Savion Castro has been appointed to the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) Board of Education. The appointment of Castro, in addition to the recent election of Board member Ali Muldrow, marks the first time in the history of MMSD that there will be two sitting African Americans at one time on the board, and that the majority of the board will be made up of people of color.
Castro will take over the seat left vacant after the abrupt resignation of former board president Mary Burke in May. Castro was one of nearly 30 people who applied for consideration of the appointment.
During Monday night’s School Board special meeting nearly all of the applicants packed a meeting room in the Doyle Building to discover their fate as the board debated who the appointee would be. Savion Castro’s name was mentioned by nearly every board member during the discussion as they repeatedly advocated for a youthful, under-represented voice to join the board.
Disabled, Black and Brown youths have felt under-represented in the power structure in Madison schools, and board members Nikki Vander Meulen, Ali Muldrow and Ananda Mirilli repeatedly said that they viewed this appointment as an opportunity to bring someone to the table who could begin to shift that tide.
Castro is a graduate of MMSD schools, which he attended at the elementary through high school levels. While in school he experienced trauma and frustration and some of the most difficult aspects of being a student in MMSD. He had an individualized education plan while in high school. But instead of falling through the cracks, Castro graduated and went on to graduate as a UW-Madison PEOPLE Scholar in U.S. and international political economy. He’s also been the campaign manager for Student Alliance for Prison Reform, an Opportunity Leader at Opportunity Nation and highly active in the community. He currently serves on the staff of State Representative Shelia Stubbs.
“MMSD has a problem that the majority of the United States has,” Vander Meulen said. “Individuals who are black and brown, with disabilities, are the least heard, the least respected and often the least hired. … Savion Castro comes the closest for me. He’s homegrown from Madison. He’s had an IEP, he knows the disability system. To me what’s most important it kids see what they want to become.”
For her part, Board President Gloria Reyes said that she was split between appointing someone with experience such as former board members and applicants Ed Hughes or Juan Jose Lopez versus having a youthful voice with little experience. Ultimately, Reyes said she vacillated firmly towards having a voice that could lead MMSD into the future.
“Savion Castro is a voice we don’t usually have,” Reyes said during the meeting. “He’s the future of our city and I want him at the table to guide us into that future.”
After several minutes of discussion the board voted unanimously to appoint Castro.
“Thank you for your confidence,” Castro said to the members of the school board after his appointment. “It means so much, fellow members of the board and I’m really looking forward to engaging with all the members of the community to bring new voices to the table. I’m really looking forward to the work ahead for us.”
Castro will be sworn in at the Board’s regular meeting on July 29.
Castro will be officially sworn in during the July 29 regular board meeting that is open to the public. The length of his term will be from then until April 2020, when he will have to be duly elected to the school board.
But he is looking forward to both that election and the work there is to do in the meantime.
“I definitely intend to run for re-election,” Castro told Madison365 on Monday night. “Continuity on the board is important. I expect to serve through the whole term.”
For Castro, the night was a whirlwind of emotion, surprise, determination and gratitude.
“I feel incredibly honored and humbled to have earned the confidence of the school board to get their unanimous appointment,” Castro told Madison365. “It’s exciting, humbling. I’m in a whirlwind right now. It was a really quick turnaround from learning about the vacancy.”
Castro is ready to delve into the issues of the day which, for the school board, will include a major search to replace outgoing superintendent Jennifer Cheatham as well as working on a budget referendum to upgrade schools and school facilities.
“I really want to plug in right away meeting with school faculty to learn what they’re seeing on the ground while doing the day-to-day work and craft a successful referendum and hire a superintendent that will serve the needs of the kids in the district. Meeting with our existing employees right now and getting their input and meeting with parents, students on what they wanna see in the referendum.”
Above all else, Castro is excited about being part of an incredibly diverse and energetic board, particularly with people he looks up to.
“It means a lot! Being able to serve with Ali Muldrow is humbling,” Castro said in an interview Monday night.. “She is the smartest person I know and I’ll be looking to her leadership a lot. But to be able to be the voice of black kids in MMSD who have been through what I’ve been through, I don’t take it lightly. The need to make sure we’re not leaving anyone behind is more urgent than ever. And I want to bring a sense of urgency that we can’t kick the can down the road any longer. The value of having more black voices on the board up’s the level of the board because of the proximity of living through these experiences.”
Castro’s appointment runs through April 27, 2020, the next available local election. Castro has indicated that he intends to run for election next spring to finish out Burke’s full term.
Story by Nicholas Barton, Madison365