I am the child of two educators, and the product of Wisconsin public schools. We moved around when I was growing up, but I was always able to find a home in the playground at my neighborhood school and the high school band room where my father taught. I was shaped by compassionate district administration, rigorous curriculum and kind teachers in each of the six Wisconsin public schools I attended.
State Superintendent Tony Evers has been a leader in the Wisconsin public school landscape for the entire time I have been a student, and has been at the helm as state superintendent since 2009. His win on Tuesday secures another four years of leadership at the Department of Public Instruction that will be focused on providing an excellent public education for every Wisconsin student.
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Despite my incredible experiences in Wisconsin schools, I do not hold an overly romantic picture of the state of education for all students in Wisconsin. Our state has consistently been ranked the worst state for students of color, especially black students, for years. Wisconsin’s K-12 schools have had the highest measured gaps in test scores between white students and students of color; some of the highest rates of suspension and expulsion of students of color; and a persistent gap in graduation rates between white students and all other racial subgroups. My experiences in our system were great, but they stemmed in large part from my racial and economic privilege, which allowed me access to schools that normalized my identity and could easily fill my needs.
Evers has not been timid about these issues, either. While his policies in the last eight years have not yet been shown to have a dramatic impact, Evers’ leadership has remained principled and steady. He has always kept our marginalized students in mind by focusing on providing equitable school funding, raising academic standards and responding to the unique needs of both rural and urban schools, Evers has worked to maintain the integrity of our public school system amid attempts at privatization. By electing to keep Evers at the helm of public instruction, Wisconsin residents have renewed their faith in these policies to create the conditions for a long-term impact for our students.
The consistency and focus of Evers’ leadership is more important in Wisconsin now than ever. Unlike his former opponent, Evers is a proven state leader who can navigate our new political climate with integrity. His experience with bipartisan leadership will help shield Wisconsin from the potentially devastating effects of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ policies.
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His progressive values represent the majority of Wisconsinites, and he will fight as he has for years against conservative influences in our schools. Evers has a history of cooperation with Gov. Scott Walker and bipartisan initiatives with Republican legislators, but has also taken a strong stand against the extreme and divisive policies of the far right in Wisconsin. This balanced, principled leadership is exactly what Wisconsin students need in order to withstand our current presidential administration.
A perfect example of this steady leadership is Evers’ nuanced, appropriate position in the heated debate over the neoliberal privatization of our schools. He balances the needs of Wisconsin’s most underserved students with unwavering support for the public system, recognizing where school choice efforts can be both productive for students and destructive for the system as a whole. Evers will be the right leader to bear whatever unintelligible grasps at power will be made toward state leadership from Washington, and whatever well-marketed, snake-oil solutions will be sold to state legislators by American Legislative Exchange Council and its allies. Evers knows how to keep moving Wisconsin schools forward.
This summer, I will begin a master’s degree program to obtain certification to become a high school history teacher because I want to provide the kind of respect, care and love to students that I was fortunate enough to experience growing up. I look forward to working for the Department of Public Instruction under the tenure of Evers, whose thoughtful and consistent leadership has been an incredible example to me, and will continue to be a shining light in Wisconsin’s dim political climate for another four years. While I have no clue what school I will end up working in, I know there is no one I would rather have as a boss than Evers.
Katie Biester ([email protected]) recently graduated from UW with a Bachelor’s in history and political science.