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A Seat at the Table: Former “At-Risk” Student Runs for School Board

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Gloria Reyes (Photo by Kate Kotsina for Madison Magazine)

Gloria Reyes has always held true to her goal of getting a seat at the proverbial table, from becoming a Madison police officer to improve diverse community relations to currently serving as deputy mayor for public safety, communities services, and civil rights.

Now she’s set her sights on a new seat, Seat 1 on the Madison School Board.

Reyes says there is a lack of voice on the school board when it comes to communities of color and safety.

She came to this realization after seeing the school board’s response or lack thereof to policies targeting undocumented students.

“All of the leaders around the city and the county were stepping up to voice their support for our students and there was nothing from our school district,” said Reyes, who represents the mayor on the city’s education committee.

“I asked the board why are they silent. We have so many students and families impacted by this and they are critical,” she told Madison365.

Although the district did eventually release a statement, Reyes felt there could have been stronger support for students.

“That just reflected the missing voice at the table,” she said. “When you don’t have a pulse for what’s happening in our community, you don’t have a voice that is often missed. I feel strongly that our kids need people who look like them sitting at the table making decisions that impact them.”

Despite the gaps in representation, Reyes still believed her experience in Madison schools helped shape her.

“Being a Latina growing up here and going to our public schools, I am a product of this community and this school system who was considered an ‘at-risk student,’” she said. “Because of the investment of this community and our public schools I had been able to overcome a lot of challenges.”

Reyes also plans to use her experience in law enforcement to represent what she believes is the best interest of school safety. Reyes graduated from Madison East High School and earned a bachelor’s degree in behavioral science and law and criminal justice from UW-Madison. For 12 years, she was a police officer and a lieutenant for the Madison Police Department. Reyes founded Amigos en Azul, an outreach program of police officers to Madison’s Latino community. She also has been the board president of the Dane County Chapter of the Latino Peace Officer Association.

“We have our behavior and safety issues both in our classrooms and hallways and we are seeing school shootings across the country where our children are being targeted,” she said. “I bring that experience as a public service professional, who’s also working on a master’s in public administration with a focus on security management.”

“In my position in the mayor’s office I am working to ensure that we are constantly talking about public safety in our community,” Reyes said. “We’re bringing our partners together and sharing that we are investing in not only preventative safety measures but also intervening on issues of public safety in our community and that’s something I would bring to the school board.”

Gloria Reyes (left) succeeded Brenda Gonzalez as Centro Hispano board of directors president in 2014. Centro Hispano is an agency on Madison’s south side whose vision is to help Latino families aspire upward to reach their personal goals and dreams.

As a former police officer, Reyes also believes that police do have a place in Madison schools as safety resources officers.

“I still feel strongly officers have to be in our schools, but we have to set policies and procedures of how we use them and we should not be using them as law enforcement, but as educational and safety resources,” she said.

Reyes is not only relying on her professional experience to address safety in schools, but also her own personal experience labeled as an “at-risk” student. Centro Hispano, an agency on Madison’s south side whose vision is to help Latino families aspire upward to reach their personal goals and dreams, helped Reyes a great deal when she was younger – even earning a Centro scholarship – and she would go on to become Centro’s board president when she was older. She knows what it’s like to be a student dealing with a ton of different issues.

“As a student who struggled dealing with a lot of issues that our children and our students deal with today, when I think about all that happens when you’re growing up in poverty and how you bring that into the classroom, I felt I personally had a connection with understanding those issues,” she said. “Oftentimes I feel we need people who actually understand and have lived and overcome these challenges.”

If elected Reyes will be the first Latina to serve on the Madison School Board. Juan Jose Lopez, the first Latino to serve on the board, was elected in 1994. Voting will take place Tuesday, April 3.