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Madison School Board seat one candidates Gloria Reyes and Anna Moffit participate in the Arts Education Forum at Arts and Literature Lab. 

Amber C. Walker

Madison School Board Seat 1 candidates Anna Moffit and Gloria Reyes kicked off campaign season with a forum on arts education, the first of four discussions scheduled so far.

The forum, held at the Arts and Literature Lab in Madison’s Atwood neighborhood was moderated by Oscar Mireles, Madison’s poet laureate and director of Omega School.

Moffit seeks a second term on the board against challenger Reyes.

Madison School Board Seat 2, held by Mary Burke, is also on the ballot for the April 3 election. Burke is running unopposed. Mireles said Burke’s campaign did not respond to organizers’ request to participate in Tuesday’s forum.

The forum focused on the state of arts education in the Madison Metropolitan School District and the concerns of music, visual arts, theater, dance and multimedia arts teachers. All of Mireles’ questions were submitted by Madison-based artists and arts educators.

Mireles opened the forum asking the candidates about their experiences with the arts when they were K-12 students. Reyes, a Madison East High graduate, said she was a “very challenged student,” but a counselor got her interested in theater. Reyes believes schools can leverage the arts as a tool to re-engage at-risk or "opportunity" youth.

“It kept a lot of us out of trouble,” she said.

Moffit, who attended a private school until eighth grade before graduating from Madison West High School, said the arts, particularly writing, served as an escape from a chaotic home life.

Mireles asked the candidates if they would support a future arts “pathway” as a part of the district’s new Personalized Pathways program.

Moffit, a former teacher, said she had “mixed feelings” about pathways, and worried if designating one for the arts would lead to rigid requirements.

“We have to make sure we maintain flexibility,” she said.

Reyes said she was “not sure about” an arts-focused pathway and would advocate for options open to all students.

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Some of Mireles’ questions focused on retention and job satisfaction among arts educators, many of whom work at more than one school and teach a large number of students. Both candidates advocated for more individual and common planning time for arts educators and caps on art class sizes.

“We should let our teachers guide us through that process,” Moffit said, referring to determining the appropriate size for arts classes.

Reyes said she would “love to” decrease the burden on teachers who work at multiple schools, but recognized current staffing limitations. Reyes suggested consistent patterns for teachers who have to rotate among schools.

One of Mireles’ questions asked the candidates how they plan to support theater and dance programs since classes are dominated by music and visual arts. Reyes, who serves on the city’s Equity in Entertainment task force as a deputy mayor, said the community needs to support diverse local artists and strengthen partnerships between them and the schools.

“That is how we develop equity,” she said.

Moffit said the district as a whole needs to prioritize the arts across mediums, and called out a lack of spoken word and digital art programs available to students. Moffit said she would defer to educators to determine what mediums the district should focus on.

The next scheduled Madison School Board candidate forum — co-hosted by the Cap Times, Delta Sigma Theta Alumnae, Simpson Street Free Press and Mt. Zion Baptist Church — will take place on March 6 at Mt. Zion, 2019 Fisher St.