Three Janesville School Board candidates—incumbent Greg Ardrey and challengers John Hanewall and Elizabeth Paull—stood out during interviews with The Gazette Editorial Board, earning them the board’s endorsement.
The editorial board also interviewed Cathy Burt and Curt Parish, but they cannot match the experience, background and thoughtfulness displayed by the other three.
Jessica Davis also will appear on the ballot, but in February she announced she was withdrawing from the race because of a new job. She was not interviewed.
The editorial board has interviewed Ardrey through several election cycles, and every time he gets better.
His 12 years on the school board give him an advantage of knowledge, but beyond that Ardrey displays a calm levelheadedness and an insight to the issues that will serve the school district well. When asked about the school district’s persistent decline in enrollment, Ardrey described a circular relationship between economic development, student achievement and enrollment.
“We’re not necessarily trying to poach students from other districts, but we know we have a wonderful, comprehensive program, and if that’s attractive for other families and students, then that’s what we want to be,” he said.
Ardrey, who is Black, said it’s “not a major concern” for him that the growth in the Janesville School District’s minority student population is far outstripping the growth in minority teachers.
“I don’t think this is just a district issue … It’s more of a community issue,” he said. “In 1989, I can say the community was not very welcoming at all to me. It has improved over the years to some level, but there is still some way to go there.”
Hanewall would be a board member who makes sure he has enough information before he makes a decision.
When asked about the long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the education of Janesville children, Hanewall said we might never know, but he said children are resilient. As a child in a military family, he attended 13 schools.
“Children may fall behind at one point, but they’re resilient, and they may jump up and catch up with some extra attention,” Hanewall said. “Do we need to basically look at some remedial courses for students who have fallen behind? I think we need to find out exactly what those consequences have been before we start making a lot of decisions as to what to do.”
To the issue of attracting more minority teachers, Hanewall sees it as a problem that extends beyond the school district.
“I think we need to make not only the teaching experience and teaching district attractive, but we need to make the city and community attractive to minorities, people of color, who want to actually move to Janesville not just to fulfill contractual or scholarship need,” he said.
For somebody not already serving on the school board, Paull knows a lot about the schools.
She has children in the Janesville School District, owns a business with her husband, has experience teaching and is deeply involved in PTA. Her answers to questions from the editorial board were thoughtful and well-informed.
She believes the school district’s declining enrollment can be blunted with programs such as the Parker Arts Academy that make the district attractive to outsiders. She suggests that ARISE Virtual Academy could be attractive to families who travel.
Paull sees the emotional losses suffered by students, teachers and staff as biggest impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We really need to focus on mental health. That, to me, should be our number one focus,” she said.
Paull believes it’s a “huge concern” that the number of minority students is growing faster than the number of minority teachers.
“I’d like to see more transparency in the district in what’s going on so our public at large is more aware. There are a lot of things happening that are likely really positive changes and programming that the average community member doesn’t know,” she said. “It’s hard to know if your district is taking diversity issues seriously if they’re not widely advertised.”