and community. I don’t like or agree with everything that gets written, but I do not believe in limiting access to information or censorship. I do believe that the free access to information and ideas leads to a better-informed, more inclusive, and stronger community.
Dan Tyk – This is obviously a hot-button issue across School Boards nationwide. I believe that libraries should be a space for people to go to when they want to expand their knowledge and learn more about things that interest them and fit their beliefs as well as a place to learn about other perspectives that may not conform to what they initially felt were their beliefs.
School libraries should thoughtfully evaluate the books they purchase to ensure that they are age appropriate for the school type in both context and reading level, but should not use personal beliefs or values in that evaluation. So, in short, unless there is reason that the librarian, literacy coach, reading interventionists or curriculum administrators feel the book significantly exceeds the abilities of a student to read and comprehend the writing there is no reason to remove books from libraries. Instead, families should work to ensure they are active participants with their children and learn what books come home.
Engaging their student in reading and learning together and then discussing the theme or topic within the book if they so choose, Likewise, families can also elect to ask their student to refrain from certain books if they so choose, but books should be removed from those who want the chance to learn from them.
In what cases do you think mask mandates are needed?
Kristin Bencik-Boudreau - Our district went to mask optional starting 2/28/22. Our decision was made two days prior to the new CDC guidelines coming out. My decision to drop the mask mandate was based upon our high vaccination rate and low burden rate. We have metrics that include a burden level of 350 and/or greater than 3% transmission in school that would trigger a mask mandate again. Masking allowed our children to remain in school every day- even with the Omicron surge. The number one goal of our district is maintaining in person learning and the safety of our staff and students.
Nathan Christenson - It’s really unfortunate that masking has become such a political issue; it makes it incredibly challenging to discuss. Our primary objective for this year was and is to keep all of our schools open five days a week for in-person learning. Masking has been an important part of mitigating the spread of the virus and accomplishing this goal.
We do have to consider, however, that masking does have an impact on how people interact with each other and that it interferes with some activities. Like everything else, the effects and limitations of wearing masks varies for individuals, just as the perceived and actual risks of contracting the virus varies.
So I have also encouraged the Board to discuss under what circumstances we will consider changing the policy. I think that the Board could do a better job communicating to the community, making it clear when and under what circumstances the mask policy will change. I also think that masking policies are ultimately local - they reflect local conditions and sentiment based on advice and guidelines from experts and agencies - so discussions on this topic are inevitable. I do wonder when the shift will happen to thinking of COVID as endemic, and how that shift and our understanding of the risk associated with the virus will change. We will not be masking forever.
Dan Tyk – This is a very challenging question to simply summarize in an open ended question. So much plays into determining risk and risk mitigation. I currently strongly support the mask mandates in place in the Whitefish Bay Schools. As a health professional, the current community spread is at it’s highest level since the beginning of the Pandemic.
The District Learning Plan prioritizes in-person learning, which I also agree is the most beneficial to our students. In order to continue to give our District the best chance to maintain in-person learning, I feel that the current mask mandate should remain in place. I have been vocal on School Board meetings in sharing that I believe once the population has had an opportunity to get vaccinated (we’re still not there with the youngest school learners in K4 being eligible yet) I think we have to look to transition back to what I will call a new “normal” of mask optional. I still elect to wear a mask just about anywhere I go.
Under what conditions would you consider going back to virtual schooling, and with what provisions?
Kristin Bencik-Boudreau - In person schooling is essential - and the only reason I would recommend going virtual would be if their is no staff to run the school safely. Our district did a remarkable job of staying open during the Omicron surge.
Nathan Christenson - One thing we’ve learned is that kids going to school is a linchpin of daily life – virtual schooling has a huge impact on learning, the physical well-being, social development, and the mental and emotional health of our children. It has a similar effect on parents and caregivers – many were unable to work as effectively or at all when school was virtual. Virtual schooling has a disproportionate effect on learners with special needs and those with unreliable access to the internet. It's also tough on teachers and staff.
In my view, shifting in and out of virtual learning is, if anything, worse than being stuck in virtual learning because it adds a level of uncertainty.
I think that moving to virtual schooling should be based on the availability of staff and educators and existing guidelines that dictate when and if we should close schools based on the number of students and staff that are not able to attend school because of illness.
Dan Tyk – Early in the year I was frustrated that the District didn’t put a lot of resources into ensuring a sound virtual option that was internally managed and instead opted to “outsource” the virtual learning to another educational entity. Last year, my own elementary school kids remained virtual for 3/4 of the school year and I felt they made consistent progress in-line with their in-person peers which was somewhat evident based on early standardized testing results across the elementary schools this year compared to 2019 testing data (although this testing is certainly not the end all be all).
The lift for virtual schooling is extremely heavy on the students, the families and the faculty. A transition back to virtual learning would have to be factored on many things and isn’t a simple answer. One of the biggest decision points is the ability to appropriately staff the schools. Coming out of the winter break, many of the District’s schools neared critical levels of staffing shortages. They were able to fill the gap with instructional staff from throughout their buildings (my wife included - she’s a reading interventionist at one of the two elementary schools in the District). While they worked on a razor-thin margin of staff, they worked together to ensure in-person learning could go on as safely as possible.
The District has come a long way with online infrastructure since the start of the pandemic, but there is more work to do. I believe the District should continue to work to ensure they are on the forefront of instructional technology to be responsive to any future needs that would require a learning shift. So, I don’t know there are specific “catch all” metrics to place on a decision like this and I think the evolving nature of the pandemic needs to allow for some fluid decision making.
Rumors about removing teachers to add more administrators? Is it true?
Kristin Bencik-Boudreau - That is blatantly false. We are not removing any teachers to add administrators. I would recommend people listen to our board meetings and review our agendas so they can have accurate information.
Nathan Christenson - I understand your concern, but this is not true. We have budget and personnel projections presented and discussed at our meetings, and nothing along these lines has been discussed. We have amazing teachers and staff, and retaining them is a priority, as is keeping class sizes as small as possible. We have lost teachers, but from what I've seen, it's not because of one issue - we have had retirements, or teachers have relocated, or their personal situations have changed.
I think it’s a point of pride that our District is run with a lean administration – we spend less on administration than comparable districts. This means we have a greater percentage of our funding to spend more directly on educating students.
Dan Tyk – We have already lost a lot of teachers. I’ve not heard this rumor. I know that currently the District is hiring and onboarding some pandemic specific positions (related to contact tracing and school health aides), but I am not aware of any additional administrative level positions. Both of the elementary schools did add Associate Principal positions this school year (which was a net gain of 1 administrator because previously the AP position was split between both elementary schools). There has been discussion about several language studies changes but I am not aware of those changes coming for a net gain of administrators.
There are certainly going to be some challenging years ahead with school funding and state-aid directly tied to the reduction in enrollment numbers from last school year (when some families elected to leave the District due to pandemic related choices). The funding is on a three-year rolling average, so those lower enrollment numbers won’t catch up to us until 2023-24 and tough decisions will need to be made.
I can assure you that if elected I will base my votes on fiscally responsible thought processes that prioritize ensuring we retain our outstanding school faculty. Recruitment and retention in education are of the utmost importance. Our District is what it is primarily because of the outstanding work of our teachers and faculty. As a graduate of Whitefish Bay High School in 2002, I can say that all of my post-high school education was easier because I was fortunate to have been educated by what I would consider to be the best educators in the State. Professors in college often commented when I told them where I graduated from about how often students from our District were top-academic performers compared to peers in their freshman year.
Curriculum related or diversity related issues that you think need to be addressed differently in the past?
Kristin Bencik-Boudreau - A focus on social emotional learning is the foundation for equity and inclusion, and I am committed to investing in SEL to help promote community. With Esser funds, we were able to start the Caring School Community at the elementary school level. The middle school practices the Circle of Power and Respect. In high school, numerous SEL practices are employed- from AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination Strategies) techniques, to health class, to counselor class visits. This focus on the development of community forges relationships of student to student, student to teachers, and students to school and district. Feeling a part of a community is the key to inclusion. I plan on continuing to support the targeted selection of materials, classes, and resources to help promote equity for all. In addition, continuing to educate our teachers on how to teach in ways that provide equity and inclusion are essential. We must make these lessons integrated into everyday school and teachings.
Nathan Christenson - I know that there was a student who required special education services and was unable to get them here in Whitefish Bay because of the 220 program agreement.
It’s hard to imagine a worse collision of what seemed just, what seemed possible, what seemed legal, and what seemed ethical. There was no good answer, and it’s not clear to me how it could have been addressed differently in a way that was feasible and could be consistently applied to all students. The motivation is to find a way to be able to have a different answer that is feasible and can be consistent – we have had a conversation about this at one meeting, and have more work to do.
Of course diversity is important. The District educates the children in our schools, which are the children in our community. One of the challenges in Whitefish Bay is that, as amazing as our community is, it is not that diverse. My understanding is that our diversity is increasing – the number of English learners in our schools has increased greatly (from a low base) over time – but that’s just one piece of diversity. It’s truly unfortunate that the 220 program has ended and our remaining 220 students will only be here for a few more years. We need to look for ways for our students to engage in the broader community, and to bring the broader community to our students.
Diversity in staff and administration is also important, and an area that we need to continue to work on. Every time we have an opening, we ask about the diversity of the candidate pool and if there is anything we can do to improve it.
One thing we can do is explore ways for the schools and the Village to create an inclusive environment. I think this is something that the entire community can work on together. Diversity should also inform our work on the curriculum - decisions about course offerings, course content, materials used in schools, the structure of the curriculum – to ensure that our students can relate to what they learn, that it reflects the world we live in, and that learning is relevant.
Dan Tyk – I’ve committed to learning more about the curriculum across all grades whether I am elected or not; because I’m truly not completely informed. From the information I’ve been able to gather thus far via participation in School Board Meetings this last two years and information from outside groups, on the surface, it appears there is quite a bit of talk from the board members about participation and attendance at local committees and groups but very little actionable change.
The Board has been slow to develop and commit to tangible goals on diversity. The District did take a step to name a Equity and Engagement Coordinator last year (Mr. Drew) and I am interested to learn what his perspective is now that he is settled into his new role. Likewise, I have engaged some of the recent Administrative departures in phone conversations and they’ve shared some interesting perspective on their time at the District related to this topic and others. I think that some of the recent changes implemented related to the Social Emotional Learning at the elementary schools is a very small step toward inclusivity.
One of the areas that I think the District that significantly improve is through the use of District-wide anonymous surveying of both students and staff. Recent surveys of “belongingness” throughout the schools raised some obvious areas of concern. I would like to see the Board direct the District to establish workgroups (including faculty and student participation - especially at the Middle and High School) to drive some of the goals and objectives for curriculum changes. The High School has a very active Black Student Union who is working to effect change and awareness of diversity and other issues. While the Board did have them present and acknowledge them at a meeting last fall, more can be done to engage this group and others to ensure every student feels like they belong.
What is the role of and how important are the arts in the school curriculum compared to more standard academic classes?
Kristin Bencik-Boudreau - The district places as much importance on development of the fine arts and other “non standard” academic classes as it does to the academic classes. Whole child development is at the core of our focus plan, and the fine arts classes are crucial to its development. I strongly advocated for the middle school wheel, which encourages introduction into all kinds of fine arts. Our graduation requirements also places the emphasis on having students take fine arts classes. Our district not only produces doctors, lawyers, and engineers- it also produces incredible musicians, artists, and other fine arts majors. The fine arts are essential to balancing a students education. My children personally have benefitted from band, choir, orchestra, and musicals.
Nathan Christenson - We should have the goal of producing well-rounded, well-balanced critical and creative thinkers who can participate and be a positive influence in a diverse and complicated world. A strong and varied arts program is a really important part of this goal – it promotes creativity and self-expression, fosters confidence, provides an outlet, and offers opportunities to find like-minded people.
Both traditional academic and art classes are critical to providing a well-rounded education and developing well-rounded people. As are woodworking classes, social and emotional learning, practical learning / internship programs, athletics, and the myriad of other electives, clubs and activities that our schools offer.
Dan Tyk – The Arts are an incredibly important part of molding and teaching our youth and young adults. While not “the arts”, I often feel I took the “atypical” Whitefish Bay path - I didn’t become a Doctor, Lawyer, Engineer …or other coveted career path that I sometimes feel so many parents expect from a Whitefish Bay education; I became a firefighter - a sort of “blue collar” job that isn’t the “norm”.
Likewise, one of my best friends from high school went on to double major in Music and eventually get her Master’s as well. She would go on to be faculty at two Colleges - teaching flute to students at some of the highest possible levels.
Another friend went on to Major in Theater and still performs around the country in various productions.
One of the reasons we were blindsided by the pandemic in my opinion was a failure to be agile - the District was so focused, almost to a fault on traditional textbook based teaching; and so specifically on math, English, the Sciences that we couldn’t easily pivot to be creative in the way we educate.
The Arts allow that creativity to flourish and there are so many ways to include them in traditional subjects while being a-traditional.
For years a group had tried to start a Robotics group to allow Math and science to be taught in innovative ways to stretch critical thinking and creativity and the District flat out wouldn’t support it (fortunately now it’s gained some support and traction at the District level).
Students are currently putting on an incredible production of Fiddler on the Roof that not only allows theatrical arts to show their talent, but also our incredible music and art programs through the pit orchestra and stage sets. This is what makes our Students incredible and helps prepare them to step out into “life” on their own. There are even more un-tapped ways to incorporate the arts in traditional classes. For example, business classes offered to upperclassmen could learn about marketing while helping to advertise and market the Fiddler on the Roof Production. Science classes could learn about sound and acoustics and could hone systems needed for the actors and orchestra. Physics could focus on light and help with lighting for the show. All of these ideas could help intertwine the arts with traditional curriculums in interesting and engaging ways that encourage critical thinking and real life experiences.
So, in summary, while standardized test scores are often the “measure” of a school’s success in the eyes of many, I think the encompassing opportunities that exist for our students in the arts, athletics and so many other curricular or extra-curricular opportunities are what truly allow our students to thrive and our community to be incredible.
People can feel free to email at [email protected] or message through the Facebook page “Dan Tyk for Whitefish Bay School Board”.