Madison School Board Candidates Face Tough Questions At Forum | Education
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In a room filled with rough drywall and lives that took left turns when most would have gone right, four energetic school board candidates and students who said they feel failed by Madisons schools gathered on Wednesday night for a forum featuring Madison school board candidates.
Participants in Operation Fresh Start, a program that helps Dane County youth get back on a path to success, hosted Wednesday's forum at the program office.
At the front were three newcomers: Mary Burke and Michael Flores are vying for the Board of Education seat being vacated by Lucy Mathiak. Then, theres Nichelle Nichols, who is challenging incumbent board member Arlene Silveira, who is working to show she hasnt always sided with the superintendent.
Some attendees asked the candidates pointed questions: "Do you support the current superintendent?" was one question.
"What do you think the district has to do for students over 18 who dont have their degrees?" was another.
Perhaps the most sobering was, "What can be done for a high school junior who realizes he wont have enough credits to graduate?"
"Your experience speaks to something that I think has been a major issue in our school district," Nichols said. "We have kids floating through without anybody in the building realizing or recognizing when youre falling through the cracks."
"To me, this doesn't just start in high school. I mean, we should be figuring out whether it's in middle school or even in grade school," Burke told the room of about 50 people. "How do we reach students so they are learning and they're not falling behind? High school is sometimes too late because you don't have the skills to pass the courses."
Burke is a former secretary of the state Department of Commerce under Gov. Jim Doyle, a Trek Bicycle executive and now, a volunteer and philanthropist. She has championed the AVID/TOPS program in Madisons high schools, a program that has helped students gain essential skills they may have missed earlier in their school years while building problem-solving ability to help them find solutions on their own when many would otherwise give up.
Silveira shared that a change is under way to help discover when children are in trouble sooner, using a new data dashboard system the district has purchased.
"It's going to be put into place so we can measure attendance, credit retention, suspensions, expulsions, all those types of things, so we will know -- providing you the options, to help you succeed," Silveira said.
She also touted the districts alternative programs, like Shabazz High School.
"Theres Shabazz. There's work and learn. There's a lot of alternatives for our kids. I actually think we need more," Silveira said.
Flores said he believes it takes a village and that kids truly struggling might be best motivated by people who were once in trouble themselves.
"You guys can be mentors in the future. If you faced that struggle, that problem, I would welcome you into the schools and educate kids that are running around, falling asleep in class," said Flores.
On a separate note, he supported outside-of-class programs for keeping students engaged.
"A good base that I had also happened after school," Flores said. "I was a wrestler."
Each candidate also shared different thoughts on parent engagement. Burke said she felt the communication with many parents was too often only bad news, and that people become frustrated and might begin to tune out the school.
Nichols said shed become uncomfortable hearing that low-income parents didnt care about their children, and wishes there would be greater acknowledgement of situations where a parent or parents might work many jobs or work second and third shift and be less available than other parents.
Silveira mentioned some district schools have had success scheduling parent meetings and events at alternate times, like Saturday mornings, and there was room to grow the trend.
Flores hoped to make schools a community home where everyone feels comfortable, allowing pickup basketball games and night and weekend events that make it a less intimidating place for families that havent had positive interactions in the past.
The election is set for April 3.