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At least two Madison School Board races contested this spring

At least two Madison School Board races contested this spring

The Madison School Board will have at least two contested races this spring.

Wayne Strong, who has run unsuccessfully for the board two times in the past, filed paperwork to run for Seat 7 against incumbent Nicki Vander Meulen. Strong is a former Madison Police Department lieutenant and director of workforce development at the Urban League of Greater Madison.

Christina Gomez Schmidt, who founded the Madison Partnership for Advanced Learning in 2013 and is the director of enrichment for Galin Education, filed to run for Seat 6 against fellow newcomer Maia Pearson, who announced her candidacy on Monday. Incumbent Kate Toews is not running for re-election to that seat.

Savion Castro, who was appointed to Seat 2 after Mary Burke resigned last summer, is running for re-election and is currently unopposed.

The board members elected in April will be working with a new superintendent, expected to be hired by February and begin by July 1. Within their first year, they will also potentially make a decision on two referenda for the November ballot and consider removing a school resource officer from one of the district’s comprehensive high schools.

MMSD’s School Board seats are at-large, meaning any district resident over 18 can run for any seat they choose. The filing deadline for candidates is Jan. 7. The general election is April 7, and if more than two candidates run for any seat, there would be a primary Feb. 18.

Seat 6 race

Gomez Schmidt has been outspoken in recent years about the importance of MMSD providing more challenges for its advanced learners, especially in response to a United States Department of Education Civil Rights Office agreement signed in 2016 related to disparities in advanced coursework enrollment.

She said in an emailed statement Thursday her priorities would include continuing work on equity issues, effectively managing the budget, assisting with selection of a new research-based literacy curriculum and rebuilding trust with the community. She wrote that she believes "strong public schools are the foundation of any strong, vibrant community."

"I've worked as an education advocate in Madison for many years and have built a foundational understanding of both the strengths and challenges of our school district," she wrote. "I am ready to work with the dynamic, diverse and talented groups of people across Madison who are dedicated to our schools."

In her announcement Monday, Pearson said her candidacy was “not just a personal endeavor.”

“Moreso because I really want to make sure the children of Madison have everything necessary to succeed,” Pearson said. “I am a firm believer that every child is special, every child can succeed, all they need is everyone to come with them to make sure that they grow.”

She was one of 29 applicants for the seat that Castro was appointed to in July.

Seat 7 race

For the past seven months, Strong has been a program associate with the National Council on Crime and Delinquency. Strong said in an interview Thursday he considers school safety and racial disparities in discipline and achievement to be the top issues facing MMSD.

“We have to make sure that our schools are safe and that they’re safe learning environments for our kids to learn and for our teachers to teach in,” Strong said. He stressed the importance of “tackling the achievement gap and just making sure that all of our students are given the best possible opportunity to get the quality education they deserve.”

He said he dislikes having to choose a seat to run for in Madison’s at-large system, but determined Seat 7 was the “most comfortable” for him at this time. As someone who had children go through Madison schools and will have grandchildren in them in the future, Strong said he thinks he can provide leadership on the board and that he has a "passion for education."

Vander Meulen said Thursday she was “glad to have a challenger” so that voters can make a choice based on what they value. She said the board’s three jobs are to make a budget, listen to constituents and write policies — and that they need to do more on the last of those.

“I’m choosing to run again because I want to continue to be a voice for the voiceless,” Vander Meulen said, citing the achievement gap and graduation rate for students with disabilities. “Things aren’t changing and they need to and the only way that happens is by speaking up and advocating.”

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Scott Girard is the local k-12 education reporter at the Cap Times. A Madison native, he joined the paper in 2019 after working for six years for Unified Newspaper Group. Follow him on Twitter @sgirard9.

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