Maia Pearson hopes that in three years, she’s reflecting on her first term as a Madison School Board member while 4-year-olds are spending their days in school through a district-funded all-day program.
“I would be so happy,” Pearson said. “I really believe in all-day 4K so much.”
The candidate for School Board Seat 6 looks back at her own experience as a parent of three and as a student in Madison’s schools in developing her priorities if elected. Pearson is running for the open seat — Kate Toews is not running for re-election — along with Karen Ball and Christina Gomez Schmidt. The top two vote-getters in the Feb. 18 primary will advance to the April general election.
Madison Teachers Inc. announced its endorsement of Pearson Feb. 6. She is also being supported by School Board members Ali Muldrow, Ananda Mirilli and Savion Castro, according to her endorsements page.
“I literally cried because it means so much,” she said of the MTI endorsement. “It’s just one of those things that people believe in you and I don’t take that lightly at all.”
Pearson's three children all attend Lincoln Elementary School. She graduated from West High School and went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts in international studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison while an inaugural member of the PEOPLE scholarship program.
She now works as a revenue agent with the state Department of Revenue and owns a business providing culturally relevant greeting cards and artwork. Previously, she worked for the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County in a variety of roles focused on providing programming for children, whether through grants or working directly with families.
Pearson was also active in the South Madison effort to retain a grocery store in the neighborhood in recent years.
She said her experience at the DOR will help as the board develops its budget, as she’s used to finding inefficiencies. She’d use those inefficiencies to redirect money to staff, she said, whether that’s pay raises or adding more support staff in schools.
“It’s numbers,” she said. “I look at a lot of them.”
To close the opportunity gap, Pearson believes community partnerships will be “very important,” as the problems that lead to gaps in educational achievement and socioeconomic status go beyond the school district’s purview. She said higher education institutions like Edgewood, UW and Madison College as well as investments from businesses will be needed to get kids and families the opportunities they need.
“It’s really about how as a school district and School Board we can set the children up,” she said, suggesting connecting them with paid internships or vocational work.
Her 4K goal would also help toward closing that gap, she said. A bill under consideration in the state Legislature would reimburse districts for full-day 4K instead of counting 4K pupils as a half-student for funding purposes as state law does now.
It also would help parents face less stress and daycare fees, another piece she said contributes to the opportunity gap as they choose between staying home with their kids or dealing with the transportation and schedules that can often become a hassle.
“If children have early access to education and success early on, it sets them up for the future to be successful,” she said.
That early education work plus the new K-5 literacy curriculum the district is expected to adopt next school year would work in concert, she said.
“It’s all part of the same circle,” she said. “None of these issues are separate from each other.”
That also applies to initiatives like the Behavior Education Plan, which Pearson said needs to be looked at again with “more input from teachers and parents and students.” She said it needs to avoid a “focus on fixing our children” and better consider culturally relevant information.
Even with such a process, Pearson said more staff would be needed to carry out the plan.
“It’s really hard to expect a teacher to also do that piece as well,” she said. “(Our work is) making sure it is crafted but also making sure there’s enough people to actually implement the plan.”
She said she’s enjoyed campaigning so far, especially when she gets questions from students at houses she visits while canvassing. Their voices, along with the parents and teachers she’s spoken with, are key to her idea of running “a grassroots campaign.”
“It was really cool to see the spectrum of what Madisonians really care about,” she said. “It’s not just only the big issues, but it’s the smaller ones that are just as impactful.”
Recalling her own days growing up in MMSD, she said as a board member she could provide a range of perspectives on how the district is doing, both historically and now with her own children.
“I come to this office and this campaign informed as a parent in recent years but also as a student in past years,” she said. “My investment in our community means a lot to me.
“My community, my teachers, the people around me were definitely instrumental in me being where I am now to be able to actually run for School Board.”
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