Maia Pearson is a Candidate for the MMSD Board of Education
Home Grown Leadership
Maia Pearson is a product of the Madison public schools and her
three children currently attend Lincoln Elementary School on
Madison’s south side.
Madison was like a full community. We literally knew almost every single person who lived in the whole area. You had older women and older people who lived in
some of the houses who looked out for everyone. They made sure if you needed to eat, they had food. They would invite all of the kids over. We had little candy
stores inside of people’s houses at the time. I really grew up with the sense of community.”
It was a tight community that also kept you on the straight and narrow.
“If you got in trouble, the entire community knew,” Pearson said with a laugh. “One of the elders would get you and then the other one would get you and then they
would finally bring you to your grandma and then you would get it. It taught us to respect our elders as well. We held our elders in high regard. They were the people
who kept our community together. I was told that when I was a baby, I used to walk down the street and go down to the park. I would walk around with my bottle. I
was the younger one of the community, so I used to walk around with my bottle. And then Darcy Moncrief would take my bottle away from me. ‘You are old enough.
You don’t need this bottle. Don’t come back with this bottle.’ It was definitely a strong sense of community.”
And so Pearson grew up with the notion that it takes a whole village to raise a child. And so she relied on that same encompassing support as she made her way
through Madison’s public schools, first at Franklin and Randall Elementary Schools, Wright Middle School and West High School. She needed that support because
sometimes, she faced a hostile environment.
“When I was going into kindergarten, I remember an adult telling me that I couldn’t speak the way that I spoke because I was raised by my grandma,” Pearson said.
“She was from Georgia. I had that experience as a young child invalidating how I spoke almost to the point where I felt self-conscious and didn’t feel so good about
myself. That was one of my early-on negative experiences.”
But Pearson also had positive experiences on the elementary school level, which were crucial for her as a potential first-generation college student.
“When I talk about it takes a community and teachers to make sure the child is successful, I am literally the living embodiment of that,” Pearson emphasized. “I did
have a kindergarten teacher, Connie Hood who worked with Barb Rubin, I believe, the creator of Rubin for Kids. We had the classrooms that were split at Franklin.
You had teachers like them who definitely took care you and made sure that you had what you needed. They knew that I could be successful and they saw a value in
my education, so they helped out a lot. Connie actually became my mentor. She would sit with me and have lunch with me. That was very amazing. When I went to
Randall, we had people like Ms. Willie Mae Johnson and Phil Walters and Ms. Nancy Evans. We didn’t have as many of color in the schools. That was actually my
first time seeing a teacher who was Black. But you had other people from the community who worked there and were also there to make sure that you were okay.”
Pearson went on to Wright Middle School when Ed Holmes was the principal followed by Nancy Evans whom she had worked with at Randall Elementary School.
Pearson also joined the UW-Madison PEOPLE Program, the pipeline to college for many students of color and first generation students. At Wright and then at West
High School where Holmes was the principal, Pearson was surrounded by support.
“They were community people,” Pearson said about the people involved in the schools. “I’ve had teachers who cared about my education, who saw that I was
bright. I had community members who were in the school as well who made sure that you were okay. I feel that was part of why I was able to graduate and part of
the reason why I was able to go to college, especially being a first-generation college student. Your family doesn’t know what it takes to get you to college. They don’
t know once you get there, how to keep you there or what you are going to experience. It was new to our family. The fact that I was able to have people around me
who really cared about me enough to make sure that I went on to college was important.”
That system of support followed Pearson to the collegiate level when she entered UW-Madison after spending her freshman year at Cornell College in Iowa.
“When I got to college, people like Jacqueline DeWalt helped me,” Pearson said about the longtime director of the PEOPLE Program. “I was a full-time student. I
worked for the Boys & Girls Club and I became a mother all in that same time period. And then I became the mother of three children because I had a set of twins.
People like Jacqueline DeWalt were important. She made sure that I finished. I remember being a student on campus not being a traditional student and being a
student of color and having some very messed up experiences. I had to deal with racism, but I also had to deal with the fact that I had children and professors and
some teachers didn’t understand that when my kid is sick, I can’t be there. I remember times when I felt that I wasn’t going to finish. But they definitely came
together and made sure I graduated.”
While Pearson started at Cornell as an engineering student, that’s not where she ended up. She transferred to UW-Madison her sophomore year.
“I didn’t get an engineering degree,” Pearson said. “I was an engineering student up until 2010. That’s when I had my daughter and it was just too much to try to
finish. It was either stop, take a break and take care of the kids or try to do it and possibly fail. That was not an option for me. I had enough humanities credits in
language and areas and changed my degree to international relations. That was my second thing that I wanted to do.”
Pearson’s excellence has been recognized by others as she was growing up. She was named Youth of the Year by the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County and was a
finalist on the statewide level. She was named a Joe Thomas Community Service Awardee by MMSD. And she applied to 11 colleges and was accepted to 10 of
them, failing to be admitted to UC-Santa Barbara because she hadn’t taken the SAT exam.
Since graduation, Pearson worked for the Boys & Girls Club in their development office before taking a position at the WI Dept. of Revenue as a collections agent.
Maia also helped form South Madison Unite.
“We pushed the campaign of Save Our Supermarket to save the Pick N Save site and make sure that it didn’t close before this area had a full-service grocery store.
I worked with our leaders and the community in making sure that we could stop the demolition of our grocery store and create a food desert. I am really proud of
Miriam. I am super happy for her.”
When Mary Burke resigned last summer, Pearson submitted a letter of intent to fill the seat to which Savion Castro was appointed. When Kate Toews decided not to
run for reelection and Seat Six opened up, Pearson decided to throw her hat into the ring.
Her main motivation was her son, who is a special needs student. Pearson has had to be continuously engaged with her son’s school in order to make sure that his
academic and social needs were being met. It has taken a lot of time and effort.
“My son has an IEP, Individual Education Plan,” Pearson said. “He also has been considered as a student with advanced learning. He is an advanced learner and
has an IEP to get what he needs. For me to figure out that piece by myself and make sure that he was able to get what he needed and to make sure that he wasn’t
labeled in a way that prevented him from learning and making sure that he has the advanced placement as well was very difficult. It’s difficult to try to figure that out
and try to piece that together. I remember a time when I asked my mom, ‘What do I do? I don’t know what to do.’ Her own experience with the school district and how
they dealt with IEPs, she helped me through it. It’s one of those things where we all have the same aspirations for our children. We want them to be productive
citizens. We want them to learn what they can. We want them to have fun. We all want the same things as parents. I just feel that when you are Black in Madison, it’s
a lot harder to advocate for those kinds of things than it is for other people. We have the same aspirations. We just don’t always have the same opportunities.”
And Pearson has made her son’s education work because she has been engaged, something other parents are not always able to do.
“I had to be engaged when my son’s IEP was created to make sure it went in the right direction,” Pearson emphasized. “The principal was very supportive and the
teachers were supportive. But again, he needs the help. How can we get the help? They would say, ‘We need to put him here.’ And I said, ‘No, I’m not putting him
here because he doesn’t have a disability per se.’ The reason I have a lot of control with the IEP is because I am always there making sure that they follow it. I have
the luxury to be able to do that. Other people don’t necessarily have that. I have a good support system as a single parent.”
Next issue: Maia Pearson’s campaign issues
Part 1 of 2
By Jonathan Gramling
Maia Pearson, a candidate for Seat Six on the Madison Metropolitan School District’s board of
education, and I meet at Cargo Coffee on S. Park Street. Maia considers it her office because
she lives nearby and meets people there.
Pearson has always been a congenial person who was born and raised in South Madison. I
can’t remember a time in watching her grow up when she wasn’t smiling. And as she
approaches my table, that smile burns brightly.
Pearson was raised in South Madison at the end of the period when the Bram Hill
neighborhood was pretty tight.
“I grew up across the street from the Boys & Girls Club,” Pearson said. “I was raised by my
grandmother and mother. My mom was a single parent. And she was also a student at MATC
and worked a couple of jobs and she was trying to take care of us at the same time. My mom
worked at DWD and DOR. I’m not sure where she worked when I was a little girl. We were
with grandma a lot, my brothers and I. Basically at the time that I grew up, the south side of