Deborah Biddle, whose three children attended Verona schools over the past 12 years, has announced that she will join the school board this spring. She will run unopposed to take the seat vacated by the resignation of Russel King in November and will serve the remaining year of his term. She could run for a full term in 2020.
Biddle says her focus on the board will be managing rapid growth and growing diversity in the district.
“We have a new high school opening in 2020, and we’re redistricting the primary schools and the middle schools, so I thought that this was probably an important time for me to step in and get involved,” she said in an interview Friday. “When I think about how Sun Prairie grew really fast after their new high school opened and there was an influx of people moving into the community, issues concerning all of the students, in terms of what the caliber of education was, how they were going to handle the numbers of students moving in, the challenges of the district becoming more diverse. I’ve seen the same things happening here, potentially, in Verona.”
Verona has also seen a rapid rise in its population of student of color — in 2011, Verona High School’s student population was 75 percent white, according to state Department of Public Instruction data. It is now less than 65 percent white.
This is a statistic that hits close to home for Biddle, who has a thriving career as a diversity and inclusion consultant. She has contributed columns on diversity, inclusion and other career issues for Madison365.
“Verona has become more diverse in the 12 years that I’ve lived here, so I wanted to be involved and help the district become even stronger, and to make sure that we’re doing things as inclusively as possible, maintaining safety, making sure that we are creating an environment where students are challenged and encouraged and supported no matter what their background is,” she said.
Biddle said she’s seen the district headed in the right direction in terms of faculty diversity, and wants to make sure that trend continues.
“Over the time (since) my oldest son was in high school, and then the time that my youngest son finished up, one of the big changes that I noticed as a person of color, was that there were more principals and counselors and teachers of color in the high school. And I think that made a big difference in terms of my youngest son’s experience of the high school. I think that’s important for all children to be able to see themselves in the leadership that is around them. And so to the extent that at every level of the school district, we are able to do that. And I think it’s good for … majority kids to see that there are different adults, leadership figures in the school, who care about all students and who are challenging and supporting all students. It’s good for everybody to see that, and experience it.”
Biddle also noted that the Verona school district is also challenged by serving several cities, including Verona, parts of Madison and Fitchburg, one of the fastest-growing cities in the state.
Biddle, who’s never run for public office before, was recruited to run by current Board Vice President Meredith Stier Christensen after King announced his resignation.
“At first, I was a little apprehensive about it,” she said. “But the more I thought about it and talked with my family about it, the more it seemed like the right thing to do. I find that a lot of times we sit around and talk about what could be done, and complain about things that should be better, and we don’t always take advantage of the opportunities to do something about it when they’re presented. And so since this basically just came into my lap, and I felt like I have the skill and the interest and the experience in the district to be effective, I said yes.”