Ballots for the Presidential election are still being recounted in Dane and Milwaukee Counties. Lawsuits in Georgia, Pennsylvania, and a few other states concerning the Presidential election are making news. Wisconsin will probably be on this list in a week or so. And the Primary Election for State Superintendent of Public Instruction (SSPI) will happen in mid-February; less than three months from now. This Primary will determine the two candidates for the April 6th non-partisan election to determine who will lead Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction (DPI) for the next four years.
Currently Carolyn Stanford Taylor is the SSPI having been appointed in 2019 to fill the vacancy when the previous SSPI, Tony Evers, was elected Governor. Evers was initially elected in 2009 which was the last time this was considered an open seat (no incumbent). Taylor had announced earlier this year that she would not be a candidate. Taylor’s previous experience includes time as a teacher and principal in the Madison Metropolitan School District.
While I hadn’t heard any candidate names for SSPI, I did a little research and discovered there are five active candidates. These candidates must collect nomination signatures beginning December 1st and before January 5th. If more than two candidates meet the nomination requirements there will be a Primary Election on February 16th.
The five candidates are:
- Sheila Briggs has been at DPI since 2011 and previously had spent 16 years with the Madison School District. She is running on the theme of fixing the problems at DPI – where she has been employed for the past nine years!
- Joe Fenrick is a high school science teacher and a college geology lecturer. He appears to be the only candidate without educational administration experience. However, he also appears to be the only candidate with elected public leadership experience being in his third term as a Fond du Lac County Board Supervisor.
- Troy Gunderson recently retired as Superintendent of the West Salem School District after a 35-year career in public education to include twenty-five years with the West Salem School District. The other ten years were also in western Wisconsin.
- Deborah Kerr is a former Superintendent of the Brown Deer School District which is a Milwaukee suburb. Most recently, she was the former President of the National School Superintendents Association. From this experience she probably has a good network of educational innovators.
- Jill Underly is the Superintendent at rural Pecatonica School District and has had previous employment experience at DPI. Her resume has a variety of experiences.
It is time to study all the candidates for this critical leadership position for Wisconsin’s public schools. I certainly haven’t picked a favorite, but Troy Gunderson of West Salem has caught my interest. He has Superintendent experience and can relate to needs of the School Districts in the Coulee Region better than someone from Madison or Milwaukee. He will bring new ideas to DPI and not rely on past practices. His twenty-five years with the same school district is noteworthy and probably better than someone that moves from job to job. Joe Fenwick’s experience on the Fond du Lac County Board is unique and possibly beneficial but he appears to lack educational administration experience.
Study the candidates. Get involved. Ask some tough questions. Help one of them get nomination signatures. Make suggestions for improvements to public education. Share your conservative values. Good luck!