Smart Kids Shine Here

Recently I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the Madison school district’s achievement gap problems and other challenges we face. I’ve also been responding to the outlandish notion that Madison is a failing school district whose students deserve private school vouchers as their only lifeline to academic success.

At times like this, I find it helpful to remember that Madison’s schools are educating many, many students who are succeeding. Some of them are succeeding spectacularly. With apologies to those I’m overlooking, here’s a brief run-down on some of our stars —

Madison Memorial’s recently-formed science bowl team won the Wisconsin state championship in January. The team of seniors Srikar Adibhatla, Sohil Shah, Thejas Wesley and William Xiang and sophomore Brian Luo will represent Wisconsin in the National Science Bowl Championship in Washington, D.C. in April.

On March 22, Madison East won the 2013 Euro Challenge Midwest regional round in Chicago. The team of Seth Campbell, Maggie Caplan, Emily Barry, Wendy Hoang, and Eric Mattson took the top prize for their efforts expounding on Spain and unemployment. They’ll also be off to nationals in April, but they’ll be heading to New York City.

Madison West’s rocketry club is the reigning national champion. Last May, the team of sophomore Meng Lou and juniors Hanwook Chua, Tashi Aruktsang and Suzanne Hanle placed first at the 10th annual Team America Rocketry Challenge finals, besting 99 teams from across the country. The West team then traveled to London for the international championship, where they finished second to a team from France.

Last spring the Memorial forensics team won their 5th consecutive state championship at the Wisconsin Forensic Coaches Association State Tournament. Eight Memorial students were named individual state champs: Gretchen Schmook in Demonstration Speaking, Abhilash Sandireddy in Extemporaneous Speaking, Matthew Berry in Farrago, Catherine Bartzen in Poetry, Eric Larson and Sachin Dharwadker in Playacting, Edwin Wu in Public Address, and Mallory Durlauf in Special Occasion Speaking.

Individual Madison students earning recognition include Memorial senior Sohil Shah (also a member of the school’s science bowl team), who was Wisconsin’s only regional finalist in the Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology. Sohil has also been selected as a semifinalist in the Intel Science Talent Search 2013, one of three from Wisconsin. Sohil began his research at the UW-Madison under the auspices of MMSD’s wonderful Science Research Internship Program.

The Siemens Award for Advanced Placement is given to the top male and female performers on AP tests in each state. Amy Hua of West is the female Wisconsin winner for 2012. Amy is multi-talented. She was also the 2011 winner of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (WCO)’s Young Artist Concerto Competition.

Representing our middle schools, Aisha Kahn of Spring Harbor Middle School won the Wisconsin state spelling bee last week. She’ll also be heading off to Washington to represent Wisconsin at the national spelling bee.

It is not often that our elementary school students are singled out for their accomplishments. But there is no holding back Van Hise 4th grader Awonder Liang. Last Saturday he became the youngest American ever to earn chess master status, as certified by the United States Chess Federation.

Our Madison schools can’t take credit for making Awonder Liang an amazing chess player. Sohil Shah would have excelled whatever school he attended. But with all our challenges, our Madison public schools are still able to provide our amazingly accomplished students with some wonderful opportunities to develop their gifts. We are entitled to feel some pride as we celebrate their achievements.

p.s. – In other realms of endeavor, the West boys cross-country team won the state D1 championship this fall, edging out LaFollette’s team, which finished second, and the Memorial boys swimming team won their third straight state championship.

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12 Responses to Smart Kids Shine Here

  1. And the Madison East High Robotics team is now Indianapolis competing for the national championship at the National Society of Black Engineers Annual Conference, attended by nearly 5000 people. They earned their spot there by winning their regional competition in Chicago in the Fall.
    Great work by so many MMSD students!

  2. lancerparent says:

    And don’t forget about the annual Wisconsin Scholastic Art Competition (and national by the way)! Our high school students represent quite well across the entire district!

  3. M Ritchie says:

    Thank you Thank you Thank you. If only people really understood how many kids are just doing fantastic in every aspect of their schooling. Everyday I see 95% of my students not only learning something new but treating one another with kindness and respect and looking forward to their tomorrows. We must not allow Walker to paint a false picture of our great schools. The thought that we need a voucher program is really one of the the worse propaganda shots yet. I am confident that unlike many of his previous lies this one may just backfire on him. I have yet to see or know a single person lining up to get public dollars to attend a private school. Thank you!

  4. Kristen says:

    Thank you Ed! There are certainly big challenges and problems – but SO MUCH that is also going well. I could write a book on all the amazing things going on at Lake View and Sherman…..

  5. Larry Winkler says:

    I think you’re missing a critical piece of the puzzle. If you accept the causal inference that it is the great school system that causes the great results, then you cannot absolve the school system for the poor results for disadvantaged children. Your simply stuck with your cause and effect model.

    The reality is that the largest factors that determine school success under the current model of education are non-school factors. Family and community wealth. 85% of a student’s time is spent outside of school. The school system simply cannot take the credit for student success when the schools play only a minor role. The fact that NCLB required that schools succeed with children, give equality of results in spite of inequality of circumstances, has failed. The move to value added measures to measure school success is the reneging of that promise of equality of results, and the acceptance of perpetually inferior results of those students living in disadvantaged circumstances.

    The current education model has failed and MMSD has failed. Good intentions don’t count. That is not to say that vouchers or charter schools work. They don’t, and won’t, for the same reasons.

    • And your doom and gloom statement of failure suggests that there is 100% failure, which Ed’s blog quite rightly points out is incorrect. Do we fail too many children? Absolutely. Let’s focus on that while celebrating our successes instead of making all or nothing statements.

      • Larry Winkler says:

        These are not OUR successes. That is the point. The credit for these successes goes primarily to the students and their families, and to perhaps the accident of not coming from a disadvantaged background and community.

        I think all this taking credit for others accomplishments must be a guy thing. You know, when the Packers win, it’s “We won”, but when the Packers lose, it’s “They lost”. Same thing in education, taking credit for when they succeed, but blaming them when they fail.

  6. Larry — I suggest you take another look at what I actually wrote. I didn’t say that MMSD deserves the credit for these students’ successes. The highlighted students are ones who would have succeeded just about anywhere. I said that MMSD can take some credit for providing these students with opportunities to shine. Sohil Shah, for example, began the research for which he is now being honored while working under a UW professor as part of the school district’s summer research internship program, an opportunity that – as far as I know – isn’t available in other schools districts. I can’t claim we did much to assist our young chess master, though.

    There seems to be a sense that any effort to recognize and celebrate the successes of Madison students somehow implies a willful refusal to acknowledge that other Madison students are not succeeding. Not so. It’s really not that much of a trick to be simultaneously aware of the facts that some of our students are doing really well and that some of our students aren’t doing well at all.

  7. Jeff Kingston says:

    Schools can only help the students that attend them. Public schools offer the opportunity to learn for students that want to learn. Thanks for examples of students that want to learn inside and outside the classroom.

  8. Laura Chern says:

    I think attendance is more complex that showing up or not. Homeless kids have a hard time showing up. Kids who have younger siblings may have to watch them while parents work if the younger kid is sick or daycare falls through. When a parent has to take kids to appointments by public transportation, a whole day of school can be lost. I think there has to be a better solution than threats and shaming for some absences. And I urge the district to find a way to meet kids who are often absent half-way as far as keeping up in school.

  9. Nelson says:

    I’m a proud Madison East grad and wanted to let Larry, and whoever else interested, know that I had amazing opportunities because I went to an amazing school. In particular, the Madison East High Robotics team is so good because the advisor is great (and the same can be said for countless other clubs!)

    In forensics, I competed against the Madison Memorial team, and they’ve won 5 state championships in a row because their coach is that intense. Many of my East friends are in great places now, and I think we’d all say that we succeeded because of our time at Madison East, not despite of it!

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