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Two more Madison school board hopefuls explain their candidacies
Take Home Test 2007: Week 1, Seat 5

While Madison's mayoral and aldermanic elections might garner the most attention, the races for the Madison school board might have the most far-reaching consequences for the city and its families. To help voters assess the candidates, Isthmus is conducting its second annual Take Home Test of the hopefuls.

Here are the responses from the two candidates for Seat 5, Maya Cole and Marjorie Passman.

The Daily Page: Tell us what in your background best prepares you to serve on the Madison school board?

Maya Cole: I believe over the next few years the Madison school board will need someone who has the energy and drive to accept the challenge of a growing school district. I have accepted this challenge and now want to expand my vision to provide expanding opportunities for all kids by using my creative skills and my outgoing attitude.

As someone who was the first in my family to earn a college degree, I have a clear picture of the responsibility and time involved to get kids and families where they need to be to succeed. I would like to see our focus be on closing the achievement gap beyond elementary school.

I bring the perspective of a parent of elementary aged kids -- I have high hopes -- and I will be invested in the schools for many years to come. As a community activist, my focus has been on increasing diversity in the workforce while fostering inclusiveness in the schools. Public schools are one of the few systems we have as a nation that profoundly affect our children's future. We cannot afford to be a nation at risk.

I have been active on many issues in my community. In the past, I organized mothers, activists and pediatricians against a state concealed carry bill. I have spoken out against the unfunded mandates of No Child Left Behind. I have helped fundraise for domestic abuse shelters and other organizations working on women's and children's issues.

As a facilitator for YWCA and as a committee member of United Way of Dane County I see a great need to bring more members of the community to the table when we discuss and plan for the future of the schools. I have been actively collecting a list of volunteers who will work with me if I am elected.

As the former president of the Franklin and Randall Elementary Schools Parent Teacher Organization, I recognize that every person has something to offer. By promoting open lines of communication, I have found that the work gets done more efficiently when we collaborate with teachers and administrators. I intend to maintain an active dialogue with the community through my website and my podcasts.

As a stay at home mom, I have the personal time, the family support and the stamina to devote to the board.

Finally, I have the fortitude to continue to improve the efficiency of our school board and the vision to build a vibrant school system that will serve the needs of the entire community. How do I know? I am a former candidate for this position. I don't quit until the job gets done.

Marjorie Passman: I come to this school board race with two valuable qualifications: A parent of two children who attended Madison public schools, and as a 28 year career teacher in the district. These two perspectives are crucial to today's decision making.

Our children attended Leopold, Cherokee and West High, and obtained a marvelous education where they learned from both a rigorous curriculum and the life experiences of their diverse classmates. My goal is to guarantee that today's students as well as tomorrow's will have this same opportunity. I also appreciate the need of today's parents to participate at all levels in their children's education, having done so myself as a President of Leopold's PFO, a Chairperson of an early Leopold boundary committee, and a volunteer in its classrooms.

I have taught 1st, 3rd, 5th, and 7th grades, as well as high school. My classes have included students who are English language learners, bilingual, have disabilities, and are talented and gifted. I consider the diversity of Madison's students, families, and schools to be one of the best rewards of teaching in its classrooms. It is the vitality of such classrooms that give our children an advantage over their peers in being prepared for adulthood in a diverse world.

Certainly, one of the challenges today is reaching the whole spectrum of students, so the school board must have members who understand how classrooms function and who know which programs are crucial for learning to occur. I offer a unique combination of qualifications as both a parent and a teacher, and I promise to bring both groups together in a united effort to face challenges and improve outcomes in a difficult time.

Extra Credit: Why are you running for such a thankless job where no matter what you do a portion of the electorate will always be furious over your position?

Maya Cole: Short answer: Because it is the right thing to do.

This question presupposes that serving on the Board of Education is a thankless job; I disagree. Contentious? Sometimes. Open to questions? Of course. Hard work? You bet!

However, there is nothing quite like the self-satisfaction that you experience when you take the body of knowledge you have gained and use it for the common good. It's sort of like the time I captured (and released) a bat from a friend's house. At the time, my friend, a well-known lawyer in town, was panicked and sleepless due to the bat flying around his house at all hours of the night. But my experience as a zookeeper helped me to evaluate the type of bat, what behavior to expect from the little creature, and eventually to catch it and send it on its way.

I have the life experience of someone who had many odds stacked against me in my early years. I am very thankful that I now have a wonderful family, three precocious boys, a roof over my head, steady income and health insurance. I would be honored to be elected as a school board member and would take the utmost pleasure in serving this community.

I want to move the schools forward.

Marjorie Passman: After I retired from teaching three years ago, I realized that lingering breakfasts over the newspaper, quiet and calm lunches, travel, all the many aspirations that working teachers have, made for a life that was just too tranquil for me. I returned to the schools as a mentor to first-year teachers.

Then I became involved in the school board elections and as the treasurer of CAST (Community and Schools Together), a grassroots organization supporting the successful passage of the last referendum. The natural next step was to run for school board. This job may seem thankless, but the issues are too important to walk away from or ignore or let others carry the flag for me.

Our city and our schools are at a crossroads. As our community becomes increasingly urbanized and our resources dwindle, we must develop solid and sustainable answers to what public education is all about. To me, this means that if we cannot teach all our students, we cannot succeed for any of them.

Public schools, by definition, are inherent to the concept of "equality for all." Everything else comes second. Madison schools have had some success in raising achievements levels for many of our students. I want to continue that success by supporting the programs that brought about this improvement. At the same time, I want to insure that our high-achieving students have access to the next level of challenges.

Some may think this insoluble. I do not. The next school board will have to make agonizing decisions. I will be there to remind them about the needs of all our students, teachers and families.

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