A walk in front of East High School in Madison takes Michael Flores back to a time he leaned on school for support.
Growing up, the Madison firefighter and paramedic said he didn't connect with his stepfather, and public housing kept a roof over the family's head. He said the achievement gap issues plaguing Madison's schools are ones he's lived from the inside. He said his run for a spot on the city's school board just felt natural.
"I think we undervalue education," Flores said. "And ultimately, I do believe we should have a strong foundation of public education throughout our country."
His story might make him just the kind of candidate who would back the Urban League effort to open a charter school for struggling, predominantly low-income students. Instead, he feels just the opposite.
"Up front, it just seemed like it separated the kids, and I have apprehensions about that," he said. "The price tag was pretty big to the few it aimed at helping."
What he does back are union teachers, nabbing an endorsement from Madison Teachers, Inc., which has flexed its political muscle with success over the years. A top priority for Flores is making sure school staff looks more diverse at the end of a three-year school board term than it does today.
"It helps everybody, not just the minority students, it helps everybody to show other people can be great leaders, great mentors, great educators -- that there's a broad spectrum of people that care for you," Flores said.
As a candidate he hasn't shied away from telling his story. Last week, he took his dress shirt off at a candidates forum revealing a black tank top, telling the room of at-risk youth that he was one of them.
"The achievement gap's not a number, I can place the faces, I've seen the kids, I can work with the kids," he said.
He said he hopes to encourage parents to be more involved in school by helping them learn as well.
"Anytime we can open the doors and bring the parents into a learning environment," he said. "I believe we're empowering our students."
Flores has three children of his own attending Madison schools, ages 7, 9, and 11. He said he believes collaboration will be key to solving achievement issues the district faces. Will he get it? On April 3, the voters get to decide.
"Bringing education back to the forefront of our biggest investment as a society, as a culture, and we can't do that fighting each other," Flores said.
Editor's Note: This is the second in a four-part series profiling Flores and the other three candidates vying for a seat on Madison's school board.