Minority candidate for school board


Sam Kaufmann, Opinion Editor

A seat on the Waunakee school board is currently being contested in the April 7th election. Board President Joan Ensign, the incumbent president as well as a retired Waunakee High School math teacher, is running against newcomer Joel Lewis for a seat on the board that represents the town of Westport, city of Middleton and the city of Madison. 

Lewis, an African-American, is the first minority candidate to run for office in Waunakee village history. This does not mean the first minority candidate to run for a position on the school board. This means the first minority candidate in the history of Waunakee elections.

Lewis lives on a farmette with his family in the town of Westport. He says that a big part of the reason he is running is for diversity and inclusion.

“Waunakee is growing and we are becoming more diverse. We need to represent that diversity [on] the school board. By having more diversity, we get new ideas and perspectives,” said Lewis. If elected, he said that his perspective of a minority would be beneficial to the school board. 

“I understands what it feels like to be different and how to navigate successfully,” Lewis said. The candidate said he is of the belief that “every child needs to feel like they have a place in our schools and should feel wanted and included.” 

Currently on the school board, only one of the seven board members actually has children currently in the school system. Lewis and his wife have four children in schools.

In addition, his personal and professional experiences, which include a variety of leadership and development positions, allow him to “have a better understanding of the steps it takes to build a space that is inclusive for everyone.” 

Lewis grew up in New York. After high school, he spent several years as a teacher’s aide and as an aide for special-need students. He later graduated from the NYPD Police Academy and spent some years in their transportation unit. He participated in the cleanup after the destruction of the Twin Towers—9/11. Since moving to the Waunakee community nine years ago, Lewis has been employed as a therapist and a counselor. He has worked with agencies such as Child Protective Services, Pretrial Services and Deferred Prosecutions. His current job is as a counselor at the Dane County jail.

From working with marginalized individuals on a daily basis, Lewis has had much experience in “figuring out how to be part of the solution,” he said.

“[If elected, I am interested in] making decisions from a holistic approach. Which basically means, I’m challenged to think outside the box. One solution does not fit all,” Lewis said. 

Joan Ensign, the current board president, first won her seat in 2011. Ensign focuses on issues like district population growth and quality faculty maintenance.

“It goes to the type of culture we want to create,” said Ensign about quality faculty. “We have good people in the district… Compensating our staff and attracting people are our [most important] challenges.”

The rest of the school board comprises Mark Hetzel, Michael Brandt, Dave Boetcher, Judy Engebretson, Jack Heinemann and Julie Waner. Representatives hail from towns including Vienna, Westport, Dane, Springfield and Waunakee.

Voting will take place in the first week of April.