By Dr. Shandowlyon Hendricks
My desire to serve as Wisconsin’s State Superintendent is grounded in my experience as a parent of a son with disabilities and a daughter who is gifted and talented. Each of my children presented their own individual challenges. I felt disempowered during my son’s first IEP meeting and knew that to be the best advocate for my children; I would need to pursue my own education.
I earned an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree and a doctorate all while working full time. I have served as a handicapped child assistant, paraprofessional, special education teacher, central office administrator, assistant principal, principal, district administrator, adjunct faculty and regional director. Having served in public, private and charter education, I have seen first-hand the good, the bad and the ugly. I defend a parent’s right to enroll their child in a high performing school. After establishing a nonprofit that provides housing for adults with disabilities and the homeless; I served at the Department of Public Instruction as an assistant director and director prior to serving as the director of the Office of the Governor. I went from depending on the state to serving at the executive level of the state.
The Wisconsin Constitution calls for a sound basic education that the legislature defined as including mathematics, science, reading, writing, geography, history, arts, music, vocation training, social science, health, physical education and foreign languages. My vision for PK-12 education in Wisconsin is communicated in my “Bill of Rights for Wisconsin Students.” Each Wisconsin student is guaranteed inalienable rights to a premier, fully-funded education; experiences that result in achievement at the student’s maximum potential; liberty to form opinions and make decisions based on truth and fact, not untruth and fantasy; and successful transition to post-secondary experiences which may include day services or sheltered workshops for students with disabilities, military, trades, Peace Corp, career and/or college. Wisconsin must fulfill its constitutional obligation to provide a sound basic education to all students. My first priority is ensuring that schools are fully and equitably funded by replacing antiquated school funding formulas. Within my first 100 days in office, I will establish a Task force on School Funding Reform to consider recommendations made by the Association for Equitable Funding.
Mellody Hobson said it best: “It’s not ok to fall short on diversity.” She goes on to say that there has been a lot of “try” around diversity. The interesting thing is that educational equity is the only area where you can talk a lot about something, not make any progress and still have your job. It’s time for new leadership, someone like me who is ready to close achievement gaps, diversify the teacher pipeline and increase parental involvement.
Leaders ignore the fact that students, parents and teachers need to be able to see themselves in leadership positions, including the state superintendent – to say “I could be that person.” Further, for some leaders, even well-meaning so-called equity warriors, it’s hard to reconcile between what is best for Wisconsin’s students, and if they are truly best for Wisconsin students, families and teachers? I, as the first African American to seek the state superintendency by election and the only candidate of color, am the only candidate that will enable diverse students, parents and teachers the opportunity to see themselves leading the DPI and providing a means for them to say “I could be that person.”
Representation matters because sometimes people can’t aspire to be what they don’t see and don’t understand what it takes to get there. Not only am I representing a female person of color, I am sharing essentially who am I and what I went through to get here for others to know and see that it can happen despite the systemic barriers.
When elected, I will move our educational system further and faster along the trajectory towards continuous improvement. I feel a tremendous sense of urgency in this matter. It is our students sitting in our Wisconsin schools right now that must be successful. There is no room for complacency. This is the time for working together to ensure the best pathways are in place for our students right now! I will use my relentless drive to leverage change toward the goal of creating equitable opportunities so that each Wisconsin student receives a premier education. I don’t feel entitled to the Office of State Superintendent, I believe I am destined to do this work due to common roots, not so common experience and uncommon disposition.