By John Rosales
After Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed the ominous Act 10 into law in March 2011, Sequanna Taylor was curious how the new legislation affected her job as a parent engagement specialist at the Golda Meir School in Milwaukee. After investigating, everything she heard from colleagues about this right-to-work (for less) law made her temperature rise.
“The law stripped most public unions of collective bargaining rights and changed the relationship between educators, the union and school district … for the worse,” Taylor says.
The new law not only sparked massive protests at the state capitol in Madison, it set off something deeply personal in Taylor herself.
“I drove to the statehouse for a rally and the moment I stepped onto the grounds I knew I needed to be in the meat of things,” she says. “I saw how my union stepped up for students and schools and I wanted to do my part.”
In 2014, Taylor became president of that union, the Milwaukee Educational Assistants’ Association Council (MEAA), and a board member with Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association (MTEA). She is also on the Education Support Professionals (ESP) Committee of the Wisconsin Education Association Council and a delegate to the NEA Representative Assembly.
But she hasn’t stopped there.
When a seat opened up for Milwaukee County Board Supervisor of District 2, Taylor joined the race and was elected April 5.
“When that seat became available, I knew I couldn’t just sit around,” she says. “My union prepared and encouraged me to seek higher office, so if the county is going to speak for our students and schools, then I am going to fight from within the system.”
With her parents and four children (ranging in age from 18 to 9) also residing in the district, Taylor has a vested interest in ensuring that the needs of children and the elderly “are not tossed by the wayside.”
“I got into politics to represent, inform and help my constituents with a voice at the table,” says Taylor, a former special education paraeducator who became Meir’s parent coordinator in 2014.
The MEAA Council represents 850 education support professionals and is one of four bargaining units within the 4,500-member MTEA.
“We are excited to have MTEA members elected into local leadership positions,” says MTEA President Kim Schroeder. “We don’t want to settle for politicians that make blanket statements in support of education. We want to elect strong individuals who have real progressive experiences in the trenches fighting for quality public education.”
As a county supervisor, Taylor says she wants to develop a response system that identifies the health, safety and social needs of families so that children are less distracted by certain adult issues and freer to focus on their studies.
“I see firsthand how community issues such as affordable housing, proper nutrition, and decent health care overflows into schools,” she says. “How can a student focus on learning when they are worried about their next meal or whether or not they have a place to stay for the night?”
A Milwaukee native, Taylor attended South Division High School and has an associate’s degree in criminal justice and bachelor’s degree in human services. She is also a graduate of an eight-month leadership-training program sponsored by Emerge Wisconsin, a national organization active in 14 states that prepares women to run for political office.
Nationally, Taylor networks with ESPs at NEA ESP conferences such as the latest event she attended in March in Orlando, Fla.
“You get to know ESPs from all over and create relationships for a lifetime,” she says. “I like how NEA gears leadership training, education tips, seminars and workshops to the specific needs and responsibilities of ESPs.”
Taylor says ESPs nationwide are considered by many as the foundation of their schools since more than 70 percent live, shop, vote, and worship in the same district where they work.
“In Milwaukee, many of us, or our children, attended the same schools where we work,” she says. “Community residents are more likely to listen to someone they know … who they see at school and in the neighborhood.”
Meir is a “gifted and talented” school offering classes to approximately 750 students in grades 3-10.
“Our student body is very diverse in terms of racial and ethnic groups and family income levels,” Taylor says. “They come from all over — the affluent suburbs and struggling inner city.”
Some families call on Taylor for help locating affordable housing, social services or even an interpreter for business matters since English is not their first language.
“I have an open line where they can call me on my cell or e-mail me and I’ll respond,” she says. “When I leave school, it’s not like I’m off.”