When Don Pridemore talks about high school students graduating at “18,” he isn’t referring to their age.
Pridemore — who hopes to defeat incumbent Tony Evers in the April 2 election for state superintendent of the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction — cites a study that he said ranks the United States 18th in the world in its ability to educate its young people.
That ranking, Pridemore said, needs to improve if the United States is to maintain its economic and military leadership in the world.
Pridemore, R-Hartford, was first elected to the Wisconsin State Assembly in 2004.
He said he’s seeking leadership of the DPI to take control of public education from the teachers union and place it in the hands of local school boards and administrators.
It wouldn’t have happened, he said, without Act 10 — Gov. Scott Walker’s budget repair bill of 2011 — weakening the influence of the Wisconsin Education Association.
“All they talk about,” Pridemore said, “is how do we get more money into the system so we can pay more in salaries and benefits. That’s what a union does — to make life easier for its members.”
Act 10 “made it plausible that a conservative would win this election,” he said.
Pridemore visited the Daily Register on Friday morning to talk about why he wants the DPI superintendent’s job, and the experienced that he said helped prepare him for it.
A 1964 graduate of Milwaukee Lutheran High School, Pridemore said he was living in Milwaukee when his two older sons were approaching school age. The family moved to the Hartford area, he said, not long before a shooting near the Milwaukee school that his children would have attended. Two of his sons have graduated from Hartford High School, and one son is a junior there.
Generally speaking, Pridemore said, rural public schools do better at educating young people than urban public school, but no public school does as well as it should in educating children whose achievement is at the low end among their peers, who are in danger of “falling through the cracks.”
A longtime baseball coach, Pridemore said he once received thanks from a player who credited him for teaching discipline.
Discipline often is lacking in public schools, Pridemore said, but he said he has observed it in voucher-funded “choice” schools in Milwaukee, where students often adhere to a dress code and maintain classroom decorum, lest they be removed from the classroom.
Another difference between “choice” schools and public schools, he said, is that the teachers in “choice” schools are there because of a passion for education, not just for a paycheck and benefits.
“My goal is to make public schools as good as choice schools,” Pridemore said.
That can happen, he said, with what he characterizes as a conservative approach to public education, including counting the cost to taxpayers of proposed school programs, including federal programs that he said often have “strings attached.”
The DPI does little to encourage alternatives like “choice” schools, charter schools and virtual schools, he said, and instead burdens such schools with regulation.
Pridemore said he also would like to strengthen the connection between public schools and the private sector that will employ many of their graduates.
“There are so many jobs available where the kids coming out of tech schools and high schools don’t have the skills that match those jobs,” he said. “We need to make more connection with the actual world.”
Family: Married, three sons.
Educational background: Graduated from Milwaukee Lutheran High School, 1964; after four years in the U.S. Air Force (stationed in Thailand during the Vietnam War), went to work at Johnson Controls in Milwaukee while attending night classes at Marquette University; received engineering degree from Marquette in 1977.
Political background: Hartford Taxpayers Association, of which he is past president; elected to the Assembly in 2004; currently assigned to the Assembly committees on campaigns and elections, education, urban education, veterans and workforce development.