Meet the Candidates for Madison Board of Education

During the primary campaign we asked candidates running for the Madison Board of Education the same five questions to understand their vision for education in Madison. For the general election, we took a different route and asked the candidates a set of questions to understand where and how they would focus their energy if elected. The election for Madison Board of Education takes place Tuesday, April 2. Candidates responded to our questions through email or over the phone. We only publish direct quotes from candidates responding to the following questions:

What is the biggest challenge facing Madison schools?

Ad-hoc committee finds contract with Madison police fraught with challenges

Members of the ad-hoc committee tasked with evaluating the contract between the Madison Police Department and the Madison Metropolitan School District found a complex situation for which there was no obvious solution, according to committee members interviewed by Madison Commons. Nonetheless, the committee produced a list of recommended changes to the Educational Resource Officer contract that seek to address the problems of police presence in schools as comprehensively as possible, barring termination of the contract. Although some committee members believed that terminating the contract with Madison police should be the district’s long-term goal, the committee did not recommend doing so immediately in its final report to the Board of Education last December. “I was surprised how much [EROs] were built into the infrastructure of school functioning, and how much they were perceived [by staff] to be essential. And for me that raised concerns about a complete and abrupt removal,” said Abra Vigna, one of nine community members on the committee, which also included three MMSD school board members.

Police Chief Koval challenges the school-to-prison pipeline using statistics that show disproportionate arrests of black and brown youth in MMSD

The debate continues over the renewal of a contract between Madison Metropolitan School District and the Madison Police Department, which places police in schools. Proponents tend to argue that placing police in schools, known as Educational Resources Officers, make schools safer and allow officers to develop relationships with students, while opponents emphasize disproportionate negative outcomes of police presence on black and brown students. A recent Madison Commons article explored the debate in detail. Last week, Madison’s Police Chief Mike Koval wrote a blog post that challenged the validity of the “school-to-prison pipeline,” a concept which is often invoked by those concerned about the impact of police presence in schools on minority students. Koval’s blog post listed statistical data which supported his perspective.

Do Police Officers Belong in Madison High Schools?

Sometimes the need to be safe intersects with the demand for justice. Controversies around a recent report to Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) regarding the existing contract with Madison Police Department (MPD) to employ an armed police officer, called Education Resource Officers (ERO), in each of MMSD’s four comprehensive high schools, highlights just how difficult it is to navigate the tension between safety and justice. “I think we never want to put safety at risk...And yet I want us to never sacrifice one student’s sense of safety for another,” Dr. Jen Cheatham Superintendent of MMSD said. “We are obligated to search so we can ensure that every child, no matter their background, feels safe.”
Debating the Presence of Police in Madison High Schools
In December 2016, the MMSD School Board established an ERO Ad Hoc Committee. The committee was tasked to review the existing contract with Madison Police Department.

Madison school board use new procedures to govern public comments in November meeting

New procedures for public comments at Madison Metropolitan School District board meetings were used last month following criticism from community members who allege their voices were disrespected and silenced in the past. In previous meetings, School Board President Mary Burke has announced the names of the participants as they approached the podium followed by the name of the person next in line to speak. Burke, according to complaints, has had trouble pronouncing names of participants in previous meetings. A seemingly annoying or frustrating occurrence for some, represents a long history of disrespect and discrimination for others. To avoid future insults, whether intentional or not, last month the board changed the way speakers are introduced during public comments.

Partnership between MMSD and MATC brings STEM degrees to a diverse group of high school students

College students really are getting younger. This year, 26 students from East High School and La Follette High School spend their days taking classes at Madison Area Technical College’s Truax Campus. They are the first cohort of MMSD’s Early STEM Academy Program.  

By the time they graduate high school in May of 2020, they will have not only earned their high school diploma, they will also have earned an Associate’s Degree in a Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics (STEM) field. The STEM Academy is the result of an agreement between MMSD and MATC to create a dual enrollment program for high school students.

Stopping the school to prison pipeline in Madison schools using restorative justice

Every 53 minutes, a gentle chime invites students into the hallways of East High School, where their principal, Michael Hernandez, stands to the side of one corridor and greets them. “Hey, did you get those credits to transfer,” Hernandez asks one student and shakes the hand of another. He looks for one student in particular in order to spot a rare smile. “I know a few students who walk down the hall because they know I’m going to joke around with them,” Hernandez said. Students walk past “even if they don’t have a class down that way, because they know someone is going to acknowledge them.”

Hernandez is a stark contrast to the stereotype of the authoritarian school leader, but he represents a  change in Madison’s schools.

Dane County’s Bookmobile is gearing up for expanded service

Dane County’s miniature library-on-wheels is on the move. Starting on November 2, the Bookmobile will make weekly stops in Maple Bluff. Local residents will find the Dane County Library Service’s mobile library on Oxford Place adjacent to the fire department on Friday’s from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

“Typically what the Bookmobile does is serve the communities in Dane County that don’t have a municipal library of their own,” said Tracey Herold, the director of Dane County Library Service. When the Bookmobile launched in 1966, it served areas like McFarland and Fitchburg, which lacked their own public libraries at the time. The Bookmobile currently serves 16 different municipalities where public libraries don’t exist, or it doesn’t make sense to establish a library, which incurs continual expenses.

SSFP Reporters Visit the Weis Earth Science Museum

One hot day this summer, Deney, Sarah, Josepha,  drove all the way from the Free Press newsroom off West Broadway to Appleton, Wisconsin, ready to learn about space and geology. We embarked on this journey to attend the annual Wisconsin Space Grant Conference, titled “Uncharted Lands: Geology and Space.” While we were in the city, we visited the Weis Earth Science Museum to learn about fossils, rocks, and minerals. The Museum is named after Leonard and Donna Weis, who donated the first gift to the Weis Earth Museum and later became its directors. Joanne Kluessendorf is the museum’s founding director. All of the exhibits in the museum were donated by T. John Barlow, Clyde Stephenson, and Donald G. Mikulie.