Disability Rights Champion Martha Siravo announced Wisconsin Public Education Network 2021 Changemaker of the Year

August 6, 2021

Wisconsin Public Education Network announced Martha Siravo as its 2021 Changemaker of the Year during the closing session of the 7th Annual Summer Summit. 

Martha Siravo is an active Madison parent, disability rights advocate, founding member of Madtown Mommas and Disability Rights Advocates, and reigning Ms. Wheelchair Wisconsin (a crown she wore for two years through the pandemic). She used both her Ms. Wheelchair platform and her local organizing efforts to make funding for students with disabilities a statewide priority, build relationships with lawmakers, build a local level coalition, and launch a national campaign to fully fund IDEA at the federal level.

Her nominators praised both her focus on local changemaking and her statewide impact: “Martha has organized and led events, mobilized turnout for hearings and press events, developed relationships with lawmakers and grassroots organizers around the state, and all the while keeps the focus squarely where it belongs: on children. Often doing all of this with her own daughter, Jaz, in tow!”

Siravo describes her advocacy as an effort to come together to improve education for all students: “Special Education should not continue to be chronically under-funded and treated in a segregated and non-inclusive way – both State and Federal. If districts were fully-supported for Special Education needs, ALL STUDENTS benefit. Special Education exists within and enhances the general education experience. Inclusion is not simply integration, it’s individualized support that allows us to appreciate diversity.”

Wisconsin Public Education Network’s executive director, Heather DuBois Bourenane, applauded the choice: “While all of our remarkable nominees this year are making a huge impact for students, it’s fitting that a day focused on the theme of ‘closing the gaps for Wisconsin’s children’ ended with a celebration of Martha, who lives that work every day. Her relentless advocacy for special education funding, protecting the rights and meeting the needs of all students, and ensuring that children and adults with disabilities have full access to resources and supports they need is an inspiration.”  

When asked what others can do to support her efforts, Siravo pointed to the need to bridge the gap between students with disabilities and others. “I am a strong believer in building new bridges with like-minded resources” she said, and the statewide Network of advocates “has yet to show it’s full potential. General Education and Special Education belong together and so do their advocates.”
Siravo is the third recipient of this annual award, which recognizes local changemakers who make an impact for thriving students and strong public schools. Past recipients are Chris Hambuch-Boyle (2019, Eau Claire) and Tara LeRoy (2020, Palmyra-Eagle).

Martha Siravo was selected from a strong pool of nominees working across the state to support students and their public schools. Additional nominees Learn a bit more about our Changemaker of the Year 2021 nominees through these paraphrased excerpts of text selected from the nomination documents as submitted by colleagues, students and/or friends.

Cindy Ball, Madison

Educator, Madison Metropolitan School District

Cindy went above and beyond during the pandemic to get her students at Jefferson Middle School (in Madison, WI) the books and supplies they needed. Additionally she teaches history with a lens of equity as well as accuracy .

Nelson Brown, Milwaukee

Campus Relations Expert & Youth Rising Up Advisor, Shorewood High School

Nelson is an ally and advocate for students in Shorewood. A powerful leader and advocate for students, he has served as the lead adviser for Youth Rising Up (YRU), a student advocacy group, chaperoned a group of students to the 2020 WI Legislative Black Caucus Lobby Day and more.

Dr. Jen Collins, Platteville 

Director of the School of Education & Professor at UW-Platteville

Dr. Collins has done so much  advocacy for our rural public school students through the lens of higher education where she serves as the director of the School of Education. In the past year, she developed and executed an Equity in Education speaker series.

Pamela Klein, Madison 

Steeping Wellness Educator 

Pamela uses her work through Steeping Wellness to provide Wisconsin School Districts with the tools they need to take care of the health and wellness of their teachers and staff.  Throughout the pandemic, teachers and other school staff have turned to Pamela and Steeping Wellness to address growing needs for self-care during these challenging times.

Yolibeth Rangel-FitzGibbon, Stoughton 

Stoughton School Board representative and chair of the Culture and Climate Committee

As the Founder & Executive Director of Mosaicos Cultural Enrichment Corporation, Yolibeth has been building a foundation to reach beyond the schools and create a more inclusive community for our students. She has displayed a longstanding tenacious focus on equity and inclusion.

Krishana Robinson, Wauwatosa

Educator at the Vel R. Phillips School within the  Milwaukee Juvenile Detention Center

Krishana is known to be a highly reflective educator and always finds ways for her students to access higher level thinking. She transforms her classroom, in a detention facility, into a safe space to learn and grow.

Jori Ruff, Baraboo 

Assistant Director of Educational Services & Equity for Baraboo School District

For over a decade, Jori Ruff has been an unapologetic advocate for underserved and marginalized students. Jori lives every moment for creating awareness, building relationships and is involved in civic engagement.

 Nicki Vander Meulen, Madison

Juvenile attorney and Board Member of the Madison Metropolitan School District Board

Nicki is a champion for students and educators in the Madison Metropolitan School District. She is an extremely passionate and vocal advocate who works to make public education more equitable and inclusive. 

Kirah Zeilinger, Beloit

Beloit Public Education Network (BPEN) founding member, early childhood educator and Beloit Education Association President/WEAC Region 6

See the full archive of Summer Summit resources and presentations, and watch the award ceremony at www.WisconsinNetwork.org/Summit.

Martha Siravo with her daughter, Jaz. Photo courtesy of Martha Siravo.


Wisconsin Public Education Network is a nonpartisan grassroots coalition supporting strong public schools that provide equal opportunity for all students to thrive.The Network is a project of the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools (WAES), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Contributions may be made online or sent to: 5329 Fayette Drive, Madison, WI 53713.  WisconsinNetwork.org.

About the author: Christian Phelps

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