While Madison's mayoral and aldermanic elections might garner the most attention, the hottest races with sure to have far-reaching consequences for the future of the city are for the Madison school board. Since education and its implementation are at the heart of the job, Isthmus is conducting its second annual Take Home Test, administered to every candidate.
This week, we ask the candidates to explain how they can handle the job, as well as why they would even want it in the first place. Since it is the only race with a primary election on Feb. 20, we will be starting today with Seat 3 on the board. There are three candidates: Pam Cross-Leone, Beth Moss, and Rick Thomas.
Their responses to the essay and extra credit questions follow below.
The Daily Page: Tell us what in your background best prepares you to serve on the Madison school board?
I have been a strong parent advocate in MMSD since 1992 when my son started kindergarten. My children attended Emerson, Sherman and East. At each of those schools I have been actively involved in the parent organizations.
At Emerson, I was a PTO officer and worked with other parents to integrate the Transitional Education Program (TEP) for homeless children into the school and to bring full day kindergarten to the school. At Sherman, I helped reorganize a parent organization and worked with administration to turn a troubled school around. I also headed up fund-raising events for the parent organization. At East, I have been an active member of the Purgolder Booster Club for six years and have managed the club's concession sales at all home football and basketball games for the last five years. In these roles, I have developed many strong relationships with students, parents, teachers and school administrators.
For the past fifteen years, I have worked for Madison Gas and Electric (MGE). For fourteen years I was a Customer Service Representative (CSR). During this time, I had the opportunity to serve the office workers, who are represented by OPEIU Local 39, as a steward and chief steward. In my roles as a CSR and union representative, I have developed excellent listening and problem solving skills. I am currently the Trainer of the Customer Service area at MGE. As a leader in customer service at MGE, I foster a team atmosphere where all parties have a voice in the decision-making.
In 2003 and 2004 I was a Loaned Executive from MGE, working in the community during United Way's fund-raising campaign. In this role, I became even more familiar with the community and saw first-hand the importance of building partnerships with all community stakeholders.
Many things in my life have shaped my belief in the fundamental importance of educating all children to achieve their full potential, no matter their economic or racial background, ability or disability. My involvement in Madison schools has reinforced my commitment to help our schools live up to that ideal. My experiences in the classroom as a volunteer and working in the community for education will help me be an effective board member. But I think my belief in the value of each child and commitment to our schools are just as important.
As a teacher in Texas, Great Britain and central Africa, I learned about vastly different systems of education and how they sought to address their unique challenges. Madison's schools face many challenges, and I would bring to these an appreciation for flexibility and creativity that I gained as a teacher.
I have a daughter and son at Jefferson Middle School; my son has autism. As an advocate for their educations, I have spent much time in our schools. I learned to appreciate the professionalism of our staff and how the system works. I also saw ways it can be improved. I have come to know many other children with diverse needs, whose educations have suffered because they did not have effective advocates. I was inspired to organize student and parent groups, serve as a PTO officer and participate in community efforts in education. These kinds of partnerships are essential to making our schools better.
Recently, my activism expanded to working for the successful school referendum as a co-chair of Community and Schools Together (CAST). The people I met through that campaign and the overwhelming success of our efforts strengthened my conviction that Madison values public education and shares my belief that our schools are integral to our community.
There are several things in my background that prepare me to be the best candidate for the Madison School Board.
First, I have worked in a wide variety of school districts as a teacher, and my education is as a history and broad field social studies secondary teacher. I have seen many different approaches to education, and am constantly learning what works best and what doesn't.
Second, I have owned numerous businesses in the Madison area for the last 15 years. I know what it is like to prepare a budget and to make the hard choices necessary to stay within that budget. I also know how important it is to have a business plan for your business to succeed. In the schools this is called a strategic plan, and we must have a well thought out community-based plan for our schools to be as successful as they can be.
Finally, I have a long history of involvement in our community helping kids. I volunteer on a weekly basis in our elementary schools. I volunteer on a weekly basis at Memorial High School where I advise the Spartan Youth Service JOOI Team. These 150 or so young adults do an incredible amount of service in our community, and they make me optimistic for the future of Madison. I am also the director of a local food pantry where I make sure that kids in our community get enough nutritious food to eat and get provided with basic human services. I also do numerous other volunteer projects yearly to help the kids in our community. Check my website at www.rickforschoolboard.org for more details. The kids are our future, and we must do everything we can to make sure they are prepared to be our future citizens and leaders.
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?
I believe that strong public schools are the cornerstone of our community. I also believe that the citizens of our community feel strongly about excellent public education for all of our children. There are times when community members become frustrated with the school district when issues cannot easily be resolved. I believe that my commonsense, balanced approach to dealing with tough issues will make me an appealing candidate to a majority of the electorate.
With my fifteen years of experience in customer service with MGE, I have had many opportunities to deal with customers who may have been frustrated for a variety of reasons. This experience has helped me hone my listening and problem solving skills. I believe these attributes will be beneficial when addressing all the stakeholders in our community as we focus on public education concerns.
As a Chief Steward for the office workers at MGE, I had the opportunity to negotiate labor contracts for union employees. Although there was not always agreement on contractual issues between union and company representatives, I remained committed to handling the process with a practical, reasonable and logical approach.
Volunteering and giving back to the community is a part of me. I work hard to make a difference, and I am passionate about making a difference in the lives of children. I look forward to having the opportunity to direct my hard work and commitment to ensuring that our schools provide students with the knowledge and skills they need for future success.
I don't think serving on the Board of Education is a thankless job. It is difficult, and disagreements about the schools and education are often passionate. But there are many rewards. Foremost among these is knowing that you have worked to prepare the children of our district to become responsible, compassionate adults who have been challenged intellectually and who are ready and willing to contribute to the community.
There are also rewards to be found in seeing the fervor and dedication of those on the board and in the community who care deeply enough about our schools and our children's future to work for what they believe in. People who care do often disagree about specific policies, but their shared commitment to working for improvement is inspiring.
I hope that those who do not agree with my actions as a board member will appreciate that I am committed to improvement, that I will always seek community involvement, question and encourage questions, respectfully listen to the ideas of others, carefully consider all positions and work to find common ground.
I get asked this question everyday! It really goes back to my background and education I received in the public schools. Throughout history people have fought for changes when they felt injustices were being done. Change does not come from doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. It comes from people, such as myself, who are willing to stand up for what they believe in to make the place where they a live a better one.
It is always very easy to complain about what is wrong with government, but I have always felt that if you really want change, you need to get involved. I see changes that are needed in our schools so we can get better results. I feel with my unique background in the public and private sectors along with my strong commitment to helping kids, I am the best qualified candidate to make these changes happen. It is my civic duty to help prepare our kids for the future. Visit my website at www.rickforschoolboard.org for more details.