By Leo Wolfson, Cowboy State Daily
Sergio Maldonado Sr. is a man who has immersed himself in books, vessels of knowledge that have taught him the value of listening and learning.
One particular book he read by anthropologist Oscar Lewis in the eighth grade, he said, changed his whole outlook on life.
His passion for the written word remains just as strong today.
“We have to come back to where society appreciates good books,” the Democratic candidate for superintendent of public instruction told Cowboy State Daily. “It pushes you into the place, the time, the emotion.”
If elected Wyoming’s superintendent of public instruction, Maldonado said he will try to instill that same passion in Wyoming’s students to improve overall literacy.
“All students must be literate,” said Maldonado, who is to speak at the St. Stephen’s Indian School commencement on Sunday. “If we care to, we will become a read society, a society of spoken word.”
Maldonado, a man of Hispanic and Native American heritage, said he is running for office with the hope of bringing equality to the classroom, no matter the gender, age, race, class or sexual orientation of students.
“Our education systems must promote and cultivate the acceptance of diversity,” he said. “No one can claim pure ethnicity. Each one of us is unique.”
Maldonado is the first Democrat to register as a candidate for the office now held by Republican Brian Schroeder.
If Maldonado wins the Democratic primary election on Aug. 16, he will face the winner of the Republican primary in the general election. Three Republicans have so far registered as candidates for the post: Schroeder, Tom Kelly and Megan Degenfelder.
The deadline to register as a candidate for office in Wyoming is May 27.
Maldonado said he plans to tour the state during his campaign and listen to the educators, superintendents and members of the community as they describe the challenges faced in classrooms today.
“I assure you I will listen to people,” he said. “This is what this job is about.”
He also vowed to leave decisions about education in local hands.
“I will not politicize education,” he said. “These decisions are made by you and your spouse. We must have local control, local input. That’s how it must work.”
Maldonado said his lifelong experience in education and strong familiarity with Wyoming schools make him the right candidate for the superintendent job.
Maldonado has taught at Central Wyoming College and other colleges, teaching American Indian studies and other Native American-related topics.
In 2015, he was chosen by former Gov. Matt Mead as Wyoming’s liaison with the Northern Arapaho Tribe, of which Maldonado is a member. In this role, Maldonado met with the governor two to three times a month and attended every day of the 2016 and 2017 state legislative sessions.
Maldonado also was appointed by former President H.W. Bush to the National Advisory Council on Indian Education in 1989, where he served a three-year term, an experience he described as humbling and transformative for his understanding of education.
In 2016, Maldonado ran against Rep. Jim Allen, R-Lander, in House District 33 (R-Lander) and lost by a small margin of votes. In 2014 and 2018, he ran unsuccessfully in Senate District 25 against Sen. Cale Case (R-Lander).
Maldonado resigned from his liaison role in 2017 when the state cut his salary in half, opting to return to academia.
He currently lives on the Wind River Reservation and is working on earning a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Wyoming. He already holds degrees from Brigham Young University and Arizona State University.
In the past, Maldonado has taught at public and charter schools and has also served in administrative roles. He said it was his experience helping hire new teachers that made him particularly adept at listening.
“When they pose a question, I listen with intent,” he said.
Most recently, he trained employees at the Wind River Casino and he is now is a substitute teacher.
“As an educator, I have to remember I’m teaching service into life,” he said.
If elected, Maldonado said he plans to focus on early childhood development, low-income food assistance, parental accountability, preparing students for post-secondary education, vocational schooling and school performance assessments.
However, he does not want to put too much emphasis on testing scores.
“These tests are biased,” he said.
Low Test Scores
If elected, he said one of his biggest tasks will be determining why Wyoming, a state with some of the highest per student school spending in the nation, is on the lower end nationally for test scores.
He also wants to focus on poverty and how it affects classroom performance.
To address that issue, Maldonado said he wants to encourage communication between high- and low-performing school districts to find common areas of success.
Maldonado said he believes a community shapes its schools and students.
He noted that when students from the Wind River Indian Reservation, home to some of the lowest performing schools in the state, commuted to attend schools off the reservation, many of the students experienced success.
Maldonado said he supports the rights of transgender students but does not believe critical race theory should be taught at the K-12 level.
As far as higher education, he believes the University of Wyoming, like the rest of Wyoming’s public schools, needs to be adequately funded.
“Is there any wonder why so many of UW’s grads leave the state and go elsewhere?” he said. “What are we not doing?”