Gloria Reyes Heads the MMSD
Subcommittee on Student Behavior
|Gloria Reyes, elected to a three-year term on the MMSD
School Board in April, is the first Latina elected to that
Reyes enjoys listening to the different points of view represented on the board, points of view that extend well beyond ethnicity or gender. And it is that diversity of
voices that Reyes feels makes the board decisions more sound and better informed.
“Everyone talks about how diversity matters,” Reyes said. “But it’s not until you are actually at the table making decisions where you realize, ‘That decision would
have passed if it weren’t for this perspective being given.’ As someone whom I feel is very much up to speed on equity and diversity and commit myself to those
values, when I am sitting at the table next to Nicki Vander Meulen, when she brings up issues of special needs and students who are autistic, they are things I never
thought about. That’s when I realize, ‘Wow, I never thought about that.’ And she often looks at me and says, ‘Wow, that’s a great point. I didn’t even consider that.’
When you are seeing James Howard at the table and Mary Burke and Dean and T.J. and Kate, everyone brings a perspective. And you are often times sitting there
saying, ‘If that perspective wasn’t at the table, we would have missed the boat on something.’”
And it isn’t just her fellow school board members that Reyes feels need to be heard to make sound policy.
“When we talk about something as simple as the dress-code policy, you would think, ‘Okay, there are dress codes for schools and that is that,’” Reyes observed.
“But when you really dig down into the complexities of that and how it impacts some students, when you are hearing from our young female students who feel that
these policies are directed towards them and makes them responsible for others’ actions and they have to be careful about how they dress. They feel that it is
intended for our young girls in our schools. And they feel that they can wear what they want and be okay with that. So in hearing those voices, I’m like, ‘Wow, I did not
even consider that.’ But it is very true. So those decisions, when you don’t get the perspective of those who are impacted and you don’t hear that, then we are just
making decisions all the time without understanding the impact that policies have. The dress code policy is something that we are going to be looking into and
reevaluating. And I think we should.”
As a former law enforcement officer — and someone who still has responsibilities dealing with law enforcement as deputy mayor — Reyes is particularly concerned
with student behavior and discipline, especially what can be a disparate impact on students of color.
“Years ago, you would see kids out in the hallway sitting there,” Reyes recalled. “And predominantly they were Black and Brown children. That was very frustrating
in that these kids are just sitting on the chairs in the hallway not learning because they did something wrong in the classroom.”
While Reyes noted that this is no longer the case in the classroom, it doesn’t mean that student behavior issues have been solved. It means that the issue has been
moved into a new arena, the classroom.
Student behavior was one of the issues that motivated Reyes to run for the school board. And now that she is on the board, she is leading an ad hoc committee that
is looking into student behavior.
“Behavior in the schools was a concern, particularly how we respond to behavior,” Reyes said. “It is ensuring that we are providing a safe and healthy environment
for our students, teachers and staff. It is holding our students accountable for their behavior in our schools, but doing it in a way where it is a learning process. It is
our students learning to communicate through their emotions, disagreements or frustrations that they may have. It is getting them very engaged in education and their
classrooms. I feel strongly that we’re losing many kids. I think the behavior education plan plays a critical role. I think there have been some issues in
implementation. That’s something that we are working through.”
One of the main issues with student behavior policies has been if they allow discretion, it allows bias to come into play in terms of how individual students are
treated. Yet if things are so set in concrete, they may work okay with one set of students, but not for another set. Reyes is trying to thread the needle in that area.
“There are some challenges with saying that this behavior education plan is going to work for all of our students,” Reyes said. “We have to evaluate that. We have at-
risk kids who have been faced with trauma in their lives. One student who may exhibit some of these behavior issues versus another student, treating them the
same way is a concern. We have to figure out a way to dig down deeper with that at-risk child who we know has been faced with some sort of trauma in the home or
experiencing some things rather than having a roadmap that says, ‘This is how we treat every student.’”
Reyes and the schools want this to be a learning moment and not the beginning of the pipeline to jail.
“There is a huge difference between behavior modification and punishment,” Reyes said. “It is the idea of teaching our students how to acknowledge their
frustrations and feelings in a very constructive way, being able to communicate, giving them skills to face the stress of whatever is happening. And rather than the
discipline where you aren’t really walking them through a process of learning how to constructively deal with their emotions, we’re just sending them through a
process of either a citation, sending them out of the classroom or school or sending them to the criminal justice system. And as we know, that’s not working for our
And it’s also a matter of equipping school personnel with the right tools and sufficient resources to make the behavior education plans realistic.
“I think it is really giving support to teachers and giving the skills necessary to deal with the behavior to teachers and also professionals in our schools who can
help assist in the classroom,” Reyes said. “As we know, teachers are dealing with a lot in the classroom. They have 20 something students that they are responsible
for and really trying to give them individual attention is important. But when you students who are exhibiting behavior challenges in the classroom, we have to be
able to provide support for them. And the idea, again, of the subcommittee of the board focusing on behavior is really trying to figure out what those support systems
Reyes hopes to wrap up the work of the subcommittee by the end of November and report back to the board.
“We will have some public hearings,” Reyes said. “Right now, we’re just hearing from our schools. On September 17, we’ll be hearing from three schools. We’ll
have staff, principals and teachers coming in talking about specifically the behavior education plan, both the pros and cons. We want to hear what their experiences
have been. And then we’ll also continue to hear from parents and students. The recommendations are going to concern any policy changes or resources needed that
could impact our budget.”
Reyes ran to make a difference. In a few months, we will see what that difference looks like. Stay tuned.
By Jonathan Gramling
Gloria Reyes is a busy professional woman these days. In addition to raising her daughter — and making
sure that she always comes first — Reyes is a deputy mayor in Madison Mayor Paul Soglin’s
administration with public safety and neighborhoods among the areas that she is responsible for. If that
wasn’t enough, Reyes ran in a kind of David against Goliath Madison Metropolitan School District school
board race last spring and upset incumbent Anna Moffit, pulling in over 30,000 votes.
Reyes is the first to say that the stars were aligned the right way for her to win, but it must have been
Reyes’ time to step up another level in community service.
Since she joined the board in late April, Reyes estimates that she averages about eight hours per week
on school board business.
“There is a lot of time spent preparing for school board meetings,” Reyes said. “I spend my Sundays
looking at all of the material in preparation for Monday. A lot of important decisions are being made at
board meetings. It consists of all of the materials provided by the administration. We also receive emails
from our constituents, parents and students about specific policies or budgets we are considering and
making a decision on. You really have to be able to know and understand the issue before going into the
board meetings. It takes a lot of preparation time. I want to make my own informed decisions. That is so