- Elected to the Milwaukee Public Schools Board, the Indian American wants to focus on health and inclusion.
As a new school board member of Milwaukee Public Schools in Wisconsin, one of Jilly Gokalgandhi’s first actions was a proposal to create a new department for women, focusing on Black and Latina girls, gender nonconforming students and LGBTQIA+ students.
“From an equity perspective, we have to address our young women,” she told local radio station WUWM89.7. Gokalgandhi’s proposal was approved by the full school board last week. It uses about $440,000 in federal COVID relief money to hire a department director, coordinator and planning assistant next school year, reported WUWM89.7.
In April, Gokalgandhi, who represents Milwaukee’s District 5, made history by becoming the first South Asian American in Milwaukee to hold public office. She won her District 5 school board seat with almost 60 percent of the vote, according to Ballotpedia, beating Alex Brower. There are 12 members in the school board including Gokalgandhi.
The Mumbai-born Gokalgandhi emigrated to the U.S. with her family at age 3. “I don’t see women who look like me in the community running for office and we do have a growing AAPI community in the city of Milwaukee,” she told TMJ-4 TV. So she ran for office herself. “I thought, why not me.”
Her platform focused on what matters — putting the health and safety of our children, families and educators first in this pandemic; fighting for full funding for students with special needs and English language learners; committing to anti-racist and culturally relevant teaching; protecting public education from privatization; creating a culture of shared decision making; and building inclusion for women and gender-nonconforming students.
Prior to assuming office in April, she worked as a community school coordinator, working with MPS students and educators and families to advance equity and inclusion. And she told TMJ-4 TV that her purpose is unchanged. “If we are not working on everyday things that impact people immediately, and if people who look like me aren’t in those roles, then we are missing a piece of that conversation.”
Born in Mumbai to parents who had polio, Gokalgandhi immigrated to the U.S. as a child. Her parents – Bharat and Sangeeta Gokalgandhi – overcame the disease and ran several businesses including a restaurant, according to TMJ-4 TV. On her website, Gokalgandhi says her parents “worked tirelessly to navigate a vastly different system and culture in hopes of providing a brighter future with more opportunity for their children.”
She received a bachelor’s degree in international affairs and economics from Marquette University in 2014. Her professional experience includes working as a policy analyst and grants writer with the Milwaukee Area Workforce Investment Board. She also worked as a community school coordinator in the Greater Milwaukee area before becoming an equity in education strategist with American Family Insurance.
Additional highlights of her recent work in the professional philanthropy community include leveraging funds to support anti-poverty, literacy and Girls in STEM programming. This work has brought her into Cass Street and Carver Academy classrooms in the district. At Employ Milwaukee, she focused on youth workforce development — ensuring that in-school and out-of-school youth had career-building opportunities like apprenticeships, trade exploration and trade-prep programming and work-based/experiential learning. Working on these reforms at the local, state, and federal level, she became a passionate and effective advocate for students’ learning and leadership experiences both within and outside the four-year college path.