Madison’s public schools are at a critical juncture. Madison Metropolitan School District’s roughly 27,000 students are now 58% non-white, including 22% Latino and 18% African American. Despite being majority non-white, MMSD’s successes in graduating and supporting white students has not extended to Black and Brown communities, especially the African-American community and especially those who are also poor. I shouldn’t need to spend time here repeating those disparities; if you care about this issue, you already know.
I want to make it clear. These racial and socioeconomic disparities are not one of many issues MMSD faces. They’re the definitive issue of this moment for MMSD. Without addressing it, we will see Black and Brown communities lose faith (whatever faith they have left) in public schools. Black and Brown leaders may understandably try to develop options outside the public school system. Additionally, white communities, already indoctrinated with prejudicial assumptions of Black and Brown families and students, will likely divest from the public schools. When you lose their money, frankly, you’ll lose the resources to address just about anything (barring a political revolution in the state funding formula, reparations, or a literal revolution).
On the other hand, MMSD can make now the time it extends Madison’s many benefits, privileges, and advantages to its Black and Brown and low-income youth and families. It can live up to its own progressive self-image. It can do that by putting more young Black and Brown folks from Madison at the wheel. One of the ideal candidates for that is Savion Castro.
Savion knows what Black and Brown kids face in MMSD in a way that most of our current political leaders simply cannot. Savion went to Madison public schools in elementary, middle, and high school. He was a Black student facing housing insecurity and witnessed all the ways schools could inflict trauma on children. He was labeled chronically truant at one point and assigned an IEP. Yet, he also saw the best of some of the incredible staff in MMSD. Thanks to his own character, his family, and those individual staff, when I met him he was a brilliant and politically active student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
That’s the kind of résumé needed right now. His own life story should be all you need to know to appoint him to the vacant seat on the school board. However, since meeting him, he’s achieved the kind of success that should put even the most privileged, seasoned, white politicians to shame. Savion has worked as a policy analyst through One Wisconsin Now and in community organizing through Planned Parenthood, among other organizations. He has developed an analysis and understanding of such a well-rounded set of issues, and he’s used that to work as staff for Dane County’s first African American State Assembly Representative, Rep. Shelia Stubbs.
I’m proud to have been able to work with him twice in county government. Once, he was one of only two community representatives for a committee the Sheriff’s Office put together to investigate the benefits and downsides of body cameras. He was also a community representative on a county workgroup focused on reducing mass incarceration by reducing the length of time people spent in the jail. That workgroup, despite its vast diversity of political thought regarding criminal justice, produced ten recommendations for the county to reduce mass incarceration. His fearless commitment to speaking truth to power, representing the community, and believing in grassroots change is no surprise when you know he comes from a union family; his mother was a United Steel Worker.
There is no more qualified candidate for the vacant seat on the school board. His personal experience, his professional experience, and his ability to work with others without sacrificing a progressive vision for the future is a rare combination indeed. Having Savion Castro on the board could be one of the early steps to ensuring MMSD is a school district for all students, not just the privileged few.