Coffee and Conversation with Dr. Michele Hancock and the KUSD School Board

By Betty Hernandez

Kenosha Unified School District Board of Education members Mary Snyder, Jo Ann Taube, Carl Bryan, Pam Stevens, David Gallo, Robert Nuzzo, and Rebecca Stevens, along with Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Michele Hancock, were at Carolyn’s Coffee Connection on Wednesday, June 22, to connect and collaborate with parents and community members. Topics of conversation included ways in which recent budget cuts in Wisconsin will affect the 2011/2012 school year and how changes in our educational system can help us to revitalize and improve the educational experience for teachers as well as students.

Informal, collaborative conversations took place in scattered groups and Dr. Hancock and various school board members circulated and listened to ideas and suggestions as well as answered questions about educational goals for the future. Community members and some of the school board members expressed concern surrounding the loss of jobs in our area and the need to attract more business. Kenosha offers a good location and some feel that more businesses will move to our area if we improve our quality of education. That’s not a monumental task, according to Dr. Hancock. Listening to her talk builds a fire under the most lackadaisical listener and inspires those who are discouraged to pick up the gauntlet and continue on.

Despite the budget cuts in education for the 2011/2012 school year, Dr. Hancock describes a bright future for Kenosha Schools. Programs are currently in place for evaluating the summer school program and wireless online assessment systems are planned for all schools. Wireless technology systems will give teachers immediate feedback regarding what students have learned as well as provide access for learning through technology. Pilot programs that took place during the 2010/2011 school year were highly successful and, as a result, all elementary school buildings will be wireless for the 2011/2012 school year. The new technology has become available through educational technology grants and KUSD is moving in the direction to have wireless technology installed in all schools.

Dr. Hancock believes in children. When asked if larger classrooms are going to deprive slower learners of a quality education, she replied “There is nothing out there that says lower class size affects the quality of education. The quality of teachers is what affects education.” She also does not believe in remediation. “You don’t remediate children, you accelerate them!” She also says that over publication of what is wrong with our children is reinforcing negativity, which gives children the idea that they cannot succeed. “The calling is not to label children. The labels belong on soup cans – not on the children! Our job is to uplift – to help every child reach his or her potential!”

Dr. Hancock explained how some children become disinterested in school. Somewhere between the ages of 8 and 9, some children learn that “school is not for me,” and anyone who is observant can see the spark go out – their eyes grow dim when they no longer want to try. Teachers need to be trained to recognize this loss of spark – this dimming in a child’s eyes – and taught to find a way to reach each child. “If the child can’t succeed, the education needs to change!” Dr. Hancock went on to describe words that bother her: “At risk” suggests potential failure; why can’t we say “At promise?” She added that “disadvantaged” has negative connotations that discourage children into thinking they have no hope. Why can’t we say “has potential” instead? By accentuating the positive, that which was hopeless in a child’s eyes becomes a possibility. Children can’t pick their environment, they have no choice about where they find themselves, but they do have potential. Instead of disillusioning them, we need to turn kids on to a lifetime of education so they’ll always know that they never stop learning.

Dr. Hancock described a plan that is currently in place to bring about this type of change. We can no longer keep blaming the children – we will educate the teachers to teach the children. We have many effective educators out there and we will target teachers to improve their strategies. Improving the mindset of the educators will improve the mind of every child. Some of our teachers have burned out. We need to provide the spark to show them it’s not over. Some teachers may not know how to meet all of the needs in their classrooms. We will target teachers to improve their strategies, improving the mindset of the educators so they can improve the mind of every child. Teacher consultants and coordinators are currently observing classrooms with a laser-like focus to define the need for teacher training so that effective follow-up and training will help them learn to meet the needs in their classrooms. They will be taught technical solutions, methodologies, and strategies that will assist them in reaching every child. Since children are not all alike and some learn differently than others, we need to have our schools in place to meet the needs of the children. This is what it’s all about – empowering teachers to teach and children to learn. “Five years from now,” she said, “I want to walk into the high schools and see a college scene – small collaborative groups, hubs of structured learning going on. Not the bell rings and they move like herds of cattle, but collaborative groups with facilitators at the helm. This is the kind of empowerment she envisions… students working and learning together, empowering one another, with a dedicated educator guiding them.

Dr. Hancock describes her first year as School Superintendent as a “growing, learning situation. She wanted to obtain a feel for the Kenosha Unified School District, so on the weekends she was out in Pleasant Prairie, Somers, and Kenosha, talking with parents, groups, and other organizations to get a sense of the community. She recognizes problems as her friend because she learns from them. As a result of that, everybody now talks to Dr. Hancock. People are not hesitant to stop and approach her because they have become comfortable with her. She has been highly visible and approachable.

Although the gathering at Carolyn’s was small, Dr. Hancock and the president of the School Board, Mary Snyder, feel this gathering offered an excellent venue for Dr. Hancock to share her views as well as get feedback from parents and the community. This type of input is valued because it enhances the communication process and helps educators to understand how they are being seen. It also provides an opportunity for community members to give opinions and make suggestions, all of which Dr. Hancock welcomes. The purpose is gathering ideas from the community that can be built into the education program.

Two more informal forums have been scheduled at Carolyn’s (located at 1351 52nd Street in Kenosha) to continue the communication process that has begun. If you are interested in contributing to the educational process in Kenosha County, please join Dr. Hancock and the members of KUSD School Board on July 20 and August 17. They really would like to meet you and get your opinions and ideas on education in Kenosha.


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