School Board Candidate Responses – 2023

Please provide some personal background information (name, occupation, list any community activities you are involved with).

Adam BellCorelli: Name – Adam BellCorelli
Occupation – Regional Transportation Planner
List any community activities you are involved with – City of Oshkosh Long Range Finance Committee, City of Oshkosh Redevelopment Authority, City of Oshkosh Bike & Pedestrian Advisory Committee, FIRST Lego League, Heroes of Oshkosh, Read Elementary PTO/Read Playground Remodel, Oshkosh Food Co-op Food Justice Team, Bentwoods Neighborhood Association, TedX Oshkosh Speaker

Kelli DeWitt: Name – Kelli DeWitt
Occupation – Economic Support Specialist
List any community activities you are involved with – Volunteer with the Oshkosh Farmers Market, St. Jude’s Catholic Church Parishioner. In the past, I was part of one of the 1st groups of volunteers at the Day by Day Warming Shelter when they first opened.  I also delivered meals on Wheels on Sunday mornings every week.

Barbara Herzog (incumbent): Name – Barb Herzog
Occupation – Community Volunteer
List any community activities you are involved with – President, Oshkosh Area School District Board of Education
President, Oshkosh St. Vincent de Paul Society Council
President, SOAR (nonprofit that raises funds for hands-on arts education programs)
President, Women’s Fund of the Oshkosh Area Community Foundation
Active member, Oshkosh Chamber Ambassadors
Active member, Oshkosh Public Museum Board
Lector, Most Blessed Sacrament Parish
Past board member, The Paine Art Center Board
Past board member and board chair, Oshkosh Symphony Orchestra
Past board president and co-campaign chair, Oshkosh Area United Way
Pie baker, Pie on the Porch Program of the Winnebago County Historical and Archaeological Society

1. What do you believe is your primary responsibility as a board member? What will be your most important objective if you are elected to the board?

Adam BellCorelli: I believe the primary responsibility of an Oshkosh Area School Board Member is to guide the OASD Administration in continual improvement of our schools, working to create environments where students, teachers, and staff feel supported, challenged, and safe. My responsibility as a School Board member is to serve students, families, teachers, and staff by creating environments that affirm each person’s worth and build sturdy foundations. School Board members help to set policy that guides the district, in operations and in personnel, bringing our experiences as community leaders to help each student receive the guidance and support they need and each staff member the training, tools, and encouragement they need. My most important objective will be to assess the current state of the schools, supported by data, to see where greater attention and efforts are needed to be sure we are serving each student and staff member in the ways they need it. My role is to listen to the community and the teachers/staff to better understand what they identify as their needs.

Kelly DeWitt: I believe that my primary responsibility (outside of setting the tax levy, adopting policies, the curriculum, and the budget along with overseeing resources) is to represent the parents, families and taxpayers of the Oshkosh School District. Right now, with the continued increase in cost of living across the board, a focus on keeping the district affordable is important to me. 

Barbara Herzog: The role of the school board is defined in both state statute and in Board of Education policy 0122.2, Key Board Charge:
A.   Set the vision and the mission statement for the district.
B.   Set standards and expected student achievement.
C.   Develop and approve district goals.
D.   Employ and evaluate the superintendent.
E.   Monitor and evaluate district performance.
F.    Establish and review district policy annually by May 30.
G.   Advocate for continuous improvement in public education.
H.   Reinforce community values through our curriculum and instruction.
I.     Review and adopt annual budget.
J.    Oversee the community’s investment in school properties and facilities as good stewards.”

Boards define their roles and responsibilities as well as district operations through policy. I support what is included in Policy 0122.2. The role of the Board is to define “what” and for the administration under the leadership of the superintendent to define “how”.

Simply put, the role of the Board is to hire, supervise and evaluate the superintendent: establish and review policy; review and adopt the annual budget; ensure the safety of students and staff on and in our facilities; and oversee the investment in facilities as good stewards. In addition, the role of a school board member is to serve as a strong advocate for public education, be visible at school and district functions, and seek input from stakeholders and constituents in decision-making.

My most important objective when elected to the Board of Education will be to promote improved student learning and growth for all students, especially in the areas of literacy and math and to improve the rating on the DPI report card to “exceeds expectations” for all schools. In addition, I will promote updating of facilities and emphasizing fiscal responsibility.

2. There are distinct differences between each of the three candidates that are seeking positions on the Board of Education. Please outline what distinguishes your candidacy and qualifications from those of your opponents.

Adam BellCorelli: My education, experience, and involvement give me a unique perspective as a school board candidate. My philosophy degree and Masters in Public Administration give me the tools to have discussions about large, broad topics like cultural shifts in our community and philosophical underpinnings of curriculum and specific discussions such as developing long range plans to cope with demographic changes and budgetary constraints.

I am a wheelchair user, and have long been an advocate for access and ADA compliance. My experience with physical barriers has taught me compassion for anyone experiencing challenges or who are outside the “normal course of things”. I often use my wheelchair (a barrier that others are able to see and understand) as a metaphor to talk with people about their privilege and the social barriers that they may not know of or fully appreciate the impact of.

I led the Food Justice Team at the Oshkosh Food Co-op and worked to create a welcoming space and programs for all marginalized people. I have been an advocate for formerly incarcerated individuals and those with disabilities looking for employment opportunities. I started a nonprofit that does motivational speaking and professional development for young people and those looking to overcome challenges.

Kelly DeWitt: As a mom of two young children, a lifelong resident of Oshkosh and product of our public schools, I am fully invested in getting our students back to the basics. I have 11 years of experience working in the human services field as a case worker serving children and families throughout our district. This experience has provided me with a deeper understanding of not only the school district, but also the needs of our community as a whole. I have experience in the following areas: assessment, planning, implementation, coordination and evaluation all of which make me an asset to the board. I believe that, as a school board member, valuing community input is vital when making decisions that impact not only our students and staff, but the community as a whole as well.

I want to make sure that every one of our tax dollars and every hour in the classroom is devoted to helping every child, regardless of upbringing, economic status, or learning ability. We need to start with literacy, math, and writing. I will honor parents as the chief stakeholders in their childrens’ education. I believe that our children, families, and community deserve a leader who is willing to roll up her sleeves to do the work to raise our test scores, narrow the achievement gap, and listen to our community. If we want the best future possible for our children, we need solutions to improve outcomes, and I want to be part of those solutions.

Barbara Herzog: I am the only candidate and incumbent with a proven track record as a successful and experienced member of the Oshkosh Board of Education. I have devoted my professional career to public education, including 10 years on the Oshkosh Area School District Board of Education, six (6) years on the CESA 6 Board of Control, and six (6) years on the Board of the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, including one year as president.

I am a graduate of the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh and of the University of Wisconsin Madison. I have enjoyed success as a public-school teacher, principal, and central office administrator in 4 Wisconsin school districts. I have a passion for public education as it educates all students. I am well known for my love of showing support for our students and staff by attending athletic events, plays, musicals, and other school and district events.

Since 2013, I have demonstrated commitment, dedication, energy, and strong l     leadership as a successful member of the Oshkosh Area School District Board of Education. I have served as Board treasurer, vice-president, and president. I have chaired the Board’s Policy and Governance Committee as well as the Facilities and Finance Committee. I have been a member of the Legislative and Administrator Compensation Committees, a Meet and Confer liaison to the OEA and OPEA, and the Board’s representative to the CESA 6 Board of Control.

In my 10 years on the Board, we have accomplished much as a Board of Education: adopting a long-range facilities plan (with community input), implementing the largest referendum in district history, placing a full-time counselor in each school, updating all district policies, updating high school athletic facilities, adopting new literacy resources to incorporate phonics and phonemic awareness in the science of reading, and expanding mental health services in our schools to name a few examples. I believe that the district is moving in a good direction and I want to contribute to those efforts. I am running for the board because I want to continue to build on the progress of the last 10 years. I support and stand for:

  • increasing student learning and growth for all students
  • updating facilities
  • promoting integrity and transparency
  • and emphasizing fiscal responsibility.
3. The Department of Public Instruction produces annual report cards that are an indicator of overall student achievement and engagement.  While the Oshkosh Area School District received an overall score of 68.7 which puts the district in the “Meets Expectations” category, there are still opportunities for improvement when compared to the rest of the state in Advanced and Proficiency ratings such as English, Language Arts & Mathematics.  As a member of the Board of Education, what will you do to ensure improved scores in these two areas?

Adam BellCorelli: The district has already begun to see improvements in these areas, as teachers and staff get a better handle on where students are at following the Covid pandemic disruptions, and as teachers and staff re-establish routines for themselves as well. One driver of these improvements is being able to implement Science of Reading and other frameworks that were purchased pre-Covid and not able to be learned by teachers or implemented in classrooms during virtual learning. And now that these tools are able to be put into practice they appear to be working. To build on these successes, the Board will need to listen to feedback from teachers about what is working and what has not yet been successful, and adjust course accordingly.

Kelly DeWitt: First and foremost, I believe that it is vital to get back to basics at the forefront of our teaching. We have to work with our parents, teachers, and paraprofessionals to raise the bar. We have students that are leaving our schools unable to read or perform basic math skills. As far as improving literacy, I believe that putting a big emphasis on phonics, especially at the early and elementary levels will help here. As far as improving math scores go, I think that there’s a few things that the board can do. First, looking closely at how math is being taught. The common core math that is being taught has caused some concern. Next, the board should consider starting a professional learning community that can help create a plan of action to improve test scores in this space.

Barbara Herzog: One of my goals is to increase student learning and growth for all students.  This means that all our schools should be rated as “Exceeds Expectations” on the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction annual report cards. This also means increasing the number of students scoring Advanced and Proficient in literacy and in math.

I have supported the recommendation of our superintendent, Dr. Bryan Davis, to imbed increasing our student literacy scores into Board of Education policy. This will serve to hold staff more accountable for student performance. I will encourage the Board to adopt policy that will set benchmarks for student learning in math based on work being done with CESA 6 in developing Continuous Improvement Plans as part of the district’s strategic planning. These 19 Continuous Improvement Plans, including the one for math achievement, will be reviewed at the March 29, 2023 meeting of the Oshkosh Area School District Board of Education and will go to a Board vote for adoption. I will vote to adopt these 19 Continuous Improvement Plans. Approval of these plans will serve to hold staff more accountable for student performance in literacy and math and to move each of our schools to reach the level of “Exceeds Expectations” on the district’s report card.

I will promote use of or redistribution of resources to help those schools most in need of improvement in literacy and math and where they have met few expectations on the DPI report card. I will support narrowing the achievement and opportunity gap for English learners, students with disabilities, students on free and reduced lunch, and students of color; increasing the percentage of students reaching stretch growth goals by the spring of each academic year; and determining a benchmark for each grade-level cohort to reach by the end of the academic year.

4. In a recent state-wide survey, employers have indicated that school districts are not placing enough emphasis on core subjects like reading, writing, mathematics and other STEM programming. As a member of the Board of Education, what are you going to do to ensure that the District invests educational dollars in these areas?

Adam BellCorelli: I believe this perception is mistaken and out-dated, as initiatives resources such as the Oshkosh North FabLab, the First Robotics Team, Lego League and partnerships with Oshkosh Corporation have demonstrated that our schools do a great job of emphasizing not only basic academics but also future-focused STEM skills, combined with teamwork-oriented projects that match the skills sets future manufacturers are looking for.

Kelly DeWitt:  I believe that this is something that members of the board really need to sit down and have honest conversations about. If our students are matriculating through our schools unable to embrace the basic math, reading, and writing skills required of them, we as a board must ensure that we are doing everything we can to help our students. We need to be putting a primary focus on how we can help to improve these skills. We need to make sure that we are implementing a high-quality curriculum that has a core focus on math, literacy and STEM.

Barbara Herzog: For several years, our Board has emphasized data-based decision-making. Requests for new staffing should be tied to areas of need as defined by student performance. I will continue to advocate for increasing student learning and growth for all students in literacy and math, placing more emphasis on the science of reading (to include phonics and phonemic awareness), meeting the literacy benchmarks in Board policy, and increasing student performance on the state report card, These actions can be accomplished at the committee level as well as in Board meetings. I will also support the 19 Continuous Improvement Plans that emphasize the District Report Card, College Credit or Work Experience, Math Achievement, Reading Achievement, and Composite ACT scores.

5. Tech Education – the old Industrial Arts programs – has been slowly going away for many years for various reasons. Please describe your thoughts as to the need for these programs. Describe how much emphasis/weight you personally would put on this in your decision-making process as well as from a policy, expectations, and accountability stance?

Adam BellCorelli: I understand the nostalgia folks have for shop class and Tech Education, because I loved using the lathe, table saw, and welding torches as much as anyone. However, it is important to resist the urge to think of K-12 education as strictly vocational. Our schools are building foundations for each student to be able to learn and think and act as a responsible citizen, and it is on top of that foundation that vocational skills and training get applied. It is also important to remember that the jobs most of today’s students will be undertaking do not exist today, and many of the “old Industrial Arts” tools simply do not apply to solving those problems.

I will also refer back to the previous question and point out the partnerships within the OASD that are directly producing the technical skills, and people skills, that tomorrow’s manufacturers are looking for.

Kelly DeWitt:  I believe that tech ed programs are an absolute must. A fair number of our students do not have the desire or means to attend a university or tech school. Their education ends with us, and then they matriculate into the workforce. These tech ed programs provide our students with the tools to go directly into the workforce and be successful. Tech ed also provides students the opportunity to work independently, while gaining decision making, problem solving, and critical thinking skills. Without these programs and without teaching these skills, everyone will suffer. Our community has a workforce shortage, and this shortage isn’t going away anytime soon. During a time when we have industries starving for educated tradesmen, I believe that we need to put a focus back on the tech ed front and keep these programs in mind when making policy decisions.

Barbara Herzog: Part of the expectations of the district and the community is that all students be “college, career, and community ready “(CCCR), by the time they graduate from high school. To me, Tech Ed programs are a very important and needed component for students to be career and community ready which is one reason why specific Tech Ed courses are offered to all middle school students. I view Tech ED as a high priority for the district and for the community.

Over the years, I have talked with business owners as well as young people seeking careers as electricians and as plumbers. These are good-paying professions that cannot be outsourced to another country. One of the 19 Continuous Improvement Plans that the administration will share with the Board at the March 29, 2023 meeting, includes a plan related to College Credit or Work Experience which calls for increasing “opportunities for students to engage in pathways aligned to a local needs assessment designed to increase local economic development—including manufacturing, IT, and health care”, and “increase the number of students participating in work-based learning”.

I support helping all students to improve their learning and growth in math and literacy to help them to be eligible to participate in these programs. I expect to see more dual-credit opportunities through Fox Valley Tech and more apprenticeships. The Board has established a yearly calendar with specific reports tied to student outcomes. I successfully advocated to have Career and Technical Education on this list with an annual presentation to the Board in March.

The following plans for moving forward were part of the Tech Ed district presentation at the March 8, 2023 meeting of the Board of Education:

Update and prioritized CTE (Career and Technical Education) pathways to meet the quality for federal Perkins funding

➔ A sequence of career and technical education courses
➔ Opportunities to earn industry-recognized credentials
➔ Work-based learning experiences
➔ Dual enrollment opportunities
➔ Career and technical student organization-related activities
● Update high school course guides to include Industry Recognized Credentials and Redefining Ready criteria for CCCR
● Partner with counselors, Special Educators, and CTE Educators to create coordinated WBL (work-based learning) continuum and career connected learning opportunities
● Gap Analysis Protocol to understand decreasing enrollment and disproportionality in enrollment in CTE courses
● Personalize the student experience and increase internal OASD supports by discontinuing CESA 6 Consortium
Agreement for Youth Apprenticeship and Perkins Grant

While I support the above actions, from an expectations and accountability perspective, I would like to see more students enroll in these programs, increase the number of students in work-based learning and apprenticeships, expand and enhance communication with the business community (including the Chamber of Commerce) to ensure that the district is preparing students to be successful in the workforce. I would also like us to attract and retain Tech Ed staff and explore licensure opportunities through the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh College of Education and Human Services for those who need a Tech Ed teaching license. These actions may need an investment in updating Tech Ed equipment and spaces in order to attract more students as well as attract and retain teaching staff.

6. Long Range Planning – Oshkosh has made significant progress as it relates to facility improvement and one example is the construction of Vel Phillips Middle School which is scheduled to open in the fall of 2024.  However, Oshkosh residents have seen their annual OASD tax bills increase almost 30% since 2020.  With an updated 10-year Facility Plan in place, please describe how you will stabilize and prioritize this growth in expenditures with more proposed school improvement projects on the horizon.  Also discuss your thoughts on how the OASD should address replacement plans and long-term preventative maintenance on its aging facilities and specifically our high schools.

Adam BellCorelli: In any discussion of public school funding we have to talk about the broader, long-term cuts and restrictions that challenge school budgets; voucher programs skimming public dollars off for private schools, tying funding to property tax, and partisan bickering over the use of federal education funds.

The district has already begun the process of consolidating resources and planning for long-term upkeep in ways that have been neglected in past administrations.

Kelly DeWitt: Our schools are facing considerable challenges financially in part to declining enrollment, a lack of a shared revenue increase, and rising costs of services. There has been much discussion in the past decade on raising revenue and building new schools, but these conversations have not had enough community input and engagement on the matter. The community has been extremely generous in supporting our schools with their donations, referendum support, and tax dollars, and I feel our leadership has been too passive when it comes to delivering cost efficiencies and expense reductions. For example, we have been told that the new schools being built will cost less to run. That’s great. However, when do those savings offset the upfront cost and the debt servicing required to build them? How long will it take for us to see these savings? Was there a more cost friendly option that still gave us a good building? Government has to live within its means as the rest of us have to do every day to keep our finances in order. I will be asking these questions and advocating for more fiscally responsible policies with the taxpayers’ hard earned dollars to maintain the public trust.

Barbara Herzog: As a Board member, I have always sought to be a good steward of the district’s resources. I have supported recommendations from the business office and the superintendent to lower the district’s debt through such actions as refinancing debt at lower interest rates, paying off debt early, and building the fund balance to reduce the need for short-term borrowing. In addition, I supported establishing the Three Waves Clinic and moving to a partially self-funded health insurance program to lower district costs. These efforts have recently resulted in the reduction of the mill rate for 2022-2023 by one (1) cent.

Nonetheless, taxpayers may have seen a property tax increase as a result of increased property assessments. In addition, there has been an impact on property tax bills as a result of the voucher program. According to Drew Niehans, Oshkosh Area School District Executive Director of Business Services, school vouchers are local education tax dollars collected by the public school district but distributed entirely to private and religious schools. In 2021-2022, 476 students used school vouchers, costing Oshkosh taxpayers $4,021,150. Since 2016, Oshkosh taxpayers have spent nearly $17 million on private and religious education through the voucher program. School vouchers are an extra tax paid by property owners to fund private and religious education.

I will continue to support the business office efforts to reduce debt and increase the fund balance. I will support efforts to consolidate schools to reduce costs and to increase efficiencies in delivery of services. Paying down or paying off debt will allow the district to at least partially fund phases of the Long-Range Facilities Plan along with setting money aside in Fund 46 to pay for capital projects.

As for replacement plans and long-term preventative maintenance, the Board adopted a Long-Range Facilities Plan in January 2020 with community input. The construction of a new middle school and elementary school on the northside are included in Phase One of the Long-Range Plan. Phase Two would address South Park, Phase Three Oshkosh West, and Phase 4 Oshkosh North. Replacement plans should seek community input. Preventative maintenance should seek to reduce costs through energy efficiencies including lighting and heating. Putting money into Fund 46 will also allow us to at least partially address replacement plans and preventative maintenance.

7. What reforms, if any, would you support to fund public school operations?

Adam BellCorelli: I support any and all initiatives that direct funding toward our public schools. Most of these decisions are made at the state level and the district must figure out how to make things work with the hands that are dealt. 

Kelly DeWitt: As I said, we have to live within our means as a school district. We must separate needs from wants in our budgets. The city and county are doing that, and we should too. I’d support more oversight for our ESSER and ARPA dollars so we don’t have to raise taxes when those funds run out. We should look to provide property tax relief where we can without cutting back on the essential services that our children and families rely on. I support the state legislature and Governor Evers coming together on a fix for shared revenue, but we can’t have increased shared revenue as an excuse to spend recklessly.

Barbara Herzog: I support funding the voucher program at the state level rather than through local    property taxes. Voucher recipients only have to apply once to the program and public school districts only receive a number from the state on the number of voucher students from the state. If a student applies for a voucher while in Oshkosh but moves to Fond du Lac, Oshkosh taxpayers would continue to pay for that student under the voucher program. I would like to see voucher students verify their addresses every year. I support special education reimbursement to be the same for both public schools and voucher schools as currently voucher schools are imbursed at a higher rate than the public schools.

I have always said that everyone in the community has a stake in how well our students are educated. Therefore, I would support Governor Evers’ 2023-2025 Biennial Budget for Private School Choice Programs to:

  • Pause private school choice programs to limit costs and property tax increases to reevaluate how programs impact public schools, taxpayers and students, and whether any reforms are needed
  • Require all private schools in choice programs to have DPI-licensed educators by July 1, 2026
  • Provide property tax transparency by requiring private choice programs state school aid reductions to be shown on, or attached to, property tax bills
8. The OASD has lost student enrollment due to the Covid-19 situation and overall population demographics. How do you plan to stop the departure of children from our district either going to private schools or surrounding districts?  How do you plan make up for the lost dollars from students who have left the district?

Adam BellCorelli: Student enrollment is always in flux, this is not a new situation although it has a renewed focus in recent years. We must continue to highlight the positives of the Oshkosh Schools and celebrate the unique opportunities we are able to provide. Oshkosh is positioned well to thrive in the years to come and the more businesses, large and small, that reach out to the schools, or the School Board, to develop partnerships the better. By harnessing the potential of the students and the real-world experience of business leaders, Oshkosh is becoming a destination that will draw families to our schools. With renewed facilities and strong, supportive communities pushing each student to find their passion and develop the skills to achieve their goals, the dollars will come. By continuing to build a great learning and teaching environment, more and more people will see that value being delivered by a diverse group of passionate professionals who love the work they do and the teammates they work alongside. The dollars are always a lagging indicator, and only by controlling the inputs we can control, can we succeed.

Kelly DeWitt: We need to be asking families that left why they left. There’s a reason, and we MUST figure out those reasons and make some changes for the future. The truth is we lost students due to COVID in part because of the way the district administration and the school board reacted to it. The best way to increase our enrollment is by creating a great education that we’re proud of. We need to make sure that we are continuing to hire great staff and administrators while electing board members who are willing to ask the tough questions and work towards solutions to improve our outcomes. I want all of our stakeholders (parents, students, teachers, the local business community, and more) to have a seat at the table. When we do that, we’ll make solid consensus-based decisions that will keep OASD a place we’re proud to call ours.

Barbara Herzog: There are several actions that the district might take to stem the departure of students and to make-up for lost dollars. One of these actions is a multi-year marketing plan to attract more students. I support hiring a communications specialist to assist our communications director in telling the district’s stories, including the unique curriculum opportunities the district offers that other schools do not. These include the Communities Program at Oshkosh North and the Global Studies Program at Oshkosh West. I recommend that we update our website and Facebook pages to tell our stories that make us unique as a district and the many learning opportunities that we can offer. We can use these resources to expand enrollment in eAcademy, the district’s online learning system. We can also reach out to students and families who have left the district to see if can persuade them to return to the district. We can continue to press for increased accountability on the state report card and set targets for improving the district’s math and literacy scores as noted above.

In making up for lost dollars, we can seek ways to streamline and/or reduce overall costs through greater efficiencies. Some high school courses may need to only be offered at either North or West, rather than at both sites.