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Madison Metropolitan School District

Big Ideas

Overview of Project

In April 2021 MMSD announced the BIG Ideas initiative as one of the ways it would use ESSER II federal funds from the second round of COVID-19 relief. Using $5.5 million of the $18.9 million given to MMSD, we asked staff, students and the community to give us their BIG Ideas on how to accelerate change and improve the experience for students, staff and families in our schools. Over a 9 day submission window, 340 ideas were submitted. From there a team selected 20 semifinalists to move forward and attend a "Shark Tank"-style pitch event to sell their idea to a group of judges made up of students, teachers, principals and central office leaders. That group also considered the ideas and community feedback before selecting 14 ideas (the original goal was 10) to prototype and test during the 2021-22 school year.

During the summer of 2021, with support from MMSD’s innovation team ROCKiT, each winning idea created a core design team to build their prototypes and prepare for testing during the 2021-22 SY. In December 2021 each BIG Idea team then came together to update the BIG Ideas innovation council made up of district leaders, principals and community members on what they have done, what they have learned from small scale testing and ask for support they need to move their project forward. Council members  also gave each idea feedback in order to improve their prototype.

In May 2022, BIG Ideas teams came back again to present their work to the Innovation Council to share key learnings and another year of funding. Based on each idea's testing data and other factors, 9 of the 14 original ideas were funded for the 2022-23 SY.

We might not get another opportunity like this in our lifetimes.
- Gloria Ladson-Billings

A student working in class

Why Big Ideas for ESSER II

  • We believe our staff, students, and community have innovative ideas that can, when supported, help us address learning loss and other challenges brought on by COVID-19. The infusion of significant federal funds gave our district a great opportunity. By trying new things, we hope to increase student engagement, create meaningful and relevant educational experiences and address persistent inequities in opportunities and outcomes.
  • This process embodies our values of honoring creativity and agency of our amazing staff and community. Those closest to the problems have many possible solutions; by lifting up the ideas of our MMSD community we are better able to find new, bold ideas that increase the academic success of our students.We also can showcase how our district leads the country in bringing Liberatory Design and other innovative processes into 4K-12 education.
  • This process promotes building small, learning fast and making intentional decisions. We know that the more ideas we try, the more learnings we will gain that will help us make strategic decisions to support student learning. When we build small, rough prototypes we are less attached to the idea and are more focused on the learning and outcomes. By rapidly testing out Big Idea prototypes we are able to quickly gather evidence on whether an idea is desirable, feasible and/or viable. Rapid build-measure-learn cycles help teams reflect and make intentional adjustments on how to progress forward (persevere, pivot or stop).

How R&I (ROCKiT) supported this work:

  • Project management of the entire BIG Ideas project, while working closely with Budget, Planning & Accounting, Dr. McGregory and school and central office leaders connected to these projects
  • Coaching each BIG Idea team through the innovation process to determine if an idea is desirable, feasible and worthwhile, which includes project management, data collection, and connecting teams to resources (people and items) to support their BIG Idea
  • Organized and trained Innovation Council members in the process, their role and how to give feedback that will drive the work forward

What happened during the 2021-22 SY (Phase 1: Can we do this?):

  • 14 ideas funded to create and test their prototypes, with coaching from ROCKiT for Build-Measure-Learn cycles to learn if the idea is desirable, feasible and worthwhile
  • Teams presented twice to the ROCKiT Innovation Council (six person team that provides feedback and assistance to teams to drive their work forward) in December and May. Teams shared the work they did, what they learned from testing, and asked the Council for feedback and support.
  • In May the Innovation Council made recommendations to Dr Jenkins and Dr McGregory on whether to continue to fund ideas in phase 2. 9 of 14 ideas were funded for phase 2. 5 projects stopped.
  • During phase 1 (2021-22 SY) 14 BIG Ideas prototypes impacted 1159 students and 537 staff.

What happened during the 2022-23 SY (Phase 2: Does it improve?)

  • 9 of 14 teams continued to test their prototypes to learn if their idea improves MMSD. R&I Strategists will continue to coach and support these teams with data collection.
  • Five projects converted to CO departments (now integrated into regular workstream) over to MMSD central office departments
  • During phase 2 (2022-23 SY) the 9 BIG Ideas prototypes impacted 1445 students and 177 staff.




The Intro to Barbering Course is designed to give students an opportunity to learn about the career of barbersing so they can make an informed career decision and start working toward their career in barbering early on.

Project-Based Learning
Through project-based learning (PBL) methods, this BIG Idea purposefully engages students in real-world and relevant projects in order to create a rich and meaningful educational experience for roughly 110 Shabazz students and 3 West HS students.

Mission Possible-Robots
This project is using robots as a way to provide inclusive school experiences for scholars who are homebound, unable to engage and interact with their peers in person.

Akira Recording Studio
By creating a recording studio at Toki Middle School, they hope to create a place that excites and engages students in the recording arts as well as a space that elevates and amplifies student voice.

Youth Action Team
The Youth Voice & Vision Team (YV²) seeks to provide funds to student-driven ideas & initiatives, through the Youth Action Fund, while providing the team the opportunity to engage & develop youth project management skills, change power dynamics and decision-making processes within MMSD schools.

Wrap-Around Approach-Transformative Justice
Working in conjunction with Urban Triage and West High School, Thoreau Elementary’s BIG Idea is to transform the culture of their school by providing culturally responsive mentorship opportunities for staff, students and families to increase school engagement, achievement, and sense of belonging for Brown and Black students and their families.

Anti-Racist, Civically Active, Student-Designed Curriculum
This project is attempting to disrupt and begin to dismantle traditional ways of teaching, systematizing high-quality academic experiences for our students, centering students of color, anti-racist pedagogy, and student civic action. This idea includes an intentional investment in Black educational excellence by giving students power in their schools through curriculum development and leadership opportunities.

Parent Liaison
This project was created to test out a 12 month summer liaison position (normally 10 months) at Mendota elementary with the goal of providing year-round support that can strengthen and expand school-family relationships in order to improve academic outcomes for the historically marginalized.

To design and deliver an experience for ALL staff to support their unlearning and relearning of a shared and inclusive history including both struggle and resistance in order to discover and dismantle systemic racism in our schools and community.