Clockwise from upper left: Candidates Kaleem Caire (l-r), Cristiana
Carusi, David Blaska, Laila Borokhim, Amos Roe, TJ Mertz, Ali
Muldrow, Albert Bryan, Ananda Mirilli Right: Former school board
members Anne Arnesen, Bill Keyes, Barbara Arnold, Juan José López,
Carol Carstensen and Bill Clingan
By Hedi Rudd

On a slippery Tuesday night, GRUMPS (Grandparents
United for Madison Public Schools) held a School Board
Candidate Forum, in advance of the February 19th
primary, at Christ Presbyterian Church. This year, 10
candidates are on the ballot for three seats.

Up for grabs are Seat 3, where one opponent, Skylar
Croy, has dropped from the race, but will still appear on
the ballot, leaving Kaleem Caire and Cris Carusi as the
active candidates. Seat 4 has the largest number of .
MMSD parent leader Chris Carusi has regularly attended school board meetings and advocated for our public schools for more than a decade on top of her public
service career at a UW-Madison research center.

Dave Blaska will put teachers back in control of their classroom because safer schools equal a safer community and the current behavior education plan is a
colossal failure.

Laila Borokhim is a mom, local business owner, active community member and entrepreneur.

Albert Brian is an 85-year-old physician, a parent of three West High grads and Madison native who practiced 20-years in Madison, 10 in Moscow and 6 in the U.S.
Army in Germany and Iraq, who thinks the successful treatment of the achievement gap will be to focus on preschool education, neighborhood elementary schools
and reduced bussing of K-5 children.

Ali Muldrow was born and raised in Madison and began working in education at the age of 19 and is running for school board for the love of learning.
TJ Mertz has been a parent of MMSD students since 2000, taught history and education at the college level, has been active in local and state educational
organizations and has served on the MMSD School Board since 2013.

Ananda Mirilli is the only candidate with experience working with teachers, students, parents, community members and elected officials on addressing racial gaps
and educational equity via concrete solutions-based practices. She has been a parent leader, MMSD employee and a DPI equity consultant.

Amos Roe has 35-years of experience in teaching children ages 6-18, has had a deep, lifelong interest in education, studied and thought about all aspects of
education and his entire commitment is to what is best for children, parents and good teachers, unhindered by ideological blinders or institutional allegiances.
After providing their brief description, the candidates were asked to share what they think the Madison School District is currently doing well.

Caire pointed out that the school district overall is functioning well, which isn’t the case in every community.  He championed the district’s focus on the
achievement gap, Black excellence and great teachers, noting that many will be retiring soon. “I hope that we find ways to utilize the experience of our teachers
who are retiring to help those that are new to teaching.”

Carusi cited the number of ways her own children have been able to engage in social justice, arts and equity issues, in after-school programs, clubs and via
courses offered. “We would not have known that my older daughter is good at playing the violin, if she had not taken 5th grade strings in Madison.”

Borokim lauded the focus on nutrition and healthy food. “I myself have participated as a chef in the classroom at East High School, a partnership with REAP and the
Farm-to-Table programs that are happening in the classroom.”

“I would say the diversity is doing well in the high school level. Although I have more to say about bussing at the lower level” shared Bryan.

Blaska listed good teachers, good wages, good benefits and went on to add, “I have to say they do a good job of adhering to the current fad of identity politics over
traditional lessons that we learned from discipline in the classroom, I think that is a problem.”

“I think the thing that we are really doing well is that the district has been able to prioritize working in community and working in partnership with organizations that
allow the district to strengthen areas in which it has struggled.” noted Muldrow, who also highlighted the Welcoming Schools Initiative.

Incumbent Mertz is happy with the ability to pass referendums and the community’s level of engagement in local education. He added “we are very good at creating
programs and initiatives, but not as good at evaluating them.”

Mirrilli noted her work in restorative justice, which was also mentioned by other candidates and the community schools’ model as successes; as well as work
done by the district on the employee handbook.

Roe, echoed Blaska’s thoughts on identity politics and feels extracurricular activities offered are adequate.

The candidates were asked whether they thought collective bargaining rights should be returned to teachers, all said yes, except for Blaska and Roe. When asked if
they supported restoring higher standards of licensure for professional educators, Roe also said no, with Blaska passing on the questions and the remaining
agreeing to return to higher standards. Candidates were also asked if they would vote to repeal the statewide private school voucher program. Blaska, Bryan and
Roe, would not. Caire supports the Milwaukee program, but not the statewide program and the other candidates would repeal.

The candidates were asked to share their thoughts on inclusive education and how they would help to ensure that the district’s commitment to inclusive education
is reflected in practice.

As a Jewish-Persian person, growing up in Middleton, Borokim feels she can relate.  “I was pretty much the only person that could check that box until I was in high
school. The curriculum was not always inclusive. I did sit in the hall multiple times because I didn’t want to color Christmas Trees.” She went on to share “Our
schools need to make sure that we are giving culturally relevant curriculum, so that all kids in the class feel connected to it, they feel a sense of belonging.”

Bryan noted the difference in preschool education for those who can afford it and those who can’t and stressed the importance of neighborhood schools and would
prefer less bussing.

Muldrow highlighted her work in education the past twelve years. “I have spent the majority of my career in education making schools more inclusive spaces for
LGBTQ students, for students of color, for students with disabilities and that means embracing student-led learning, that means knowing that one size does not fit
every student, it means having creative approaches to making space for students as   individual people within the classroom.” She also noted her experience with
culturally relevant curriculum design.

Blaska agreed that schools should be inclusive and open to everyone and pointed to teachers’ roles in motivating students.  “I tell you what, a good teacher is a
good teacher, regardless of race or what not.”  He then pointed out parental concerns about disruptive students and their lack of feeling safe. “Want to talk about
feeling inclusive and being included, you can’t if you don’t feel safe.”

Incumbent Mertz pointed out that inclusion is often used in the context of special education. “I think it’s important to have our special education students in the least
restrictive environments and that staff supports and other tools have been lacking.”  He also shared; “What I really want to talk about is something called the
“dilemma of difference,” which essentially says that when you ignore differences between students, you run the risk of doing harm and when you address them and
separate them and treat them differently, you also run the risk of doing harm. In both cases you also have opportunities to do good for that student which means that
when we see students being separated and treated differently, we have to be very, very careful about the harm that’s being done and the good that’s being done.”
Once again, Roe agreed with Blaska citing “He said you don’t say ‘what is inclusiveness.’ Is it letting someone who is disrupting the classroom, and say we are
going to include you? Of course, you don’t. You have parameters in the classroom and you’re out of here and we are going to deal with you in terms of figuring out
why you are being disruptive, but you don’t say ‘I am being inclusive’ when you put them in there.”  

“When we talk about inclusion and we look at this room, I am the only non-Native English speaker, but I am expected to speak English to you all.” Mirilli pointed out.
“I look at this room, I don’t see myself reflected, except for a couple people. I’m expected to use the same protocol as everyone else. And you all are expected to be
at the same level as all of us and understand educational jargon and other things that may have flown over your heads. So, this space itself is not inclusive, but it
looks like it doesn’t it?”  

“Broadly inclusive schools are welcoming schools and inclusive schools educate the whole child and don’t just focus on a child’s scores,” responded Carusi.
“Traditionally, inclusion is about special education and over the years I see we are having a harder time keeping kids with disabilities in regular classrooms and
we tend to be putting them in rooms where they are segregated more often and we need to push back on that and make sure we have the staffing and support for all
kids to be included in classrooms including kids with special needs.”

Caire agreed that inclusion typically refers to special education students and stressed the need for early childhood education and earlier assessments. “We also
have to ensure that IEPs are followed by our schools. It’s often resources-driven or teacher experience why IEP’s are not followed, but that’s important if we are
going to help our children succeed. And minimum pull-out, there’s not many reasons why we have to pull children out of the classroom to get the education that they
deserve when they have a special need.”

Each candidate was then given the opportunity to provide a closing statement.

“I believe that we have an incredible opportunity in this current moment to reshape and reimagine our education to allow our young people to participate in greater
access to the arts, to make our schools welcoming, safe and inclusive, to create truly encouraging environments to teach in, to invest in ways that allow our
educators to restore their autonomy in the classroom and bring the best parts of themselves to their students.” expressed Muldrow.

“I think the most important thing is to bring all preschool level experiences up to the maximum that every child can handle because that’s when they learn the
fastest and if you miss the critical period, you can’t make up for it later on,” noted Bryan.

“Yes, there’s racial disparities in Madison and Dane County, but we’ve got to quit blaming our teachers they are not institutionally racist. I know we got three or four
incidences out of over 5,000 employees. The kids hijacking cars and shooting up the school bus are not being turned away at the school house door. David Blaska
is not eating their homework. Madison wants to help, but we can’t as long as we keep telling those kids that they are a victim,” summed up Blaska.

Noting her own son is in first grade in an MMSD school and she is the only parent running for Seat 4 whose child is an MMSD student, Borokim acknowledged,
“…there are challenges ahead of us. We are at the beginning of his public-school education, but I am impressed right now, and I want to make sure that I am a part
of this process, that I am part of the solutions to these issues that are facing this growing community, this diverse community. I want to make sure that all kids are
leaving our public-school systems feeling like they have a sense of belonging.”

Mertz noted the importance of pouring through data, research and documents. He also shared, “It’s about work. It’s about reading sometimes hundreds of pages of
documents that you are given and then hundreds of pages of documents. Then that takes you knowing what questions to ask, it’s knowing how to interpret the
research and the data, it’s knowing how to follow-through, it is knowing the points of leverage to create change and it takes persistence and I bring that, and I’ve
brought that for my six-years on the board now. I think this is very important to continue, especially when we have two board members leaving at this time.”
candidates and includes Ali Muldrow, Dave Blaska, Albert Bryan and Laila Borokhim. Seat 5
features incumbent TJ Mertz, against returning challenger Ananda Mirilli and Amos Roe.

Each candidate provided a one-sentence description of themselves. Kaleem Caire is a
Madison native, husband and father of five, graduate of Madison West High School, a
distinguished graduate of UW-Madison and a nationally respected leader in education and
community workforce development, whose initiatives and work has positively impacted
thousands of children and adults in Madison and millions across the United States.
In describing her desire to run, Mirilli stressed, “What I realized is that school
board members knew very little about my experience and the experiences of my
fellow parents and not only did they not understand, some of them didn’t hear us
and it made it imperative for me to change that. That’s what we need in Madison.
To shift how we do things.” She went on to say, “There are a lot of cultural
incongruencies in our classrooms. My platform stands on increasing mental
health support and counseling for our students, increasing work conditions for
our teachers and staff, a proactive approach to violence and prevention and
having community starting in the classroom and having students and teachers
experiencing that community, improving our facilities so our staff have great
work conditions and engaging with our families.”

Roe, who teaches privately said, “I am the voice for the good teachers and if you
are a good teacher, you don’t want to work with bad teachers. You want to do
your trade; you want to have control of your classroom; you don’t want to listen to
the board or the experts or the politicians tell you how to teach. When I started
out teaching, I thought there’s no way that a 25-year-old kid could come in and
have a nice Ph.D. in education and tell me how I need to change my teaching
after I spent 20 years working on it.” He went on to state, “I want to have a
situation where we don’t have a race to the bottom, we don’t have vouchers, you
do value teachers economically and you stand by them for the rest of their lives.”

Caire cited his over a century family history in the Madison area, which included
his own grandmother receiving her diploma posthumously. He would leave
Madison and return, to work as the CEO of the Urban League of Greater Madison
and open One City Schools, following an illustrious educational career, in
Washington D.C. “I commissioned the Nation’s first comprehensive study on high
school graduation, which is why we talk about graduation rates. That got me
invited to serve on a panel that advised the U.S. Congress and the White House,
No Child Left Behind. I then served on President Obama’s Race to the Top
Initiative that he announced here at Wright Middle School in 2009. I was the only
person from Wisconsin.”

“I have a proven track record of standing up for our public schools and I’ve had
the honor and privilege of working with a lot of people in this audience on the
grassroots organizing that needs to happen to have a healthy school district to
stand up for all of our kids,” exclaimed Carusi. Noting that she has attended
close to 200 school board meeting, which highlights “how passionately I care
about public education and about how much MMSD schools’ matter to me.
Through attending these school board meetings and through conversations I’ve
had with people across the community, I’ve learned a lot about the scope of the
problems we face and a lot of the issues we’ve discussed tonight.”

Now you have the chance to narrow down the field to two candidates in each
race, by going to the polls on February 19th or use the early voting process. You
can contact the Dane County Clerk of Courts for more information on how or
where to vote.