Madison Metropolitan School Board, Seat 5
Vote for one
TJ Mertz, incumbent
1. What in your professional and community background qualifies you for this elective office? I have been a parent of MMSD students since 2000. I have served on the MMSD School Board since 2013. I was a member of the MMSD Equity Task Force in 2006-7. My post-graduate training is in history and education policy. I have taught history at UW-Madison, and history and education at Edgewood College. I have been active in community and education organizations, co-chairing Community and Schools Together, and serving on the board of the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools. Public schools are how we create a better future, and I have dedicated much of my life to improving them.
2. How should the school district address disparities in student achievement? The district must move away from seeking solutions by simplistically reducing students to a single demographic category, or test scores. The challenges students face are multi-dimensional. My first focus will always be those students who we are failing with, and most of these are students of color, students in poverty, immigrant students, and students with disabilities (often combinations of these). These ongoing failures are a crisis. Our front-line teachers are best positioned to to understand and help each student; they must be respected and listened to at all levels, including when the Board considers initiatives, programs, staffing and resources.
3. There has been continued debate over the school district’s Behavioral Education Plan. Should the district modify implementation of the plan, or are there other steps you would recommend? I was one of the earliest supporters of replacing punishment with support and education. I still believe in those goals, celebrate the progress, and am aware of how far we have to go. We have too many instances of disruptive behavior, too weak a sense of belonging, and are doing too little to provide support and education. A recent survey of staff overwhelmingly called for increased special education staffing, expanded mental health services, better options for consequences, greater consistency and follow-through, and more options for alternative programs. I have worked for all of these and will continue to do so.
4. Are there additional steps the district should take to effectively recruit and retain an outstanding and diverse workforce? Workplace culture and conditions are central to attracting and retaining quality teachers; this is more true with teachers of color. The key factors are respect, participation in decision-making, support, and autonomy, as well as competitive compensation. These are all things that are high on my agenda, for all of our staff. I also think we need to invest more in our “grow our own” programs, and explore expanding the high school TEEM scholars program, with scholarships tied to fulfilling future employment obligations. Perhaps this could be done on a wider basis, in conjunction with similar districts, and university partners.
1. What in your professional and community background qualifies you for this elective office? I have taught children, ages 7-18, for 35 years. I have read and thought about education and schooling even longer. I understand the dynamics of institutional power and how group-think can often so powerfully go against common sense. I understand how an allegiance to process within an institution can often make people lose sight of the original purpose of that institution. Prior to moving to Madison from Sauk County in 2012, I spent over two decades writing editorials in the local press concerning children and education. I’ve had personal and professional connections with Madison since 1985.
2. How should the school district address disparities in student achievement? MMSD must return to treating young people as individuals, rather than bodies identified by the color of their skin or gender. We must offer true educational opportunities, including school vouchers, so that schools with a different vision can offer real options to children who are not rich. JT Gatto, a master teacher, once said “genius is as common as dirt.” It is the Board’s duty to create the conditions for all students to excel, rather than hold them down through identity politics, medication, mediocrity and lack of real educational options.
3. There has been continued debate over the school district’s Behavioral Education Plan. Should the district modify implementation of the plan, or are there other steps you would recommend? MMSD should ask forgiveness from the trees who were killed for this thing, and from the taxpayers who financed it.
I support handing discipline issues over to local principals within our district. Micromanaging discipline issues from above means taking away the power from both principals and teachers. It subverts their authority to do what they know from experience really works. It helps no one. It is the superintendent’s and school board’s role to hire good principals they can trust to do a good job. The Board should not micromanage school-specific behavior issues it really knows nothing about.
4. Are there additional steps the district should take to effectively recruit and retain an outstanding and diverse workforce? The real issue is that there is not enough talent available for what the desire for true racial diversity seeks. See Sherman Middle School. If our country were to offer more true educational options to children when they are young, then I think we would have plenty of good options to choose from in the future. So why are things like charters and vouchers, which could make this happen much more efficiently that many of our traditional public schools, being actively fought against? I do not understand this at all, given the stated goal.
1. What in your professional and community background qualifies you for this elective office? I have over ten years working with families, students and educators in Madison. I have shown a lifetime commitment to serving all students, with a specific focus on students of color. My Masters Degree is in Educational Leadership Policy, and I have worked as the Restorative Justice Director at YWCA Madison, as the Family, Youth & Community Coordinator at Madison Metropolitan School District, and as the Educational Equity Consultant at the Department of Public Instruction. I have been a parent leader, an MMSD employee, I work for DPI, and now I'm ready to serve on the Madison school board.
2. How should the school district address disparities in student achievement? Creating a system of equity where every student receives equal access to the opportunities available in our schools is necessary to address racial disparities in student achievement. To do this, I support equity for teachers as well as students. This means that teachers will have the conditions needed to perform their job and they will understand and have the resources to embed equity practices. I support Community Schools as well as a focus on wellbeing to address the complex needs of all students. Investing in the school community is the best long-term solution to address disparities and inequities.
3. There has been continued debate over the school district’s Behavioral Education Plan. Should the district modify implementation of the plan, or are there other steps you would recommend? Prior to implementation, many community leaders (including myself) shared with the administration (former Superintendent Dan Nerad) our concerns of district-wide implementation. The plan relies greatly on a shift of mindset and values, impossible to accomplish by mandates and compliance alone. In fact, the State of Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction significantly increased supports, technical assistance and professional development to address system-wide changes. We need an overhaul in implementation, as well as increased leadership and staff ownership around the BEP. Once elected I will invest in increased staff-support at our schools that need the most.
4. Are there additional steps the district should take to effectively recruit and retain an outstanding and diverse workforce? MMSD has considerably improved the recruitment of teachers-of-color. However, MMSD still struggles with retention. Once elected I would focus on:
Teachers Development: Ensure that MMSD has leaders that understand the importance of supporting teachers-of-color and have the skills to do so. Invest in professional-development and develop differentiated training for teachers-of-color.
Mentorship: All teachers should feel they belong in our schools. Teachers-of-color may experience isolation and lack of support. Mentorship programs and affinity groups increase connection and create sustainable communities.
Policies and Practices: Review unintentionally discriminatory policies and practices and acknowledge systemic pressures that impact teachers-of-color differently than their White peers.