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Gary Bennett: Gathering Diverse Voices

Gary was looking for a new policy role when he began the LEE Public Leaders Fellowship (LPLF) in 2015. After years of service supporting legislators in Wisconsin, he was well known as a connector who could bring lots of different people to the table for civil discourse. Yet Gary wanted to move into a new role where he could focus on making a difference for kids.

Soon after being selected for the fellowship, Gary accepted a new role as the director of the Office of Educational Opportunity with the University of Wisconsin System. This position gives him the power to authorize charter schools in Madison and Milwaukee. By stepping into a very public role, Gary quickly gained new critics, but he leveraged his fellowship experience to to focus on finding common ground. LPLF also helped Gary learn new frameworks that he used to structure his work, including a community-driven approach to help more students get a quality education.

Gary told the Wisconsin State Journal that he will “seek to include diverse voices and to empower people who traditionally have been marginalized” in his new role, an approach informed by his background. Gary identifies as gay, Native American and Jewish. Though he has always sought to include diverse perspectives in his work, he credits the fellowship with encouraging him to seek them out earlier to create more inclusive decision-making processes.

Reflecting on his fellowship experience, Gary noted, “LEE really does live up to bringing together diverse voices — even if our tactics are different, our objectives are the same.  If we all keep going, we will get to educational equity.”  

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LEE really does live up to bringing together diverse voices--even if our tactics are different, then our objectives are the same. If we all keep going, then we will get to educational equity.