Madison Commons reporter, Lauren Thill, interviewed three candidates for the Board of Education in Madison. We present the interviews unaltered in transcript form as part of a three-part series. In part three, we present the comments of Gloria Reyes who is running for Seat 1 against current board member Anna Moffit for the Spring Primary election on April 3. Reyes is currently Deputy Mayor for Public Safety, Civil Rights and Community Services.
Can you talk about yourself and your experiences?
I have been a longtime resident of Madison, and I came here at an early age. I was born in Wautoma, Wisconsin and my parents were migrant farm workers. They traveled with the seasons, which was why we ended up in Wautoma. So, during the time, it was like the early 70s, and there was a mobilizing movement of working for better wages and living conditions for migrant farm workers. They did a series of protests across the country; one of them was in Wautoma to the Capitol here in Madison. That’s how my parents arrived here in Madison and saw the university and the great opportunities for their family and wanted to settle here and eventually did. My parents have a third-grade education level; my dad became a welder and my mom became a nursing assistant.
I went through our public-school system, I graduated from Madison East high school, and I currently have kids in our public schools. I experienced very similar challenges to what our kids are faced with today, like the challenge of poverty and everything that comes with that—free and reduced lunch, behavioral issues, trauma and housing instability.
I know Madison very well, and I have been able to transcend those experiences into my professional career. I started my career working for the Public Defender’s Office, went on to work for the Department of Justice, spent 12 years in law enforcement and I am currently serving as Deputy Mayor for Public Safety, Civil Rights and Community Services. I am also the mayor’s liaison to education and immigration. I have a whole host of areas that are my responsibility, and education is one of them.
For the past three years while working in the mayor’s office, I have been really connected to what’s been happening in public schools. I think having a strong public school is so essential to the economic vitality of our city and community, and I recognize that education is the foundation of what our city is about. I would bring a broad perspective to the board, based on my personal and professional experiences, and I see that our public schools are faced with challenges. I am in a position to be able to lead this city through challenges. I believe the timing is everything, and I think it was time for me to step in and fill a need and a different perspective on the board when it comes to our children of color, our immigrant students, security and public safety.
What does your previous experience offer the school board?
For instance, I served on the Education Committee and we have been struggling for the past few years about what our focus should be. My own personal experience, working in the mayor’s office and seeing what was happening with public safety issues and employment gave me the perspective that we really need to focus on the students that are at risk and disengaged from our public schools.
I spent some time meeting with Jen Cheatham and the Education Committee, urging them to focus on this, and Cheatham jumped on it and assigned a staff member to this purpose. Now it’s called Opportunity Youth, and it deals with our at-risk students that are not engaging with our public-school systems. I really think that it’s the persistence of myself and others in the community that have really pushed on this, and it is why we’re here today. That’s a concrete example of using my perspective and experience to change our policies and devote more of our resources in an area that I felt there was a gap.
What are your top priorities and goals for school board? Do you have any plans?
Public safety is one of my number-one priorities—the health and safety of our students and staff. We have to look to see what we can do as a school district to prepare us against what happened in Florida, but also with all the other incidences that are occurring in schools. We need to move away from relying on law enforcement to take care of these issues. We need to tackle this in a collaborative and comprehensive way where we bring people to the table like behavior health experts and conflict resolution experts. We can engage the students that are causing these issues in our schools in a way where there’s accountability, but also lead them in a trajectory that is positive.
Underneath that, it’s all about what I just talked about with Opportunity Youth, it’s going to look at the disproportionality of our black kids that are designated as special education students, and the individualized education plans, so that’s one aspect of it.
I want to focus on the innovation and creativity of our classrooms, schools and teachers. They’re the experts, and they know their students better than anybody else does. Allowing our teachers to teach in a way that helps their students learn and allowing some creativity in the classroom is something I strongly support. Preparing our children for the workforce, a four-year degree, Madison College or something else, providing as many options for children in preparation for their careers is something I will strongly work on.
The big one is reducing the achievement gap where we are bringing in the community to help the school to tackle the issue. Our schools can’t do it alone. We have to bring in our diff communities that are affected by the achievement gap to work together to help our children in succeeding.
What role can the board play in reducing the achievement gap?
We should examine and access the resources that we are currently spending on the achievement gap. What kinds of things are we doing in a consistent basis, evaluating whether it’s working or not. I want to look at the data and the entire picture: what were we tasked to do? What was our vision? And then evaluate whether that’s working or not. And we need to determine whether we need to change or divert resources in a different direction. The big part the board can play is setting the budgets with the focus on the achievement gap, but also the policy surrounding that. Our responsibility as the board is thinking big picture as an entire school district. We are looking at it and how we are going to make these tough budget decisions that will support all children. That’s a critical role our school board plays. We can’t have people that are so one-issue focused that it takes us down a trajectory without looking at how it impacts the entire system. We have to have a diverse board and a wide variety of perspectives on things, so we are able to make policies and budgets that will benefit all our teachers and students.
I am an example of what we do well in this city and in our school system. I believe my story is very similar to a lot of children in our schools. The community and pub schools helped me so I am asking our voters to vote on April 3 for a leader, a woman who they invested in.