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WUWM's Teran Powell races on race and ethnicity in southeastern Wisconsin.

Black Women Firsts: Wisconsin DPI Superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor

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Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction
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Carolyn Stanford Taylor is the first black woman to lead Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction. Here she reads to elementary school students.";

In honor of Black History Month, we're highlighting several black women who are making history in their roles and industries here in Wisconsin. The series is called Black Women Firsts.

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Credit Teran Powell
Stanford Taylor in her office in Madison.

In the first installment, we hear from Carolyn Stanford Taylor, the first black woman to lead Wisconsin's Department of Public Instruction. She was appointed by Gov. Tony Evers at the beginning of 2019, and previously served as assistant state superintendent.

Stanford Taylor says she never intended to make history.

"Actually, when I hear people talking about me being the first, the first thing that comes to my mind is that I did not set out to be the first. That has never been top of the mind for me," she says.

She says she does this work because she's passionate about it.

"I'm passionate about the next generation and how we usher them to success. And so, if I can be a model of success for any student that might be struggling, then that's a bonus," Stanford Taylor says.

READ: New Wisconsin Schools Superintendent Wants To Focus On Disadvantaged Students

Becoming the first black woman to hold the state superintendent position isn't the only history Taylor has made in her life. Her family was one of the first to integrate schools in Marks, Miss., a segregated city.

Stanford Taylor moved from a school where she was taught and nurtured by black teachers and staff to one where she says it was clear white staff and students didn't want them there. She says that was an eye-opening experience for her. 

"Of the other families who attended, we saw that many of the students did not make it to graduation. And a lot of that was due to what happened to them after they integrated schools. We didn't have the same kinds of support that we had before," she says.

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Credit Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction
Stanford Taylor reads to young students.

But she used that experience as motivation. She says this is part of what influenced her path and passion in the field of education.

"Having had that experience and knowing that many of the students who didn't graduate were just as bright as I was, but because of that lack of support and advocacy, they did not get to become all they could be. Then that made me even more passionate about this work around education, and how education should be the great equalizer," Stanford Taylor explains.

She announced in January that she will not seek election to continue in her position beyond 2021. But if there's a legacy to leave behind, she hopes it's one that shows she's contributed to bringing in people who share the same beliefs, values and passion around education, and helping move the agenda that's inclusive of all students.

Do you have a question about race in Milwaukee that you'd like WUWM's Teran Powell to explore? Submit it below.

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