How Do Wisconsin Students Judge The Candidates For State Superintendent?

Feb 17, 2017

If you think about it, an election is sort of like a job interview: candidates present their ideas, hoping the public will hire them.

The three men campaigning to be Wisconsin’s superintendent are nearing the end of the “first round interview,” ahead of next week’s primary.

But rather than surveying voters, we assembled a “hiring committee” – of students!

We wanted to know: How do students think the candidates’ ideas might work in classroom? The Milwaukee-area middle and high school students who assembled for this hypothetical committee come from a diverse set of backgrounds, as well as from a variety of school settings -- public, charter, voucher.

We gave each kid one sheet of information about each candidate; these mimicked “resumes.” The only thing missing, were the candidates’ names.

After some light reading, these students had plenty to say! 

Candidate A: Challenger Lowell Holtz
Students' insights into Lowell Holtz's platform.

Holtz proposes letting parents opt their kids out of standardized tests. Nicolet High School junior Eden Snider-Schmidt is skeptical of the idea…

“I think standardized testing is a necessary evil, in some cases,” he says. “I think it’s way overused right now. We just constantly get abruptly pulled out of the middle of a unit or something like that, because we have to take some tests.”

Candidate Holtz has also made school safety a big part of his campaign. Safety is a big plus for Rondell Jones-Mills, a sophomore at Milwaukee Collegiate Academy.

“Violence [does] keep students from school, because if a lot of violence is going on, you don’t want to get hurt, so you won’t probably attend school,” Jones-Mills explains. “I think it’s good that he’s trying to enforce more security.”

Nicolet High School junior Julia Bohlen reads through candidates' campaign materials.
Credit Rachel Morello
Candidate B: Challenger John Humphries
Pros & cons students compiled about John Humphries' campaign ideas

Carmen High School freshman Savanna Studebaker thinks Humphries’ past experience working with at-risk kids would be helpful.

“He wants to train the teachers with the challenges of at-risk students, so they know how to go over those situations – they’ll understand, and then they know how to handle it the right way,” she says.  

But Savanna’s classmate, Hanson Huynh, disagrees. He thinks Humphries’ training strategies would result in cookie-cutter teachers and classrooms.

“I feel as if, if you train teachers, that’s just taking part of how they teach and how they run their classes,” Huynh counters. “It could be a good and a bad [idea], depending on what type of teacher they are.”

Here’s what some other students listed as their pros and cons:  

Students: What Qualities Do You Look For In a Leader?
Create your own infographics

Candidate C: Incumbent Tony Evers
A yard sign supporting incumbent Evers in the Whitefish Bay area.
Credit Rachel Morello

As in other elections, voters will be able to see on the ballot which superintendent candidate is running as the incumbent.

Marisa Rodriguez, a senior at St. Joan Antida High School, sees Evers’ experience as a good thing.

“The fact that [he has] been superintendent for two terms already – they definitely have experience doing the job,” she says.

Evers has advocated for extra resources to go to the neediest kids. Carmen sixth grader Sahara Champeau likes the idea of the state providing more staff and supports for struggling students.

Check out what the "hiring committee" thinks about Tony Evers' platform

I feel like he cares about what other kids go through,” Champeau explains, adding, “if he actually became a teacher here at Carmen, a lot of people would like him because he would step into what a kid would think, instead of what everybody else would think."

In general, these students have lots of thoughts about what a good superintendent would do. And they say, they wish they could be a part of the process!

“I wish we could vote!” exclaims Marisa Rodriguez. “We’re the ones actually in the education system, that they’re fighting to have control over!”

Those of us who are old enough to vote, can do so on Tuesday, February 21.

The top two vote-getters will compete in the general election for State Superintendent of Public Instruction, on April 4.