Racine Superintendent James Shaw delivered the annual "State of the District" address on Tuesday night. Here are a few key points of his talk:
* About 75 people attended the address at SC Johnson's Golden Rondelle theater.
* Shaw talked a lot about his "North Star" initiative, which is a goal to have every Unified student college or career-ready by the time they graduate. A key aspect of the "North Star" is measuring student and school performance.
* Shaw noted Racine has more impoverished children than most school districts in the state, but is spending less per student than most school districts in the state. "We are addressing above average needs with below average resources," he said.
* Unified is working on ways to use numbers to evaluate school safety. He said it's a priority to keep children safe in schools.
* Saying he wants to give parents "options," Shaw threw out a few innovative ideas:
- It's time for Unified to open a kindergarten through eighth-grade school, he said.
- Unified needs one or two new elementary schools to lower class sizes. An audience member asked if the former Caddy Vista Elementary in Caledonia would be an option. Shaw said no sites have been chosen for the proposed schools, but they would be built where kids live, and early analysis suggests the new schools would be needed in the city.
- Expand the Walden and REAL School programs to more students.
- Expand Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) programs, which offer high-level classes to students.
- Open a virtual school that would allow students to attend classes online. Shaw said Unified is one of the few districts in the state not to have a virtual school option, and it's losing some students because of it.
* "The community wants a voice in Racine's schools," Shaw said. "They want a say." He added the community has supported Unified for years by passing referendums and working to improve the district.
* Unified's diversity is a strength, Shaw said. "It's a reflection of America," he said.
* Shaw's concluding point was to "never give up" on trying to improve Racine Unified. He told a story about reading an essay written by a high school student. He was moved by the essay and asked for the student to be recognized at a School Board meeting. The teacher said it wasn't possible, because the student was in juvenile detention. Shaw told the teacher he was "deeply disappointed." The teacher responded: "What are you going to do? Give up?" Shaw's response: "We don't ever give up."
* An audience member asked if Unified was working on a way to allow parents to check students' grades online. Shaw said the district is working on such a program. He also noted Unified trails many districts in offering this service, which is now limited to Case High School. "We need to move in that direction," Shaw said.
* Shaw said if his plans aren't working, the School Board should find someone new to lead the district. "If the needle doesn't move, the School Board should find a new superintendent," Shaw said.
He added similar accountability can't be brought down to the teacher level because there are too many factors that go into individual success. It's the administrators who should be held responsible for district-wide improvement.
"When schools don't make progress, central office has a problem," Shaw said.