School board elections are usually sleepy affairs.
But the proposal this year for Madison Prep, a single-gender charter school, has sparked a lively, and sometimes controversial, conversation about one of the most pressing problems facing Madison schools: the achievement gap between students of color and their white peers. The debate has, in turn, sparked interest in the school board.
While there are an unprecedented number of candidate forums and listening sessions under way, we thought we'd pose our own questions to candidates. We start by asking the candidates what their experience is and how they would address the educational needs of the growing numbers of poor children in the district.
What qualifies you to be on the Madison school board ? What is your personal stake in the Madison schools?
Our school board must be a governing body that is effective in setting the direction and priorities of our district. We need to elect board members who are honest about our current realities and who share a fundamental belief that we must make bold changes in order to better educate all students. Our students, families and taxpayers deserve it.
I bring a future-oriented mindset to the table and a commitment to solutions. Our heart-breaking graduation rate for Black and Latino students eloquently testifies that we do not fully understand the dynamics of poor student performance or the educational changes required to remedy it. I am personally and professionally committed to making systemic changes to close the racial achievement gap. It is time for defenders of the status quo to step aside.
I am qualified as a parent, as an engaged community member, and as a professional who has worked the last 15 years in community-based organizations throughout Madison. I bring a critical perspective from the service delivery level focused on equity for those who are most disadvantaged. As a woman of color, a parent of African American sons, and through my work at the Urban League, I am immersed in the realities of our minority students, yet in touch with the experiences of all students and parents. I am informed beyond the constraints of the boardroom.
I have a personal stake in the Madison schools that spans two generations. I am a Madison native who attended Longfellow Elementary, Cherokee Middle, and graduated from West High. I have a B.S. from UW-Madison and a master's degree in Business Management from Cardinal Stritch University. I am the mother of four African American sons. My eldest graduated from West High School in 2011, which leaves me with three yet to graduate. Based on the 48% graduation rate, the odds are that two of my sons won't graduate. This is unacceptable.
My experience transcends the experience gained from currently sitting on the board, because where we must go will not rely strictly on what we've always known. I welcome the challenge.
Our schools face multiple challenges, and board members must have the backbone to focus on what is most effective in helping all children learn and achieve. We must prioritize initiatives that provide the biggest bang for our buck. When there are hard choices to be made, we owe it to the children we serve to engage in respectful debate in order to find solutions.
That is my record on the school board. My commitment to public education, to Madison's 27,000 students, to our outstanding teachers and staff, and to staying in the fight for good public schools are the reasons I am running for re-election.
My belief in public education has roots in my personal story. I am the grandchild of immigrants, the daughter of two working class parents, and the mother of a child of color who graduated from the Madison schools. I have a degree in secondary education, biology and chemistry from Springfield College (Massachusetts), and a masters in molecular biology from the University of Connecticut.
I have seen first-hand the advantages public education brings and the equalizing effect public schools have in our society. I have seen first-hand the struggles a child can face in the schools. I am a businesswoman who works at a global scientific company. I know the need for an educated workforce, and I know that good schools strengthen a city because they attract businesses and families.
I am also a taxpayer. The state funding system for public education is not sustainable. We must find a way to better fund our schools, not on the backs of taxpayers. I will continue to advocate for fair funding.
The skills I use on a daily basis as Director of Global Custom Sales at Promega Corporation are also skills I use as a board member -- budgeting, communication, evaluation, facilitation, negotiation and project management.
In short, I approach the board's complex work from many perspectives: parent, businessperson, taxpayer, and advocate for public education. I will continue to fight against assaults on public education and advocate for what is most effective for all the students we serve.
The rate of impoverished students in Madison schools now tops 50%. How should the district address the educational needs of these students?
We all know that the issues of poverty are complex. When speaking of children in poverty, we must consider brain development in the formative years, language acquisition, nutrition, stress, sleep, clothing, housing, access to resources, opportunities to expand learning, and parent engagement. All of these variables influence learning, and not all of our kids show up to school with these assets in equal measure.
But, in spite of poverty, I believe that education can and should be the greatest equalizer for those most disadvantaged. As a district, we need to stop saying that "because of poverty" we cannot teach kids well in Madison schools. This kind of talk and the defeatist mentality that fuels it are unacceptable when talking about kids, and about half of our student body.
What we should be saying is "because of poverty we must teach kids even better if they are to have a chance." The future economic outlook of our community is dependent upon our effectively educating every single student, not leaving one to falter. We must hold high expectations of our educational system and of each student and family.
I have been dismayed to hear the many comments that poor kids are "too hard" to educate, and that low-income parents are not involved in their children's education. Let's stop the blame game.
I'd love to see a collaboration of PTO presidents and community organizations across the district to foster inclusive ways to get more low-income parents involved in their respective schools, and to share best practices. Board members should be holding the superintendent accountable for providing teachers and principals the tools and training they need to be effective. Core academics must have more continuity throughout the pipeline if we are going to counter the issues of mobility, transition years, and learning gaps. A uniform focus on literacy is critical.
We should also have better collaboration between our community agencies, the city and county, so that schools are more efficiently connected to the community. We should use our budget to inform how resources are allocated by school and by percentage of poverty.
The link between poverty and lower achievement levels has been documented over time, and we know that poverty significantly affects the lives, educational experience and outcomes of our students who grow up in low-income environments.
In Madison, addressing the educational needs of children whose families are in poverty begins with quality teachers and staff, who have the knowledge, skills and resources to recognize and meet the needs of our students. Professional development, adequate collaboration time, and classroom, social work and psychological supports are critically important.
Frequent moves also negatively affect achievement. We must ensure that no matter what school a student attends, or if they move among schools, there is consistency in the curriculum and consistency in other areas like behavior expectations/responses. I supported the approval of the "scope and sequence" project because it offers that broad curricular alignment. We have also implemented Positive Behavior Intervention Support across the district. The board is now working on a more equitable Code of Conduct. I support the implementation of culturally relevant pedagogy and the implementation of 4-year-old kindergarten. Small class size is important. I will continue to advocate that the district do better in monitoring the effects of mobility on individual students in order to provide the supports they need to make successful transitions.
Resource allocation is also critical. I supported the creation of a stronger equity policy so that we more fully consider equity criteria in budgeting. I have been active in working for fair funding, including targeted aids based on poverty because state and federal support for students in poverty is key.
A significant contributor to the under-achievement of low-income children is chronic absences, many times due to health issues. Our community partnerships with healthcare providers are essential to ensure all students have preventative care and care when they are ill. From Mayor Soglin's new Neighborhood Intervention teams to Joining Forces for Families at the county level, to the Born Learning Delegation with United Way, partnerships are essential to supporting our students in poverty and helping ensure better educational outcomes for them.