Mental health, security highlight school race

Port-Saukville board candidates differ on whether district is doing enough

From left: Brenda Fritsch, Maureen McCourt Boylan and Aaron Paulin
By 
BILL SCHANEN IV
Ozaukee Press staff

The three candidates running in the Tuesday, April 3, election for two seats on the Port Washington-Saukville School Board agree that mental health initiatives and school security are priorities, but when it comes to whether the district is doing enough to help  students cope mentally and ensure they are safe in school, the hopefuls don’t always see eye-to-eye.

Incumbent Brenda Fritsch, who is seeking her third three-year term on the board, faces challengers Maureen McCourt Boylan, who is making her first run for the board, and Aaron Paulin, who is running for the fourth time in as many years. The candidates, all of whom have children enrolled in district schools, are vying for two seats representing the City of Port Washington on the School Board.

In addition to Fritsch’s seat,  a seat held by Michelle Shinners is up for election. Shinners is not running for re-election. 

Fritsch, 50, noted the district has been a leader in providing mental health programs and services for students and parents and said the focus on mental health should continue to be a priority.

“One of our big initiatives, which I’m very proud of, is in the area of mental health,” said Fritsch, a residential architect who serves as vice president of the School Board. “There is a lot of pressure on kids these days compounded by things like social media. We’ve done a lot in terms of programs and assemblies and services for students and their families.”

In addition to offering mental health programs for students and parents, the district has hired full-time school psychologists for each of its five schools, provides social work services for students and families through a partnership with the Ozaukee County Human Services Department and contracts with Comprehensive Counseling Services to provide counseling for students during the school day. In addition, there are three counselors at Port Washington High School and two at Thomas Jefferson Middle School.

McCourt Boylan, 50, said the district has done a good job of identifying mental health as a priority, but could be doing more to address the needs of students and families.

“I’m very excited about the mental health initiative, but the mental health needs are greater than the resources the district has in place,” Boylan, a former teacher, said. “We need more mental health programs and a more coordinated effort between students, teachers and parents.”

Although the district has a psychologist at each of its schools and provides social work services, it should hire its own social worker, Paulin, 39, said.

“Social workers have a different viewpoint than psychologists,” Paulin, a social studies teacher at West Bend West High School, said. “In a perfect world, you’d have a social worker at every school, but for starters you would have one for the district and prioritize services for the highest at-risk students.”

Noting that the mental health initiative is an important part of ensuring student safety, Fritsch said the district has also fortified its schools by investing in physical security measures at each of its buildings, works closely with the Port Washington and Saukville police departments and has had staff members and teachers trained to deal with security threats.

“Between our mental health initiative, secure entrances at our schools and an enhanced relationship with police, I think we have done our best to prepare for the worst,” Fritsch said. 

McCourt Boylan said she agrees.

“I think school security is absolutely sufficient,” she said. “But we need to continue the dialog about what is happening in our nation. I don’t know what the answer is, but I want to be part of the solution.”

Paulin, however, said the district must do more to improve school security.

“I think we have a lot of vulnerabilities that need to be addressed,” he said. “I think there needs to be more training for staff, more drills for students, more awareness of the possible threats and advice from experts.”

Paulin said the district should hire a security consultant to identify vulnerabilities in schools and consider having a full-time police officer assigned to the high school.

“Give him a desk at the high school,” he said. “Have him there all the time.”

Currently, the Port Washington Police Department’s school resource officer makes daily visits to all Port schools. A Saukville officer does the same at Saukville Elementary School.

All teachers have received training from the Port Police Department, which works with the district on security measures and protocols, and the district continues to provide ALICE active-shooter response training for staff members, Supt. Michael Weber said. 

In addition, schools hold regular lock-down drills in which students and teachers practice strategies that range from seeking shelter in locked classrooms to confronting intruders, Weber said. 

And after the Feb. 24 high school shooting in Parkland, Fla., individual security committees were formed at each school to make sure no safety measures are overlooked.

None of the candidates support the idea of arming teachers.

Fritsch, McCourt Boylan and Paulin said they are committed to maintaining the broad range of programs offered by the district and the concept of a comprehensive high school that prepares students for options that range from four-year colleges to technical schools, apprenticeships and jobs out of high school.

“I’m very proud of our comprehensive high school,” Fritsch said. “We’ve made huge strides in areas like biomedical engineering and Project Lead the Way classes. I think there is a track at the high school for students going in any direction.”

She noted that the district’s relationship with area manufacturers that have donated equipment, money and expertise to the high school technology education department is essential to educating students and providing them with inroads to careers in the skilled trades.

“These partnerships have allowed some of our students to be employed even before graduating from high school,” Fritsch said.    

McCourt Boylan said, “I think it’s essential to maintain a wide variety of programming. As a mom of a bunch of kids, I know that children have different needs and interests and that it’s important the district helps them find their passions.

“The district is doing well with its relationships with manufacturers, but I’d like to see that grow.”

Maintaining programs with less state funding for public school education is a challenge, Paulin said, adding that it’s the job of the School Board to advocate for the district.

“The one thing I wish we had on the board was the fortitude to challenge legislators and ask them why we have less funding for our schools,” he said. 

Paulin said among his priorities would be ensuring the district has an ample pool of substitute teachers and attracts and retains high quality, full-time teachers in a day and age when fewer people are becoming teachers and an increasing number of educators are switching careers.

Fritsch said that has been a district priority and should remain one.

“We have to maintain the highest-quality teaching staff and make sure we have the right people in the right positions to address the needs of all of our students,” she said. 

McCourt Boylan, who did marketing and public relations work for the City of Port Washington before becoming executive director of Port Main Street Inc., a position she stepped down from late last year, said the district has a lot to offer but needs to do a better job marketing itself.”

“This district is a well-kept secret,” she said. “I’d love to see more marketing to draw young families into the district.”

Paulin said it’s time for the district to back away from its emphasis on technology.

“We’re losing our focus on soft skills. Students need to learn how to interact and communicate with people,” he said. “I believe in bringing back pencil and paper.”

Paulin said the district should also eliminate unproductive half days of classes for students from the school calendar. A better alternative for students, parents and teachers would be to schedule full days off school for students to allow productive professional time for teachers.

Also on next week’s ballot is a School Board seat representing the Village of Saukville currently held by Board President Carey Gremminger, who is not running for re-election. Douglas Mueller is the lone candidate running for the seat.

School Board officers are elected by the board.

Although School Board members represent specific communities within the district, all voters in the district may vote for all candidates.

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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