Alex Kochanowski: School Board Actions Should Influence Young People
Left, Alex Kochanowski at a recent candidate forum. (City-Times photo)
City-Times Staff sat down with each candidate for Stevens Point School Board for intimate, one-on-one conversation regarding their experiences and thoughts behind their school board campaign. The following is a verbatim transcription of each conversation.
Questions by Brandi Makuski
In your opinion, what’s creating so much dysfunction on the school board right now?
“I think it’s a lack of compromise, and the willingness to step back, look at things from different angles and see if there is a good idea in there. Lisa Totten brings up the topic of the length of board meetings, but she just couldn’t bring it home. She’d get close, but then everyone starts to throw things at her to confuse what she tried to accomplish by bringing it up. And then it was just a matter of time before they decided to table it because it was going on for so long.”
How long have you been attending school board meetings?
“I went to one last year and regularly since the beginning of this year.”
Given the dysfunction, why would you want to jump in the middle of it?
“That’s actually the one thing I was worried about, because I’d be putting my reputation on the line. It can be very negative, but I’m willing to do it. The original draw to the board a year ago for me was, Angel Faxon (current school board vice president) approached me, and when they were talking about bullying issues. My son at the time was getting picked on and I was thinking about solutions of maybe working as a school liaison that really doesn’t exist right now. And I’m a member of the (police) auxiliary, so there’s a link there. Seeing what my children have in elementary school, I see the lacking compared to what I had in elementary school in the 80’s. The teaching style has changed; it’s more about what feels good to you instead of, ‘you need to have this solid, core facts down’. Last year my eldest was in third grade and they were introduced to cursive; this year, in fourth grade, they’re not touching on it. Two years from now he’s going to have a teacher who wants everything in cursive. But he can barely make his letters in cursive anymore because they haven’t kept up. I’m not saying this to pick on one teacher, it’s not just that one, and it’s the system in place.”
There’s been a lot of media coverage of the board and the superintendent. Has it been fair?
“I mostly focus on the articles that might involve the board candidates. Things that are happening inside the meeting that I didn’t like, regardless of what anything thinks of Dr. Weninger, what happens in closed session- that’s not a place to put someone in a place of being ridiculed. That’s just not professional. Some of what Lisa Totten says is really cutting; if anyone would have had that said to them if would have made you feel bad. Me, being there in the audience, I felt embarrassed just to be in the room. I couldn’t believe she was cutting down someone that was a member of the team, regardless if they’re good or bad. It’s all a team effort there. And that’s coming back to compromise; true compromising is changing your viewpoints. If you can’t do that, that board member is not really effective.”
How much influence do you think the teachers’ union should have over the board?
“They need to give some because if the board doesn’t have the information from the teachers’ union they can’t make good decisions. The board has to have information from everywhere. Getting a viewpoint from the teachers’ union is very beneficial when you’re taking something from the administration side so you can balance out the information you’re given. Maybe the teachers’ union is speaking out more and trying to influence things in their direction. At one meeting, some teachers came up to speak to talk about how they’re doing so much work outside of their regular hours and how they should be compensated for it to show that we appreciate what they’re doing. They didn’t want additional staff; they wanted a pay increase. Yes, maybe they do need to compensated in some way, but my former 6th grade teacher Sue Hall told me about all the times she used to work outside of regular hours all the time to make her classroom better. She didn’t expect anything extra- she knew that was part of the job. Just like myself; when I go home tonight I do things off the clock, all my volunteer work. It’s about where you want to put your extra time. It’s the teachers’ responsibility to make sure the lesson plan works, and if they can’t finish it at school for whatever reason, then yeah, they’re going to have to carry it home with them. Even with my experience in the city’s transit office working the drunk bus. We have a lot of issues with college kids doing things they shouldn’t on the bus. So on my own time, I sat down on that bus for about two hours and came up with a list, a protocol, on how to deal with that and I gave it to my supervisor. That’s my nature, if I see things I think I can help improve.”
You have a unique background: you work for the city in two regards as an auxiliary police officer and a city transit driver. Have you been to City Council meetings?
“No, I have not. I’ve watched some on the Internet. I’m familiar with Robert’s Rules of Order, though. I come from a family that sees a problem and they fix it. My dad emigrated here when he was 3 years old from Germany and that old world kind of stuff transferred over right to me. I like that kind of order. My dad was an army reservist in Vietnam, and I had all that leadership exposure through him. Once you get a little bit of that exposure, the rest clicks, and I think my kids are picking up on that, too. Another reason I’m running is the impact that would have on my kids if they see I do succeed, to change things and they’ll see I’m trying to make a difference. I want them to have that community feel, to be involved and to care about what’s going on around them.”
Should we go back to having committees?
“I’m not so experienced with the past school board committees, so I’m not sure how it used to work. It would take dedication for those serving on the committees, that’s for sure. It sounds like it would be better and would change the outcome of a meeting that would be television to the public, make it look like there is more common ground.”
In your opinion what’s one mistake the board has made over the past year?
“When they turned down the first presentation of the expeditionary learning (charter school) at Jackson Elementary. The hairs on the back on my neck were standing up because that was such an interesting discussion and idea. But with death comes rebirth. If I was up on the board at that point in time, and it wasn’t brought up before, I would have said, ‘hey, hold up- we can explore this’. Why wasn’t this tried in a summer school setting? Why not- very simple, small scale, it’s only half a day- let’s see if it works at the summer school. Then we can decide if we take it to the full school setting. We can shape it as small as possible: parents can drop off and pick up their kids, there’s no hot lunch, people would bring a cold lunch, and kids can succeed. Don’t bring in the extra complications until we know we need them. Bring in parent volunteers so there’s no paid positions for extra circular activities. Get people involved because these are their children and they care about them. Make it as simple as possible. If it were to go that way, it might not even be necessary to get a big grant. I see great potential there.”
What are three priorities you feel the board needs to address?
“The nutrition of what they’re serving in the lunch lines needs to be addressed. Things are getting worse, health-wise. Our jaws are getting weaker; our faces are getting smaller. We’re not eating the raw vegetables we need to strengthen and maintain the jaw. There are certain things you can eat which maintain your teeth and health, but not if you’re eating a handful of sugar and a soda every day. Processed white bread has a higher glycolic level than a handful of sugar. I also want to focus on the safety of our children, that’s kind of on the top for me. So there’s a terror- type of element to it, but also another priority is bullying. When my kid comes home and tells me he’s got a problem with a bully, I go to lunch at the school the next day and ask, ‘okay, which one?”. My son points him out and we sit next to that bully and I talk to him for the entire lunch. I get to know him. I talk to him. I change his mind and turn him into soldier; a defender of the oppressed. Hopefully we can make that type of reaction- and really, pro-action, part of a bigger conversation. Also, I’d like to make sure there’s more structure to the board meetings. Time limits on agenda items, maybe, not over-packing meetings. If we limit the amount of time the public can speak, maybe we should limit the amount of time a board member can speak. There’s so many different things we can look at.”
If you’re elected, are you going to continue working for the city?
“I’m going to continue my work with the auxiliary. I shifted my job at the transit to the night shift so I’m down to only 19 hours a week. So if I’m elected I’ll be able to attend all the meetings, and financially we can make it work so far. I live in Point near Business 51 so everything is convenient for us. And we’re staying in town; I want my kids to experience everything the schools in Point have to offer. People say schools are failing; they’re not. But there’s pros and cons to everything; you need to just balance it all out.”