Candidate Q&A: Madison School Board Seat 5
Two-term Madison School Board incumbent TJ Mertz is being challenged for Seat 5 in the Feb. 19 primary by a state Department of Public Instruction consultant and a piano teacher for a three-year term. The top two vote-getters on Feb. 19 advance to the April 2 election. (I) denotes incumbent.
TJ Mertz (I)
Address: 1210 Gilson St.
Family: Married with two sons
Job: Adjunct instructor, education and history
Prior elected office: Madison School Board since 2013
Other public service: Past board member, Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools; past co-chairman, Community and Schools Together
Education: Bachelor’s degree in general studies and master’s degree in history, Roosevelt University; doctoral studies (all but dissertation) history and education policy, UW-Madison
Address: 1027 S. Sunnyvale Lane A
Family: Single with a daughter
Job: Educational consultant for state Department of Public Instruction — grant director of disproportionality technical assistance network to address racial disparities in special education
Prior elected office: None
Other public service: Board chairwoman of Forward Communities Investments; president, Latino Education Council; board member, Madison College; board member, Badger Rock Neighborhood Center; member representative of state Department of Public Instruction’s Latino Task Force, UW Extension Collaborative
Education: Master’s degree in education, leadership and policy analysis, UW-Madison; bachelor’s degree in human services and psychology, Upper Iowa University; associate degree in human services, Madison College
Address: 5705 Crabapple Lane
Family: Married with a stepson
Job: Piano teacher and performer
Prior elected office: None
Other public service: Community activist for decades involved in many diverse issues
Education: Some college
Why are you the best candidate for this position?
Mertz: I have been a parent of Madison School District students since 2000, and have served on the board since 2013. I have taught history and education. I know the district and the work. Public schools are how we create a better future; I have dedicated much of my life to improving them.
Mirilli: I am the only candidate with experience working with our teachers, students, parents, community members and elected officials on addressing racial gaps and educational equity via concrete solutions-based practices, I have been a parent-leader, a Madison School District employee and a DPI equity consultant. Now I’m ready to serve on the School Board.
Roe: I have 35 years experience in working with children ages 6-18. I understand how they effectively learn. I have an understanding of the abusive power of unaccountable institutions and bureaucracies. The Madison School District is a broken bureaucratic institution. See my website which discusses these issues in much greater detail.
What is the most pressing issue facing the Madison School District and how would you address it?
Mertz: Trust and accountability. Providing our students with the education they deserve requires repairing the collapses of trust within our schools, and between our families and our schools. We need to exercise respect for one another, and work together with honesty and hope. Building trust and accountability require practicing trust.
Mirilli: Schools cannot function or achieve positive outcomes and growth working in silos. We have an opportunity through collaborative work internally and externally to create sustainable change. Promoting teachers’ leadership, striving for racial equity and implementing the Behavior Education Plan are my greatest priorities.
Roe: Top-down directives from all levels keep experienced teachers and principals from doing the job they were hired to do. The Madison School District is a district overloaded with powerful paper-pushers who have little or no experience in actually working with children. The best solution is to offer true school choice.
What steps would you take to close Madison’s racial achievement gap?
Mertz: The district must move away from reducing students to a single demographic category, or test score; students face multi-dimensional challenges. Front-line teachers/staff are best positioned to understand and help each student; they must be listened to at all levels, including when the board considers initiatives, programs and budgets.
Mirilli: A strong board well-versed in equity and systems change is critical to yielding results. The steps are: alignment of target racial equitable strategies and collaboration with teachers, students, families, administrators, community members and elected officials. Work with community leaders, local and state partners to address systemic oppression. Eliminating silos and creating a shared vision responsibility.
Roe: Eliminate identity politics and a victimization mentality currently advocated by “Downtown” and the School Board. Replace Superintendent Cheatham. Commit to school choice, which allows kids to thrive in a learning environment which treats them as humans rather than numbers. Love, discipline and appropriate expectations are what children need to succeed.