The Capital Times said:
The Madison School Board’s makeup will change with the April 3 election. Its chief dissident, Ruth Robarts, is stepping down. So, too, is a quietly thoughtful member, Shwaw Vang, who has more generally sided with the board majority and the district’s administrators.
There are those who suggest that the entire direction of the board and the school district is at stake. That’s a stretch. Chances are that the next board will have a majority that is generally deferent to the administration and a potent minority that tends to challenge the administration to do better.That’s about as it should be.
Madison schools are essentially sound. But they are not improving at the rate that they should. And they are facing increasingly challenging budget shortfalls. Thus, a board that mixes those who want to maintain what is good about the schools and those who will be pushing for more accountability and progressive innovation holds the most promise.
Our endorsements in this year’s three contests for school board seats will look to achieve that mix.
We begin today with a strong endorsement of Maya Cole, who is seeking the District 5 seat being vacated by Robarts. Backed by Robarts, Cole is a solid progressive who has shown a willingness to spar with the district establishment. That upsets some defenders of the status quo, but our sense is that she strikes a mature balance between supporting sound schools and understanding the need to try new approaches in order to meet funding, staffing and curriculum challenges.
That maturity is the product of hard work by an active parent who admits to being something of a policy wonk.Cole ran for the board last year as a refreshing if somewhat green candidate and narrowly lost.
She’s back this year, with a far greater mastery of the budget, the strengths and weaknesses of individual schools and the potential for achieving dramatic advances in minority student achievement and programming for students of every race, gender, economic status or heritage.
Raised in a rural, low-income family, she recognizes the barriers that exist even in good school districts.
And the active member of the Diversity & Inclusiveness Coordinating Committee for the United Way of Dane County is determined to break them down once and for all.
Cole’s able opponent, retired teacher Marj Passman, shares many of Cole’s values. Passman’s an extremely well-regarded educator who proudly celebrates the greatness of Madison schools and we respect her for that.
Cole is more than willing to join in hailing what’s right about the schools, but she is unwilling to accept that this is as good as it gets. She simply does not believe that administrators in Madison have all the answers.
Cole rarely shows up without a stack of studies under her arm, and no one who has spent more than three minutes with the candidate doubts that she has read them. She’s also sought the counsel of teachers, education professors, think tanks and school board organizations.
With an eye toward what may be the most fundamental task of the new board that of selecting the next superintendent she has examined best practices for involving the community in the process. And she is committed to maintaining openness and promoting the involvement of parents, teachers and local officials.
In general, Cole comes at the issues facing the board and the district with a faith in the prospect that fresh ideas, an open budgeting process and cooperation with the community can go a long way toward gaining broad support for a district that is constantly struggling to find the resources necessary not just to maintain its strengths but to compete in an increasingly globalized environment.
When Cole takes a tough stand, it is usually based on core values; for instance, at a time when there is much talk among bean counters about closing east side schools, this former president of the Franklin-Randall Elementary PTO says, “The very last thing that we want to do is to close a school.”
Cole and Passman are both progressives. They are both deeply committed to public education. They would both bring strengths to a changing school board. But Maya Cole stands out as the candidate who would ask the tough questions of administrators, think outside of the box and, above all, seek to involve the whole community in forging great schools for the 21st century.