Five residents are competing for three open seats on the Janesville School Board.

Incumbent Greg Ardrey is joined in the race by Cathy Burt, who managed an architectural software firm; former financial adviser Curt Parish; Paull Chiropractic co-owner Elizabeth Paull; and John Hanewall, a retired teacher.

Jessica Davis also will appear on the ballot, but in February she announced she was withdrawing from the race because of a new job.

The Gazette asked the candidates these questions:

Q: What will be your biggest focus if elected?

Ardrey: My biggest focus would be the diversity, equity and inclusion, along with the financial health of the district and continuing to make sure the curriculum that we have is focused on students today.

Burt: Focusing on getting our proficiency rates up, particularly in reading, as well as getting our percentages up in the DPI (Department of Public Instruction) accountability report cards.

Hanewall: My biggest focus would be the recruitment and retention of quality teachers and staff because right now the district is losing too many quality people—especially experienced teachers with 10-plus years. Every year, we lose about 18%. So my focus would be on retention and recruitment.

Parish: My biggest focus is always going to be on the students. Our top priority should be preparing them for life after high school, regardless of what direction they’re going in. And I think, right now, determining the academic momentum at all levels of schools should be our top priority and then determining what’s necessary to get them back on track.

Paull: Sometimes on boards—and I’m not saying our board—it might appear as though decisions are being made for our community, for the kids, for the schools and not always including their voices. And because of the advocacy and the networking that I have done in the community with all of these parents and families and kids, I feel that it puts me in a really great position to make sure that those voices are being heard when decisions are being made.

Q: The district has outlined a long list of financial and facilities needs. Would you support future referendums? Why or why not?

Ardrey: Yes. As the committee chair of the finance buildings and grounds committee, we vetted the list and looked at the building needs, and to continue to have viable buildings out into the future, we will need to do work on them.

Burt: I would want to look at what exactly it is that they’re wanting to get more taxes for. I’m more of a fiscal conservative, so I would really want to look over it very closely.

Hanewall: I think that’s a hard question to answer without knowing what the specific needs are. Yeah, I think that if we as a board, the community, families, if after an in-depth study of what the needs were, then I think it’d be easier to answer whether or not I would support future referendums.

Parish: I supported the referendums last fall, but I’d have to take a close look at any new referendums. I think we’ve made some progress, but we do have very old schools in the district that have been well-maintained. But it might take some more money to keep them up. I think one of the questions right now is COVID relief money, and nobody seems to know for sure the amount, but that’s a possible use for some of the money, maybe we could avoid a referendum.

Paull: I will always support our schools. Going forward, it’s going to be much harder if we feel the need to try for a referendum. It’s gonna have to be absolutely bare bones and mandatory and no other way that we could approach a situation. I wholeheartedly supported November’s referendum. Going forward, we would have to be very cautious.

Q: The pandemic has changed the look of education this past year. How has it changed your view of district needs, if at all?

Ardrey: It hasn’t changed my view of what the district needs. I think what has become clear is the connection of students and teachers and what that really does. We’ve seen that there is a certain style of learning that takes place virtually, that doesn’t take place in person. And we now have a better understanding of that so we can have better guidance for students who consider virtual learning as an option.

Burt: I don’t know that the needs have changed. I think the needs are still there, but there may be more in the mental health area across the board. We’re all social creatures, and we need interaction. We need each other, and I’m very concerned about the younger ones with the fears that they’ve seen around them.

Hanewall: I think the pandemic has shown us that there are lots of ways to teach, that students learn differently, and I think going forward, we need to look at what are the needs of the students, what are the needs of families, how can we reach those students maybe outside the classroom.

Parish: I think the district has done a very good job in addressing the pandemic. We had the choices of schooling virtually or face to face or some combination. But I think what we have to look at going forward is getting students caught up, which might mean reduce class sizes or additional staff, maybe summer schools. So there might be some money that needs to be spent in that area.

Paull: I think face-to-face instruction has proven to be more valid today than ever before. We know that kids do better—most kids, not all—do better in a one-on-one where they are interacting with an instructor together with kids with group environments, peer learning. But I also know that there are a lot of kids that have thrived in these unique environments. And I think our school district is recognizing that we just need to continue to diversify our offerings because we have so many unique learning needs. And we can really reach and help educate even more people by staying open to these different trends.