My latest column for the school district’s family newsletter is a bit of a departure. Instead of describing the latest MMSD initiative or providing an update on our most recent School Board meeting, I pass along a short piece by a parent about what we can all do to help foster a culture of kindness.
The genesis of this column is straightforward. I came across the piece by Suzanne Buchko and found it very affecting. I also thought it was a terrific piece of writing. (I saw the article in the Franklin-Randall PTO newsletter, but Sari Judge had first written about it in her fine Mama Madison blog in Isthmus.) I spoke at a meeting of the Franklin-Randall PTO a couple of weeks ago and Suzanne and her daughter Julia arrived at the meeting just as I was saying how much I liked what she had written.
I knew I wanted to reprint Suzanne’s piece in my column. The task then became to build a frame around it that tied what Suzanne had written to the work we’re doing in the schools on social and emotional learning.
As I worked on the column, I came to a better appreciation of the efforts of our teachers and staff in developing the social and emotional skills of our students. This important work tends to be way undervalued and underreported, in large part because it is difficult to quantify. I may be aging myself by thinking of it as an example of the McNamara Fallacy. Continue reading
I am running for re-election to the Madison School Board. Since my name will be the only one for Seat 7 on the April 1 ballot, I like my chances. Still, I view the time leading up to the election as providing an opportunity for me to account for my performance as a Board member and to share my views on school issues.
Part of the responsibilities of being a candidate is responding to various questionnaires. The first I received was from Madison Teachers Inc.
Here are MTI’s questions and my answers:
- If the School Board finds it necessary to change school boundaries, what criteria would you, as a Board member, use to make such a judgment?
For proposed school boundary changes, I’d want to apply the seven “Considerations when Redrawing Boundary Lines” approved by the school board in 2004. They are:
- Every attempt will be made to keep bus routes no more than 45 minutes in duration one way.
- When redrawing boundary lines, current attendance area islands and optional areas will be reduced wherever possible and new ones will not be created.
- No student will be required to change schools, as a result of boundary line changes, more than once during his/her elementary years.
- Grandfathering 4th- and 5th-grade students will be considered when boundary lines are redrawn, and every effort will be made to allow 5th graders to remain at their school.
- School size of two sections per grade level to a maximum of 650 students.
- Every attempt will be made to avoid creating schools with high concentrations of low-income families.
- Efforts will be made to keep geographically and historically defined neighborhoods together and to consider the proximity of students to a school when redrawing boundary lines.
I would also consider the feedback and views of any working group that has been studying the issues, as well the views of affected families and other stakeholders. Continue reading
My most recent column for the Madison schools’ family and community newsletter discusses the school district’s proposed technology plan. (The plan has been revised since I wrote the column so that devices will be provided for kindergarteners and first graders on a one-device-to-two-students ratio, rather than one-to-one.)
Here is what I wrote:
There is quite a bit going on in your school district these days. What seems to be getting the most buzz is the recently-released draft of a proposed five-year Information and Technology Plan for the district.
Most of the attention has focused on the proposal for one-to-one computing for students. This means that all our students would have wireless computing devices available to them when needed. The report calls for tablets for students K-5, with keyboard covers added for students in grades 3-5. Secondary students 6-12 would be provided with a notebook device. No decision has been made on the type of device. The devices would be acquired on three-year leases with insurance included for lost, broken or stolen devices. Continue reading
Here’s an explanation of School Improvement Plans for Madison schools that I wrote for the December MMSD Family Newsletter:
Are you interested in knowing more about what’s going on in the classrooms of the schools your children attend? Of course you are. So take a moment to look at your school’s new and improved School Improvement Plan, or SIP. You can find it by clicking on the School Improvement Plan icon on the home page of your school’s website, or you can click here for a list of all school SIPs. You’ll find a one-page summary of the SIP along with the full plan for each school.
School improvement plans have been around for a while. But they’re different this year – they’re now the playbooks that list the few key strategies each school will follow to improve its learning culture and student achievement. What’s more, the plans identify who’s in charge of what, establish goals, and lay out timelines and specific metrics by which progress on the strategies and goals will be measured. They put some teeth into the school district’s pledge to be more transparent in our work.
The school improvement plans are the work of School-Based Leadership Teams (SBLT). Members of the teams attended a two-day conference in August, just prior to the start of school, where they learned about the new SIP process, reviewed data on their school’s performance, and began work on formulating their plans. Continue reading
Pending Senate Bill 76 is another volley in the war Wisconsin Republican legislators have unleashed on local control. The bill would further undermine the authority of locally-elected school boards to determine the number of charter schools that operate within their school districts.
Senators Darling and Olson introduced an amendment to the bill on October 31. The amendment provision making it easier for a school district to convert all of its schools to charter schools has already drawn attention. What seems to have escaped notice so far is that Senators Olson and Darling may have mixed up their holidays – their Halloween amendment provides yet another Christmas present for their well-heeled friends at K12 Inc. and the for-profit virtual charter school industry.
The poor performance of virtual charter schools in Wisconsin has resulted in few if any negative consequences for their operators. But this past year, a slight dose of accountability has slipped into the mix with the advent of school district report cards issued by DPI. Senators Olson and Darling’s amendment nips that positive trend in the bud by stripping virtual charter schools out of the home school district for report card purposes. It is hard to see this as anything other than a sell-out to K12 and their virtual charter chums. Continue reading
This update on School Board activities comes from my column in the October 23 MMSD Family Newsletter:
Here is what your school board has been up to the last couple of weeks:
At special meetings on October 7 and 14, the Board unanimously approved agreements with each of our bargaining units for the 2014-15 school year. As Superintendent Cheatham explained, these agreements help establish a stable environment that enables our teachers and staff to focus on the critical day-to-day work of teaching and learning.
The agreements include a very modest wage increase of .75%. This was all that we felt we could prudently agree to at this point, prior to our undertaking any work on our budget for the 2014-15 school year. The district did reserve the right to unilaterally increase wages beyond the .75% prior to or during the term of the contract.
The district also retains the right to require teachers and staff to contribute up to 10% of the cost of their health insurance. At our school board meeting on October 14, we began discussion of a wellness policy for district employees that might entail a sliding scale of health insurance contributions, tied to the employee’s participation in preventative practices and activities that contribute to good health. Continue reading
Mary Burke’s past activities are coming under increased scrutiny now that she is an active candidate for governor. Mary has generously supported different educational initiatives for many years. Her primary focus has been the AVID/TOPS partnership between the Madison School District and the Boys and Girls Club. But her pledge of support for the Madison Prep charter school proposal has drawn the most attention. Since I was more involved in the Madison Prep saga than most, I thought it might be helpful if I provided a summary of what I know about Mary’s involvement.
In December, 2010, the Urban League of Greater Madison presented an initial proposal to the Madison School Board to establish a charter school called Madison Prep. The Urban League described the school as “a catalyst for change and opportunity among young men, particularly young men of color.” The school was intended to inculcate a culture of hard-work and achievement among its students through a host of practices, including single-sex classrooms, an International Baccalaureate curriculum, longer school days and school years, intensive mentoring, and obligatory parental involvement.
Madison Prep was controversial from the start and the initial proposal was adjusted in response to various concerns. By the fall of 2011, Madison Prep was planned to be an instrumentality charter school, like our existing charter schools Nuestro Mundo and Badger Rock. As an instrumentality, all teachers and staff would have been union members. Continue reading