In the wake of November’s presidential election, many Madison residents are asking themselves, what can I do?
The answer for a few Madison residents was to get involved in their community.
“The election and the politics of our country drove me to run,” says Matt Andrzejewski, one of six candidates vying for two school board seats. “Everything is so divisive. We have to recognize that there are new challenges we’re going to face in the future, and they are coming fast.”
Andrzejewski and Nicki Vander Meulen are running against incumbent Ed Hughes for his seat. Kate Toews was also motivated by the presidential election to seek an open seat (now held by Michael Flores, who is not running again) against Cris Carusi and Ali Muldrow.
“I’m a huge believer in public schools and public education,” Toews says. “Realizing that the attacks we’ve seen on public education in the state were about to get ramped up considerably from the federal government left me feeling like I have to do something.”
With three candidates running for each seat, the Feb. 21 primary will determine which two candidates in each race move on to the April general election.
The Madison school board is composed of seven members, who are elected to three-year, staggered terms. Once elected, each member represents a specific set of Madison schools. The board also oversees the superintendent, approves the budget, sets policies and responds to community concerns.
“While the superintendent and her staff are responsible for the day-to-day operations of the school, we bring that community voice and act as ambassadors of the schools,” says Hughes, who is hoping to win a fourth term.
Here are snapshots of each candidate.
Communications manager at UW-Madison
Biggest issue facing Madison schools: Disparities and the achievement gap
Stance on Personalized Pathways (the district’s new career-focused program): Carusi supports the program’s hands-on learning, but has reservations about asking eighth-graders to choose a career focus, and worries about the impact it may have on fine arts, language and students with special needs.
What makes her unique? For the past several years Carusi has been attending school board meetings, so she feels ready to hit the ground running. Having children in both middle and high school, she believes, gives her insight into programming like Personalized Pathways.
Parent: Children at Jefferson Middle School and Memorial High School.
Quote: “I believe that our first focus should be on our neighborhood schools. They are our best opportunity to make sure we have strong schools for every kid, and having strong schools for every kid is our best strategy to try and hold back the tide of privatization that’s coming from the state level, and now the federal level.”
Racial justice youth organizer/ programing director at GSAFE
Biggest issue: Racial disparity
Personalized Pathways: Muldrow supports students’ self-determination in education, but worries Pathways will push students of color and low-income students toward careers in manual labor, while pushing affluent, white students toward higher education. For Muldrow, new programs must be examined with a lens toward equity.
What makes her unique? The only candidate of color, Muldrow says her extensive work with LGBTQ youth and students of color has prepared her to advocate for students who feel marginalized. Muldrow also has experienced Madison schools firsthand, attending elementary, middle and high school here.
Parent: Two young daughters enrolled at Isthmus Montessori Academy.
Quote: “I’ve been thinking about running as this love letter to my community.... Schools have the potential to be this great equalizer where you go to level the playing field, and it’s unacceptable to have students be less likely to succeed based on physical attributes or disability or gender or sexuality.”
Entrepreneur and founder of Toews Consulting and Latitude
Biggest issue: Teacher morale
Personalized Pathways: Based on feedback, Toews believes about a third of the community is excited, a third is worried, and a third is waiting to see what happens. Toews finds herself in the latter group, and is looking forward to the pilot and a robust conversation about the outcomes, before making a decision about whether it works for Madison schools.
What makes her unique? As an entrepreneur, Toews has experience managing large budgets and staff. And being a parent of young children, she argues, gives her a vested interest in the long run.
Parent: Three children, a son currently in first grade at Franklin Elementary and two other kids in daycare.
Quote: “We have a $450 million budget that the board is asked to prioritize. We’re in an uncertain funding time and we need to be very careful with our resources. I’m thrilled that our community has invested so much in our schools, but we live in a very scary time and in a very uncertain time, particularly for budgeting, so right now I think my experience balancing budgets is a critical one.”
Psychology lecturer at UW-Whitewater
Biggest issue: The achievement gap
Personalized Pathways: Andrzejewski is opposed, concerned with the rollout of the program and the top-down communication from the administration.
What makes him unique? Andrzejewski moonlights as a statistician, and says he’ll use that skill to bring a skeptical, critical eye to data and evidence before the board.
Parent: daughter is a freshman at West High School.
Quote: “The board has been sedentary; a lot of people have been incumbents for a long time, and the status quo isn’t going to cut it anymore.... I want to make sure we’re empowering teachers to do the best they can. I would love to find ways in which we could lower class sizes and increase pay for teachers.”
Ed Hughes (incumbent)
Attorney and partner at Stafford Rosenbaum LLP
Biggest issue: The achievement gap
Personalized Pathways: While supportive of pathways for its engaging and collaborative curriculum, Hughes would like to see the process slowed down to ensure the community is comfortable with the change.
What makes him unique? Hughes is the only incumbent running for school board. He has served for nine years and is currently head of the board’s Operations Work Group. This past year, he spearheaded the efforts in support of the recent referendum. He is also part of the Leading Locally education group.
Parent: His son and daughter graduated from East High School in 2005 and 2010, respectively.
Quote: “I can be an effective spokesperson responding to the political attacks on public education. These are lively times with our schools, and we’re under attack from a lot of different directions, and my background and knowing the players and having dealt with these issues for a while is beneficial in being able to convey the positions of the district to those who are making policies that affect us.”
Nicki Vander Meulen
Juvenile defense lawyer, founder of Vander Meulen Law Office
Biggest issue: Suspensions and expulsions
Personalized Pathways: While optimistic about the opportunities pathways could provide, Vander Meulen has concerns with the program’s implementation and says it’s an example of inadequate communication from the district to the community.
What makes her unique? Vander Meulen is the first person with autism to run for Madison school board. She says that perspective gives her the ability to communicate for those unable to communicate for themselves.
Quote: “I wasn’t supposed to be educated. I was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, Asperger’s and attention deficit at 3 and a half. They told my parents I belonged in a school solely for the disabled. I know what it’s like to be in a different situation and to have to fight, and now it’s my turn to fight for others.”