School board elections take place on April and in District 8 there are three candidates and, therefore, a primary on Feb. 5. In order to help you make a more informed decision at the polls in this race, which often flies under the radar, we've asked each of the 11 candidates -- running for five seats on the 9-member board (there are eight regional districts and one at-large seat) -- to respond to a list of questions and we will run them in the weeks leading up to the election.
Today we hear from Terrence Falk, who is currently on the board representing District 8 on the South Side. A map of districts is here. Falk is running for the board's at-large seat, against Susan Schmidt and Ken Kraucanas.
OnMilwaukee.com: Tell us about your background and how your experience will be an asset to the Milwaukee Public Schools board.
Terrence Falk: I taught 31 ½ years in Milwaukee Public Schools, most of that at Juneau High School in speech and English. My Juneau debate team won a state championship in 1997. I know education, up front and personal. I do my research and visit schools on a regular basis.
OMC: Are you a graduate of MPS or other public schools? Do or did you have kids in MPS?
TF: Both daughter and son graduated from Juneau. Katie in 1997, Carl in 2000.
OMC: What do you think is the biggest issue facing MPS and what is your plan of attack?
TF: Our biggest challenge is having the belief that we can make things better in the city. This extends far beyond just MPS. We can’t run away from our problems. We hired a "can do" superintendent. We must lift up every corner of our community, not just a school here or a neighborhood there. This community has to pull together and believe in itself.
OMC: What is your opinion on talk of expanding the voucher and Milwaukee Parental Choice Program?
TF: There is no proof that choice has improved education in Milwaukee. It probably made it worse. For every good choice school out there, there is another much worse than MPS. Having school compete creates not just winners and losers in schools, but also in children.
OMC: Is there an opportunity for MPS to hold on to students and even draw some back via expansion of specialty schools or other means?
TF: Specialty schools are great, but we can’t fix the whole system just relying on specialty schools. We need to make every school great. Our new superintendent, Gregory Thornton, says we can’t simply rely on "islands of excellence." He wants to make system-wide changes, not simply trying to fix MPS school by school. That means principal development, a single reading program instead of 17 reading programs, and a clear direction for all schools.
OMC: How will you work to engage parents in their schools?
TF: We need to work with all parents on how they can help their own children grow and learn. Too much time has been used on just getting a few parents on school governance councils and us saying we now have parent involvement.
OMC: How do you think MPS can best expand on the successes in the current system?
TF: Our biggest need is to have great principals. We can’t get them simply by sorting through prospective principals like they are apples in a barrel. Pick the good apples; throw the bad apples away. We need to grow our own through principal development.
OMC: How can MPS deal with the ongoing budget problems -- that are poised to grow even worse as the district loses $90+ million in stimulus money, for example -- and still offer quality education to Milwaukee children?
TF: We will have to close some buildings. We did agree to health insurance changes with the MTEA that will save us millions of dollars each year. But we have to be honest to the public -- some cuts proposed by the state may hurt children.
OMC: There has been much discussion lately of vacant MPS buildings. What is your opinion on the future of these buildings?
TF: Many of these buildings are so old that no one would honestly want them. We are presently using buildings that are 120 years old. We should close our worst buildings and tear them down. The land can be used for something else. If a new school is to go into that space, economically it
would be better to build new than to remodel.
OMC: Finally, do you think spring school board elections are problematic? Do they guarantee low turnout at the polls?
TF: We do have only a handful of voters in the spring elections, but they are more likely to have studied the issues. I don’t think having more people voting makes our democracy better if they haven’t studied the issues. My fear is that the school board races may get lost in the other electoral issues in a fall campaign. I’m not against changing the elections to fall; I just don’t think it solves anything.