School board candidates reflect on school climate ahead of primary

Jenny Peek:

It’s been a difficult year for the Madison school district.

A barrage of high-profile incidents has taken over the narrative of what it’s like in Madison’s schools, from the use of racist language, to a teacher being arrested for attempting to produce child pornography, to issues of safety at a district middle school.

The district is also in the midst of changing leadership as Matthew Gutiérrez takes over as superintendent, following Jennifer Cheatham, who announced her departure last May.

Amid the change and turmoil, voters will begin the process of electing two new members to the Madison school board. A primary for the general election is Feb. 18, and will include a narrowing down of candidates for the board’s Seat 6, currently held by Kate Toews, who is not seeking re-election.

All those running for Seat 6 — Maia Pearson, Christina Gomez Schmidt and Karen Ball — have children in Madison’s schools. The top two vote-getters will face off in the general election on April 7, where they will join incumbent Nicki Vander Meulen and challenger Wayne Strong, the two candidates running for Seat 7, on the ballot. Savion Castro, who was appointed to Seat 2 in July, is running unopposed in a special election.

Leading up to the primary, Isthmus wanted to know what each of the candidates in contested races thought about the overwhelmingly negative press the district has been getting in the last year — and how it’s affecting students. We also asked candidates to explain how, if elected, they would address the critical issues facing Madison’s schools, while also ensuring students feel valued and supported.

Madison’s taxpayer supported K-12 school district, despite spending far more than most, has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

In addition, Madison recently expanded its least diverse schools.

Much more on the 2020 Madison School Board election, here.