My commitment to inclusive, public education begins with my family’s work for integration in Evanston, Illinois, and my experiences attending integrated schools. I learned that schools can transform lives and communities. As a parent, active citizen, scholar/instructor of education and history, and School Board member, I have dedicated my life to understanding and improving public education. Our public schools are the most important places where we build better futures. They are essential spaces for finding common ground and building community, while openly and respectfully expressing and exploring our differences.
Common ground isn’t only about academic success. Our children need rich cultural experiences, emotional well-being, and a sense of community. We want to prepare students for success in the world as it is and give them the tools to improve that world.
To provide our students with the education they deserve, we must repair the collapses of trust within our schools, our community, and between too many of our families and our schools. We need to exercise greater respect for one another, assume the best intentions, and work together with honesty and hope. Building trust requires practicing trust, by being open and inclusive. We cannot build trust when we fail to be accountable.
I look forward to talking about my record and accomplishments during this campaign — including my work with diverse community members on reforming the role of police in our schools, changing middle school start times, assuring that our undocumented students have access to all of our partnerships, advocating for our students with special needs, placing the arts and safety into our strategic framework. I look forward to talking about my experiences, which have refined my ability to ask the hard questions. I don't ask for the sake of asking or because I enjoy confrontation. I ask because the complex details of budgets, programs, contracts, and evaluations affect the lives and learning of our students, the lives and working conditions of our staff, and the investments of the public.
One of my highest priorities will always be those students who we are failing with, who are struggling the most. Often this begins by making sure their basic needs are met, frequently in conjunction with community partners. With others, it might be improved, more relevant instruction and curricula. For many of our special education students, staffing and resources are not adequate. Some practices, like smaller class sizes and consciously working to build more inclusive classrooms, schools, and professional communities, will help all students.
I stand second to none in celebrating the successes of our students and staff, but believe continued improvement requires more. We cannot allow concerns about public relations to take precedence over honestly facing our failures. Too often discussions and decisions have taken place behind closed doors, or those decisions are rushed. Much too often the knowledge, experiences, and insights of many of our staff, our students, our families, and our community have been marginalized. I have worked with staff, students, and community members, and made sure their questions were answered and their concerns were addressed. I have pushed for more expansive and open public processes and better use of data and improved program evaluations.
Accountability begins at the ballot box, by electing a board that is willing and able to insist upon transparency, inclusive public processes, and a responsive administration. I remain committed to these.
In the coming years MMSD will be facing more difficult financial circumstances, with hard decisions about priorities and programs. I bring the necessary skills, experience and knowledge; and a pledge to openness and accountability. I ask for your support to continue the work.
TJ Mertz, the incumbent, is a candidate for Madison School Board Seat 5.