Election 2017

Meet the candidate: Nicki Vander Meulen for Madison School Board

Madison School Board candidate Nicki Vander Meulen would work on improving restorative justice programs in education, as well as decreasing racial disparities in achievement and school punishment, if elected in the upcoming municipal election.

Image By: Jon Yoon

Nicki Vander Meulen says she would love to be “out of business” as a juvenile attorney. After seeing the same kids coming back to her for legal help, Vander Meulen—deciding it was time to strengthen restorative justice programs in local education—filed candidacy papers for seat seven of the Madison Metropolitan School District board.

“I see kids every day come in with legal problems that could have been handled at school,” Vander Meulen said. “A kid belongs in the classroom, not the courtroom.”

One way MMSD could do that, Vander Meulen said, is by implementing a disciplinary system that focuses on peer-to-peer guidance because kids are more likely to hear and follow advice from other students than they are from adults.

“If we finance that kind of program we won’t have to call the police for every single problem,” Vander Meulen said.

Another issue Vander Meulen wants to tackle is the number of suspensions and expulsions in the school district, especially those she said are happening disproportionately often for certain populations.

Eighteen percent of MMSD students are black and 14 percent of students have disabilities, according to Vander Meulen. Within those groups, the district suspends or expels 51 percent of black men, and 85 percent of students with disabilities.

Vander Meulen would confront those disparities by working to create a behavior education plan that would encourage an objective approach to punishment.

“Let’s say student A breaks a window. If student B also breaks a window and facts are the same, then you should look at what the punishment is for the other student and student B should also get the same punishment,” Vander Meulen said. “It takes the subjectivity out of it.”

Racial disparities also need to be addressed in the classroom, Vander Meulen said, noting Wisconsin has one of the largest achievement gaps in the nation.

Vander Meulen said increasing tutoring opportunities and peer mentoring within MMSD would help.

“We need to create a community environment where everyone is involved,” she said. “We need to stop teaching just to test. We need to work on individuals first.”

The spring municipal primary is Feb. 21, and the general election is Apr. 4.

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