This has not been a quiet year for Madison schools.
There have been incidents ranging from guns in a high school to an altercation between a white school staffer and a black female middle schooler. School Board meetings have been disrupted over whether the district should continue employing Madison police officers in the high schools.
Put that all on top of the long-running issues of why we continue to have such a yawning achievement gap and how we should discipline unruly students.
So it's not surprising that so many candidates jumped into this year's School Board elections to help guide the many decisions the district needs to make — and make soon. In the February primary a crowded field was narrowed to two candidates for each of three seats up for election to the seven-member board. Now it's up to voters to decide which three will join the board.
Frankly, it's not an easy task. For the most part the April 2 election pits extremely qualified candidates against each other and requires voters to look beyond the rhetoric and often simplistic advertising to make informed decisions.
It has been no different for the editorial board of The Capital Times.
We interviewed each of the candidates, studied their statements and literature, and talked to many local educators to satisfy ourselves that we could make an educated choice.
Those choices are Kaleem Caire for Seat 3, Ali Muldrow for Seat 4 and Ananda Mirilli for Seat 5.
There's no question that Kaleem Caire's opponent, Cris Carusi, is a well-qualified candidate for Seat 3. She has devoted much of her free time to working on school issues, attending countless meetings, educating herself on what works and what doesn't, and taking firm stands on smaller class sizes and the need for more help for teachers in the classroom, which she is confident will help narrow the achievement gap. One of her top priorities is supporting teachers — retaining experienced staff and keeping the best new teachers.
Likewise, Caire has devoted his life to education and has strong feelings about how it has so often failed children of color — many of his views shaped by his own high school experiences at Madison West. He was defeated in a School Board race in 1988, but that did not deter him in his pursuit of improving opportunities, particularly for kids who for myriad reasons got a slow start in life. After serving as CEO of the Madison Urban League, he founded One City Schools, a University of Wisconsin-sponsored charter school for kids from birth through kindergarten.
His involvement with One City and a previous attempt to form a charter school for African-American males called Madison Prep have raised questions about his commitment to public education. He said that he went the charter route with Madison Prep only after being rebuffed by the district, explaining his bottom line has been to give kids of color better chances to succeed.
Caire has assured us that he is and will remain a strong advocate of public education. We give him our endorsement because we believe he can help the School Board implement new and creative ways to deal with the achievement gap.
For Seat 4, we pick Ali Muldrow over David Blaska. First, we commend Blaska, a devout conservative who believes that School Board policies, written by Madison "liberals," coddle troublesome students and make it more difficult for other students by allowing the troublemakers to stay in school (never mind that unruly kids need to be in school if they want to succeed in life). He's particularly upset with attempts to get police officers out of the schools. He deserves credit, though, for putting his beliefs on the line by running.
Ali Muldrow is clearly the better choice. She ran for the board two years ago in a race that exhibited her experiences with juvenile justice and equal rights and how they can be applied to serving on the board. An involved community activist and Madison East grad, she is co-director of the Gay Straight Alliance for Safe Schools. She has worked extensively to help high school students develop their leadership skills, and she launched a project working with incarcerated youths. She is an advocate of integrating arts into everyday learning, and she is committed to working on racial disparities "relentlessly until our schools are places where students of color are recognized, valued, and provided with meaningful opportunities for success and inclusion."
For Seat 5, like Seat 3 a close call, we support Ananda Mirilli over incumbent T.J. Mertz. Both candidates believe strongly in public education, have impressive credentials, want the schools to get more parents involved, and give priority to students who are struggling.
Mertz has been a good board member. He's often been a lone voice for greater transparency, in particular calling for board committees to stop holding their sessions behind closed doors. This is an issue that the entire board needs to address and Mertz has been right to point that out.
Mirilli has good ideas on how to achieve better race relations, not only among students but among parents and teachers. A parent of a La Follette student and president of the Latino Education Council, she emphasizes the need for the district to work harder at building a sense of community among students, parents, teachers and administrators. She believes strongly that educational equity must go beyond equality, providing some classes and school activities to address the enormously different needs of students from diverse backgrounds. We give her the edge.
These are our recommendations. Whatever you decide, be sure to vote April 2.
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