New state school superintendent announces transition team

By: - May 4, 2021 5:00 am
Jill Underly, candidate for State Superintendent of Public Instruction (photo courtesy of Underly)

Jill Underly, State Superintendent of Public Instruction (photo courtesy of Underly)

Incoming State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jill Underly has announced her transition team, a notably diverse group of people heavy on public school advocates.

“They represent a broad group of stakeholders and each bring a passion for public education and a commitment to helping our new administration fulfill our pledge to build a public education system where every child gets what they need to succeed, every day,” Underly, who will take office in July, said in a statement.

The transition team, composed mostly of volunteers, will meet periodically to provide advice to the new superintendent. Four of the members Underly announced are also members of the public school advocacy group Wisconsin Public Education Network — Chris Hambuch-Boyl, Marva Herndon, Kim Kaukl and Julie Underwood — and have been active advocates against school privatization and the increasing flow of taxpayer money from public schools into private school vouchers. 

The transition in leadership at the Department of Public Instruction on July 5 will mark the first transition at the department in more than 20 years (Gov. Tony Evers previously led the department, and the current superintendent, Carolyn Stanford Taylor, worked under him).  

“I’m a public school advocate, I’m an educator and I’m a mom,” Underly told a gathering of public school advocates on Monday. “So I plan to take a different approach.”

That approach will be characterized by “more offense, less defense,” Underly said, and improvements in communication between the state’s education department and the public, including an upgrade to the department’s Byzantine website.

“Our goal with the transition is to kick off the administration the same way Superintendent-elect Underly plans to continue it,” said Erin Forrest, transition director and former executive director of Emerge Wisconsin, a nonprofit group that encourages and supports Democratic women to run for public office. “It’s absolutely critical that we engage a broad range of stakeholders with diverse perspectives. Dr. Underly is committed to getting every child what they need to succeed, every day. It’s a big goal and we’re all going to have to work together to get there.”

Members include:

Susie Crazy Thunder, whose Anishinaabe name is Giiwedinookwe (North Wind Woman), a member of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe. She is the tribal outreach coordinator for Nicolet College and serves on the board of the Wisconsin Indian Education Association.

Angelina Cruz is a public school teacher in Racine and the president of Racine Educators United, a public educator union.

Troy Gunderson recently retired from a 35-year career in public education including seven years as a classroom teacher, 16 years as a high school principal and 12 years as a school district superintendent. Gunderson is currently serving as an adjunct professor in school finance at Viterbo University.

Chris Hambuch-Boyle is retired teacher, school board member and an early childhood consultant from Eau Claire and the northwest organizer for the Wisconsin Public Education Network, a public school advocacy group.

Dr. Shandowlyon Hendricks-Williams is a former teacher assistant, teacher, principal, district administrator, regional director and adjunct faculty in Milwaukee and served as director of the governor’s Milwaukee office

Marva Herndon is a member of the Milwaukee Public Schools Board, a community advocate, founder of her neighborhood association, and a member of the NAACP Education Committee, Women Informed, School & Communities United, Educators Amplified Radio Team and Wisconsin Public Education Network.

Kim Kaukl is the executive director of the Wisconsin Rural Schools Alliance who grew up in Richland Center, attended UW-La Crosse and UW-Madison and worked for 34 years as a teacher and school administrator.

Trish Kilpin is a Greendale School District school social worker. She was named the Wisconsin School Social Worker of the Year in 1997, and Wisconsin Teacher of the Year in 2021.

Scott Lenski is a librarian at the Whitefish Bay Public Library, where he is in charge of all adult programming. He received a master’s degree in library and information science from UW-Milwaukee and lives in Milwaukee with his husband and many pets.

Chai Moua serves on the Portage county board. Sheis a social worker and lives in Stevens Point with her husband Phong Vang and their four children.

Rep. Shelia Stubbs (D-Madison) serves in the Legislature and on the Dane County Board. As a community leader, Stubbs has served as president of the Bridge/Lakepoint Neighborhood Association, and is the co-founder of End Time Ministries International.

Dr. Joan Wade is the executive director for the Association of Educational Service Agencies (AESA).  A former library media specialist and elementary school teacher, she served as a state representative in the Wisconsin Legislature from 1998–2001.

Peggy Wirtz-Olsen is a high school art and English teacher currently serving as the vice president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council. 

Julie Underwood, J.D., Ph.D. is the former dean of the School of Education at UW Madison. Her area of expertise is K-12 education law and policy. Prior to being dean she was the general counsel for the National School Boards Association. In 2018-2019 she served on the Wisconsin legislative Blue Ribbon Commission for School Funding. She is the current board chair for the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools, an advocacy group for public education.

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Ruth Conniff
Ruth Conniff

Ruth Conniff is Editor-in-chief of the Wisconsin Examiner. She formerly served as Editor-in-chief of The Progressive Magazine where she worked for many years from both Madison and Washington, DC. Shortly after Donald Trump took office she moved with her family to Oaxaca, Mexico, and covered U.S./Mexico relations, the migrant caravan, and Mexico’s efforts to grapple with Trump. Conniff is the author of "Milked: How an American Crisis Brought Together Midwestern Dairy Farmers and Mexican Workers" which won the 2022 Studs and Ida Terkel award from The New Press. She is a frequent guest on MSNBC and has appeared on Good Morning America, Democracy Now!, Wisconsin Public Radio, CNN, Fox News and many other radio and television outlets. She has also written for The Nation, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Los Angeles Times, among other publications. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin with her husband and three daughters.