While campaign season looks slightly different in a social distancing world, the Madison School Board races have continued this spring.
The ballot for the April 7 election includes two contested races and one uncontested seat. The five candidates participated in a virtual forum hosted by Simpson Street Free Press earlier this week.
In Seat 6, newcomers Christina Gomez Schmidt and Maia Pearson are facing off to succeed Kate Toews, who is not running for re-election. Pearson and Gomez Schmidt were the top two vote-getters in the February primary election.
Gomez Schmidt said before the primary she wanted to use her "deep understanding of the issues that schools in the district are facing" to help make the district better.
"We've been really good at pointing out the disparities and need to move into the specific strategies we're going to use to address the disparities, and what metrics we're going to use and (what) benchmarks ... to decide if we're making progress," she said.
Pearson has has stressed her personal experience as an MMSD graduate with three children in the district now. She said she would be "so happy" to see the district implement all-day 4-year-old kindergarten during her term if elected, something she sees as key to addressing the opportunity gap.
"If children have early access to education and success early on, it sets them up for the future to be successful," she said.
Vander Meulen said she would prioritize district transparency in a second three-year term, and she hopes to remain a "voice for the voiceless."
"I made significant steps toward that," she said. "There's a lot more work to do. There's still needs that are not being met."
Strong has emphasized school safety during the campaign, specifically that he wants to reduce the disparities in suspensions between black students and their peers.
"If kids don't feel safe, if staff doesn't feel safe, it's not going to be a good learning environment," he said. "School safety is really the cornerstone of academic achievement."
Savion Castro is running unopposed for a one-year term on Seat 2. He was appointed last summer to the seat when Mary Burke resigned from the post.
The winners will have a say in a few important topics, including putting referenda on the November ballot. While that vote was initially planned for the March meeting, the School Board decided to delay the vote given the school closures and other concerns of the community during the COVID-19 pandemic.
School Resource Officers will also be an issue this term, with a June deadline for the board to decide if it wants to remove an officer from one of the four comprehensive high schools.
The board will also be helping superintendent-hire Matthew Gutiérrez in taking over the job. He is set to begin June 1.
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