Incumbents Cathy Myers, Jim Millard and Michelle Haworth will face off against challengers Audrey Smith and Amie Hughes in the Janesville School Board election April 5. The three incumbents are running again to keep their seats, while the challengers hope to grab a spot.
Myers is the current president of the board, where she has served since 2013. She is an English teacher at Hononegah High School in Rockton, Illinois.
Millard is the sitting vice president of the school board. Millard is a retired district custodian and has been on the board since 2016.
Haworth has been a board member since 2016. Haworth is a customer service manager for Stoughton Parts Sales.
Smith, one of the new candidates, is a lifelong Janesville resident and a registered nurse at SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital-Janesville.
Hughes is a co-owner of Hughes Custom Carpentry with her husband.
The Gazette asked the five candidates questions about the COVID-19 pandemic, learning loss, use of federal ESSER funding and more.
Q:How well do you feel the district handled the pandemic?
Haworth: It was a challenging time and one that no one is trained for. We were one of the few districts that were able to keep in-person learning happening during the pandemic. I believe we masked our students far too long. I’m thrilled to see them optional now so that students learning to read and interact socially can see their teachers faces and mouths and in general that all staff and students get to see each other’s smiles. I have already heard the mood in the schools is incredibly improved.
Hughes: I am disappointed in the way it was handled. I saw districts around us without mandatory masking or quarantining in full-time school for all grades. After the local health department moved masks to the recommended category, our district continued to enforce masking. There have been increased speech referrals as well as other deficits in education and emotional well-being.
Millard: I think by going by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, Rock County guidelines and using our own COVID-19 dashboard to explain just what we were doing, was very transparent and easy to understand. I think masking was one of the best ways to keep our buildings open for face-to-face classes.
Myers: I believe the district handled the pandemic well and here’s why. When we were ordered to close in person instruction in March of 2020, we revved up our distribution and use of technology. Our teachers redesigned lesson plans on the fly nearly daily. Our custodial and maintenance staff scrubbed our facilities and upgraded air systems to make our schools safe and clean for our students.
When we went back to in person instruction in the fall of 2020 we readjusted the high schools to meet every other day so that we could reduce the number of students in the room at any given time. We incorporated more technology to reduce person to person exposure. We instituted a mask policy when necessary. If there had been no mask policy, based on the quarantine rules, the number of students who would have missed school would have been astronomical. We kept school open; we kept students in classrooms as much as possible.
Smith: The Janesville School District did not handle the pandemic well for two reasons. First, the latest Department of Public Instruction report card puts Janesville in 404th place out of 421 school districts in the state, which means 403 other districts did something better during the global pandemic. Secondly, the current Board voted independently to mandate masking students despite having only a “recommendation” from the Rock County Public Health Department.
Q: What should be the priorities for how the district uses federal ESSER III funds?
Haworth: Only 20% of the ESSER funds are mandated to be applied to learning strategies, but I think that proportion should be higher. I want us to use as much of that money as possible to reduce class sizes, hire more staff and resources so our students can have smaller group and individualized learning to get caught up. I’d like more programs to be offered to help students learn how to study and get additional support on learning where they need it. I also want funding to go to hiring resources to meet the emotional and mental needs of our students given the negative impact the pandemic had on our students feeling isolated.
Hughes: I want to see the money spent in the best interest of the students and in bringing them up for a higher standard of learning. They are the ones who suffered the most through the last two years, and they should have extra tutoring, aides, therapies and support to help them succeed and get Janesville back to higher standards and learning strategies.
Millard: Twenty percent of the ESSER III funding has to be used on educator effectiveness. The rest of the money can be used to help our students catch up and help get them back on track so when they graduate, they are college and career ready. Tutoring, one-on-one teaching and smaller class sizes should also help them get back on track.
Myers: First, the ESSER III funds should go toward helping students recover from the impact COVID-19 had on their learning. That means providing one-on-one tutoring and services before and after school, reducing class size, and implementing social and emotional services. We have a proposal to use some of the money for staff bonuses. Absolutely I think we need to do everything we can to retain our staff. I am willing to consider the bonus, but I want to see the details of any plan first.
Smith: The pandemic created two problems for students: mental health issues and lost learning. Now, more than ever, this generation of students have issues none of us have faced before. How do we move forward? The ESSER III funds should be directly linked to help kids get back on track. Many have stunted social skills and anxiety. And the obvious; students fell behind academically.
Q: What qualities would you bring to the school board in the next term?
Haworth: As a mother of three children, two of whom are still in the school district, I feel I’m as vested in our district as anyone can be. The work we do directly affects my children, and it’s not a role I take lightly. I always make sure every decision I make is in the best interest of students and knowing that we must utilize our funds in the best way. I have a business background and have played a lead role in writing our superintendent evaluation. The superintendent metrics should flow from the top down, all the way to classroom teachers, so we’re all aligned and working toward the same goals. I ask that voters put more parents of current students on the board to ensure the board works for the best interest of our students.
Hughes: I have a lot of experience in business and finance and working with children. I’ve volunteered a lot in the community and am a lifelong Janesville resident. I would bring my experiences and strengths of organization, honesty, hard work, excellence and loyalty into making the school district the best it can be.
Millard: I think coming from the custodial ranks, I bring a different skill set. I worked for the school district for 27.5 years. I was also the president of our local 938 AFSCME and chief steward of our bargaining unit from 1994-2015. I helped negotiate contracts and represented union members in grievances and disciplinary actions. Having served two terms on the school board, I am better acquainted with the workings of the school district and have served on the finance, buildings and grounds, early literacy, and benefits committees and I have been the district representative on the gang abatement committee with the Janesville Police Department. I think all these committees give me a better insight as to the many things that go on in the district.
Myers: I think my best quality is that I love public school and respect everyone who serves their community in this way. I am also a teacher and I will push our district to find ways to create a balanced approach to education that incorporates an inviting and interesting program and high expectations and accountability. One of my other qualities is that I know that education keeps evolving and I am always open to new ways we can provide better service to our students.
Smith: As a professional registered nurse, every day I practice and implement compassion, science, critical thinking skills and best practices. I care for patients with critical emergencies and long-term health goals. I am also an advocate for children with special needs. Our son started in special education in first grade. Twelve percent of students in the district have special needs. I will be their voice because I understand how delicate their educational experiences can be.
Q: How should the district address learning loss from the pandemic?
Haworth: We should focus on closing the learning gaps through proven methods like smaller class sizes and small-group and individualized learning. We need to support our students mentally, emotionally and socially so they can go on to success. I want us to have consistent curriculum and learning strategies. To be successful, we also need to ensure we have top-quality teachers who provide engaged learning environments for our students. Our top-notch teachers have exciting techniques that should be shared with their peers so more can benefit.
Hughes: Some ways to address learning loss would be through tutoring; extra aides and staff for smaller class sizes; curriculum updates and changes; making sure the teachers are meeting the needs of the students; asking parents, teachers and administrators what their students and classrooms need for support; and looking at other communities that are succeeding and seeing what has worked for them.
Millard: Our district report card showed our scores were down in a number of categories, such as reading and math. We know that if you read to children at an early age, that gets them started on the way to a great reading experience. Another low score is in math. We purchased a new math curriculum this year that starts with our students in first grade and follows them through 12th grade using the same terminology.
Tutoring, one-on-one teaching and smaller classes will also be a big help in getting out students back on track to receiving a first-class education. We also know anxiety is high coming out of a two-year pandemic, and we have to address our students’ anxiety by listening and finding ways to make our buildings a safe and healthy environment for students to receive a great education.
Myers: The district should address learning loss through some of the methods I mentioned regarding the spending of the ESSER funds: tutoring, social/emotional services and small classes. There are many things we have already done to address learning loss and improve learning in general; it’s just that the results will take some time. Those things include our early literacy initiative and the alignment of curricular standards, practices and materials.
Smith: We need to meet students where they are. Ideas for addressing learning loss include smaller classrooms, more aides and implementing five-minute drills, a practice I recently observed in a charter school. In the final five minutes of every class for every student across the board, each student has to answer two questions on their Chromebooks about the day’s lesson. The teacher receives gets real-time results, and they dictate lesson plans for the next day when they can reteach core concepts or introduce new ones.
The Tour of America’s Dairyland bicycle races are set to return to downtown Janesville on June 16, but Janesville’s Town Square Gran Prix will revert to being a one-day event.
Paul Murphy, a local organizer for Janesville’s leg of the pro-am race series, said the tour selected downtown Janesville to host the kickoff of the major-circuit bicycle road race series.
Yet unlike 2021 when the city shut down traffic downtown to host two straight days of racing June 18 and 19, this year’s race opener hits Janesville for one day, Thursday, June 16, before moving on to East Troy on June 17.
Janesville agreed to host two days of the tour last year after a few perennial municipal hosts of the Dairyland tour had bowed out because the cities hadn’t yet repealed COVID-19-related event shutdowns. This year, the races are booked at all 11 intended tour stops.
For Janesville, the change means that downtown business operators and residents won’t have to contend with two full days of street closures during the closed-circuit bike races that require shutting down streets and taking over the downtown.
Murphy said East Troy and Janesville are close enough to one another that local hospitality industry officials expect more racers and race officials to stick around overnight than in past years. That could be a boon for downtown; the event has drawn between $250,000 and $700,000 in visitor spending each year in Janesville, according to local tourism surveys.
The races aren’t normally considered a tourism event that generates many overnight stays in local hotels, partly because tour participants tend to leave Janesville shortly after racing to get set up for the tour’s next leg, Murphy said.
The event in the past has drawn between 1,500 and 2,000 spectators to downtown during peak racing times Surveys by the Janesville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau show that nearly half those guests spend anywhere between $100 on $500 fuel, dining, entertainment and lodging while in town.
Because Janesville is hosting the kickoff, it could mean a big share of the tour’s organizers and officiants, plus dozens of racers, could spend the night of June 15 in Janesville.
“By having Thursday, opening day, we have travelers coming on Wednesday who wouldn’t usually be here,” Murphy said. “But then also, due to the proximity of East Troy and an afternoon start there on the second day of races, we think we’ll find more people staying here on Thursday night, too.”
Murphy said the gran prix this year sticks with the same “dog bone” route it has used since 2018, a closed circuit that uses the Court Street bridge as a two-way corridor for racers who will cross the river on a downhill run and then loop back across the bridge to complete the circuit along North Main Street, East Milwaukee Street and North Parker Drive.
Murphy said the dog bone course remains, at least for 2022, in large part because it has a “lesser impact” to businesses downtown than an earlier route that incorporated part of West Milwaukee Street and the Milwaukee Street bridge. He said a more compact race route also affects fewer intersections, which makes it easier for organizers to provide crowd control and security volunteers around the race course.
Last year, Janesville’s local organizers raised more than $30,000 in donations for primes—money awards the race organizers give racers who win certain laps of the races.
Visitors bureau Director Christine Rebout said Janesville hotels tend to book solid on Fridays and Saturdays. But she thinks local hotel operators should have ample staff by the summer to handle an uptick in midweek guests for the bike races or other events that return to the fold coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rebout said her organization already has set up blocks of rooms at several of its member hotels to accommodate guests whose stay is tied to the races.
Some Janesville City Council members called it a “logical next step” while others said the move “puts the cart before the horse.”
Either way, the council voted 5-2 Monday to direct the city to negotiate buying the 100,000-square-foot former Sears building at Uptown Janesville for $1 plus about $6,000 in closing costs to groom the property as the potential spot for a new ice arena and convention space.
The move will give the city control over the former Sears property at 2500 Milton Ave. and launch a design phase that over the next three to six months will flesh out what it will cost to clear the defunct former Sears building and construct the Woodman’s Community Center, a proposed two-sheet ice arena and conference center, on the same parcel.
Under the agreement, the city would have the option to transfer ownership of the site back to Uptown Janesville’s owner, RockStep Capital, if the city eventually decides not to go forward with the arena project.
The council’s decision came after more than hour of council members asking probing questions of city officials and Uptown Janesville’s owners, including whether major anchor tenants at the shopping mall, including Dick’s Sporting Goods, would sign off on the $28 million proposal that would replace the current single-sheet ice arena south of downtown.
Heather Miller, one of the council members who voted against the city forging a purchase agreement, wondered why the city needed to move on the project now.
As the council deliberated whether to pursue ownership of the Sears property, Tim Lindau, a local real estate attorney who represents RockStep Capital, told the council that as recently as last fall, RockStep had nearly moved to sell off the Sears property to another buyer.
Lindau said that near-decision came during a period of the COVID-19 pandemic when talk about the ice arena project had cooled off and the mall faced rolling retail closures and public health lockdowns that led to increased mall tenant turnover.
He said the council’s decision to pursue the city taking ownership of the property “really matters” to RockStep.
Tim Koltermann, a partner with RockStep, said the city’s commitment to buy the Sears building is “literally the first step in the reinvigorating” the mall.
He said an ice arena and multiuse sports and conference center space would provide a “constant source for a potential supply of shoppers.”
“That is what the mall needs,” Koltermann said.
Jennifer Petruzzello, the city’s neighborhood services manager, is taking the lead on crafting a $7 million grant funding request for the ice arena proposal. She told the city council Monday that under earlier concepts formed through council discussion, the city has told its design consultants to pursue project plans that would cost no more than $28 million. She said that works out to about a $24 cost per year for 20 years for the average Janesville homeowner. A private friends group, made up in part by people involved in the Janesville Jets junior hockey team that would be a primary tenant of the new facility, says it is committed to raising $7 million for the project.
The move to get the Sears space under city ownership, Petruzzello said, would give the city legal control over the property to move deeper into design work she said would determine whether an ice arena at the mall is feasible for the city.
Paul Williams, the other council member who voted against the move Monday who is up for reelection next week, said he is not convinced an ice arena can be built for $28 million given the specter of “30% inflation” in the cost of construction materials.
“Even though I’m going to have some people mad at me, I will be voting no,” Williams said.
Petruzzello said the consultants the city is working with can now access the Sears property and ramp up design and cost analysis work. She said the consultants would provide regular updates to the council on possible costs for the project as the planning process rolls.
Council member Paul Benson, who moved Monday to authorize the city negotiating to buy the Sears and is also up for reelection next week, said the city’s getting a linchpin property for what he considers a fair price.
“The city, as I see it, is the main beneficiary of this contract because we acquire a building that’s worth $3 million for $1,” Benson said. “Normally, those contracts cost much, much more than that.”
Some council members pressed RockStep to disclose how close it is to getting its anchor tenants and lienholders to sign off on an ice arena project at the former Sears.
Lindau said the city’s move Monday would inspire confidence, but he said talks with the anchor tenants, including Dick’s, is one significant remaining challenge that could take weeks.
“We’re working as hard as we can already to get their consent,” Lindau said.
Robert “Bob” Aebly
Asher M. Bondehagen-Meskan
Catherine M. Butler
E. Jane Harries
Kathleen E. Loranger
Linda Beth Martin
Edith “Marie” Potter
Betty J. Townsend
Thomas Alfred “Tom” Waeffler
District staff and community leaders peppered Janesville School District superintendent finalist Mark Holzman with questions about teacher concerns, diversity and his management style Monday night at the Janesville Country Club as part of daylong second interview with the school board.
It was the first of three such meet-and-greets scheduled this week, with fellow finalists Cassandra Schug scheduled to visit Wednesday and Ryan Krohn coming Thursday. Those who attended were allowed to ask the candidate questions in an open format that took around 30 minutes.
Holzman attended with his wife Shawn, a fifth-grade teacher in the Manitowoc Public School District, where Holzman is currently superintendent.
Asked what he thinks are some of the key issues the Janesville district faces, he referred to data from the Wisconsin Public Department of Instruction and highlighted student attendance.
“Specifically, our students of color are one thing that has to absolutely improve,” Holzman said. “34% of our students of color are what they call chronic absent, which means that they missed 20 or more school days in the semester. And when you miss school, it’s not likely that you’re going to achieve at high levels academically.”
He added that there might be a variety of reasons as to why that is happening. Perhaps those students don’t feel welcome at school, or their families are not engaged.
Another topic raised by the audience was how he might listen to teacher concerns.
Holzman gave an example of a time he subbed in for three different staff members for a day each as a raffle prize that gave them a day off. This allowed him to step into the shoes of a kindergarten teacher, a middle school custodian and a high school physics teacher.
The kindergarten experience, he said, ended up being a great lesson, when he decided to bring his favorite snack, popcorn, for all the students to have.
“At the end of the day, I had to apologize to the custodian because there was popcorn everywhere,” Holzman said. “I mean, I was trying to pick it up, but it was all smashed on the floor.”
Oakleigh Ryan of Forward Janesville asked Holzman about his management style. He said that first and foremost, his vision must be the district’s vision.
“If you’re expecting the superintendent to come in and create some vision that everybody’s going to adopt, that’s not going to happen,” he said. “Culture is something that we have to work through.”
While answering a question on what he looks for in a school district, Holzman said he looks for a community that has opportunities for diversity and has its own community values.
“I’m looking for a board that provides consistency and support. And I’m looking for a district that is looking for excellence,” he said. “Finally, I’m looking for a place where I can make a difference with my background and my experience.”
Holzman has been the superintendent for Manitowoc Public School District since 2015. Manitowoc’s district is about half the size of Janesville’s at 5,000 students. He was a finalist for a superintendent job in Wauwatosa last April. Prior to Manitowoc, he worked in the Sheboygan Area School District for almost 13 years.
At the event, flyers were posted on the walls that encouraged attendees to share their feedback. A QR code would be scanned, which linked to a Google form.
The form questions included: