Ex-Beloit superintendent will run for state position

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Lowell Holtz

BELOIT — Former Beloit School Superintendent Lowell Holtz announced Tuesday morning he is running for state superintendent of Public Instruction, with a goal to close the achievement gap.

The announcement was made at 917 Church St., the home of former Aldrich Middle School Principal Walter James which Holtz said gave a nice view of Beloit College. Holtz was also planning stops in Hales Corners Park, Appleton and Wausau today.

With the racial achievement gap in Wisconsin being the worst in the nation, Holtz said the children who are victims are doomed to poverty. It also results in a drain on the economy as hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent on high school dropouts. Holtz said Wisconsin must compete at a global level, and the attempt of the federal government to eliminate local control with programs like Common Core must be fought.

This is Holtz’s second try for the office, running previously in 2009 when he trailed his four competitors with 9 percent of the votes. In that race Holtz came in second in Rock County with about 19 percent of the ballots. Holtz lost to State Superintendent Tony Evers who was re-elected in 2013. Evers is seeking a third term.

The officially nonpartisan election will be held in April, and candidates can’t begin circulating nomination papers until December.

Holtz resigned from the School District of Beloit in June of 2009. He had led the district since 2006. Under Holtz's leadership, the district launched several initiatives, including 4-year-old kindergarten, single-sex classrooms, the high school charter schools at the Eclipse Center and a revamped summer school program, according to Daily News archives.

Holtz was hired as superintendent for the Whitnall School District in 2010.

Holtz was named Wisconsin Principal of the Year and National Distinguished Principal in 1999-2000. He was nominated for his collaboration with teachers and staff to improve academic achievement and reduce special education referrals.

In his interview Tuesday, Holtz said he created a team responsible for a turnaround in the School District of Beloit. He noted how he hired Tom Johnson as principal — Johnson is currently the district’s superintendent — as well as Carlton Jenkins as Beloit Memorial High School principal, who Holtz said knew how to relate to kids and raise expectations.

Holtz said the progress made in Beloit can be done in all Wisconsin cities, and the candidate pledged to be aggressive with helping to close the achievement gap.

“DPI has turned its back on Milwaukee and Madison and large cities,” he said.

Holtz's press materials said he’s raised test scores in all districts and schools he worked at, collaborated with business and industry, raised teacher satisfaction and more.

In his interview on Tuesday, Holtz said the School District of Beloit is still showing significant progress, now having a 96 percent graduation rate and a lower achievement gap rate than in other cities.

However, in 2014-2015, the School District of Beloit had a four-year graduation rate of 89.2 percent. Although the graduation rate for all students in the district was 89.2 percent, the graduation rate for Beloit Memorial High School — excluding students in Beloit Learning Academy, Roy Chapman Andrews Academy and Beloit Virtual School — was at 93.1 percent.

Evers confirmed Monday that he will seek a third term. Besides Holtz, two others are expected to challenge the incumbent.

The state superintendent is responsible for governing Wisconsin’s public schools, administering state and federal aid, and offering guidance to teachers and administrators. The superintendent also crafts a spending request every two years to run the agency and provide state aid to public schools, which is subject to approval by the Legislature.

Germantown school district administrator Jeff Holmes announced last month that he was entering the race.

Holmes, who has been superintendent in Germantown since 2013, said when he launched his campaign in May that he was committed to increasing local control for school districts.

Remy Gomez of Tomah, has also filed registration papers to challenge Evers. Gomez ran as a write-in candidate for Tomah mayor this spring and finished last with 9 percent of the vote.

At the time, he ran for mayor Gomez was an assistant manager at a resort in Warrens. He did not immediately return a message left for comment Monday.

The state superintendent as head of the Department of Public Instruction is largely an administrative post, with little actual power over setting policy.

Evers has had a complicated relationship with Republican Gov. Scott Walker, clashing with him on issues such as Walker’s push to eliminate collective bargaining for teachers, while working more closely with him in other areas, including starting new early literacy screening for kindergarten students and creating a program that applies experience in the private sector toward college course credit.

Evers signed the petition to recall Walker from office in 2012, and he has been supported by teacher unions and allies of Democrats in his previous two campaigns.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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