Three seats on the Madison Metropolitan School District school board are up for general election on April 7. Here’s where they stand on issues ranging from steps to closing the achievement gap to reasons they deserve your vote.

Savion Castro, who was appointed to the Madison Metro School District Seat 2 last year is now running for the remainder of the term. He is running unopposed.

Q.What is your favorite memory of growing up and going to school?

A. Running track & field at LaFollete High School and learning from coaches and teammates. I ran the 4×4, 4×2 relays and jumped triple jump.

Q. Why do you want to serve on the Madison School Board?

A. I believe in the power of education to change lives, communities, and destinies. My story as a Black male with an IEP who experienced poverty and homelessness in MMSD is a testament to that. Every person has the right to a high-quality public education. Here in Madison, our education system has effectively disenfranchised Black and Brown students through generations. While we have incredible educators and staff that help students learn and overcome adversity, we need systemic change. I’m running for the Board of Education because we must root out the injustice in our education system; cultivate the voice and agency of our students, and support educators and staff in demanding environments. 

Q. What are the three most difficult issues facing MMSD?

A. Hiring and retaining Black and Brown teachers.

Disproportional results for Black and Brown children from literacy rates to discipline, especially at the intersection of students with IEPs, we have work to do to ensure our schools are spaces where everybody feels a sense of belonging and can thrive. 

Community participation in district governance and transparency. 

Q. What’s a goal you’d like to see the new superintendent achieve?

A. Establish strong relationships with community partners, staff and students to rally focus and action around a vision of equity, educational justice, and academic excellence for all students.

Q. What is your overall vision you’d personally like to accomplish if elected to the school board?

A. When I speak to students about justice, I talk about the world we inherit and our responsibility to make it better. Like many educational spaces in America, we inherited a school system that was not created for Black and Brown students to thrive. This is especially true for our Black and Brown students with special needs and/or disabilities. As someone who graduated from MMSD with an IEP, I know how important student support services and school psychologists are to a student’s social-emotional and academic growth. Fundamentally, we must prioritize investment in mental health services and wrap around services rather than punitive punishment systems. Just as critical is fully investing in quality early childhood education such as all-day 4K and even birth-to-three programs. All day 4K benefits all children, and it particularly benefits our students from disadvantaged backgrounds. MMSD’s partial day 4K classes have proven results in closing literacy gaps and better social emotional outcomes. Moreover, we must continue the work of implementing a new science-based literacy curriculum with substantial input from teachers on which materials we purchase and professional development that makes sense. Fortunately, an avalanche of new research, “The Science of Reading,” has helped guide our thinking in this undertaking. When we talk about restorative justice, we cannot limit the conversation to alternatives to discipline for Black and Brown children. We must embrace restorative justice as a way of life and concept to heal the injustices in our education system perpetrated on Black and Brown children. 

Q. What proposal do you have to close the achievement gap?

A. Black and Brown children aren’t thriving in Madison’s public schools; we need to acknowledge this truth and commit to educational justice by rejecting the deficit thinking that blames disparate achievement on youth. I would focus on dismantling systems that place children at-risk in the first place. Our curriculum and instruction should be inclusive of all children, embracing their diverse backgrounds and abilities. We need to invest as much as possible is universal all-day 4K to address early learning gaps and early childhood trauma by acknowledging that many students face trauma, and provide them social and emotional support. 

Q. Name the last three books you have read?

A. The Fire Next Time – James Baldwin; Heavy – Kiese Laymon; They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us – Hanif Abdurraqib

Q. If your life story was on the big screen, which actor/celebrity would you want to play you?

A. Lakeith Stanfield

Christina Gomez Schmidt is candidate for School Board Seat 6. She is the director of enrichment at Galin Education, which is a test prep and college admissions tutoring service.

Q. What is your favorite memory of growing up and going to school?

A. My favorite memories from my school years are of the teachers who encouraged me to develop a love of learning. They were invested in the success of their students and had high expectations. I remember two high school teachers in particular. My Spanish teacher was from Panama. She taught us to speak and read the language and she artfully wove her love for her culture and her own experiences into her teaching. My high school biology teacher had a passion for teaching science. She helped me develop scientific thinking skills and a curiosity about the natural world. That led me to keep studying biology beyond high school. Those are the standouts among so many teachers, coaches, and club advisors who inspired and encouraged their students.

Q. Why do you want to serve on the Madison School Board? 

A. I am running for the Madison School Board, Seat 6, because this is a critical time for our public schools.  Strong schools are the foundation of strong communities. We want students and families to feel welcome and engaged in our schools. We must support teachers and staff in their work. We need to build trust with families and the entire Madison community. Accountability and transparency must be emphasized. We must continue to recognize, and commit to ending, the disparities in our educational system.

I have extensive experience working with educational policies, plans, and practices at the district, school and community levels. That knowledge will enable me to get right to work making positive change happen in our District.

Q. What are the three most difficult issues facing MMSD?

A. I am emphasizing seven priorities in my campaign: taking action on equity issues; approving a research-based K-5 reading curriculum; promoting academic achievement and student success; supporting teachers and staff; building trust with families and the community; improving accountability and transparency; and effectively managing the budget.

Q. What’s a goal you’d like to see the new superintendent achieve?

A. The new superintendent must provide the leadership and vision to move us forward in closing opportunity and achievement gaps. He must continue the work to change our focus from a deficit narrative to one that recognizes the talents of students and builds on their successes. 

Q. What is your overall vision you’d personally like to accomplish if elected to the school board?

A. I will be mindful that the people of Madison elected me to the school board to do work on behalf of the broader community. It would be an honor to put my skills to work to tackle challenges, to build on the good things that happen in our schools every day, and to provide the leadership we need to ensure our schools work effectively for all students. 

Q. What proposal do you have to close the achievement gap?

A. The achievement gap doesn’t start or end at the school door. Disparities in society and in Dane County – in the work force, in access to affordable housing, in the criminal justice system, in health care – contribute to disparities in education. As a school board member, I will work with community partners, non-profits, elected leaders, advocacy organizations, the faith community, and others to be part of broader change. 

In our schools, we must address disparities by ensuring we use curriculum and instructional methods shown to accelerate student learning. Reading skills are the foundation of learning and we must focus on a new K-5 reading curriculum. Teaching should be culturally responsive, rigorous, and engaging in ways that make learning accessible and relevant to students. We must hire and retain more teachers of color. We must partner with organizations that provide opportunities to support academic learning after school and during the summer.

Q. Name the last three books you have read?

A. Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward (currently reading); Green card youth voices: Immigration stories from a Minneapolis high school; The Book of Joy: Lasting happiness in a changing world by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Q. If your life story was on the big screen, which actor/celebrity would you want to play you?

A. I admire actresses and actors who use their visibility to encourage others to take a stand for equity, social justice, or environmental issues. That being said, I’ll pick Meryl Streep because she is simply amazing.

Maia Pearson, a revenue agent for the state Department of Revenue, is running for election to represent Seat 6.

Q. What is your favorite memory of growing up and going to school?

A. I have so many great memories going up on the Southside of Madison. From running track on the South Madison Panthers track team, which through that program I was able to travel almost to every state in the U.S. and spend time with my family and friends; to being a cheerleader for the Southside Raiders Football team. From the food the neighborhood elders provided to make sure I ate, to the corner candy store.

Overall, my most favorite memory growing up and going to school was my kindergarten teacher, Connie Hood, who would become my mentor and continue to be a part of my life to this day. She took me under her wing and made sure I soared. I remember those moments when I worked really hard, we would go and get a Happy Meal from McDonald’s with her granddaughter (Happy Meals were the rave in the 90’s). She not only made sure I mastered what I was taught, but she made sure that I experienced activities I might not have gotten a chance to do, like riding horses (my favorite was a horse named Slimer). Even when we lost touch when I went to college, she made sure to find me (thank you Barb Rubin for helping her also find me).Thank you Connie for always believing in me and for sharing EVERY Disney movie ever made! 

Q. Why do you want to serve on the Madison School Board?

A. I am running for school board, so that all students and parents have what they need to be successful. To advocate and ensure that the education system is equitable and safe for students and their families, and teachers. That the board and district reflect the students and families it serves. As our community diversifies, so do our schools, but I do not feel that we have yet developed the experience, skill, or leadership in our school district to reflect the identities and needs of our families. 

As a third generation Madisonian, I deeply care about my community and the children who live here. Through advocating for my children and navigating the school district, I found myself with the same struggles that my mother and my grandmother before her had; the struggle of raising black children in a district with a growing achievement gap. 

I am running because I want to see changes in how we think about student safety; how we support community members in school board committees; and, I want to change the narrative about our students as underachieving by focusing on the incredible work of teachers in our district who help students master the content and their own learning process.

Q. What are the three most difficult issues facing MMSD?

A. The three most difficult issues facing MMSD are: 

1. The achievement gap and opportunity gap and how they affect our students and our city long term. We need solutions that will increase the support for community members that are already doing the work and ensure they have more impact on our school board committees. 

2. District student enrollment. The decrease of student enrollment in Madison schools has been on a decline for the past 10 years. We need to address the overriding narrative of failure of our schools by celebrating what we see in order to increase district enrollment. For example, the amazing work being done by the Black Excellence Coalition.

3. The safety of our students, teachers and school staff inside the classroom, in the hallways, outside of the school and in our after school programs. We need a holistic approach to how we think about what makes students, teachers and staff feel safe at their place of work and learning. 

Each of these issues are multifaceted, which will require the district to work with local government, business and community partners to find positive sustainable solutions for all students and teachers.

Q. What’s a goal you’d like to see the new superintendent achieve?

A. I want the superintendent to really focus on hiring and retaining more teachers of color. As a Madison student, I didn’t have a Black teacher until I went to Wright Middle School. Madison schools have done a better job at hiring more teachers of color; however we have not done well to retain them (hiring incentives, diversity training etc. often are not enough to attract or retain teachers of color). I propose a different approach. Have we studied the culture of whiteness in our schools? I support workshops that encourage teachers of all races to explore their own assumptions about people of color.

Everything that we do, customs and traditions, in our society place a priority on developing a racial identity. How much do our teachers know about theirs? From my conversations with teachers of color, is what they need are for allies to actually do their own work and the district financially supports and provides a safe environment for that work. We need to have teachers examine their own racial identity in an anti-racist format – and we need to commit the resources, counselors and community members to make this a regular ongoing process – not just another professional development. It needs to be a part of being a teacher in an MMSD school.

Q. What is your overall vision you’d personally like to accomplish if elected to the school board?

A. My vision for the district looks like all of our students, White students, Black students, Latinx students, Hmong students, students with disabilities, English Learners, students experiencing homelesness and poverty and our advanced learner students experience a great deal of academic rigor and support. Public education should be a space where all learners thrive and feel that they belong.

It looks like our teachers can shine and feel supported, able to make decisions that help them work smarter and in a more culturally relevant way. Where they can feel and see their meaningful work flourishing. 

It looks like parents having access to information and the support needed to navigate the opportunities in our district for student success like Advanced Learning, IEP processes, Gifted and Talented, Dual Language programs and other opportunities that working parents do not have now. 

That my time as a school board member, helped make Madison schools stronger. 

Q. What proposal do you have to close the achievement gap?

A. All day 4-year-old kindergarten so that children of color and their families have access to success earlier. 

Increased teacher autonomy and ability to identify administrative policies that hinder their ability to teach (including class sizes, curriculum decisions, assessment options). Expand the conversation about student safety to focus on what makes students feel safe in a classroom instead of focusing on the students’ behavior. 

Q. Name the last three books you have read?

A. Crossing Over to Canaan by Gloria Ladson-Billings; Dream-keepers by Gloria Ladson-Billings; Working the Roots: Over 400 years of Traditional African American Healing by Michele Elizabeth Lee.

Q. If your life story was on the big screen, which actor/celebrity would you want to play you?

A. When Love and Basketball came out in the year 2000, everyone said that I looked like Kyla Pratt and Sanaa

Lathan. Sanaa has been one of my favorite actresses for a long time, so I would say her and Keke Palmer. Also, it would be dope to have some up and coming actresses playing me.

Wayne Strong is running for Seat 7 on the Madison Metropolitan School District’s Board of Education. Strong, a retired Madison police lieutenant and a program associate for the National Council on Crime & Delinquency, is running against incumbent Nicki Vander Meulen.

Q. What is your favorite memory of growing up and going to school?

A. My favorite memory of growing and going to school are the times when I participated in the Spelling Bee contests. I always had a love for words and was a pretty good reader, so I read a lot and always enjoyed participating in the contests. Also, extracurricular activities, mainly football was among my favorite memories of going to school as well. I was fortunate to have some good teachers and coaches who believed in me and were always very encouraging.

Q. Why do you want to serve on the Madison School Board?

A. Since the 1990’s, I have watched with a great deal of concern that children of color in general and Black children, have not fared as well as other students. The racial disparity gap in terms of high out of school suspensions, lower graduation rates, combined with low reading and math scores is very disconcerting. For many years, I have served on various boards and committees aimed at reducing racial disparities in the educational as well as the juvenile/criminal justice system. My long-time community involvement has allowed me to see up close and personal how kids that are not making it in our schools are ending up in our juvenile and ultimately our criminal justice system. As a board member, I will work closely with the community groups I have established ties with to make the district as strong as it can be for all our students, particularly those that have been the most underserved. 

Q. What are the three most difficult issues facing MMSD?

A. One of the most difficult challenges facing the district is recruiting and retaining teachers of color. It is important that our students see more people in the classroom who look like them. Various studies have shown that Black teachers improve outcomes for Black students. One Black teacher before third grade substantially increases the chance that a Black child will enroll in college. Black children also need to see themselves in the curriculum and not just during Black History Month. Our children need to understand that our history did not start with slavery. A richer and deeper understanding is critical for the success of our children. Keeping our schools safe is critical. Safe schools are a pre-requisite to effective teaching and learning. A positive school climate and atmosphere is essential to education success. A greater on anti-bullying and ant-harassment is essential to a good quality education. 

Q. What’s a goal you’d like to see the new superintendent achieve?

A. One goal I would like to see the new superintendent achieve is reducing the racial disparities in the district. I think these disparities have plagued the district for far too long. In order to close the opportunity gap, we must reduce the disparities. Another would be to work closely with the board to ensure that all children have a good high-quality education. 

Q. What is your overall vision you’d personally like to accomplish if elected to the school board?

A. If elected to the board, my overall vision would be for the district to continue with the good policies that have been implemented to reduce racial disparities and improve outcomes for all our students. Students can’t learn if they’re not in school. Closing the opportunity gap, maintaining safe and welcoming schools. Give teacher the tools and resources they need to teach our students will improve outcomes and improve the overall quality of then district.

Q. What proposal do you have to close the achievement gap?

A. To close the opportunity gap, we must reduce the racial disparities. Black children in the district are suspended at astronomical rates. We must reduce these disparities. Increase the number of teachers of color in the district. Increasing staff support for kids that have issues outside of school that have an adverse impact on their performance in school. We need more social workers and school psychiatrists to help deal with the myriad of trauma related issues that affect so many of our children. Addressing these needs will go along toward improving education outcomes for these children. Increasing parental involvement is crucial as well.

Q. Name the last three books you have read?

A. The last three books I have read are: The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander; Chokehold: Policing Black Men by Paul Butler; Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

Q. If your life story was on the big screen, which actor/celebrity would you want to play you?

A. Hands down: Denzel Washington

Nicki Vander Meulen is the incumbent for Seat 7. A juvenile attorney, she’s a disability-rights advocate who became the first school board member who is openly on the autism spectrum — not just in Madison, but in the entire United States.

Q. What is your favorite memory of growing up and going to school? 

A. In the fifth grade, my teacher created a history competition to help us all learn the material. This was the first time I was ever picked first for anything. I excelled in this competition, but one day I had to stay home sick and missed a competition day. When I returned, my team asked me immediately what the meaning of Montreal was. Apparently, my team had tied with the opposing team the day before. If I was able to answer the question correctly, I’d break the tie.  I correctly answered that Montreal means royal mountain. We won the competition and got bragging rights.

Q. Why do you want to serve on the Madison School Board? 

A. I have Asperger’s and Cerebral Palsy, and at the age of 5 I was told I was uneducable and should be institutionalized. I fought to get the public education I deserved, and went on to graduate from UW – Madison Law School. Getting my law degree led to the next round of discrimination. I applied to over 300 law firms disclosing my disabilities, but no one would hire me. Instead, I set out on my own, opening my own practice and taking the cases that meant the most to me ꟷ juvenile mental health overflow.  This allowed me to advocate for children and adults with unique needs. In my practice, I kept seeing kids with disabilities being unfairly treated in the school system. I had clients who had been suspended, expelled, and been frequent targets of seclusion and restraint. I decided to run for Madison Metropolitan School Board to fight for these kids.  

Q. What are the three most difficult issues facing MMSD? 

A. MMSD needs to start focusing back on the basics. In grades 3 to 8 only 34.8% of students are proficient or advanced in English and only 38.2% in math. It is time for MMSD to create two new community task forces one for reading and one for math with teachers, community members, administrators, school board members, and students to look into the approaches currently being taken by MMSD. The goal of these community task forces should be to create a report detailing recommendations for the district on how to improve scores and make suggestions on future funding for math and reading.  

MMSD also has a serious problem with teaching retention and teacher morale. MMSD needs to start showing they value teachers by starting each new budget cycle with cost of living adjustments and then going on to other priorities. When teachers are not guaranteed to have the same real pay next year as this year, it makes every year a harder year to stay a teacher. Teachers also need guaranteed paid prep time.  

MMSD has to budget for, hire more, and support more Special Education Assistants (SEAs). This includes not only hiring more SEAs, but also looking at the ratio of their professional development time to student time. 

Q. What’s a goal you’d like to see the new superintendent achieve? 

A. The new superintendent must work to lower the level of suspensions for Black and Brown youths and individuals with disabilities. Students with disabilities received 783 suspensions in the first semester of 2018-19 and 791 suspensions in 2019-20. These students make up 15% of the overall student body, yet they received 54% of the suspensions. This is unacceptable and needs to be a top priority.  

Q. What is your overall vision you’d personally like to accomplish if elected to the school board? 

A. My personal vision is to continue to give a voice to underrepresented groups on the school board. I will do this by continuing to meet with members of underrepresented groups in their communities. It’s our job to go to our constituents do not make them come to us. I will also continue to draft policy making sure all students have equitable educational opportunities. I’m uniquely capable of advocating for our district as I’m the only member of MMSD to have gone to every single school in the district.  

Q. What proposal do you have to close the achievement gap? 

A. MMSD needs to streamline the process of hiring and vetting teachers. Too often qualified teachers of color are applying to MMSD but are being hired by Madison’s outlying municipalities. This poaching of talent is avoidable, but we must create a hiring process that is faster and more responsive than those of our neighbors. MMSD also needs to start actively recruiting teachers from places like historically Black colleges. MMSD must fight to get smaller class sizes so we can truly differentiate instruction to meet the needs of every student. We must also provide more support for students and parents to help them succeed. This means expanding access to tutors and after school programs such as Simpsons Street Free Press. This is why I championed keeping Simpson Street Free Press fully funded and expanded during my first term in office. MMSD also needs to look at how we identify advanced learners. We don’t just need students of color, individuals with disabilities, and traditionally underserved groups in advanced learning programs, we have to make sure we’re preparing these students to take these classes. When we only use test scores as predictors for success, we leave out large groups of students who would thrive if only given the opportunity to take advanced learning classes. Also, one of the main contributors to early learning is preschool. We should implement all day 4K. In Madison we not only have an achievement gap, but an opportunity gap. Our poor students often lack the opportunity for quality pre-kindergarten education. All day 4K can act as a bridge to prepare students for school while providing parents with an economical option compared to the exorbitant cost of daycare, which is out of reach for many families.  

Q. Name the last three books you have read? 

A. The Testaments by Margaret Atwood; Queen of Darkness and Air by Cassandra Clare; The Red Scrolls of Magic by Cassandra Clare 

Q. If your life story was on the big screen, which actor/celebrity would you want to play you? 

A. Marlee Matlin. My generation has seen a lack of autistic actors. I would choose Marlee Matlin, because as the first deaf actress to win an Oscar she represents a huge step forward for Hollywood and the disability community.

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