Why is The Daily Page wasting precious pixels by questioning two Madison school board candidates who are running unopposed on the April 1 ballot?
So for the next five weeks we will revive Take Home Test, asking the candidates large and small questions each week. Their responses to our questions follow.
The Daily Page: What in your background prepares you to set policy for a school district of almost 25,000 students with a $340 million budget and 3,700 employees? Please discuss your pertinent traits and experiences.
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 educator in the district. These two perspectives are crucial to today's decision making.
Our children attended Leopold, Cherokee and West High. They 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 president of Leopold's PFO, as chair of an early Leopold boundary committee, as a volunteer in its classrooms, and as a mentor to first year teachers.
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 as an educator. I am in a unique position because of my background to bring both groups together in a united effort to face challenges and improve outcomes in a difficult time.
I am an attorney in the law firm of Stafford Rosenbaum LLP. My practice has focused on litigation and regulatory matters. I know how to read a financial statement, I am comfortable with analyzing data, and I am used to asking probing questions and insisting on responsive answers.
I have also helped make the sometimes difficult personnel and budgetary decisions that come with sharing responsibility for the operation of a business.
I have served on the board of the Goodman Atwood Community Center. I have also served on the city of Madison's Economic Development Commission and Community Development Block Grant Commission, as well as Downtown Madison Inc.'s Economic Development Committee.
My previous board and commission experience equips me to function effectively as a member of a small group trying to work toward consensus. I'm used to working productively with people with whom I sometimes disagree. I'm also inclined toward the ideological modesty that comes from realizing that issues are often not as clear-cut as they might first appear.
For the past 19 years, one or both of our children have attended Madison schools (Lapham, Marquette, O'Keeffe and East). I am grateful for the education my children have received and I hold fond memories of many school events -- ranging from kindergarten outings, to those first painful strings concerts, to sports events (there is nothing like a cross-country meet on a crisp fall day), to high school graduation. So I have a positive attitude toward our schools.
I think there is a cheerleader role for school board members, and I look forward to making the case -- with enthusiasm -- that, with all their challenges, our schools are pretty darn good.
School Supt. Art Rainwater is retiring in June after ten years of leading our schools. What have you liked best about his leadership? Where do you think he could have done a better job?
I don't hold myself out as an expert on Art Rainwater's tenure. I believe his and the district's signal accomplishment has been, through consistent focus, maintaining and increasing academic achievement throughout the district, at least as it is conventionally measured. That's a terrific thing.
In terms of improvement opportunities, I would like to see an increase in collaboration with the board and community. We all want good schools. I think there are a lot of individuals and groups in our community who stand ready to help on school issues if asked.
I'd like to see an approach from the administration that is more open and receptive to ideas and offers from the community. I should add, though, that I'd rather have the administration's strengths be substantive and weaknesses be stylistic, as they are, than the other way around.
Art Rainwater became superintendent at a difficult time, having had a number of less effective predecessors. He quickly rebuilt community trust.
As a former teacher, I saw him as a leader whose student-centered philosophy coincided with my own. He was willing to be held accountable for student achievement. He put his job on the line to commit our district to programs necessary to create success for all children.
One part of Art Rainwater's tenure that I will always hold in high esteem is how he attended to the needs of students who have been traditionally marginalized in our schools and in our society. These are children with special needs, English language learners, students in alternative programs, and our gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender and questioning students.
On the other hand, I wish we teachers could have gotten to know him better. His visits to our schools were too few, and, in addition, he did not encourage his administrators to be in the schools. In fact, there were several poor principal appointments as a result of this seemingly intentional policy.
I also wish that there had been a greater effort to include parents, teachers and the public into the decision making process.
Whether one agrees or disagrees with Art Rainwater, he is a man of integrity and honor. In other words, he is just the kind of person one wants to be in charge of our children.
What's your favorite movie or book about teaching and why?
Few books or movies speak to the vast panoply of classroom life throughout our country and fewer still could supply the true nature of the student/teacher relationship to all people. So, I wrote: My Side: Reflections of a Public School Teacher.
I realized that today's teachers needed a voice to articulate the substantive issues of their profession. Today's parents needed to appreciate the vastly complex role the schools are expected to assume.
In addition, I knew it was in the general interest of every taxpayer to comprehend the enormous importance of educating all our children properly in our public schools. I hoped that teachers, parents and all taxpayers would be interested in what I had to say. Now, I hope I can find a publisher.
I think the last book I read that focused on teaching was Up the Down Staircase, which I read in high school, long ago in the last century. If the question encompasses college-level teaching, I enjoyed Richard Russo's Straight Man, which has some memorably funny scenes. Movie-wise, I've missed every last one of all those films in the dedicated-teacher-inspires-disadvantaged-youth-to-previously-unthinkable-achievements genre, but I did see Chalk recently and appreciated how it brought home just how challenging teaching can be.