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Education news is often mired in discussions about big issues — policies, budgets, political fights. WUWM’s Education Reporter Emily Files also wants to tell student’s stories and hear from parents, teachers and others helping kids succeed.What are you curious about when it comes to education in the Milwaukee area? What do you think is missing from the education conversation in this region?Help Emily by submitting your question below._

Carr, Gokalgandhi Win Contested Seats On MPS Board

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Courtesy Of Jilly Gokalgandhi, Aisha Carr
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Jilly Gokalgandhi and Aisha Carr were elected to the MPS board April 6, along with two other candidates who were uncontested.

Updated April 7 at 10 a.m. CDT

Aisha Carr and Jilly Gokalgandhi won competitive races for Milwaukee School Board in Districts 4 and 5.

Preliminary results show Carr with 57.5% of the vote, compared to Dana Kelley's 42.5%. Gokalgandhi led Alex Brower with 59.4% of the vote.

The results are a contrast to the 2019 election, when five candidates endorsed by the Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association swept the election. This time, the MTEA-endorsed candidates in the contested races, Kelley and Brower, lost.

There were also two uncontested seats on the ballot this year: Marcela "Xela" Garcia in District 6 and Henry Leonard in District 7.

>> Democratic-Backed Jill Underly Elected Wisconsin State Superintendent

All of the incoming board members are newcomers. Incumbents Annie Woodward (District 4), Larry Miller (District 5), Tony Baez (District 6) and Paula Phillips (District 7) were not on the ballot.

The four new candidates join a nine-member school board that is reckoning with a year-long classroom closure due to the pandemic, as well as longstanding racial achievement and discipline gaps in a district serving 90% students of color and 83% economically disadvantaged students.

Original story:

There are four open Milwaukee School Board seats on the April 6 ballot, with no incumbents running.

Two of the races are competitive. Aisha Carr and Dana Kelley are facing off for District 4. Alex Brower and Jilly Gokalgandhi are vying for District 5. The other two seats only have one candidate – Marcela "Xela" Garcia in District 6 and Henry Leonard in District 7.

View a map of MPS districts here.

To help you get to know the candidates, we sent them the same list of questions. Here are their responses (in alphabetical order by district race.) The responses have not been edited by WUWM.

District 4: Aisha Carr
Aisha Carr
Courtesy of Aisha Carr
Aisha Carr is running for the Milwaukee Public School Board in District 4.

Tell voters about yourself, and what makes you uniquely qualified to be an MPS board member?

I have devoted my entire personal and professional career to support and promote the advancement of educational and racial equity for all students. I am running for Milwaukee School Board because I have experienced education on every level – as a former Capitol Hill Legislative Staffer for a former WI State Senator; an Alumni of MPS schools; a single mother of a current MPS student; an MPS Special Education and English Teacher, and currently, as the Opportunity Youth Re-Engagement Director with the Silver Spring Neighborhood Center. I have witnessed the inequitable and unjust treatment of students in MPS and I am committed to serving on their behalf until each one of them has access to an equitable and high quality educational experience.

What would your priorities be if elected?

Some of my priorities include establishing the COVID-19 reopening plan; addressing the racial/social/academic/economic disparities impacting students throughout the city; the recruitment and retention of black and brown educators; overworked, under-resourced, under-compensated educators; the under-utilization of vacant MPS buildings and what it’s costing tax-payers etc. Simply put, there are so many important issues facing the district and that is why representation is needed to ensure these issues are being brought to the attention of students, families, educators and communities who are all in positions to change the narrative and create high quality educational experiences for all students throughout the District.

Should MPS reopen for in-person education this school year? What measures do you think need to be in place for that to happen?

The health, safety and wellbeing of our students and staff is my top priority. Before we allow our children and Educators to return to school a month before summer break, we must develop a district-wide pandemic Crisis Intervention Team to respond to and address the immediate needs of students, families and educators, provide in-person instruction to students with special needs, with proper building sanitation and social distancing measures in place, following the guidance of National Health and Scientific experts for school reopening clearance. On the contrary, our District has failed to present a solid academic plan of action to address the achievement gap that existed pre-COVID and has widened since then. This is absolutely absurd.

Looking ahead to this summer and next school year, what should MPS do to help students recover academically and emotionally from a year without in-person school?

I don’t believe that transitioning students back to school for a month is a good use of funding and resources. Instead, I would support an intense, rigorous Summer Academy leading to fall instruction or the start of an early fall academy to transition students in that have demonstrated the greatest struggles followed by the traditional launching of school. This requires revising each school’s budget to train Educators, Support Staff, Administrators, students and families for extensive, rigorous, high-quality academic instruction. A strategic plan of action will be necessary to address the academic skill deficiencies pre-and-post COVID-19, and I am not confident that the District has developed that just yet. This too is problematic.

What would you do as a school board member to improve education for Black and brown children?

To address the disproportionate representation of black and brown students, we need to: recruit, retain and provide competitive compensation to high quality Black and Brown Educators; allocate funding to invest in the mandatory training and development of school safety personnel and designated community leaders to promote restorative practices to reduce suspensions and expulsions and dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline -- we will not succeed with fostering an equitable, safe educational community unless the number of suspensions and expulsions to Black students is reduced; and lastly, invest in a more culturally responsive curriculum that is conducive to and reflective of the different cultural backgrounds represented in MPS.

Do you think MPS should continue authorizing independently-operated charter schools? What is your stance on charter schools and choice schools?

In the past, the MPS Board has made poor decisions with chartering entities who did not serve the best interest of MPS students and families. As a result, taxpayer dollars, families and children have suffered greatly. Further, I do not support the expansion of entities who use public dollars to fund private initiatives. Instead, I will advocate for universal accountability for entities using public, tax paying dollars. As a future Board member, I vow to hold the Board accountable for working on behalf of MPS students and families. The Board is in need of an independent Champion who will fight to prioritize the needs and desires of each and every child and family over any highly politicized public educational agenda.

Learn more about Aisha Carr here.

District 4: Dana Kelley
Dana Kelley
Facebook
Dana Kelley is running for Milwaukee Public School Board in District 4.

Tell voters about yourself, and what makes you uniquely qualified to be an MPS board member?

The role of School Board Director is to manage, regulate and enforce legislation and policies concerning budget, staff, curriculum and most importantly the students of Milwaukee Public Schools. What sets me apart from my opponent is that I have been a Manager and Trainer since 1994 at Bakers’ Shoe Store, Grand Ave Mall. Corporately, I trained employees during the upgrade from Coaxial to Digital Cable in 1997 at TWC in Wauwatosa. I have hired, trained and managed many as Assistant Manager of McDonald’s on 27th and Capitol since 2002. As a Co-op organizer of North Side Rising with 30 people was able to Keep the Lights On in Wisconsin allowing many students of District 4 and WI the ability to attend school Virtually during the pandemic.

What would your priorities be if elected?

Once elected I will work to ensure educational success for students of color, special needs/special education students and marginalized students including fighting for funding to support all stakeholders and supply Full time PE, Music and Art Teachers and Mental Health Professionals in every school.

Should MPS reopen for in-person education this school year? What measures do you think need to be in place for that to happen?

No, MPS should not reopen this year for in-person education. We must first provide a safe and healthy infrastructure which a lot of Milwaukee Public Schools cannot provide currently due to old and outdated air filtration systems. Another issue is class room overcrowding which is not conducive for social distancing. Also, proper PPE like masks, hand sanitizers and hand washing stations are needed in each class. Teachers and students need plexiglass dividers on every desk. Teachers and students also need to have the option to be vaccinated if so desired before returning back to in-person instruction.

Looking ahead to this summer and next school year, what should MPS do to help students recover academically and emotionally from a year without in-person school?

This is a time for the community to come together and invest in our youth. Utilizing resources like Gates Family Youth Center, where I served as Administrative Assistant offering Distance Learning and Tutoring for free. Along with Entrepreneur Workshops teaching were we teach youth how to start their own business and earn cash while helping their community.

What would you do as a school board member to improve education for Black and brown children?

I will fight for funding for public schools to remain in public schools; not allow privatization to pilfer resources from public schools; ensure quality education through smaller class sizes, higher wages adding mental health and social workers in MPS; continue seeking funding for music, arts and PE teachers full time in every school; generate revenue for books, computers and science labs; implement the Green New Deal in Milwaukee Public Schools-generating living wage jobs in the Community of Color, provide healthy schools/food programs, introduce a Climate Equity Curriculum and generate revenue by producing power through solar panels and achieve MPS’ energy independence from WE Energies and fossil fuels.

Do you think MPS should continue authorizing independently-operated charter schools? What is your stance on charter schools and choice schools?

Privatization continues to pilfer from our public school funds at the detriment and despair of our public school students. Milwaukee County by law must provide adequate education to public residents of Milwaukee County. To fund a private education system with public Federal and Local tax dollars causes MPS to fail to comply to State Law. We must remove the parasite of privatization from public school systems and restore resources to the communities that have been left behind and marginalized disproportionately due to a racist system that continues to oppress the oppressed.

Learn more about Dana Kelley here.

District 5: Alex Brower
AlexBrower
Courtesy of Alex Brower
Alex Brower is running for the Milwaukee Public School Board in District 5.

Tell voters about yourself, and what makes you uniquely qualified to be an MPS board member?

As an MPS educator, I’ve taught for seven years at nearly 50 schools at all grade levels - K-3 through 12th grade. As past president of the substitute teachers union, I defeated efforts to privatize our jobs to a temp agency and won healthcare benefits for most subs by going on a 21-day hunger strike. As a co-parent, I understand the challenges of balancing work and supporting our child’s virtual learning. With my diverse experience in MPS, I have seen firsthand how current policies criminalize student behavior and how privatization, over-testing and underfunding diminish education quality and equity in our schools. MPS is in need of transformative change and I have the experience, vision and political courage to deliver that change.

What would your priorities be if elected?

My top priority will be to hold MPS administration accountable to ensure a safe reopening for MPS students and families. In addition, I have six platform points:

1) democratize education so that MPS students, parents and workers have more of a voice in our schools
2) stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter at School and end the school-to-prison pipeline
3) fight for public schools against privatization
4) create a Green New Deal for MPS and create healthier school environments
5) demand smaller class sizes and fight for more funding for arts, ELL, bilingual and special education programs
6) champion the struggle of MPS workers so that we can attract and retain the best educators for our students - especially teachers of color.

Should MPS reopen for in-person education this school year? What measures do you think need to be in place for that to happen?

I am very uncomfortable with the plan that was approved by the current board on March 23 because it lacks important details and doesn’t assure safety in schools. The lives of our Black, Brown and Indigenous students and families matter and, seeing how these groups have been disproportionately impacted by this virus due to centuries of systemic racism in this country, a premature reopening would be incredibly irresponsible and could result in more lives being lost to this pandemic. I want to see concrete evidence that all of the things the administration said are or will be in place are truly in place. We need safety measures in place and as a school board director I will hold administration accountable to ensure this.

Looking ahead to this summer and next school year, what should MPS do to help students recover academically and emotionally from a year without in-person school?

As a co-parent and MPS educator, I’m incredibly concerned about the wellbeing of our students and staff after this traumatic year. MPS should prioritize supporting student mental health by having mental health professionals available in all schools and avoid any programs that are drill and skill or computer based. We should offer a wide range of summer programs at all grade levels that allow students to focus on specific academic areas that families and teachers see as important and make sure students who aren’t able to participate are allowed to repeat any course work the next academic year without stigma. In addition, MPS should offer programs for children to socialize with others and gain comfort being outside of their homes.

What would you do as a school board member to improve education for Black and brown children?

First, I will fight to end policies that criminalize students of color and lead to the school-to-prison pipeline and invest in classrooms and counselors. I will demand a culturally relevant curriculum that includes more honest accounts of the contributions of Black, Brown and Indigenous peoples in our country, and that tells the true story of racial capitalism, native genocide, slavery and immigrant exploitation. I will expand and mandate anti-racist training to all staff and students. I will work to reduce class sizes and to attract and retain more high quality educators - especially teachers of color - to ensure our majority Black and Brown student population gets the best education we can offer.

Do you think MPS should continue authorizing independently-operated charter schools? What is your stance on charter schools and choice schools?

I oppose the voucher program and oppose any entity other than MPS chartering new schools in Milwaukee. As a school board director, I will openly call for entities like the City of Milwaukee to voluntarily cease chartering new schools and turn their existing charter school portfolios over to MPS. I think MPS charters should be governed by the democratically elected MPS school board, and as a director I will be very critical of new non-instrumentality charter applications with MPS, but not completely closed to reauthorizing existing ones. However, I will invite existing non-instrumentality charters to become MPS operated charter schools. Generally, I am against using public funds to support private schools.

Learn more about Alex Brower here.

District 5: Jilly Gokalgandhi
JillyGokalgandhi
Courtesy of Jilly Gokalgandhi
Jilly Gokalgandhi is running for the Milwaukee Public School Board in District 5.

Tell voters about yourself, and what makes you uniquely qualified to be an MPS board member?

I am a millennial, multilingual immigrant woman of color. I know what it means to experience bias and also to benefit from good public education. As a Community School Coordinator, I gained a unique understanding of one of MPS’ most sought-after school models. I worked every day with educators, students, families, and staff, and in school operations – including with budgets and state compliance issues. I worked with Community School organizers across the district, gaining perspective on supporting and improving all MPS schools. I have leveraged philanthropic support for STEM programming in MPS, particularly for young women of color. I understand how the school board functions and commit to fighting for justice and public education.

What would your priorities be if elected?

My priorities are to make sure every child has access to quality public education and reduce the opportunity gaps that affect so many kids, especially Black and Brown children. To do that, we must ensure the health and safety of our students, families, educators, and staff by having a strong COVID-19 relief plan that includes the social and educational supports families need. We must fight for equitable funding, resisting all privatization that steals resources from public school kids. We must address racial inequities by ensuring mandatory, on-going anti-racist professional development for all staff, create inclusion for women and gender-non-conforming students and invest in true community schools which incorporate shared decision making.

Should MPS reopen for in-person education this school year? What measures do you think need to be in place for that to happen?

Families and educators should be fully engaged in the decision making process on re-opening in person education. I support: ensuring the health & safety of our students, families, teachers, & staff by providing needed supplies and equipment for those in schools and robust technology services to those who choose virtual learning. I appreciate the effort to get staff vaccinated — we must also safeguard staff with personal or family health issues. Underfunding has left MPS dealing with old ventilation systems, lack of space for distancing, and shortages in key staffing areas. We must target spending in these areas to protect educators, students and families, including additional staffing needed to support students.

Looking ahead to this summer and next school year, what should MPS do to help students recover academically and emotionally from a year without in-person school?

We must be aware of the experiences our children had this past year and be prepared for their return. They lost community, witnessed tragedy, and lived through an experience unlike anything we have known. Students also created new ways of learning and new skills. We must help them process, celebrate their lives, and support them through the transition. That means making sure schools are staffed with professional educators and social workers, psychologists, therapists, nurses, counselors, speech and language pathologists and others to provide the additional care our children may need. This crisis has heightened opportunity gaps for our children and we must be vigilant and constant in our providing culturally competent, effective responses.

What would you do as a school board member to improve education for Black and brown children?

We must implement anti-racist, professional development that trains all staff, including administration, teachers, paraprofessionals, support staff and other school workers. I will work with educators to implement curriculum that reflects, celebrates, protects our diverse student body and community. This includes continuing to advocate for the Black Lives Matter, bilingual, and equity work that has been initiated in MPS. We need to address the cultural gaps by recruiting more staff and educators who look like and share the experiences of the students. Fully integrated restorative practices creates an environment where Black and Brown students can focus on education rather than racially biased disciplinary processes.

Do you think MPS should continue authorizing independently-operated charter schools? What is your stance on charter schools and choice schools?

I oppose all schemes to privatize public education and would fight to sunset the voucher program. Vouchers and charters are a decades-old experiment that has drained resources from our public schools and miserably failed our children. A publicly-elected school board is the best steward of taxpayer dollars to provide excellent public instruction. I will oppose new non-instrumentality charters at MPS and work with other board members to provide more accountability for current non-instrumentality charters. The Board and the District must stand together and fight to expand state funding and oppose public dollars going to private schools. MPS should become the sole chartering body for Milwaukee.

Learn more about Jilly Gokalgandhi here.

District 6: Marcela "Xela" Garcia
Xela Garcia
Courtesy of Xela Garcia
Xela Garcia is running for the Milwaukee Public School Board in District 6.

Tell voters about yourself, and what makes you uniquely qualified to be an MPS board member?

I am a proud product of MPS, the bilingual education program and I am an active lifelong District #6 community member--my roots in this community run deep. My candidacy for the Milwaukee Public Schools Board Director position is the result of my desire to further serve my community. I believe education is central to the empowerment of marginalized communities, specifically during this critical time where minoritized students and families are disproportionately affected by the systems that have historically failed them.

What would your priorities be if elected?

It is important to understand that we are living through dual pandemics of COVID-19 and racism, which have amplified the persistent inequities that we see disproportionately affect black, brown and indigenous communities in Milwaukee. MPS has the duty to support students in all aspects of their development while prioritizing their physical and emotional safety and that of their families. I believe that racial trauma-informed practices should be embedded into operations and protocols moving forward especially as our communities center healing.

Should MPS reopen for in-person education this school year? What measures do you think need to be in place for that to happen?

Remote learning and working need to continue to be enforced until the virus is mitigated and vaccinations are widely available. The communities that MPS serves have been disproportionately impacted by this virus, and community health should be our priority. I will continue to support recommendations by the CDC and the Wisconsin Department of Health Services as it relates to COVID-19 mitigation measures (e.g. continue remote work and learning) and I believe that racial trauma-informed practices should be embedded into operations and protocols moving forward especially as our communities center healing. We must continue to build trust with organizations and key community leaders as we uncover the short and long term impact of this virus.

Looking ahead to this summer and next school year, what should MPS do to help students recover academically and emotionally from a year without in-person school?

We must invest in the infrastructure needed to adequately support students’ social-emotional learning. Secondly, we must push for culturally congruent staff and the implementation of culturally responsive teaching through an anti-racist curriculum. Finally, policies that protect students from physical and mental harm/trauma within our learning environments will require the adequate staffing of professionals including psychologists, social workers, occupational therapists, speech pathologists, physical therapists and nurses.

What would you do as a school board member to improve education for Black and brown children?

As a society, we must confront the institutional racism within the structure of our educational system. Racial discrimination is systemic and is embedded within the policies and practices of institutional structures. I plan to work alongside teachers, parents and students to review and update curriculum that centers social justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion. These efforts should not be performative but rather be sustained and reflected in every aspect of operations, policies and procedures.

Do you think MPS should continue authorizing independently-operated charter schools? What is your stance on charter schools and choice schools?

Public schools provide access to an education for every child in our community—and their vibrancy is essential to the economic, civic and social health of our communities. We must be critical of how public funds are used, demand accountability, and oppose privatization. MPS has authorized 21 charter schools—both instrumentlity and non-instrumentality—contracts and partnerships that reflect efforts to accommodate the varied needs of our families and students. The current legislation that dictates funding policies that have resulted in the divestment of public schools, including the MPCP, are legislative issues that must be reconsidered in order to safeguard the equitable distribution of funding into our public schools.

Learn more about Marcela Garcia here.

District 7: Henry Leonard
HenryLeonard
Courtesy of Henry Leonard
Henry Leonard is running for Milwaukee Public School Board in District 7.

Tell voters about yourself, and what makes you uniquely qualified to be an MPS board member?

Nearly 30 years of experience in all aspects of MPS. That includes every age level as well as, leadership positions. I have lived what works and does not work with our students, staff and parents. I am objective and fair but very passionate and highly concerned about how much inequity exists within MPS. I have always been an advocate for my students and their families and have already used my campaign to build relationships and develop some common ground to get support in reducing those inequities.

What would your priorities be if elected?

1. Reducing classroom sizes is imperative to generating increased face to face time with teachers and students’ (this generates more growth and teacher to student relations than any other factor), reducing classroom behavior issues that are exacerbated by overcrowding, (pipeline to prison), more adequate distribution of limited resources and a major asset to retaining teachers.
2. Developing a much stronger network of parent relationships with the purpose of empowering their voice and creating dual ownership to being part of the solutions.
3. Developing more opportunities for High School students’ (ex. job training with MATC and trade unions).

Should MPS reopen for in-person education this school year? What measures do you think need to be in place for that to happen?

The board just voted to reopen with 20 required conditions. I believe that with most staff vaccinated and class sizes set at 15-18 students we will be safe enough to open schools IF we keep a careful watch over infection rates in the city and classrooms. The staggered start and opening extra sites reduce student density which helps. Unfortunately, we don’t know how many students are virtual versus in-person. 3 major concerns; the board made this decision without knowing accurate return numbers, we do not have enough staff and haven’t had enough staff for nearly 10 years and input from the MTEA and parents has not been consistent due to administrators not fully supporting their input. Success of this plan is still dependent on these concerns being resolved.

Looking ahead to this summer and next school year, what should MPS do to help students recover academically and emotionally from a year without in-person school?

Many of our staff and students have done an excellent job with virtual learning. Yes, there were academic and socio-emotional deficits that need addressing but the question assumes that all have fallen behind which is simply not true. Needed recovery efforts require a long-term approach by increasing funding for mental health and academic supports. Covid revealed and compounded the inequities. We need new funding formulas to reduce the deficits. Wisely, we should be using Covid relief funds to hire more educators and reduce student density. Then increase instruction time to generate real growth. That should be a permanent model. Reverting back to 30+ students in under staffed classrooms is just as damaging as the shutdown or worse.

What would you do as a school board member to improve education for Black and brown children?

Reduced class size will significantly improve the quality of education that every MPS child receives. 89% of our students are COC. Improvement hinges on this and increasing our teachers of color leading class instruction at MPS. Imagine reaching a point where our COC become successful in MPS and we then recruit from our own base of COC to become the next leaders in our classroom. In addition, we need to find a way to reduce the costs of becoming an educator. I have recruited numerous Para’s/EA’s into teacher prep programs but for adults raising their own children while working 2+ jobs, and taking a full academic load the obstacles can be too much. In order to meet the needs of hiring teachers of color we need to modify some policies.

Do you think MPS should continue authorizing independently-operated charter schools? What is your stance on charter schools and choice schools?

It is financially unwise for MPS to expand NIC’s/IC’s especially when a charter school leaves MPS to go into the voucher system.Between that and the expansion of voucher schools MPS is becoming insolvent. MPS and the voucher system pull their money from the same source but many voucher schools have private money sources while MPS does not.This creates an unfair condition financially and the results go well beyond MPS.Insolvency will negatively affect every public worker including eventual pension reductions.Add the low accountability measures, class size advantages and yearly migration of voucher students back into MPS; the result is ever widening inequities hurting our COC again.Capping enrollments defends against that damage.

Learn more about Henry Leonard here.

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