Kalyanna Williams is the newest member of the Verona Area Board of Education.

Board members chose Verona resident Williams out of four finalists during the board’s Monday, Sept. 21, meeting that largely focused on filling the At-Large seat. Board members voted 4-2 to appoint her.

Williams is a faculty member in the Dairy Science program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a youth mentor who started the “Dear Diary” support group for high school-age girls of color. She teaches labs and short-course classes in the Animal and Dairy Science programs, and leads workshops with girls of color to strengthen their relationship-building skills and help them understand trauma and racial bias. As a Black woman, Williams helps students connect to those situations through her own experiences.

The seat was previously held by Debbie Biddle, also a Black woman, who left the board in July because she and her husband moved to Illinois. Biddle’s seat was scheduled to be up for re-election in 2023, but will instead be up in April 2021 alongside seats held by Duerst and Jahnke’s At-Large seats and Stier Christensen’s outside cities seat.

The board also interviewed Verona Area School District math teacher Jennifer Murphy, University of Wisconsin-Madison instructor John Porco and employment coach for Urban League of Greater Madison and district substitute teacher Leotha Stanley, before it voted on a final appointment.

Board members repeatedly asked candidates about the superintendent search, which will come to a head in December and the district’s strategic plan, as well as about the timing of their interest in the board during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Williams said that through her role on the school board, she would seek to change what it means to have every student be successful. COVID-19 has presented challenges that have shown school districts across the country how their metrics of success aren’t equitable for everyone, she added.

“I think now more than ever they are blown up in our face with how they’re not working, and why they’re not working,” Williams said. “Right now I’d be focused on, how do we redefine to be successful – what does that look like, and what does that mean?”

Board members Tom Duerst and Carolyn Jahnke voted against Williams’ appointment, but neither specified the reason for doing so. Some of the other board members, while they voted in favor, paused before voting because they felt all of the candidates presented to them were of quality.

“Quite frankly, I would be beyond honored to sit at a board table with any of you,” board member Meredith Stier Christensen said, before quipping, “I’m almost wondering if it would be easier to add four seats to the board than make a decision tonight?”

Board member Amy Almond said she nominated Williams to the board because she was impressed by Williams’ desire to take initiative to jump in and find solutions.

“I appreciate that she is organized, well-spoken and wants to be in the room where it happens,” she said. “That’s the kind of bravery you need to make change.”

Email reporter Kimberly Wethal at kimberly.wethal@wcinet.com and follow her on Twitter @kimberly_wethal.