​State Superintendent-elect Underly Announces Assistant State Superintendent Appointments

June 8, 2021
Contact: Erin Forrest — ‪(920) 234-8829‬
(Madison, WI) — State Superintendent-elect Jill Underly announced today her final appointments to her Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) leadership team. 

“This group embodies a deep well of expertise and a fierce commitment to education,” said Dr. Underly. “They bring with them a vast diversity of personal and professional experience at a critical time as our communities, schools, kids and families continue to face the lingering challenges from the pandemic. This team is built to listen, collaborate with stakeholders, and get to work to build a public education system where every child gets what they need to succeed, every day.”

Tricia Collins has been named Assistant State Superintendent-designate for the Division for Finance and Management. She began her career in state service working at the Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau where she was a fiscal analyst. Tricia then joined the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) as the school consultant for the private school choice program. From 2013 until 2019, Tricia served as the Director of the School Management Services team at the DPI. Most recently, Tricia served as the Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection at the Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection.  

Tricia is a graduate of Marquette University Law School. She and her husband, both graduates of Augustana College, have three children. In her free time, Tricia enjoys visiting bookstores and Wisconsin supper clubs. She also enjoys watching sports and musical events, especially when her children are participating.

Keona S. Jones has been re-appointed Assistant State Superintendent of the Division for Student and School Success. Prior to being appointed in 2019, Keona served as the Deputy Chief of Schools in the Racine Unified School District. Keona has more than 24 years of experience working at various levels of both public, private and higher education institutions. Over the course of her career, Keona has served students and families as both an educator and school administrator. She is an experienced leader in education who has been recognized as the Administrator of the Year by the Wisconsin Association for Talented and Gifted.  

Keona holds a bachelor’s degree in Special Education from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and a master’s degree in Educational Leadership/Curriculum and Instruction from Cardinal Stritch University, where she is also about to complete her doctorate.

Duy Nguyen has been named Assistant State Superintendent-designate for the Division for Academic Excellence. He served for more than 17 years in schools as a kindergarten, first- and second-grade teacher, learning coordinator, and an elementary school principal. Duy also spent several summers teaching middle and high school students in Nanjing, China. He was a librarian in Quito, Ecuador before heading to New York City to study at Teachers College-Columbia University. Duy started the first laboratory school in Wisconsin and to our knowledge, will be the first Southeast Asian state assistant superintendent in Wisconsin history. 

Duy earned his bachelor's degree from UW-Madison and master's degrees in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis from Teachers College-Columbia University and UW-Madison. Duy and his wife have two children. His family loves the outdoors and spending time with family and friends.

Tessa Michaelson Schmidt has been named Assistant State Superintendent-designate for the Division for Libraries and Technology. She has been a public library consultant with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction for nearly ten years, specializing in library youth services and inclusive services for all library users. Throughout her career, Tessa has had one foot in education and the other in libraries. Prior to DPI, she was a third-grade teacher and K-8 school library media specialist, as well as a director and librarian at a public library, and a librarian for the UW’s Cooperative Children’s Book Center. While at DPI, Tessa led Growing Wisconsin Readers, an early literacy initiative based in public libraries. She also developed the Inclusive Services Assessment and Guide, a nationally recognized inventory and reflection tool for libraries to evaluate accessibility, equity, and barriers to services. 

Tessa earned her undergraduate and masters degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is married and has two children, one of whom recently finished public school four-year-old kindergarten. Her husband is an Army Reservist currently on active duty.  Tessa and her family are outdoor enthusiasts working to visit all of the Wisconsin State Parks. 

These new appointees join previously announced Deputy State Superintendent-designate Dr. John W. Johnson, Executive Director-designate in the Office of the State Superintendent Thomas McCarthy, Special Assistant to the State Superintendent Latoya Holiday, and Assistant State Superintendent-designate Paul Manriquez, Division for Learning Support. 

More information about State Superintendent-elect Underly’s transition — including scheduling requests — can be found at


Statement from Superintendent-elect Jill Underly on Joint Finance Committee Jeopardizing Federal COVID Relief


We must not rush through an education budget that attempts to replace the state’s obligation to public school funding with federal one-time COVID-relief dollars intended to help children recover from the pandemic.

The federal dollars were intended to provide access to mental health, more resources for extended learning and after-school programming, and in general academic recovery from this unprecedented crisis. 

In fact, the US Dept of Education has reiterated today that we legally cannot backfill our own obligations to maintain proper local school funding with one-time funds. 

Our entire system of funding local schools is in jeopardy, and we can’t play politics at this critical juncture. Let’s listen to local parents, local kids, local school boards and local communities, support Governor Evers’ recommended investments, and restore our local schools to greatness.


Link to release​

​Letter from Superintendent-elect Jill Underly toJoint Finance Committee Chairs


Dear Co-Chair Born and Co-Chair Marklein:

I appreciate all the effort that you are putting into determining the school aids and programs for the 2021-23 biennium. It’s not an easy task and there are many difficult decisions to make with many competing but worthy interests. 

When I look at our public schools and libraries and the contributions they make to the future of our state, it appears to me that continuing an investment in our schools and libraries is exactly what is needed at this time. It’s important to note that these investments are also very much what is wanted by our taxpayers and citizens. We all know that investing in our public school students' futures is investing in our state’s and local communities’ futures. 

As you are well aware, our schools are the hearts and souls of our communities. They serve more purposes than simply “educating kids.” Our schools and libraries are our community hubs. They are a critical component to our neighborhoods. They serve rural and urban communities, families, and children, alike, in many different ways, and there is no “one way” that our schools in Wisconsin operate, as each is so unique to its own local circumstances. 

During this pandemic, our schools were food distribution sites, and coming out of it, they are vaccination clinics. They are mental health sites for tele-health because they have strong internet access kids may not have at home. They are community centers in normal times, and shelters and funeral gatherings in our saddest and worst moments.

One thing is evident, though. The ever-rising number of referendums signal that school finance in Wisconsin is broken, and that local taxpayers increasingly are shouldering the costs that the state used to provide to our public schools. Citizens rural and urban, in large and small school districts, no matter if they are in well-off areas or places with higher poverty, still support their public schools and they will do whatever it takes to ensure that their community’s children receive a well-rounded education and the services they need. 

My question is whether it is fair that the State abdicate its responsibility and put this burden on local taxpayers. We know that this results in an unevenness of funding — those communities that have the means to pass referendums and will continue to do so, and those that don’t have the means, won’t. It’s not that those who don’t pass referendums don’t care about their children. It’s because they simply don’t have the resources. And this is why inequities in Wisconsin increase. It’s why we have opportunity gaps. It’s why poverty is the biggest indicator of whether a child will achieve a proficient or advanced reading score.

My request is very simple: Please continue to invest in the programs and the aids that we know work for kids, and increase general school aid and revenue limits to cover increasing costs. When we invest in these programs, we are lifting up entire communities. We are closing opportunity gaps, and therefore closing achievement gaps. We are sending a message to our schools and our kids and our communities from Northland Pines to Neenah to Shiocton to Southwestern, that our kids count. 

I would like to draw your attention to numerous items that have been perennial needs in our schools since prior to the bi-partisan Blue Ribbon on School Funding Report was released in 2019, and also items exacerbated by the COVID-19 Pandemic. Further, the message has been consistent from lawmakers and educators: We want our kids back in school and in the best setting for their learning needs — whether it’s in-person or virtual. And in order to do so well and safely, we need to ensure we have the resources to sufficiently address our needs. Our kids and our staff all need to be supported with well-funded systems for schooling and health.

Let me also note that we are grateful in Wisconsin for the support of additional federal resources. Returning Wisconsin federal taxpayer money here to help shore up our pandemic-specific needs is incredibly important. However, those additional resources don’t come close to plugging the entire hole in our physical infrastructure needs, our technology needs, our physical, mental, and emotional well-being needs, or our needs to help students recover lost time.

Students with Disabilities Funding and Reimbursement Rates

Our school districts transfer over a billion dollars in un-reimbursed costs from their general operations to cover costs for educating students with disabilities, mandated services, because state and federal special education aid comes nowhere near paying for it. If the state reimbursed at a rate of 50%, that would be hundreds of millions of dollars that would stay in our schools and that our taxpayers would not have to go to referendum to make whole. The larger message is important as well. As kids come into our schools, we serve them. We provide for their educational needs, and we do whatever it takes. But the state reimbursing these needed and mandated programs at a pitiful 28 percent sends the message that not all kids are important nor worth the investment in their educational future. I encourage you to change this.

Teacher Recruitment and Retention

The past 10 years have seen our teaching ranks dwindle, as many retire and lower numbers of students enter the teaching profession. Further, a beginning teacher needs to work at least 10 years on average before reaching the starting salary of a state legislator in Wisconsin. Again, I feel there is a values statement here: if we value the future of this state and its educational system, and if we want to ensure that we have the best and brightest preparing the future citizens, voters, and economic contributors of Wisconsin, we need to compensate them fairly. We need to increase general school aids and raise revenue limits to provide districts the financial means to pay for their educators. Also, it would be helpful if we could simply rehire annuitants until we are able to stabilize the compensation structure for our educators, especially as we continue to recover from the pandemic.

Mental Health Funding

COVID was an enormous burden on our educational system and our structures: family, business, healthcare, and manufacturing. But what it also did was ravage the mental health of our children and their families. It ravaged our staff, pushing them beyond their capacity as educators and into the role of triage and first responders. I implore the JFC to invest in more mental and emotional health funding for our children, staff, and their families so that we can fully recover from this pandemic. Our schools and school staff are the first responders to our children; and many of our children experienced loss this past year and a half: their school traditions, friendships, the loss of a parent’s job, a home, or worse, a loved one. Anxiety and depression among our children was already at record-breaking highs prior to the pandemic. Now is the time to increase, not the time to cut, mental health and health services spending. 

Early Childhood Opportunities

As a researcher, as a mother, and as a superintendent, I know what works for our youngest children, and that is high-quality, well-structured, play-based early childhood programming. Children who are set up for success from the youngest ages meet their reading and mathematics goals in elementary school. They have better health and fitness throughout their lives, and they graduate high school ready and prepared for post-secondary endeavors. I have always encouraged us to invest in children at the beginning of their lives rather than pay for it later when we are providing corrections and other supports into adulthood. I encourage the JFC to fund 4K at 100 percent FTE (rather than 60 percent) to incentivize more school districts to provide these important programs to all kids and erase economic barriers to these programs for our highest needs children.

Sparsity Aid, High Cost Transportation Aid, and Declining Enrollment

Plain and simple, there are so many needs and so much inequity. I could provide more examples of the differences between our “have” and “have-not” districts, but the best way to consider it is to look at the differences between school districts as one drives down US 151 from Madison to Dodgeville, or from Interstate 94 from MPS to Elmbrook to Lake Mills. Another way, locally, would be to go from Middleton west on US 14 to Spring Green to Iowa Grant. Traveling up north  in our geographically largest school districts, it is more of the same — our sparsest school districts pay more per student to educate them and they pay more to transport them. Further, declining enrollment erodes any base or financial cushion that we have from year to year. We need sustainable and predictable funding. Without it, there are no guarantees, particularly if a referendum fails, that our community schools, the hearts and souls of our rural communities, will survive another ten years. 

I implore you as co-chairs of the Joint Finance Committee to look at what truly matters in this state. Everything stems from a high-quality public school education. As public school graduates yourselves, if you were not afforded that opportunity when you were younger, and if that opportunity were not afforded to your own children, what outcomes in your lives would be different? Now imagine that outcome compounded by a pandemic. Please help us ensure our children, all children, are able to overcome these odds.

Please join me in vocally advocating for our public schools, for our public libraries, for our communities, and for our children. 



Jill K. Underly, Ph.D.

District Administrator - Pecatonica Area School District

Wisconsin State Superintendent-Elect


Statement from Superintendent-elect Jill Underly on school funding



Wisconsin families have suffered through a horrific pandemic, costing the lives of thousands of our loved ones, crashing our economy, shutting down our communities, and making life more difficult in countless ways. For our Wisconsin public school students specifically, many have spent more than a year in virtual learning or hybrid learning, and they have lost out on countless experiences, from sports, to school dances, to the most basic socialization required for children and adolescents. 

Our schools are changed forever, and our safety protocols must be more stringent going forward. Our buildings require hundreds of millions of dollars of upgrades around the state in order to meet students’ basic requirements. While the federal government has made some investments, they are not nearly enough to make up the lost time, needed infrastructure, and all of the needs of our school children, and are limited to covering only certain expenses. 

The governor‘s budget was a good start to make reinvestments alongside the federal aid, and it is devastating to hear the lack of understanding from some leaders in the legislature. Zero increases for local schools exacerbates the teacher recruitment and shortage crisis across the state as districts will struggle to even provide cost of living increases to staff for the next two years. I would encourage them to talk directly to local superintendents, local school boards, local teachers, local parents, local students, and their local communities, to understand the great need that our schools still have. 

This should not be a political issue — we are simply talking about our local public schools. For most of Wisconsin’s long history, significant bipartisan support ensured we were building the best public schools in the country. Wisconsin schools are now falling behind because the state has not been making the necessary investments. It’s time to restore our bipartisan commitment to making Wisconsin public schools the best in the nation. Our future depends on it. 

# # #

Link to release

DPI Superintendent-elect Underly Announces First Appointments to LeadershipTeam

(Madison, WI) — State Superintendent-elect Jill Underly announced today her first appointments to her Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) leadership team. 

“This group of outstanding leaders bring with them the experience and diverse perspectives we need to tackle the issues facing our schools,” said Dr. Underly. “We’ll be ready to get to work on day one to build a public education system where every child gets what they need to succeed, every day.”

John W. Johnson, PhD has been named Deputy State Superintendent-designate. John currently serves as the director for Literacy and Mathematics at the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) and previously was the Communications Director in the Office of the State Superintendent. Prior to joining DPI, John served for more than 15 years in schools as a history, social studies, and special education teacher, learning coordinator, and high school assistant principal. John was appointed by the governor as a public member of the Wisconsin Arts Board in 2020.

John earned his doctor of philosophy degree in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he also earned two master’s degrees, one in Educational Administration and one in Special Education–Learning Disabilities. He earned his bachelor’s degree in History from Georgetown University. John and his wife have three daughters, all Wisconsin public school graduates with the youngest graduating this school year. 

Thomas McCarthy has been named Executive Director-designate in the Office of the State Superintendent. He currently serves as Senior Manager in the office of DCF Secretary Emilie Amundson, and previously served as the communications director at the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) where he led a team charged with supporting the mission and vision of the state superintendent. Before joining the DPI, Tom worked in the Wisconsin State Legislature as a legislative assistant, research assistant, and committee clerk. There, he focused on connecting communications and policy to build more effective solutions and better serve impacted stakeholders.

Tom is a graduate of UW-Madison, a husband and the proud father of a toddler, and when he has free time, enjoys playing music.

Latoya Holiday will be reappointed as Special Assistant to the State Superintendent. Latoya began her career at the DPI in 2005 as an intern through the State of Wisconsin’s Student Diversity Internship Program. Latoya later served as a School Administration Consultant for the Private School Choice (Voucher) Programs and as the state’s Charter Schools Consultant. 

Latoya holds degrees in English and Educational Policy from the University of Illinois and UW-Madison. Latoya is a wife and mother of four and extends her commitment to equity through service in her church where she has spearheaded community support initiatives including backpack give-a-ways, coat drives, and youth development activities.  

Paul Manriquez has been named Assistant State Superintendent-designate. Paul grew up in Whitewater, Wisconsin where he graduated from Whitewater High School and then attended, played baseball, and graduated from UW-Whitewater with a Bachelor of Science in Education. He earned a Masters in Education from National Louis University and then a Masters in Education Leadership from Concordia University-Wisconsin.

Paul taught and coached in the Elkhorn Area School district for 16 years before becoming the Middle/High School Principal in the Pecatonica Area School District. 

Paul lives in Waunakee with his wife, Michelle and daughter, a senior at Waunakee High School. His son is currently attending Madison College. In his free time, he enjoys watching his son play baseball for Madison College and daughter play softball for Waunakee High School. Paul loves the Wisconsin outdoors, camping and hiking with family and hunting with friends.

More information about State Superintendent-elect Underly’s transition -- including scheduling requests and applications to serve -- can be found at