Guest: Cedric Hodo
00:10: Student Speaker: From the Madison Metropolitan School District, this is Lead to Liberate, a podcast documenting stories of inspiration, growth, and empowerment across our schools.
00:27: Dr. Carlton D. Jenkins: Oh, wow, I just love that music. I'm telling you it gets me hyped every week. Again, welcome back to Lead to Liberate. I am Dr. Carlton D. Jenkins, the very proud Superintendent of Madison Metropolitan School District. Today, we have another special guest. One of our employees today really is over so, so much in our district, and he's come here to MMSD trying to truly make a difference. We have with us none other than the Mr. Cedric Hodo. Mr. Hodo, how are you today?
00:59: Mr. Cedric Hodo: I'm doing very well, Dr. Jenkins. Thank you for this opportunity to come before the community and yourself and hey, let's have a conversation.
01:07: Dr. Jenkins: Yeah, that's it. And we wanted to get you here because the number of calls have come in, and people are asking, like, who's really over this? Who's over there? Well, today, everyone's going to hear it is Mr. Cedric Hodo. And when we start talking about lead to liberate, I can't wait to get in this conversation for everyone in the community to hear how intentional we're being in terms of what we're trying to do from our operations side of the house. So Mr. Hodo, let's just start off with this. Everyone who's worked with you continues to come back and tell me and say, ‘Hey, he is on top of his game, excellent customer service.’ [Yes] And he's trying to make sure that we have a very diverse workforce. Tell me what, what led you here to Madison Metropolitan School District and what experiences that you bring that have really made you say, Hey, I'm in the right place, and I'm going to do whatever I can to help our scholars have the best experience.
01:58: Mr. Hodo: Yeah, first of all, thank you, Dr. Jenks, for this opportunity, and then to the community abroad, as well, I thank you, as well for the privilege of serving in the capacity of your senior executive director of building services and operation. Just kind of give you a little bit about my background. I think that's what kind of has driven me in the area which I'm in. I'm a Detroit born kid. And I'm born and raised, and well born in Atlanta, but raised up in Detroit. And I really saw the need to support public students’ education, I came up and then in a gang ridden environment, and, and so it's very important for me to kind of give back. And so the trajectory of my career, I think, really helped me understand what's needed. If you take a step back and look at, I come from a HBCU, Mississippi Valley State University. Graduated in 1992. To give you a little bit about my background itself, I started off in the food service industry, um, working for a company called Olive Garden there, Darden Restaurants. Matriculated my way up through general managership, all the way up for, to a general manager at Olive Garden and Red Lobster, stayed with the company by eight years. Then I went over to the hotel side. The hotel side gave me a really good understanding of how to provide customer service and then apply culinary progressions into customer service itself. I've trained in some of the best locations working at JW Marriott, Renaissance hotels in North America, also been trained over at the Culinary Institute in, in Trentino, Italy called Riserva di Fizzano for example, trained in the Master Chef Romana Neri. Now all of that background gave me a unique perspective to how we can advance food, particularly at the K12 level. And so I worked in the hotel industry about 10 years and then after that, I worked with a company called Sodexo, and Sodexo Magic specifically. I worked for a billionaire by the name of Magic Johnson. [Wow] Oversaw logistics and operations for Sodexo Magic North America, overseeing all college campuses and K12 institutions in the United States. And so understanding the demographics, I thought was very unique, and so how to apply quality food, quality service, and supporting our kids, I think became my homework. And so that's been a passion for me. And that has led me to Madison. And so when I saw the lead to liberate, I saw the need to provide, ah, wraparound support in the form of great food, great service, transportation, facilities, everything that supports student learning, it became my passion, to be honest with you. And so that led me to here. I was able to come in and have a great team that works for me. And so we've been trying to build on that one simple concept. How do we support student education?
04:49: Dr. Jenkins: Right. Well, thank you so much for giving us a little bit of background about you, yourself. And I tell you, here in MMSD, our community just been outstanding [absolutely] in terms of literally passing a historic referendum. And we had some transition take place when I first came in, and we had to go out and find someone who had that type of commitment to everything you just really said, for this $350 million referendum, $317 million going towards our referendum facilities. So thinking about that, and I know you're very humble, but I'm going to mention this part, he also was a collegiate athlete and outstanding, [laughter] a top wide receiver and in college at his HBCU, and trained up under no one other than Jerry Rice. And so everyone knows the story. But Mr. Hodo brings that level of discipline himself. How has that influenced your work and what you're doing to this as well well?
05:46: Mr. Hodo: Yeah, as a, as a student, scholar and athlete, I think it has tremendously impacted how I think and how I carried into practice. We worked at Mississippi Valley, we probably practiced three times a day, we had some very tough practices, 120 degree heat, running routes, trained under Jerry Rice. So the precision of his route capability, one of the things I learned at a young age, and it stuck with me, his philosophy, when we were practicing catching bricks, was something very unique to me. He said, If you can catch a brick, you can catch a football. And when somebody's throwing a brick at you, it really causes you to think very carefully. You need to catch this brick, [Yes, yes], unless the brick hits you. And so some of our training techniques we thought was a, very progressive, but we learned a lot. But the mindset, I think, was more important. And I think that mindset, I think has carried me – three-a-day day practices, working offseason, coming to summer school, studying and dedicating yourself to your profession. I have brought all of that to Madison, inclusive of myself. And so my team has been a non-stop, and making sure that the referendum stays on track. Transportation remains on track, food services being upgraded, our grounds and facilities across the district – over 60 buildings we, we maintain – is being upgraded on a consistent basis. And bringing that technical expertise to Madison was, that was the beauty and helping this particular community. So I'm excited about the opportunity, we have a long way to go. But I sure tell you, we've made a huge dent in where we were before and when I got here a year and a half ago. And so thanks to your leadership, thanks to the community abroad, thanks to the Board as well. And thanks to my dedicated team who have supported the transition as well.
07:58: Dr. Jenkins: Yeah, well, I'll tell you, thanks for sharing that. One of the things that we all know, that food and nutrition is very important to the well being of any human being. and we have a lot of world hunger. But coming here, looking at our food service program and knowing that we have a team of people, really good people, right. What's your goal? What's your vision? You know, I had a fourth grader tell me – and the fourth graders hold you accountable in our district. Dr. Jenkins, started this year, this food is not right. You know, and you and your team came back. You worked together. I know we have the food supply chain demand, but the fourth graders really weren't hearing that. And I also remember the day they said, hey, they're finally getting it right. So tell me what's your vision for MMSD? And how we're going to do food and nutrition for all children and even down to our lunches. Some because of the transportation. Really we have students eating at one o'clock. What's your vision for this?
08:53: Mr. Hodo: Yeah, yeah, this is a great question. When we came on board, one of the things that we wanted to do is assess where we’re at. And one of the things that we found out was somewhere our infrastructure needed support. And to be honest with you, we had staffing issues, we had supply chain challenges, we came in in the midst of a pandemic. So think about that. [Right] Supply chain challenges, rising cost, declining staff. And so one of the things that was instrumental that I thought that that yourself and the Board did, was we gave a $5 increase that went to our food staff, our food service staff, and that really helped us begin to trajectory where we were at. The next step we did was begin to have a, what we call a culinary excellence training inside of our production staff, production team. The flow of production is the heart of the foodservice operation so our goal was to train our staff to come away from what are called prepackaged items to go to more scratch cooking. So you’re starting to see more robust items come into the food chain – Salisbury steak, we’re doing a multitude of artisan style pizzas. We’re making a variety of muffins – that homemade muffin from scratch. And so these are items in which we need to train on first, before we really can execute at the highest level. The K12 compliance around food can be kind of technical. But the end of the day kids want great food, great service in a fun, friendly atmosphere. And it's our job to do that. And so what you'll see up and coming in the next couple of months, it'll be rolling into next year, we need to make sure that we have the infrastructure in place first. Do we have the equipment to serve food properly? Maintain the storage and temperature of the food properly? Have we trained our staff properly, how to serve and how to cook from scratch? And so the first year for me is really focused on infrastructure. In year two, you will begin to see us begin to make progressive steps toward more robust menu items, more and more robust menu options, themed meals, St. Patrick's Day meals, Valentine's Day meals, meals that's reflective of various cultures. One of the things that's important to us is that food should be reflective of the communities in which we serve. Why can't we have some… it's great Wisconsin is a cheese state, don't get me wrong, but a lot of different varieties of individuals from all over the world. Why can't we have Honduras day, or Guatemala day or LatinX food? How about Hmong inspired recipes. And so you're starting to see Indian inspired and Native American inspired recipes, rice that we purchased from locally. And so our goal is to begin to incorporate recipes from various communities into the take K12 compliance option. And we're well on the way, and so we've made significant improvements.
11:41: Dr. Jenkins: Wow, that's very important that you're doing that level of work. And we really do appreciate it. Because here in MMSD, we want to lead to liberate, but in order to lead to liberate, you have to see yourself as being free. [Absolutely] And you have to see yourself in the plan. Our students… and two of our students are the reason that we did the whole land acknowledgement here in Madison for our Ho-Chunk, the indigenous people here, the First Nations, because two students said they didn't see themselves anywhere in our curriculum, in our schools, or even in society. So that takes me to the referendum. And I know that you were very intentional in terms of trying to make sure that our students of all abilities that they were being seen, all cultures in the buildings. Tell us a little bit about that. What did you do to Southside Elementary [yea] that that's really making the culture come out in the building?
12:37: Mr. Hodo: Yeah, this is, this is stuff that's very unique. I thought this was a really great opportunity, as well as, as a challenge to incorporate themes – art, music, science – to make a difference in the new renovations. For you, for those who may or may not know, I also oversaw Washington, DC public schools. And we went for a historic referendum in the schools. This was called a modernization plan, probably about $2.3 billion, where we were overseeing the revitalization of over 60 buildings over the course of 20 years. And so it gave me a unique perspective as I came to Madison. So one of the things I thought that was important for us is, we need to correct the historical wrongs. The restorative justice peace played a heavy role in to, not only our thinking, but how we design some of the buildings in the upgrades. It's very difficult for a person who's in a wheelchair to have to go up a ramp or a slope, that the radius of their ramp makes it extremely difficult or challenging for them. They are literally out of breath before they get up there. [Mmm] Some of our, some of our disabled and wheelchair bound students found it very difficult to go to the restroom to turn radius in the restrooms while they’re there, there wasn't some ADA accommodations. And so we set forth with our design engineers to make sure that we corrected those historical wrongs. So some of the things that you will see even in locations like La Follette High School, where we have gender neutral restrooms now. This is huge [huge]. You have a huge contingency of those who want the privacy of being able to go to the restroom they desire. That is a human right. That is something that absolutely is critical.
14:18: Dr. Jenkins: So let me just pause you right there [sure, absolutely] for a second because that was huge in our district. And right now, when we’re talking about having access [yes] to various needs for all of our students in all of our restrooms being gender neutral at this particular point. You made a considerable effort to put that a part of our local budget to make sure that all students never had to feel excluded in our restrooms. So tell me a little bit about that.
14:15: Mr. Hodo: Absolutely. And so it was a concerted effort to transition certain restrooms over to gender neutral restrooms, but as we build and design new high schools and new renovated areas, we want to make sure that these, the typical restrooms, are all gender restrooms that were incorporated into all aspects of it. Inclusive in that, we wanted to make sure that every restroom had feminine products, because it's a human right? Hey, now, I asked my daughter when we were researching this, you know? Is this something that you think is necessary? And my daughter said, ‘Absolutely.’ Have you ever been embarrassed that, at school before because you were ashamed that you didn't have money for feminine products. And so it caused me to rethink that. And so it became a human right. And I was very pleased with the response. And then, and then the students itself spoke up here in Madison, that some of these things that's necessary for them to go through on a daily basis is important in their overall career. So when you talk about restrooms equality, you’re talking about spatial recognition, you’re talking about seeing yourself in the school from the art, from the humanity side. All of these things are critical. You have some surrounding neighborhood schools who have turf fields. Why can we compete with that? And so you saw the installation of multiple turf fields coming on board here. You saw different, what we call energy and paint and different colors. All of that means a lot. When you're talking about student space and learning, efficiency and sitting down, we had 1950 chairs, dating back from 1940s and 50s. That industrial style learning doesn't support the modern day student. And so being able to put them in ergonomic seating and flexible chairs, with great lighting, we think we'll have a rate of return in regards to learning.
16:36: Dr. Jenkins: Well, I do have to tell you, Mr. Hodo. I heard it again, from my fourth graders. Those new playgrounds, about 41 went in throughout the district and the fourth graders were telling the middle schoolers, including the high school students [yes]. And on the weekend, I see individuals on our playgrounds. What's that impact been like for you?
16:57: Mr. Hodo: The schools should be the hub center of any community. It's the chief learning center, is the chief area in which students spend the majority of their time outside of their home. Then why not make the grounds more attractive. And so when you start seeing our schools, you're looking at brand new playgrounds that's installed, wheel, wheelchair accessibility will be going in on all our playgrounds. We built in over 41 new playgrounds, we thought that this makes a huge difference on our kids. They have a place – a safe place – to come play basketball, hang out, play football, play soccer, run around, kind of, kind of just enjoy themselves. They take pride in our school now. And so you're starting to see Middle School. So for instance, over at Sennett, you know, we have large plots of land, but now we put playgrounds in front. So the kids now are coming there, it's an excitement to come to school, rather than just a bore. So hey, we thought it was a huge investment. We thank you for having the vision for supporting us in that. I thought it was a monumental inequality to have any elementary student or middle school student without access to a playground.
18:01: Dr. Jenkins: Yeah, let me say, that was thinking prior to me, our entire community came together, we do thank our community, [absolutely] for that level of vision, everybody who came before me, and for years, our communities continued to serve and support our school district. La Follette High School – and I think about equity in our district. And we’re trying to make sure that these dollars are serving all of our communities. And I think about the arts. Tell me a little bit about the arts over at La Follette High School, and then Memorial and other schools, because we put a lot of emphasis in trying to make sure we have beautiful, and, spaces that are where we can educate our students to the fullest.
18:42: Mr. Hodo: Yeah, this is one of the most unique perspectives that we gained. First of all, we have multiple committees come together, including community and student voice. And we listened very closely as we went into the design phase. And one of the things we found out was, Madison doesn't really promote a higher level of humanities in regards to music and recording studios, in the arts and whatnot. We saw that as a, a disparity. But it's a great opportunity as well. And so what we saw was by designing art that is reflective of the student culture, by, by designing recording studios and music studios, theaters that are designed of how you can express yourself and express your love of humanity through arts and music. This is a form of learning. And most people may not recognize that. My wife is a musician by trade. And I've learned how to understand music, and the beauty in the music that she brings. But it's also an expression of herself. And so there are a lot of students who are brilliant. And so we thought that this was a creative path. And what you will see in locations like La Follette, when we get through with the arts and humanities areas, you will see areas designed, that it’s designed by students. It’s reflective of the, of the latest culture. And it's inspirational. One thing you want to do is go into an environment that inspires you. And so just like any student with something on their wall, they put things on their wall that inspire them. And we wanted to have that same concept that all our schools.
20:15: Dr. Jenkins: Yeah, and I do tell you this, Madison is definitely an arts community. So to have this level of a referendum to begin to just carve a path out, so that everyone can see themselves within our community. And I love the focus of our Board that they place on equity [yes], and making sure that in all areas of our community that we're touching it and given the most for the dollars that we put forth. You have just really been wonderful here today, on Lead to Liberate. And I want to say to all of our listeners out there, we want you to continue to come back so you can learn more about MMSD and our attempt to Lead to Liberate. And it makes a difference. Everyone here makes a difference for all of our scholars. So thank you again for listening. We'll be back again next week. Thank you, Mr. Hodo. [Thank you, Dr. Jenkins]
Student Speaker: You're listening to Lead to Liberate, a podcast by the Madison Metropolitan School District, demonstrating how the more we know the more we grow.
Guest: Greg Jones
00:10: Student Speaker: From the Madison Metropolitan School District, this is Lead to Liberate, a podcast documenting stories of inspiration, growth, and empowerment across our schools.
00:28: Dr. Carlton D. Jenkins: Wow, I just love that music. Here we are again today on Lead to Liberate. I am Dr. Carlton D. Jenkins, very proud Superintendent of Madison Metropolitan School District. Each week, we've been bringing to you a different individual that's really trying to impact our community, impact others. This week, like none other, is a special guest. We have a special guest that's been around just a little bit. And this very special guest is Mr. Greg Jones. How are you doing Mr. Jones?
00:58: Mr. Greg Jones: I'm doing great, great, great.
00:59: Dr. Jenkins: Okay. Well, welcome to Lead to Liberate, [alright]. And as you know, on Lead to Liberate, we jump right in. We want to get the stories. This is a community person who's been here for quite a while. He has a very interesting beginning. And so I want to just start right off with that, because we're trying to lead to liberate, but we also have to understand our past to understand what we're trying to liberate to. [Yeah.] So Mr. Jones. [Yes.] Let's talk a little bit about it. When did you graduate high school?
01:29: Mr. Jones: I am, I consider myself a transplant to Wisconsin, and to Madison. I migrated to Wisconsin in 1973. The Fall. That was after the experience of growing up in Mississippi. Understanding and experiencing segregated schools. And in 1970, the State of Mississippi desegregated its high school. All of the black kids and all in white kids converged at RH Washington High School in the fall of 1970. That summer, I had spent in Joliet, Illinois, with my father. My father lived in Illinois, mother in Mississippi. I worked at the steel mill. Had a boatload of money in my pocket when I went back to Mississippi. I got back to Mississippi my mama said, you have to go to RH Watkins if you want to graduate. I said to her, I'm not going to Watkins. She said to me, yes, you are. I don't care if they're white, brown, blue or black. You're gonna go there and finish up, and go to college. I said, Yes, ma'am. That took me into RH Watkins. After high school, I graduated, and applied to several colleges in Mississippi, including HBCUs. Got accepted to Ole Miss and to Bishop College. I, my sister and two other kids went to Bishop College; we spread our wings, we thought the world was changing. We wanted to take advantage of every benefit and right from the 1970s, the 1960s Civil Rights Act. We spread our wings and went to colleges outside of Mississippi.
03:39: Unfortunately, the financial aid which my sister and I relied on fell through, didn't pass. We returned to Mississippi, did two years in junior college and then went to UW-Eau Claire. There’s the story behind that. In those spring and summer of 1968 and ‘69, there were two African Americans who canvassed southern black high schools and told us about state colleges in Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota. Four friends out of the class of 71, RH Watkins High School, went to UW-Eau Claire. They would come home, Christmas break, summer break, and tell their friends, including my sister and two other girls, about Eau Claire. We decided, the four of us, to apply to Eau Claire, we all got accepted. We attended Eau Claire. In the fall of ‘73, there were eight black kids from Laurel, Mississippi on the campus of UW-Eau Claire. That introduced me to a broader world of black and white. My message back from that particular story is this. We attempted to spread our wings, take advantage of all of the legal and constitutional rights and opportunities and landed at UW-Eau Claire in the fall of ‘73.
04:26: Dr. Jenkins: Wow, you know, that's, that’s amazing. You said your legal, your constitutional rights. And I'm trying to understand because you come in from Mississippi, Laurel, Mississippi, and at that particular time, if my history serves me well, most of our black students were thinking about HBCUs. And HBCUs, what's that, and why are you even thinking about HBCU? What is an HBCU?
04:51: Mr. Jones: Historically black college or university. Mississippi is well known for Jackson State, Alcorn, Mississippi Valley, those campuses and colleges were open to us. We knew they were places that we were accepted. We would get an education. And we would become alums of those organizations and institutions. That's our place of presence. That's our place of pleasure. That's our place that we would be accepted. But remember, because the world, the doors we thought were open, and society's doors were open, we chose to challenge ourselves and challenge society by attending white's, white schools. But remember, I was accepted at Bishop, went there, made the baseball team, ready to play baseball. And unfortunately, the financial aid fiasco. So my wife says today, there was something behind the message of God leading us to Bishop College, [laugher] returning us to Mississippi, then leading us to Eau Claire, I would not have met her.
05:52: Dr. Jenkins: Wow. [Laughter] Well, that's awesome. But tell me this. Could you go to any PWI school – predominately white school – before then, like, back before Dr. King?
06:06: Mr. Jones: Oh, it was difficult. I think that a lot of alums from Oak Park High School, the black high school that was closed before desegregation in the state, I think a lot of black graduates from high school probably did apply, didn't get accepted, were turned down. But the message of that moment, was that hey we're not accepting places for black kids. [Wow.] We took that as a message at the moment. That was a history we dealt with. And as I said, it was a motivating factor for us, saying to after we went to, got accepted to Eau Claire, we're coming, we're going, we're now opening that door at this white school.
0645: Dr. Jenkins: So at a very young age, you had a liberated mindset.
06:48: Mr. Jones: Well, I think that was driven by my grandmother. [Okay.] Who after the Voting Rights Act was passed, [right] she watched her son and daughter – my my mother, and her youngest brother – who was a part of that extended family I grew up in, then voted every year, every election because they had a high school diploma. She could not vote. [Mmm.] When that Voting Rights Act was passed, she put on her Sunday ‘go to meeting clothes’, took my brother, who's a year older, myself, and my sister, who's two years younger, walked with her to the polling place, cast her vote. [Wow.] And cried all the way going there. At the end of casting that vote, she said to us, “always vote, wherever you are, always voting.” So the meaning of voting and voting rights was so dear to her. She took it seriously. That is a legacy that I think I carry with me, or a value that I carry with me in terms of this whole outreach and advocacy role that I tried to play with the NAACP.
07:56: Dr. Jenkins: I appreciate you saying grandma, because that's what we call grandma [laughter] – grandma's Grandma, you never call her name, you know where we're from. Sometimes, it's underestimated the influence, the impact women have had on our society. So I need to know grandma's name today, what’s grandma's name, put it into space.
08:28: Mr. Jones: The name was Cornelia T. Terrell Wales. [Wow.] That was her name. But the fundamental piece that I'm about to reflect on now, really goes back to last week. At the Oregon School District, they had a program called Lift Every Voice and Read. And they invited community people to come and read to the classes. I was assigned to read to first graders, fourth graders and sixth graders. I just want to reflect on the first grade experience that I had. So I go into this room, and I tell them that I want to read about Bessie Coleman. [Mmm.]
09:08: Mr. Jones: And to my surprise, they were knowledgeable about black history. They knew some of the important individuals, Martin Luther King, and so forth. And when we talked about Bessie, and talked about her role as an astronaut, their eyes that lit up. They knew what astronomy was in general, and what an astronaut was. But I say that only because here again, was reflection on another African American female, who made history. Determined the outcome of the lives of a lot of people. So, but getting back to what you said is that, the role and function of women in our community was significant, foundational, fundamental. I know women in my family who were disciplinarians, who were teachers, who played all of the roles. Most importantly what they wanted us to do was this: they wanted the boys to understand that they were free, and that they should care for their sisters, their aunts, more importantly, that they were equal footing. There were no powerhouses in my family. Those women played the role of leadership, and so did the men. And the man that I'm speaking of is my uncle.
10:21: Dr. Jenkins: Wow, that's transformative. As we talked today, trying to make sure that everyone understands that all human beings mattered. And when we look at, no matter how someone identifies – male, female, whatever identity they have – we all have a role to play. And I think about other, like, leaders here in Madison. You know, we have right here, a lot of people I don't even think know it, we have Marcia Anderson here in our community, she was the first two star general in all of the Armed Forces in the United States. And she's right in Madison's community. And I don't know how much we've celebrated her. But when I think about during those times, her coming up, very much just like Miss Wales, your grandmother. They were under different times, and had to go up against things. And they were part of changing the trajectory for a lot of us who are recipients of their strong will. [Sure.] So I just want to make sure I bring that up. So that [sure], that value system that they put in all of us in particular, like, let's talk about your generation. It has led you to be involved with the NAACP, how many years?
11:29: Mr. Jones: Oh, I joined the NAACP as a youth in Mississippi, we had a youth council [mmm] way back in the day. And then when, as I said, migrated to Wisconsin, didn't have an NAACP in Eau Claire, so that didn't exist. When I moved to Madison in 1982 with my wife, no children at that time, I reestablished my connection with the NAACP, Madison branch at that time. I worked with that branch all the time as a committee chair of various committees and so forth. Then in 2014, the current branch, the Dane County branch was chartered, only because the Madison branch had, I think the Madison branch was established first in 1942, we can check the record on, that it lasted for a long period of time, and was very active. And then in ‘14, the Dane County branch was chartered. And it now covers Madison, Stoughton and all the other municipalities within, within it. But my advocacy work really correlated to my retirement, advocacy at the NAACP level. Because once I retired from state service in 2010, I found myself yearning for something to get engaged in. So the NAACP was an intersection between my desire for those early training values transmitted by Grandmamma and family, and the need for civil rights. And that was a year, we had some fundamental shifts in civil rights legislation. The year, 2013, was the year when we know the Supreme Court made fundamental changes in terms of voting rights, those kinds of values that were established back in 1965, when the Voting Rights Act was passed, and my grandmamma voted for the first time, and now in 2013, some restrictions put in place by our U.S. Supreme Court that cut back those rights, was disturbing. That was a motivating factor for me to say, you know what, if we're ever going to be engaged in advocacy, on a fundamental right, like voting, and voter protection, it is it. So that kind of opened the door. And then of course, all the other advocacy activities came in, advocates advocating for education reform, and change my kids in the classroom advocating for, you know, transportation and/or labor law changes. So it all kind of collectively came together and kind of promoted a little bit of action on my part, I would say.
13:57: Dr. Jenkins: Wow, so when we talk about the Constitution, and everyone, right? The Constitution hasn't necessarily been for all, as it was written. [Mmmhmm] And we start talking about the 13th amendment, 14th amendment, and 15th amendment. And even today, when we will look at our voter participation. [Right.] Right. And I'm talking about all race groups, [right]. You know, we want to talk about the disparities of one group or the other group. But truly, we don't have a high voter participation right now [right] in our local, [right] which are very important, our state or federal, is that an accurate statement?
14:39: Mr. Jones: I think it's very accurate. And I watched the voter turnout data in various different, various communities just to see what's going on. So I'll be checking with our clerk here, just to get the most recent voter participation from this spring election. But I wanted to reflect on that because in the Madison Capital City Hues, you wrote an article that really reflected on this whole question of Civil Rights Acts. And your tone and tenor of that article is essentially this: education, [education] education rights. And I read, I read all articles, I read them all, I read them. And so when you made that statement, or that observation, about the Constitution, you refer to our Constitution and its limitation as it applied to creating those opportunities and opening those doors for African Americans in this country. So I'm gonna try to take personal privilege here and say this. When you asked the question about our Constitution, and it didn't serve everybody, and you referenced the three that we think made the change, 13, 14, 15. You and I can sit here and agree that no, it has not, it was never intended to, whether Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation as president and commander in chief, doesn't matter. The issue is simply this, we have always had a disconnect in terms of how people of color, particularly African Americans, have been treated legally and constitutionally, in this country. Therefore, it's easy to get behind issues of equity, issues of inclusion, and push those for the betterment. So let me conclude by saying what I have observed in terms of the Madison School District. It has been in the last couple of years, and I'm gonna say this under leadership. One district that has really pushed the button to be more inclusive. If you look at some of the activities, actions, and initiatives you put in place, it is an effort to promote and meet the promise of those constitutional amendments, which hasn't been met. That may be a way of saying the following. If we don't make changes that will benefit those voices and individuals who, whose voices aren't heard, individuals I've seen, we don't have a reason for existing.
17:13: Dr. Jenkins: Right, most definitely. You know, and we do recognize, and I appreciate your comments, we are seeking to form a more perfect union. So I think there was some acknowledgement in that, that it wasn't perfect. [Okay.] And I think we all have a responsibility. And even when we look at those amendments, and we think about the 14th Amendment, in order to participate in our democracy, it says, too, that we know we have to be educated, educated citizens, citizenry. So we have a responsibility and education to make sure that everyone understands how we’ll govern, and to try to inspire individuals. But it's difficult, because we know, over time, it has been the very constitution that have held individuals back. [Right.] But we can't become discouraged. [No.] And I think people like yourself and many people in our community who have gone before. I think Ms. Wales, going before, knowing her situation. I think my parents, I'm a fifth generation, you know, of a slave. [Okay.] And just thinking about it, we have a lot of work to do. But I'm really encouraged when I see people on the front lines, sacrificing. I think about Judge Mitchell. [Oohhh.] Like, can you even imagine [yes] Judge Mitchell, [uh huh] running [for the Supreme Court] for the Supreme Court in 1968? We had more happen during the Reconstruction period, then since we have, even since the voting right act. [Right.]
19:23: Mr. Jones: So the issue is this. Go back to something you said earlier. I look at those outcome in elections in terms of percentage change. [Right.] And I asked myself, What do we have to do to reach a level of percentage change that will tilt the scales on behalf of economic opportunity, inclusion, justice for all, not necessarily the candidate. And I asked myself, this can be done. We can open those doors and create those pathways for those people to come in, and be candidates, compete successfully and get into those positions and make the change we need.
19:56: Dr. Jenkins: I want to know, because you're in this whole game of advocacy. We have a governor, we have the Joint Finance, we have other legislators. How do we get beyond the whole polarization that's taking place right now in politics, and we bring together individuals from all sides and say, hey, you know what? Right now we have a national crisis and reading. [Boom.] 35%. So if you tell me 35% of our children are proficient. 65%. Come on. I mean, these are wealthy children, these are children from all races, all genders, however they identify, who are not doing well. So we have a crisis, it's a national security issue. [Yep.] How can we bring everybody in, not calling them out? [Mm-mm.] Calling them in and say, let's have a real conversation. [Right.]
20:49: Mr. Jones: I think what you've done is now, you've asked a question of how do you frame and crystallize the issue. And my recommendation would be this. We have to find a way to present information to everybody so that they can relate to it, accept it, utilize it, and then respond to it. This is what I mean. We often like to define issues in a way that benefits a certain group, a certain party, or a certain segment, [right] but we can't do that anymore. [Mmm] We're gonna have to come straightforward, on issues where everybody can understand it, and relate to it. Let’s take reading, for example. The disparity in reading outcomes, whether it's New York or LA, or whatever are clear. People read that data and say, Well, it ain't me, it ain't my children, why should I care? How do we now say to everybody, whether it's your child, or someone else's child – reading is fundamental, reading is necessary, we have to find their way. And I don't think you can do it by having separate conversations. We got to find a way to kind of now involve people all across the community at the beginning of the conversation, and then frame it and push it out. I don't think the messages can, we can continue to rely on messages of separation and dislocation, like we have in the past. What I liked about the message that we heard in some, in some of the recent elections, and let's take the U.S., the Wisconsin Supreme Court election. What some of those candidates were saying, on some of the issues, not all, they were coming from a collective point of view. Let me try to clarify. The Wisconsin Supreme Court justices are primarily about interpreting [mmhmm] the Constitution, U.S. Constitution, under constitutional laws. When I heard them say, I am going to interpret the Constitution based on what I believe, what I heard them say is that there's a similar characteristic interpretation. Now, it may have different in terms of how they're going to, and what basis they will use. But I thought that's the beginning of at least a concise, coherent message. Take an issue like this, go back to education and reading. You've got now certain groups suing states [mmhmm] because of the lack of reading outcomes. Virginia, for example, NAACP in Virginia took it upon themselves to push that issue in that state. So that says, some changes in terms of how do you provide reading resources to kids, grade school, middle school, high school. So what we're seeing is, they're able to coalesce around issues, on a broad basis. That's going to be tough, because we have still a lot of our time, advocate for issues that benefit us, in our respective organizations.
23:43: Dr. Jenkins: Yeah, and I do tell you, I believe with every bone in my body, that reading, the right type of reading instruction, can just change the course of our country. [I agree]. Strengthens our national defense. [I agree.] When we think, right now, how we have to look outside of our country for our innovators [mmm]. We have to look outside of our country for those individuals who are probably going to resolve the issues of cancer. When we look outside of our country for anything dealing with artificial intelligence. We have to look outside of our country to others, to basically protect our own humanity. [Mmhm] So in this case, I'm saying I agree with you wholeheartedly. This is not a Republican issue, or a Democrat issue, or an Independent issue. This is a human decency issue. And we have to come together. And I would love to join with the NAACP, who's been the linchpin in our community, saying, it's not just about us, it's about all of us. Let's pen a letter to the governor and all the legislators and invite them in, not call them out, for a human decency discussion, and let's see how we can shape the $7 billion that we have right now, in our reserves [I agree.] in this state. [I agree.] And I believe it can put Wisconsin in a different place altogether. And being the leader that we know, Wisconsin could be. [Indeed.] That's the bottom line. [No doubt.] Well, I just tell you, it has been a pleasure, and a history lesson for me having you here. And know that I'm walking here in our community next to just a living legend. And I would encourage everyone out there, let's, let's just start acknowledging and celebrating [big time], all of our people who are doing great jobs. There are people that you don't need a big title. You don't need the big job. You don't need to be rich, you don't need to be poor, whatever, just be a human being. And let's celebrate that. Okay, so thank you, Mr. Jones, for being here on Lead to Liberate.
25:50: Mr. Jones: I enjoyed it. Enjoyed it. And I love the title.
25:54: Yes, [thank you very much] we look forward to having our listeners back with us again, as we will have another special guest. Thank you so much.
26:05 Student Speaker: You're listening to lead to liberate a podcast by the Madison Metropolitan School District demonstrating how the more we know, the more we grow
Lead to Liberate with Superintendent Carlton D. Jenkins brings listeners diverse voices and rich discussions on educational equity in the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) and beyond.
We take a personal look at dedicated people in our schools, our district, and the Madison community with real conversations about the issues which fuel their passions. These stories demonstrate how MMSD is working to develop collaborative and co-creative solutions to accelerate the learning of all students while addressing disparities experienced by historically excluded groups.
Guest: Dr. Floyd Rose
00:11: Student Speaker: From the Madison Metropolitan School District, this is Lead to Liberate, a podcast documenting stories of inspiration, growth, and empowerment across our schools.
00:27: Dr. Carlton D. Jenkins: Wow, I just love that music. Welcome back again. I am Dr. Carlton D. Jenkins. The very proud superintendent of Madison Metropolitan School District. And here we are, on Lead to Liberate. And today, once again, thanks for joining us. We have a very special guest from our community. Not a stranger to anyone. He continues to pour into our community, pour into our scholars, just pour into our school system and the broader community. Today, we have none other than Dr. Floyd Rose. How are you doing Dr. Rose?
00:59: Dr. Floyd Rose: I, I'm blushing but nobody would know it. [Laughter] Thank you so much for this wonderful introduction and this opportunity to chat with you.
01:09: Dr. Jenkins: Well, Dr. Rose, you've done so much. It's kind of hard not to talk about just a few of the things that you've done in our community. And you've been around for a while now. Helping so many – not only just students, but adults – and providing mentorship. But this particular segment that we’re having you in, we want you to kind of share that with the community, and how this really helps all of us in terms of knowing African American history. And as I believe this is the oldest run academic challenge of this sort, in the state. Can you tell us a little bit about it?
01:46: Dr. Rose: That is correct, we actually started, I believe, oh, approximately 1995 with our first activity and it occurred with the Madison Metropolitan School District. And we've been doing this annually, ever, ever after. And it's just been a phenomenal experience because primarily the focus on this is to try to parallel the good works of your school district. Which we believe is predicated off of exposure and encouragement. You have children that you steward, and you in turn, take a look at a situation where they can or they cannot. And possibly the court or between that would be exposure and encouragement is what you dutifully provide through your educational staff on an ongoing basis. So the marriage initially was with someone who got it, that we didn't have to explain it to, and really embraced it with us as we got into this almost 30 years ago. And this has moved in a way that is superseded anything we ever thought. Because now we work with four school districts, where we used to have a local competition and that competition would represent the 100 Black Men of Madison and national competition. Oh, by the way, we won seven out of 28 years nationally. [Wow.] But now we have four districts. We have Verona, we have Sun Prairie, we have Middleton Cross Plains, in addition to the Madison Metropolitan School District. So there is a wonderful relationship that we've had with the school district. And many of our contestants have gone on to do amazing things in life. In fact, there's one that you know, that you work with on an ongoing basis. And that's Ali Muldrow, who was our representative when she was at East High School. And she competed nationally at our annual conference in Las Vegas that was staged in that city at that time.
04:14: Dr. Rose: So, for our 2023 event where again, we will have local competition, excuse me, and then we will have our regional competition at the Verona Area School District. Prior to COVID our regional competition was in the chambers, the legislative chambers of the State Capitol. And that was a wonderful situation, and viewing the depth and breadth of the Verona High School Auditorium which is just amazing in itself, we’re, we're moving forward in a place that has the ambiance that I think this event deserves. But nothing is like coming home, and Madison Metro School District, this is home, this is where it all began. And we're just very, very blessed to have had that opportunity.
05:19: Dr. Jenkins: Well, I tell you, that's quite awesome. And you're talking about the 30th year of having an event like this. This is amazing. And where you started, right here at Doyle, at the Doyle Building in Madison Metropolitan School District. Last year, being at the event and just seeing the diversity, and listening to you now talking about Verona, Middleton Cross Plains, Sun Prairie also joining in this wonderful academic challenge. What about the growth? What have you seen? And why is it so important to have this spread out like this?
05:55: Dr. Rose: Well, the one thing that was essential when we started out was, we did not do this for the purpose of fostering a constricted knowledge to certain students. This was a broad-based activity. We've always include, included, children of other races, of other, of all genders. It wasn't about anything other than appreciation for a segment of individuals who have done phenomenal things. And that there was not the kind of acknowledgement or back to learning exposure. We believe that a child who is not African American can benefit as much from this exposure as one who is. Because it's all about what someone did. And we don't want children to think that only this group can do this, or that group can do something. Everybody can contribute. Everybody has the same value. Everybody has the same worth. And the way to do that is to teach it [mmhmm], you know. And say, Well, you know, there's so much out here right now they, the kids get access to the internet, and they can access this, then they have all this, and all that great stuff. And so they don't really need a lot of directed exposure. I would argue, from the students we've worked with over the years, we found many students that have never been outside the City of Madison, and in many cases had parents who had never been out outside the City of Madison. I'll give you a snippet.
07:47: Dr. Rose: A few years ago, there was a young lady who was a member of a team that became our regional champion. And the competition was in Florida. Mother approached us, and said I need a special chaperone. And we said well, we always have a chaperone. We have, we have many, many individuals who work with us that are professional social workers, doctors, lawyers, you name it. We have already a set of chaperones that I think that you will find to be very acceptable.
“Well, my daughter, she's never been outside of Madison. And I, and in order for me to say yes, I want somebody that she knows.” I said Who was that? She said, Well, there's a school counselor that we would like you to consider. Now understand what we do is we pay for the airfare, we pay for the lodging, we pay for the meals, the whole nine yards. Nothing, the contestants pay nothing. It’s our privilege in order to provide this to them. So we looked around and sold a few pop bottles and got a little extra money. [Mmhmm] And we hired the counselor to come out and be the, the eyes and ears and conscious of her mom. And so everything worked out. And I walked by her, while she was out there and she was just staring out the window. And this is a beautiful hotel facility, with windows that are two stories high, and you can just look out and see everything you want to see. It is on a beach and just beautiful. And I just saw her staring and just staring and staring, and I said, I think, and I was gonna go over there, tap her on her shoulder and say what are you doing? But I didn't want to. She was into something I didn't want to, want to break that. So after the contest, and after we returned home, I went over to somebody that, that knew this young lady. I said, you know, I saw - I’m going to call her Gracie, that's not her name, but we'll call her Gracie. I saw Gracie staring out the window. And she was just mesmerized, is was, it was just mind blowing how she was just so focused. And I thought I knew what she was doing. But I didn't want to say anything. And she she said what you think she was doing? She was verifying that there really was an Atlantic Ocean. [Mmm] And the lady, the person I spoke with started smiling. She said, that's exactly what she was doing. Because the first thing she said was mom, to her mom, as she was around, I saw the Atlantic Ocean. [Wow.]
11:02: Dr. Rose: That's a sidebar. But that's the, back to exposure, just in what is being put forth, to the children. Where they can also understand and discern the different authors have different views of things. So that they understand that everything is not always the way it is. But you need to investigate so you can make a determination of what is and what is not. Critical reading skills we think is essentially a part of the game. We got into this, though not about history. We got into this for self concept. We wanted folks to understand, that look like the people that they're reading about, that they have a heritage that is equal to everyone. And for those children that didn't look like the people that they were reading, we wanted them to be respectful of a heritage of people that did amazing things. Not always with the most money, or anything else other than courage, integrity, and drive.
12:16: Dr. Jenkins: Wow, well, I'll tell you, Dr. Rose, that leads right into the next question because here on Lead to Liberate, we talk about it. The things that people whispering about, we talk about it. Right now the College Board's in a deep, deep battle with several individuals, in particular the State of Florida. And talking about African American history and the contributions being taken away from the school systems. And at the National Superintendent's Conference, this was a piece of conversation that all of us were talking about. How do we share the contributions? Why we should be sharing the contributions? And it was pretty much a consensus out there. We need to bring in, in America's history, all history. All the contributions being made. And now saying that you all had the foresight, 30 years ago, starting off talking about individuals who made contributions, and it wasn't just intended for African American students. How do you see that correlating today, just this whole academic challenge about African American history to where we are today in the schools? And do you see the benefits of spreading that out? Not just in your competitions, but other, lifting the contributions of others to America?
13:29: Dr. Rose: I think that [scoffs] I'm going to date myself. And there used to be entertainer James Brown. And while James was performing, James had a statement where you say give the drummer some, which meant that that that let him in, get let's give him some, some accolades and what have you. And we kind of look at this the same way. We should be comprehensive enough to let everyone, everyone have exposure to all histories, not one history, but all histories. And I think it would be pretty easy to just relegate that, to many situations of that history occurring within the confines of American history. [Mmmm] I think it's a matter of dealing with more, rather than dealing with less. It's there. I think that native populations, there should be a place for their history to be understood. For Jewish Americans, Chinese Americans, those of different religions, why do we constrict it to just one or one snapshot? Because I… and just me, but I think it's such a rich learning opportunity that we missed a ball, by, by not broadening it rather than to constrict it.
15:14: Dr. Jenkins: Wow, quite the statement. And as we're continuing to move and MMSD, you know, our whole goal is to continue to be anti-racist. And we're just being explicit. And we're trying to include everyone. So individuals who identify differently, however they identify, choose to identify. When we say all, we mean all. So just hearing the fact that today we're talking about, just from racial perspective, but there's gender perspective, there's political perspective. We always say we educate all children. And we want to make sure we keep that at the forefront of our work. So it's very appreciative to have someone like you to stay in a fight, making sure that we’re lifting up a particular group, but not just to that group, but to everyone else, because all contributions are important in our society. Right here, in close proximity, we actually have the first African American mayor. Can you tell me a little bit about that? That's my, my challenge for you. Do you know who that person is, first of all?
16:27: Dr. Rose: [laughter] I know exactly who that person is, who was elected in 1991, as the first African American mayor in the State of Wisconsin at that time.
16:14: Dr. Jenkins: First African American mayor, meaning like male or female?
16:45: Dr. Rose: At that time, and recently, you have that with the gentleman in Milwaukee. But at that time, the first African American, unless I got it wrong, but I don't think, and that is Francis Huntley Cooper, who was an amazing off-the-chart warrior to do good for everybody. Not somebody, I mean, everybody. And for someone to have the wherewithal to step out and do something that no one did. No one did. That's, that's, that's amazing. Let's think about that. I mean, I don't know too many people who have, that have done something that no one has done. [Wow] But, I know a lot of people but I don't know too many that have done something that no one has done. And do it in a broad way, and be of such desire to focus on service rather than recognition. [Wow.] Not…Talk about a role model…She should have her own book.
18:00: Dr. Jenkins: Wow, wow. Francis Huntley Cooper. I'm glad to hear that. And I'm glad to hear her story. I think this is something that will be great for all of our scholars, all of our community people to really understand that this is something that happened in 1991. You know, we have our challenges today, but even in 1991, to burst out and do something that no one had done. That's worth recognizing, I think in our community.
19:08: Dr. Jenkins: Well, I tell you, just having you here today, and talking about not doing an African American History Quiz Bowl, because we're much deeper than that. Right? We talk about the academic challenge and the contributions that's been made. And I appreciate you showing up here because everybody in town knows the 100 Black Men are so busy, and you are the leader of that. Thank you for all of your countless contributions you continue to make to not only our city but to our entire region.
19:42: Dr. Rose: Well, thank you, but I must express that I'm just a cog on a much bigger wheel. And the membership of the 100 Black Men of Madison supersedes any one person and just an extraordinary group of people. So we've been blessed.
20:00: Dr. Jenkins: Well, thank you so much for being here. Hey, once again, thanks, everybody, our audience out there for joining in to Lead to Liberate. And we look forward to seeing you next week as we will have another fantastic guest. Thank you so much.
20:13: Student Speaker: You're listening to lead to liberate a podcast by the Madison Metropolitan School District demonstrating how the more we know the more we grow.
Guest: Deb Hoffman
00:10: Student Speaker: From the Madison Metropolitan School District, this is Lead to Liberate, a podcast documenting stories of inspiration, growth, and empowerment across our schools.
00:27: Dr. Carlton D. Jenkins: Thank you, listeners for joining us again. I am Dr. Carlton D. Jenkins, very proud superintendent here at Madison Metropolitan School District, and you are on Lead to Liberate. And today we have another very special guest. Our guest today has been with MMSD for quite some time. And she will tell you that in just a moment. But I'm very proud to introduce one of our associate superintendents, new associate superintendents, but it seems like it's been for a long time at that as well. Right. But we have with us Dr. Deb Hoffman. And Dr. Hoffman. How are you today?
01:02: Dr. Deb Hoffman: I'm doing really well. Thanks for asking.
01:04: Dr. Jenkins: Okay, great. Why don't you just give our listeners just a little bit about – why MMSD? Why have you stayed? Why are you doing the work you're doing right now, as we hear on Lead to Liberate, trying to get information from individuals who work within our system and want to be here?
01:22: Dr. Hoffman: So yeah, that's an interesting question. I started off my career as a teacher in Milwaukee Public Schools. And I was on a mission to make change in public schools. And I came to Madison to get my doctorate, with every intention of going back to Milwaukee Public Schools. And I sort of accidentally fell into a position because of an urgent situation when I had just started the doctoral program here. And it was an interesting way to lead and be in the Ph.D. program at the same time. And so I was able to put research and practice together while I was working, and do some really creative things right here at the start of my career as a principal in 1996. So that led me to wanting to stay and do the work here, in Madison. And I raised, I wanted to raise my, my own children here. And I did that. And now one of them teaches in Madison.
02:18: Dr. Jenkins: Wow, now that's exciting. So you started teaching and now one of your own scholars teaching right here in Madison as well. Ah, tell us a little bit about your journey in terms of some of the creativity when everyone talks about you, they talk about Lincoln. I have to tell, you’ve been at other schools, but everybody goes back to Lincoln. What are some of the creative things that you've done to try to help students get access to learning at a high level so that they can perform well later on in life?
02:43: Dr. Hoffman: So my drive and passion has been about inclusive education for students who are English learners, for students with disabilities. And it all started actually at Franklin, which is interesting because Franklin and Lincoln were court-ordered deseg schools back in the 80s, early 80s. Franklin was the elementary school, and Lincoln was the junior high. And I started my career at Franklin where I was able to do a lot of inclusive Ed work. We had a grant from the, the federal government that both the superintendent and the school of education here, Ed Leadership department, helped facilitate. And we were the first school to do cross-categorical, we did inclusive Title One programming and inclusive English learner programming, way back in 1998-99, before there was even English as second language programs in the whole of La Follette and Memorial attendance areas. And then I was transferred over to Lincoln, when Lincoln was a school identified as a, ‘need an improvement’ in 2007. So I took everything I learned at Franklin with that brilliant staff, and implemented it at Lincoln in order to move out of being a school in need of improvement by providing more inclusive service delivery model and more teacher-student interaction, small group instruction, and less segregated programs.
04:09: Dr. Jenkins: Wow, that's, that's very exciting. One of the things that we know right now, just across the nation, we're talking about it. The reading proficiency level is at 35%. We're in a crisis. So what's been some of your experiences in dealing with that? And what's your experience now? How are you leading, leading to liberate, and getting our schools at the next level, where we can get higher levels of students who are really enjoying reading and who are more at a proficient and beyond level?
04:42: Dr. Hoffman: So reading is a complex learning activity that I have strong passion about, both reading and math I have a lot of passionate about, and I love to learn about learning. And so a lot of my work starting out at Franklin was with K2, kindergarten through second grade, and thinking about developmental reading. And I learned a lot from the teachers I had at Franklin. Most of them were, several of them were dually certified in special ed and regular ed even, even in in the mid 90s. And some of them had what was called ‘Reading Recovery’ licensure. So I learned a lot from observing that program. When I was in Milwaukee Public Schools, we did not have reading recovery. So I learned a lot by watching and then implementing a lot of literacy development, so that we could get our kids reading, and I used to do all the data by hand – tracking, dictated sentences, phonemic awareness, and hearing sounds and words, words. So, um, so that was where I really developed a lot of depth, more depth of knowledge about primary literacy and developmental reading. And then when I went to Lincoln, Lincoln being a third, fourth and fifth grade school, what we did to really examine what was going on with the literacy rates at Lincoln was to try to figure out where the breakdown was – because most of our students, oh, probably 98% of them were decoding well, but not their academic vocabulary was crushing them in standardized tests, and also in other content areas where you're reading to learn and versus learning to read. And so reading at the third, fourth and fifth grade level, developmentally, you want students developing their academic language and their understanding of what they read in order to learn content areas, and that was a huge barrier for our students doing, ah, becoming proficient readers. And so we really studied that, tore it apart, and kept working at it in lots of different ways. By investing in rich text, meaningful text, buying, we spent tons of money on our library and our book rooms to buy texts that were engaging for all students, multicultural text, in order to help students really learn to love to read
07:15: Dr. Jenkins: Right? Well, I tell you, you know, you just mentioned a part about the whole part of really, was word recognition is what it was, and then language comprehension, because students struggle with that piece. And at one point, I was this big, balanced literacy, like most of us, right, being very successful with it. And now we're embarking upon having adopted historical amount of curricular resources for our elementary, and then now moving into it into the middle school. And all of this is based on alignment with the Science of Reading, which isn't new, been around a long time. But we've always had these reading wars. You’re an elementary person, you have been involved heavily in reading. How is this going to influence what's happening right now, in MMSD?
08:07: Dr. Hoffman: Well, hopefully, it's going to influence it positively. [Mmhmm] We want our students reading, it's always been our goal to have proficient readers, third, fourth, fifth grade, so that when they are learning content through reading, that they are not falling down essentially, in those content areas because of their reading skills. One of the things that comes to mind in terms of our professional development plan, and getting some baseline is that we can't control when we hire staff what the pedagogical training is at all the colleges and universities in, in the United States that are training our teachers and across the world - we hire internationally also. And so one of the things that by, by having that as a baseline, especially for our elementary teachers, is to help build the pedagogical knowledge that perhaps is not consistent across universities and colleges that are training teachers. So I'm hopeful that this will help us give a better base to the developmental reading process. [Mmhmm]
09:14: Dr. Jenkins: Now, I tell you, walking in, in 2020, a number of teachers talked about not having curricular materials. And now we've made this historic adoption. How do you think that's playing out right now when you're going into buildings, and you have conversations with the principals and with the teachers?
09:31: Dr. Hoffman: I think it's been a lot of learning this year. As far as learning about the curriculum. We have a lot of highly skilled teachers who know how to teach reading and are improving their skills every day on behalf of our students. I think that having high-quality materials that are consistent across the district is an important piece, because everyone's skill level is different. And so it gives us a framework from which to work. The curriculum will never teach the children, the teachers teach the children. And so the curriculum is a piece of that, and having more culturally relevant materials that have more scaffolds in them to meet the needs of our learners is critical to catching all of our learners and not just, ah, some of our learners. So I'm very hopeful moving forward as we learn to harvest everything that's really good out of our new curriculum purchase, and push our students forward, while continuing to nourish the love of reading, and so students want to read.
10:37: Dr. Jenkins. Right. That's a critical point that you just made in terms of teachers teach our children, not the curriculum. And just, not just high quality instruction, but high quality expectation for all children. So as a leader, yourself, you're going by – how do you start to even that conversation when you see someone doing extremely well? How do you take that and use it in other spaces.
11:03: Dr. Hoffman: So one of the, I think, the most effective ways to support teacher learning is to have the, build relationships between strong teachers or veteran teachers and our newer staff who are less experienced. Another way to do it is through coaching. So way back in the day, there was time and space for – we call them ‘visitation days,’ I think they were a part of the contract. But as a principal, I could assign a staff member or suggest to a staff member, oh, you might want to visit so and so's classroom to get some new ideas. But we can still do that through, you know, small amounts of time and principals being creative, to release teachers to go visit other teachers that they trust, to learn from them, so that they're not feeling vulnerable, but they can go in and look at some other practices. Getting teacher teams talking – I think one of the early things in my career when we had just implemented the Comprehensive School Reform grant at Franklin, I heard teachers in the hallway talking about data and then problem solving. Oh, did you try this? Oh, did you try that? Let's go back. Let's think about this, this and that. And really solving problems around how to help a student move forward. And that's exactly the kind of teacher discourse we want happening.
12:20: Dr. Jenkins: Yeah, I tell you outstanding. Right after the pandemic – and we're not done with the pandemic, we still have some residuals – but what I've been very pleased to see in going into schools and seeing the spaces, like I was in Black Hawk Middle School, in Mendota, several schools, right. And the staff are actually working together to try to figure it out. Because there's some residuals from the pandemic, that we're all, let's just be honest, still trying to figure out. And so when we see these things, I think it's really important, that we accentuate them, and particularly share best practices If anything comes from the pandemic, it’s our willingness and ability to share more in teaching itself, it's not as isolated. But mentioning that, let me say this. Right now, the teacher shortage, and it's not just because of the degrees being conferred. But individuals are really tired. Do you see that sense of needing to focus on social-emotional work students and staff?
13:21: Dr. Hoffman: I fully support the needs of our staff, social-emotional well-being with our students. I, it is so critical right now. So before the pandemic, I was a firm believer in the parallel of teaching mindfulness practices to students to teaching reading. It's an access point, it doesn't require anything but yourself and the skills in your own head to help calm yourself down, to work in your brain, to which is a skill you can use your entire life – and whether you're in a bad meeting, or a class you don't like or whatever. Having the skills to negotiate your own feelings will help you forever, just like learning how to read. And so if we're not teaching those self-calming skills, those regulation skills, all that kind of stuff, we're not really doing a full picture job.
So that mindfulness practice I think is critical to children's well-being and their development. And I use mindfulness but I'm really talking about self-regulation and learning how to manage their emotions. And we have to be teaching both the students and the staff have how to better manage their emotions. In fact, there's some studies over at the Center for Healthy Minds about teacher efficacy improving, having gone through mindfulness training themselves. So do I think that the, that this is another result of the pandemic? Yes. And there were problems before the pandemic, and now they've been completely exacerbated. And we really are needing to work harder and harder to try to help support our students and our staff moving forward.
15:15: Dr. Jenkins: Yeah, I'll tell you one thing, thanks for saying that. Because, right, before the pandemic, we were seeing this escalation of self-regulation needed to occur. But now, after the pandemic, it's not even students, staff – we've seen the community. And so doing your job now goes beyond just a scholar, beyond just the teacher, staff person, but also you find yourself talking to the whole family, and even in the community about, hey, we need to give one another grace during this time. So leading now, do you find that even for yourself, you have to regulate yourself social-emotional, and mental health as well?
16:11: Dr. Hoffman: For sure, I think that's always been something that I've had to pay a lot of attention to throughout my life, or I wouldn't be able to do my job at all. Um, and I think it's a delicate dance between holding myself to a higher standard, and making sure that I am taking care of myself. And that delicate dance has to be supported by the people I work with, and holding me accountable, and also to use all the skills I have built over time to do the best work I can when I'm at work. So I want that for our staff. I want that for our students. And I want that for our families. I think impulse control right now is really causing great harm in our country, in terms of people making snap decisions when they're angry or sad, whether that's from suicide rates, or hurting other people when they're upset, because the impulse control and the self regulation is really out of whack. And it's very saddening, and I would love to see improvement in those ways.
17:22: Dr. Jenkins: Yeah, well, I tell you, I appreciate you sharing that with us, Dr. Hoffman. And we're in this delicate space of understanding that we want all of our scholars to be successful, all of our staff to be successful, and we want to pay attention to the social-emotional, mental health well-being of everyone. And at the same time, we realize where we are in terms of what our ability to have students graduate with a degree that really means something, right? Not just graduating and can't write, you can't read, you can't do computation, just whatever. So leading during these times is a little bit different than even before the pandemic, because I don't know if the whole community really understands that it's a lot different. Now, I know we had some staff, I mean, some parents, actually become teachers for a moment during the pandemic. [Mmhmm] And I love running into those parents, because they said clearly say, ‘Hey, you all could have them back, you could teach them.’ How are you working with parents differently now to try to engage them?
18:29: Dr. Hoffman: Well, I think we have to continue to find out what parents need from us, in terms of collaboration. I think we make assumptions about parents, and what they want to be doing with the school, versus thinking about what they need from us. There's a lot of talk about parent involvement. But I think that is a misnomer that certain parents are not involved. We have a lot of parents that are involved in just ways that are invisible, right? We have parents that put kids to bed every night on time. That we have parents that have who do work three jobs in order to make sure their children are dressed and ready for school, fed and ready to roll. And those, those parents may not be seen at school, in and working in our school, or working in the PTO. And it's assumed that they're not involved because they couldn't come to an event or a conference or something. And that's wrong, because they're doing a lot of things that we never see to get their child to us in a healthy way. And so I just want to call out that parent involvement looks differently for every family. And that parent might be the parent that writes in a notebook to a teacher but never attends events. And it might be a parent that never writes in the notebook but gets their kid to school every single day. And I want to make sure that I recognize that the continuum of parent involvement could be perfect attendance to attending every school function and meeting
19:58: Dr. Jenkins: Mmm. Outstanding. Well, I'll tell you, here on Lead to Liberate, we talk about it, we bring it out, what are we talking about here? There's conversation around Goal Three. Black children and youth will excel. MMSD stands strong on that. Why Black children and youth will excel? Why is that there?
20:21: Dr. Hoffman: Because we need to call out Black excellence as a goal in our school district, as a group that has been historically marginalized, redlined in our city, and we need to pay attention to the achievement disparities that exist, that are caused by our community, society, and our schools. We are a part of the problem, and we need to work on fixing it. So in terms of becoming anti-racist, we need to focus on our Black scholars being, getting access that they've been denied over centuries, and getting full access and rebuilding schools to serve all students versus some students. Our school, our public education system was built to serve basically middle class white Christian, heterosexual boys without disabilities, and we need to upend and think about education continuously, differently, as we learn more about the brains, and also of all persons attending our schools. But our Black students have been marginalized, though. I don't want to get into competition about it, but the worst in our schools and by calling that out, we are calling everyone in. The other misnomer is that any of us can get a robust education without educating everyone. So people used to ask me why I would have my own children be in classrooms where perhaps there was a density of students, unlike himself, and, that's an asset for him. He gets, he gains by being with the diversity of the class, and the diversity of disability, and the most diverse middle school that he could have attended in Madison he went to. So, and he has benefited from that. And that was not an accident on my part that we made those decisions to send him there. And I'm very proud of who he's becoming as a teacher and a lot of his views. My job as a white parent is to make sure I don't raise a white male that perpetuates the problems in this country. And so he needs to rise up and use his cultural capital to upend racism in our city and our community as well. So it's an asset to be raised in a community that's diverse, and people make the mistake of not understanding how much they're denying their own children learning, by excluding and segregating our students. Back to the Black excellence. That's all part of it, [wow] is to make sure that all children are benefiting, but those who have been marginalized the worst in our city are our Black youth [wow] for the longest amount of time.
23:19: Dr. Jenkins: Wow. Thank you. That's powerful. You've heard it, listeners, to this right here from a scholar from a leader, a teacher, administrator, and a parent. And she spoke boldly right here on Lead to Liberate about how we go to create communities where we all belong. I want to thank you so much, Dr. Hoffman, you are quite the justice leader, and I appreciate you being here on Lead to Liberate. And we look forward to our listeners coming back again next week, as we will have another dynamic leader. Thank you, Dr. Hoffman. [Thank you, Dr. Jenkins.]
23:56: Student Speaker: You're listening to Lead to Liberate, a podcast by the Madison Metropolitan School District, demonstrating how the more we know, the more we grow.
Guest: Carletta Stanford
00:10: From the Madison Metropolitan School District, this is Lead to Liberate, a podcast documenting stories of inspiration, growth, and empowerment across our schools.
00:28: Dr. Carlton D. Jenkins: I just really love that music. Wow, gets me going every time. Welcome back to our listeners. I am Dr. Carlton D. Jenkins, the proud superintendent of Madison Metropolitan School District, and you are here with us on Lead to Liberate. Each week I've been bringing you an outstanding, outstanding staff member. This week, we have an opportunity to hear from one of our very own, starting elementary school here, middle school, high school, went off to college, went to a HBCU, came back and now one of our associate superintendents, often referred to as the ‘Baby Superintendent.’ Now, we have with us today, Ms. Carlettra Stanford. How are you today Ms. Stanford?
01:07: Carlettra Stanford: I am great. How are you Dr. Jenkins?
01:10: Dr. Jenkins: I'm doing well. Hey, we've been hearing about all the work that you're doing now. Knowing that you are a former student, you came back as a teacher, as a principal of my elementary school, Mendota. Okay. That's an inside joke. [Laughter] But that's my elementary school, Mendota. How are things going for you now? You're going from a teacher principal. Now you're the Associate Superintendent?
01:32: Ms. Stanford: Yes. So I am a proud graduate of East High School. Go Purgolders! And, um, I'm just happy to be back in my hometown. I often joke and say that I am from Madison, but I was actually born in Marks, Mississippi. But I had the opportunity to matriculate through MMSD schools. And so, I started here in first grade, I believe it was, and went all the way up to high school. When I decided to come back as a teacher, I originally did not want to be a teacher. I often tell the story that my dream was to be a pediatrician, but everything that I did, pointed towards students, and working with students and working with families. So when I had the opportunity to come back home, I did jump at that opportunity, and started my educational career in MMSD at what was then Glendale Elementary School, but is now Dr. Henderson Elementary School. So I started off as a classroom teacher. I was then a literacy coach, worked my way up to a Title One Schoolwide Facilitator, and then became a principal of an elementary school that just happened to be the elementary school that I attended, Gompers Elementary School.
02:44: Dr. Jenkins: Wow, that’s it. Wow, that was really awesome. Now you say you came back? [Yes.] Where did you go to college?
02:49: Ms. Stanford: Oh, how can I even forget that? I went to the Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia. And so, just a proud graduate of that HBCU. And so, um, I also attended University of Wisconsin-Madison as well, where I earned my masters.
03:04: Dr. Jenkins: Wow. And understand right now that you are pursuing your doctorate degree from…?
03:09: Ms. Stanford: From Edgewood College. [Okay] So, I'm working on my doctorate right now. Phew. Yeah, that's quite the journey. [Laughter] A lot of work, but I am in it to win it. And so I'm just trying to matriculate through that program right now. So then you will call me Dr. Stanford the next time we have a conversation.
03:30: Dr. Jenkins: Oh, most definitely. Most definitely. We're looking forward to calling you Dr. Stanford. But I just tell you right now, it's so exciting to have this opportunity to have you on Lead to Liberate, because we’re talking MMSD, we talk about the things that's real on the show. We go right into it, we talk about disparities. But we know that we have a lot of wonderful things that's going on in MMSD [absolutely]. And you have been part of making those things happen. We know that the disparities are real, as we look at the nation. First of all, the nation’s at 35% proficiency rate, [yes] right? We look at the State of Wisconsin right there, relatively close to 35% – 34.99% proficiency rate, and then we look at MMSD at 37% proficiency rate, but even within a 37%, even within a 35%, there are still disparities. But we are concerned that it's a national crisis around reading, what have you done? What are you doing? And how are you planning to lead MMSD in the future around this particular type?
04:33: Ms. Stanford: Well, what we are doing is we are working closely with the people who are on the frontlines, right. So we're working closely with the teachers, the folks who are in the classroom. We're looking at what are those systems and structures that we need to, to change, so that we can make sure that our students are thriving and matriculating when they're in our classrooms and MMSD. And that's not just about curriculum, that's also about social-emotional learning, that's about the way in which we see students when they step into the classroom – how are we greeting them? How are we interacting with them? How are we partnering with families. And so it's not just about one thing, it's about paying attention to the whole child, and the whole family. And it's not just something that we can do independently, but we have to be in partnership with several stakeholders. So going into the classrooms, making sure that we have the curriculum that we need, so that teachers can teach the way in which they need to teach, but also making sure that we're providing the training and the professional development for staff as well. That's the most important piece. I think about when I was a classroom teacher and I did balanced literacy. Right. And so I really thought I was doing it, I was innovative, I was creative. [Right] But did I teach my kids how to read? The, a really big thing for me was just the assessment that you take for the LETRS training revealed a lot of what I still need to learn [wow, okay] how it's all about reading [all of us], right? And so even going into that, thinking that I knew a lot of things, I had to adjust some of my thinking as well. And that's what a lot of teachers are going through right now. They're adjusting their thinking, they're adjusting their practices. And one of the things is that we're there to support them in doing that. So with the instructional coaches that we've put in place, we also have coaching that we get from the curriculum that we have decided to adopt. And again, just the mindset of helping people to understand why this is the direction that we need to move in, in order to move not just the test scores, but our students’ ability to read. Because we know that ensuring that students can read is going to open up the whole future for them.
06:46: Dr. Jenkins: Right. And that LETRS training[yes] and you mentioned about the curriculum adoption at – historic here – [yes] in MMSD. We haven't done this in over 15 years, made this serious investment in materials that's aligned with the Science of Reading. Tell me a little bit about that. [Absolutely] How’s that going?
07:06: Ms. Stanford: And so that was quite the process as well, right? [laughter] [Right] Just finding a curriculum that did align with the Science of Reading. So we didn't want to just go out and get any curriculum. But we made sure that it was aligned with the Science of Reading, that it was also, it had diverse materials so that students can see themselves within the materials that they were reading. And it also has opportunities, again, for SEL, for that social-emotional learning is also part of that curriculum too. Because again, we are educating the whole child. So that process not only involved just folks from central office, but it was also teachers, it was the union, it was parents, it was community members. This is, I believe, one of the first times in which we have adopted a curriculum where we are already seen progress with students. And we have staff that are excited about having this, this tool, because we know that it's just, is what it is, is a tool that they're able to use to assist them with teaching students how to read.
08:20: Dr. Jenkins: Wow, that's powerful. Now let's, let's keep it real here on Lead to Liberate. [Yes.] Ms. Stanford, you were the one who led our school back to in person learning during the pandemic. And you did it in a very safe way. Tell us about that. Because here we were at a pandemic, we were all virtual. People were nervous. We were learning different things, from who? The World Health Organization. [Yes] Schools were moving at different paces. And you were charged with specifically, [yes] bringing our little ones. Tell our listeners about that.
08:53: Ms. Stanford: Yes. So I won't take all the credit. I will say it was the team [okay, right] that, that did that. And it was a lot about listening and learning. Learning from the experts as far as like, what is this thing that's COVID? What are the safety precautions that we have to put into place. Also learning from other districts that might have already been doing things that we might have wanted to implement. So the highest priority was to ensure that we were bringing students and staff back safely. Because one thing that the pandemic did uncover for some folks, that a lot of us already knew existed, were the inequities within access that students had to various things. [Mmhmm] So we needed to be sure that not only during virtual learning that students have access, but when we were bringing students back, how were we helping our families to understand that we were creating safe environments for them to come back to. We also knew that although we had great structures and things in place for virtual, we wanted our kids back into the building, and that was the best place for them to be to get the instructional support that, that they needed. So again, working with the medical professionals, working with MTI, working with staff, working with families to bring them back into school, um, where we were able to provide those opportunities.
10:18: Dr. Jenkins: So did we start off with the high school students?
10:21: Ms. Stanford: No, we did not. We started off with the elementary students.
10:23: Dr. Jenkins: Oh, the elementary students. [Yes, yes, yes] Yeah, well okay. What grades did you start off with?
10:27: Ms. Stanford: We started off with our youngest scholars first. And we made sure that we did not just bring everybody out at one time or back at one time. We did a slow integration back into school so that we could see, again, what the needs were. And then making sure that students were safe when they came back and then we went from there. So, it was a, it was a strategy, an intentional strategy, to have it be a slow coming back based on grades.
12:08: Dr. Jenkins: I just think about the fact that how you brought everyone back with your team, and how you're being very intentional. But let's get to it, because we’re on Lead to Liberate, and we want to talk about the disparities. [Yes.] The disparities, as I began to mention, where we are at proficiency in nation, state, but let's go straight to MMSD. [Yes] We have some serious disparities. How do you plan to address those with the team? Or the associate superintendents, the teachers, the same people that you mentioned in terms of those stakeholders?
12:44: Ms. Stanford: Yeah, we are, we're addressing it by being bold, right? So I think that Goal number three is bold. We often hear people say that I wanted to come and work for MMSD because this is the one district that I've heard call out Black Excellence. We're acknowledging what we have not done for a certain set of scholars and what we need to do, the systems that we need to disrupt. Often, we find that folks are blaming family situations or blaming students. And we want to look at ourselves as a district, ourselves as individuals and staff members, and what are those things that we need to change in order to see a difference in the disparities that currently exist. I think one of the reasons why I wanted to come back to MMSD is that I found that some of those same disparities that exist today were there when I was in school. And that's unacceptable. So what we haven't done, what we need to do, to create a school system in which we can truly say that all of our students are receiving the best possible education that we can deliver. So we have to examine and not be afraid to uncover those things that are there, that we might have created as a, as a schooling system and to change it and to dismantle it and to rebuild.
14:11: Dr. Jenkins: Wow, powerful. So now, I know that you're having meetings, in your literacy advisory. [Yes.] Right. Tell me about those meetings. Because in those meetings, I've been there and participated. You have staff, you have community people, and everyone's saying, “Hey, we could do this.” [Yes[ So what's the feel? What, why are you having those meetings?
14:31: Ms. Stanford: The feel is excitement. Because we're not just saying, ‘hey, come in and just give us some information.’ But we're saying, ‘come sit at the table with us to make a difference.’ So again, it is like you said, they’re parents, they’re community members, there's principals, they’re central office folks, and we're all coming together to really take a deep dive into what has been happening in MMSD around literacy and what is it that we need to change. And we're doing it together, though, as a team, rather than getting together as separate entities and just saying, ‘This is what we need to do.’
15:07: Dr. Jenkins: Wow. And I tell you, the peers that those committees are really digging in, [yes!] they're pretty serious about what are some of the causations. [Mmhmm] And then coming up with some of the solutions. I think the other night was just amazing when he talked about intentionality [yes] around it, talked about the expectations, and just a belief that all of our scholars can learn. When you think back as a scholar yourself, [yes]. MMSD. What is it that you wish you would have had, that you're trying to make sure right now all students do have?
15:42: Ms. Stanford: That's a great question. I had great teachers when I was in MMSD. But I wish I could have had situations in which I knew that whatever classroom I walked into, my teacher believed in my ability to succeed. And I didn't experience that, and all of my tenure in MMSD. And I want to ensure that, that students have that, and that they know that there are adults that are there to assist them along their educational journey, but also that believe in what they are able to do, and helps to spark different things and provide the access that they need to do that.
16:37: Dr. Jenkins: Wow. Well, I'll tell you, I'm very excited about what I see happening right now with the associate superintendents. You're doing your instruction tours. [Yes.[ Environmental scanning. [Yes.[ Tell me how that's going post-pandemic – you're being very intentional about going into classrooms, right? Why are you there? And what are you getting from it?
16:56: Ms. Stanford: We're there to learn, and to align, and to provide feedback. So we're learning from each other, we're learning from the schools, we’re they are to align as a team. Because one of the important things if we are going to be successful in the direction that we're going – in leading to liberate – is that there is a comprehensive system. And so that means 4K through 12th grade that we are speaking the same language. And one of the biggest things that I learned in doing the environmental scans, and the instructional tours, is how much you can learn within a three minute period of time. [Mmm. Okay, okay.] You don't have to [okay, okay], you don't have to be in a classroom for 30, 45 minutes to really have an understanding of what is going on, what you're seeing, what are the great things that you're seeing, because don't get me wrong, they're phenomenal things that are happening in our classrooms across the district. And also taking those things and then replicating those and other places as well. So what are the best practices that we're seeing? And how do we replicate those across the district?
18:05: Dr. Jenkins: What, is there a professional development for yourselves, in terms of as associates you having this intellectual agility going on? [Yes] Are you learning from your associates?
18:13: Ms. Stanford: I am definitely learning, we are definitely pushing each other, we are questioning each other. There's just phenomenal transparency, and how honest we can be with what we're seeing. So that includes when the high school associate, and middle school associate, is going into elementary school, as well as the elementary associates who are going into high school. And I think that's a really important piece of being a team, is that we have to come together and have that trust and have that transparency, have the questioning of each other and also that critical push that's needed to make change.
18:47: Dr. Jenkins: Wow, so the vertical and horizontal articulation is [yes] coming. Okay. [Yes] I'll tell you one other thing. We talked about it right here on Lead to Liberate. Our students now. When we’re talking about diversity. Diversity, there's diversity within diversity. [Yes.] And our students are truly identifying themselves today, as, as are some of our staff, and the community, the whole world is changing. How's that in terms of addressing socio-emotional, and also making sure that students are fit to learn without feeling it so they don't feel a part of MMSD?
19:25: Ms. Stanford: And that's an important piece as well, when we talk about student identity. So I think I mentioned before, like, how are we welcoming [mmhmm] students into our classrooms? How are we helping them to feel as though they belong?
19:40: Dr. Jenkins: Yeah, I think that's very interesting when you’re talking about wanting to make sure that all students are feeling like they belong in the classroom. What are those things, the conversations, that you're doing right now, or you all as a team, to make sure that all students mean all students?
19:56: Ms. Stanford: So there's intentionality around what, um, schools and classrooms are doing to ensure that all students are, are and do feel welcome in the school, in the classroom, that we're recognizing. That goes from what we're putting on the walls so that we're making sure that students see themselves in the building, that they see themselves in the classroom. And it's not just a matter of accepting, but it's a matter of respecting how students show up and what they bring. Differences are assets. And we need to learn from each other, and students are learning from each other in that way.
21:06: Dr. Jenkins: Okay, right here on Lead to Liberate, we come right at it. Being a leader, talking it is one thing, doing it as another. Talk about how you're trying to educate your central office, you're building principals. Because leading – you have to lead [yes] if you really want to liberate our students. How are you all doing that as associate superintendents and as a district?
21:31: Ms. Stanford: So as a district, we're working with C.I.S. And we're doing a lot of equity work. So we understand that the way in which we support our schools, it just can't be professional development at the school level. But as the folks who are supporting our schools, we have to have that professional development as well. So one of those ways, is we are bringing central office staff together to do equity work. We're also bringing principals together to have the opportunity to experience that same work. And then from there, we will go into the schools with that learning again, because we, we know that central office has to be just as prepared to support as the schools are.
22:23: Dr. Jenkins: Well, that's awesome. I've been in a number of districts, and sometimes it just doesn't happen that way. So I really applaud the work you're doing there. We see that you're doing a lot of work, and that one goal that you mentioned, Goal Three, why Goal Three? There's a lot of conversation about it, why Goal Three?
22:42: Ms. Stanford: Goal Three – African American students and youth will excel. We know that if we are able to do that, then everyone else will rise. We also know that we have not been able, based on our data, we have not seen that yet. Our African American students, are, have the lowest proficiency rate for our students in MMSD. And we have to do something different. We haven't been able to do that yet. And so again, the idea is that in being extremely transparent and pointing that out, that it's out there, we know that it's there. But the question is, what are we going to do about it? And that's what we're striving to do, is to make those changes within our schools, within our systems to ensure that our students are succeeding and that we are reaching that Goal Three.
22:36: Dr. Jenkins: Wow, that's exciting. I tell you the truth there, Ms. Stanford. Just to know that our district, and that your peers and yourself, are just really interested in moving that needle for all children, but particularly, you want to be really intentional about that Goal Three. So we appreciate having you here on Lead to Liberate. And we thank all our listeners for joining in again. Look forward to next week.
24:06: Student Speaker: You're listening to Lead to Liberate, a podcast by the Madison Metropolitan School District, demonstrating how the more we know, the more we grow.
Guest: Cindy Green
00:11 Student Speaker: From the Madison Metropolitan School District, this is Lead to Liberate, a podcast documenting stories of inspiration, growth, and empowerment across our schools.
00:28: Dr. Carlton D. Jenkins: Wow, I just love that music. Thank you again for joining us. I am Dr. Carlton D. Jenkins, here on Lead to Liberate. Today, here on Lead to Liberate, we have an opportunity to go behind the scenes to talk to the person who's really navigating a lot of the academic work. And I am so proud to introduce to you, our listeners, Mrs. Cindy Green. Hello, Mrs. Green. How are you today?
00:57: Good afternoon, Dr. Jenkins, thank you so much for having me today. I am doing great. And I am excited to be here and share a little bit of my story with you.
01:07: Yes, that's outstanding. And I tell you right now, I must lift to our listeners, Mrs. Green has behind the scenes, she's definitely pushing the science of reading with all of our staff. I'm talking about our teachers, our administrators, and within our community. She's really working together with Dr. Hicks, and others to get the work done. And we're gonna get into that in just a minute. But I want to make sure that I did lift, we have an individual who is going to be here pushing the science reading with our other staff, so that that work’s going to continue. Now, Mrs. Green, let's just get right into it. This is what we do on Lead to Liberate. We want to talk about those things that's been really important to you and your career, but really important to us at MMSD. And want to understand, why MMSD? Why do you really want to be here? You’re a very talented person. You could be in a lot of places.
01:58: Mrs. Green: That's a great question. I think in order to say why MMSD, I will just take you back a little bit to why I am even in education. Education was not my path. When I went to college, I had no idea what I was going to do and probably changed my major three or four times, and graduated with a degree in social work. I, at that point, went and worked at Cook County Jail in Chicago, Illinois, and was hired as a social worker. They needed a teacher because they were short staffed and asked if I would take on one of their programs for the 90 men that were in the Maximum Security Division. I went and worked with these men who at the time had a reading level of first or second grade, but had all been graduates of Chicago Public Schools. It was one of my first experiences in seeing the inequities and the inconsistencies across our country in education. And with that, I chose to go back and get my degree in education as well as learning and reading disabilities. That started my career.
03:14: Mrs. Green: I worked in Chicago Public Schools for 20 years and was offered an opportunity to come to Madison, Wisconsin. Coming to Madison, Wisconsin was a really exciting opportunity – 50 schools in the heart of a university, it really seemed like a great place to come work. The reason I stay in Madison, Wisconsin, not only because of my family, is because this work is not yet done. We have deep disparities in our educational outcomes amongst our students. And I believe that I must stay here to commit to the work needed, specifically the work around literacy. So that is why I'm in Madison, Wisconsin.
04:02: Dr. Jenkins: Wow, powerful. And now that you’ve come to Madison, Wisconsin, you are the Associate Superintendent over our Curriculum & Instruction department. And you’re doing a lot of work with your other associate superintendents. Can you tell us about that? How are you all gelling right now? What's the main thing?
04:18: Mrs. Green: I would say one of the main things first and foremost is coherence across our schools for K12. We believe that's critically important. So working across the other associate superintendents of schools, as well as across departments to try and be consistent. Um, I would say the second most important thing that we are doing is continuing to focus on our priority of literacy, specifically, early literacy and beyond through the science of reading. As a collective, we are constantly looking at data to see how we are doing in terms of the learning around the science of reading, around the implementation of the science of reading and what materials we need to utilize in order to teach all of our students how to read through the science of reading.
05:10: Dr. Jenkins: Wow, you’re focusing on early literacy and beyond, and just the whole thing here on Lead to Liberate, we want to talk about what are those things are going to help liberate our students. And so you're talking about this early literacy piece, there was a historical adoption of our curriculum here by the district in over the last 15 years. Talk a little bit about that, and that process, what was it like because everyone wasn't on the same page. In Madison, you’re always going to have heavy discussions when it comes to reading and reading materials.
05:40: Mrs. Green: Yeah, I would say the conversation around reading is not a new one. There has been a debate across the country for a long time around, the what we call the reading wars – which is the right way to teach reading. Do we focus on whole language? Do we focus on balanced literacy? What we do know is that the science of reading does actually improve outcomes for our students. And so for us, this is not new. But what we thought was critically important when investigating new materials was to find the materials that best align to the science of reading, and also had representation of our student population. We knew that the materials we wanted to bring into our schools needed to uplift all of the students that we serve, and also ensure that it was teaching from the research related to the science of reading. That process, ah ah, involves community members, family members, school staff, and our central office staff. And that process was a tough one. We had to make decisions about which materials were going to be best for our classrooms that teach English only, and our classrooms that are our dual language immersion classrooms. In the end, we wound up choosing two different sets of materials that we believed were going to best serve both programs in our elementary schools. It was an amazing historic event. And it was a tough road to get there.
07:17: Dr. Jenkins: Yeah, most definitely. I tell you, timing is everything. Coming, now we have these lingering challenges from the pandemic. And we wanted to make sure that we got the most out of this moment. So as a district, we're looking at how are we going to afford this? So were you able to use some of the ESSER dollars to help support this adoption of this new textbook materials?
07:40: Mrs. Green: Yes, one of the great things about the one-time funds we received, is that those funds were really to focus on academic acceleration. And what better way to focus on academic acceleration than to buy a sustainable set of materials for literacy in our K5 buildings. So we took advantage of those one-time funds. We also are taking advantage of those one time funds to do the same thing at our middle schools. So our middle schools serve grades six through eight. And we have not had a consistent or coherent approach to reading materials in our middle schools since I have been here. So we are going to use those one-time funds once again to purchase some new materials aligned to the science of reading for our middle schools.
08:26: Dr. Jenkins: Wow. That's exciting. And I tell you, though, Mrs. Green, we have so many people talking to me about, what about post-graduating? And we tried to make sure that all students are not only just graduating, but they are competent when they graduate – that they can read, and have all these other skills. And there's a large conversation around the articulated skilled trades, just different paths. We have students participating at Madison College, doing exceptionally well, particularly with our students, historically marginalized communities participate in that program. What are your plans for students beyond just for 4K-8? What are we going to do at the high school level?
09:06: Mrs. Green: That's a great question. And this is one of my areas of passion. And what I would say is a game changer here in Madison. We have started to focus on having our students understand that there's multiple paths post high school – we talked about six paths. Not just college, two year or four year. Going right into a career. Going into apprenticeship. Going into a gap year. All of the different options for our students. And what we are trying to do in our high schools is make sure students have those opportunities before they graduate. What we think is critically important is we want our students to gain as much of what they need post high school while in high school. For example, can they earn college credit while in high school. That then is a game changer for some families free of charge, getting college credit. Can they get an industry certification, whether it's a CNA or a welding certificate? How can we provide those types of certifications for our students before they leave us, that can launch them into a successful post high school life, where they are going into something that leads to a life sustaining wage. So that is the work that we are working on. We have great partnerships with our universities here, as well as Madison College, as well as the City of Madison, and a lot of the business and industry that have been creating those opportunities – internships for our students over the summer that are paid. All of the things that we know students need in terms of experience and knowledge and skills so that they can be successful after they graduate MMSD.
10:43: Dr. Jenkins: Wow, that's great! Here on Lead to Liberate, we go right at it. Okay. So you mentioned earlier about the disparities. [Mmm] And we think about education, we think about the Es, right? Education, economy and employment. And if you have those right, then it improves the equity and the excellence in any community. Talk about that just a little bit. Those things that you just mentioned, with an equity lens, how will that influence students who have historically been marginalized in many ways there?
11:13: Mrs. Green: that is such a good question. First, I have to say that it is not MMSD alone that can do that. And I think that's where our partnerships with the City of Madison, with our workforce development, with our colleges is so critically important. One of the things that I think is most important to disrupt those inequities is to ensure that we are diversifying our workforce, and leading students to life sustaining wages. That means giving them opportunities, where they can see what it looks like after high school, that can then be a game changer for them and their family to potentially get out of poverty. How we're doing that is ensuring that we are uplifting and privileging students that come from historically excluded backgrounds and/or from a low income background to be the ones that are afforded these opportunities first. Now, that doesn't mean that these opportunities aren't also available for other students. But what we know is historically, those students have been sometimes locked out of those opportunities, and we need to make sure that in order for them to change their life outcome, and sometimes their family life outcome, it's our responsibility to ensure that they not only have access, but they are given these opportunities. One additional thing I will say to that, which has been part of a strong partnership – and it is a work in progress, I will tell you that Dr. Jenkins – is that our business and industry continue to get on board to hire our students after they graduate high school. Not only to afford them these opportunities, but to help us diversify our workforce and keep them here in Madison. So we are not looking outside of Madison to hire for those jobs.
13:06: Wow, that is exciting. And I'll tell you one thing that's happening right now only in MMSD. But given the disparities in the State of Wisconsin, we're having to push quite a bit in everyone. And I encourage all of our listeners to share this. In our public schools or in schools right now, I'm sorry, in the United States, we have a 35% proficiency rate. That means a whole lot of students are graduating, and they're not proficient. And MMSD with the science of reading wanted to be a leader in this space. And not only just doing the work, talking about the work, but we want to do the work. So how are you partnering with DPI and with the state knowing that this is a crisis we're talking about in the nation to be a leader?
13:51: Mrs. Green: Yeah, that is another great question. That is where we need to go. Many states across the nation have adopted the science of reading as their approach, right? They know that this is the game changer. We have started with a few organizations that are statewide to begin to not only share the work we're doing here in Madison, but how do we leverage partnerships knowing we cannot do this alone. In addition to that we've been really focused on, at the secondary level – so middle school and high school – and thinking about ways to ensure all of our staff have the strategies related to literacy in order to support our students. We know those transferable skills are what is most important for students, along with the credits needed to graduate. But we need students to leave with those transferable skills so that they will be successful no matter what they do.
14:48: Dr. Jenkins: One of the things, I thank you for that answer, that we've been talking about a lot in MMSD, in order to really liberate our students, we have to see the whole scholar. So social-emotional, mental health is really big, and then the pandemic really illuminated the disparities we have. So what are you doing to address that? The whole idea, that we want to accelerate, we want to raise expectations, but we have to take care of the whole scholar and the family now.
15:16: Mrs. Green: Yeah, I'll share what we're doing. And I'll also share my perspective as a parent. I am a parent of MMSD, ah two MMSD students, also. We try to work across our departments to make sure that we're thinking about that through what we call an integrated approach. We know a student doesn't learn academics over here, and then learns about social-emotional learning over there, right? That's exactly what you said, the whole child. So how are we focusing on in attending to both. We know that we have to have very high expectations for all of our students. But we also have to do that with love and with relationships. When adults know students well, they're able to tend to both the academic needs and the social-emotional learning needs. As a parent, I see my own children sometimes struggling with the re-engagement with school after the pandemic, and see them having to really think about that balance of days when they can go hard and heavy with their learning, and other days when they really need to take a step back, and they need a break. And I think that that is what we are focused on here – is trying to find that balance, and also pay attention to when those social-emotional learning or mental health needs need to be at the forefront, and when academic may need to take a little bit of a break.
16:42: Dr. Jenkins: Wow, thank you for that. I'll also tell you, I've been very impressed with our team, as you all have gone out and during instructional tours and environmental scanning, thinking about what has occurred during the pandemic. And just a correlation between what you just said, and what you all are doing. How are those tours helping you all, come back and kind of put it in perspective?
17:06: Mrs. Green: Great question. You can't make decisions about schools and what our schools need without being in our schools. You need to know what is happening on the ground day to day. Those instructional tours and environmental scans have given us an insight into the great work that's happening in our schools, but also being able to connect directly with our students; see what happens on a daily basis; see how individual teachers are taking advantage of meeting social-emotional needs; some of the tools and strategies they use, which is helping us think about how we share that information across schools. The best learning we hear often is when people learn from each other. So that has been very helpful. I think the environmental scans and instructional tours are also helping us make decisions about what we have to do across the system. There are some changes we need to do, there's some opportunities where we need to improve. And there's areas where we need to stay the course. Those instructional tours, environmental scans are really giving us a lot of great qualitative data to be able to make decisions here at Central Office.
18:17: Dr. Jenkins: Wow, that's really important. And at the end of the day, monthly, once you do your instructional tours and your environmental scans, you're coming back talking about the impact, or the non-impact, and then making adjustments. And so when we talk about leading to liberate, this is when we get deeper into it. Having our instructional leaders out working with our staff, working with our administrators, talking to our scholars, I really do thank you for that as well. Now, one thing I have to bring up. This whole thing about the arts. [Yes] You invested in the arts doing last summer, at the tune of about $1.3 million. You work with the university. Tell us a little bit about that. And why the arts? Why the arts?
19:04: Mrs. Green: Why not the arts? That's the first question. Yes, the arts because our students – back to what you said before in terms of the whole child – our students also need well rounded opportunities. And one way we believe well rounded opportunities are afforded to them is through the arts. So that's music, that's theater, that's dance, that's visual arts, ah, performing arts. Last summer, we knew we had to make improvements in the area of the arts. And so we created our first time ever Summer Arts Academy. We wanted to really uplift black and brown community artists. We wanted to ensure our students had access to different art forms that they may not have during the school year. To have that opportunity, but more importantly to explore their own interests that they could then further after summer. We're super excited to say we're doing it again this summer. [Okay.] We have new opportunities and we're creating more courses at our high school level so that students are able to earn credit, and also explore some of these art forms they may have never experienced before.
20:11: Dr. Jenkins: Right. Is there an attendance requirement that you're looking at so that the students can go to summer school?
20:16: Mrs. Green: No, Dr. Jenkins, there is no attendance requirement. We want to ensure every student that could benefit from these opportunities, they have the ability to. No barriers for our students. We're even trying to think through the transportation opportunities so that students can take advantage of this.
20:25: Wow, I tell you, listeners, you heard it straight from Mrs. Cindy Green. She's leading the charge as Associate Superintendent for our Curriculum & Instruction department. And she definitely has a true justice lens. She's for all children, but paying particular attention to our Goal Three, making sure that our African American children and youth excel, but all children excel in MMSD. I'd like to thank you for listening. We look forward to having you again with us next week. Thank you so much.
21:05: Mrs. Green: Thank you, Dr. Jenkins.
Student Speaker: You're listening to Lead to Liberate, a podcast by the Madison Metropolitan School District, demonstrating how the more we know the more we grow.
Guest: Tamuriel Grace
00:11: Student Speaker: From the Madison Metropolitan School District, this is Lead to Liberate, a podcast documenting stories of inspiration, growth, and empowerment across our schools.
00:27: Dr. Jenkins: Wow, once again, I love that music. Here we are, again, I am Dr. Carlton D Jenkins. And we are here again on Lead to Liberate. I'm very excited to have with us, one of our new Associate Superintendents, Ms. Tamuriel Grace. And Ms. Grace, how are you today?
00:45: Tamuriel Grace: I'm doing well, thank you. Thank you for having me today.
00:46: Dr. Jenkins: Yes. And so we're very excited to hear from you today, because a lot of people are asking questions about this new department. What's this new department that we have here at MMSD, that's supposed to be helping our children and helping our staff?
00:59: Ms. Grace: Our new department is the Engagement, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion department. And it includes our family engagement department, strategic partnerships, and our new Village Builders project.
01:09: Dr. Jenkins: Wow, that sounds exciting. That's a whole lot of stuff. But I really want to get to what does this mean? And we talked about lead to liberate – what's going to be the impact? That's what the people in the community are asking me, what's going to be the impact of this new department. Talk to me a little bit about the engagement piece. Why engagement?
01:27: Ms. Grace: The engagement piece is critical, because we know that we need to engage our most disengaged students and their families. So our department works with some of our most disengaged students and their families, bringing them into the schools. And our department also has student engagement specialists, family liaisons, and village builders, who else at work with these families, they work with the schools and they are looking for creative solutions to engage our families, and bring them back into the schools.
01:57: Dr. Jenkins: Wow, well, let me tell you this Ms. Grace, here on Lead to Liberate, we just keep it real. Okay, and keeping it real is the fact that we know that Wisconsin has the largest disparities in the country. We know that here in MMSD, our students – historically – have not done well in terms of disparities, our black and brown students, but particularly our black students have not done well. And our disparities are, too, some of the largest in the country. Now, I will say, the country itself is not doing as well. There's only 35% of the students who are proficient at reading [mmhmm] in the country. In this state, right now, we look at the same thing, roughly 34.9, but here in MMSD, we’re 37%. And that's not anything that we want to brag about. So tell me, what's your department going to do, to reach out and engage our families? And how are you going to get the parents involved?
02:53: Ms. Grace: One of the tactics that we're using is our staff is working, actively, doing home visits. They're working with families, they're also calling students and doing small student groups, to empower our students, and so that students see themselves in their school environment. Because if we know that we can correlate a student reflection and seeing themselves in the school, the curriculum, and the staff members, our staff are primarily staff of color, so the students can see themselves reflected in staff, in their schools. Families can see the reflection in the staff who are communicating with them, and who are inviting them in engaging them once they get to the school. So we know that that will correlate to higher confidence in academic achievement. We have staff that are setting up tutoring for our scholars, we have staff that are working with community organizations to come into the school and work with the scholars. So those are the correlation and the partnerships that the strategic partnership department is working with, and student and staff supports.
04:03: Dr. Jenkins: Wow, you know, I really do like what you just said, but I'm gonna have to ask you – because this is Lead to Liberate – you go right at it. Okay. What about the parents? And we continue to talk about reading. We're doing the science of reading right now. We have our staff trained on LETRS. And we're trying to make sure that our students have all of the best . Our board just adopted here, the historical, historical, resources to be able to support our students and our staff. But how do we get to the parents? Because we need the parents in the building? And our philosophy – schools in the community, communities in the schools – but communities also bring parents. So how are we going to do that?
04:43: Ms. Grace: I think one of the ways that we're doing that is we're going out into the community, we're going to community events and in spaces where our parents are at, and we're meeting them, and we're building those relationships. We have to build and establish relationships, and create trust. We know that it, there's a lot of historical mistrust with public school education for a lot of our families. And so our work is to rebuild that trust, and rebuild those relationships. And I really believe that having the Village Builders in our schools and having staff who are natural relationship bridgers is critical to doing that work. And they're able to bridge that relationship and establish those relationships with our families, because they're part of the community, a lot of our staff are parents themselves. And that's what gave them and encouraged them to work in MMSD, as part of this Village Builders project.
05:40: Wow, you mentioned this Village Builders project. This is, like, really outstanding. A lot of people asking additional questions, you know, we had all of this ESSER money – this came in on ESSER money. How are we going to sustain it? Different questions that come up about the Village Builders. Can you, kind of first of all, just tell me a little the individuals who are working with our students? Tell me a little bit about them.
06:06: Ms. Grace: Yes, these are natural facilitators, these are community members, these are parents, and they are tied to the communities in which they work. So that's the beauty of this project, we're bringing community members who may not have the traditional educational credentialing into the spaces with our families and students, because they're already trusted. They're already in the community, they're already making an impact in the community. And so now we're giving them an opportunity to make an impact through our school community.
06:07: Dr. Jenkins: Right. And so what I've been also hearing, that our Grow Your Own. We're looking to this particular group to diversify our workforce with our teachers, because we know the research says that if a child has one staff person of color, they will more than likely persist to graduate from high school. If they have two, they will more than likely persist through college. So is this like a strategy of you all or what? Tell me about that?
07:05: Ms. Grace: This is definitely a strategy. Grow Your Own has been really important for our work. We've worked with Jen Schoepke to work with Madison College; we actually have created a two-year program with Madison College to put…it's a cohort model for some of our Village Builders and student engagement specialists that want to expand their education. The beauty of the program is we have people who have some educational background, higher ed background, we have some that have degrees, we have some that have bachelor's degrees, and just want to transition into teaching. And so we're working with our Teaching & Learning and other departments to kind of craft what this looks like for each person. It has to be individualized, because we have people at different spaces in their life. But we are working to kind of grow and help them figure out what they want to do and what their next steps are. Because we don't want them to live in these positions, as you stated earlier, we want them to transition to social work to classroom teaching to Superintendent if that's their goal, [oh oh - laughter], we want them, we want them to be able to transition into whatever role that they see fit. We know that they're natural helpers, right. So a lot of them are looking at social work. We have one that's interested in school counseling. So we are really trying to individualize and take them where they are, and bring them to where they want to be.
08:47: Dr. Jenkins: Wow, so you telling me, you're really trying to lead to liberate by taking organic scholars – here, I am am, no education, but I want to help my community. Knowing that I can serve students and help the staff I can get in this program in MMSD, go to Madison College, then I'm eligible for the pledge to go to UW-Madison and get my degree?
09:11: Ms. Grace: Yes, we're working with UW-Madison. We've also had some preliminary conversations with Edgewood College. And there's some other colleges that local colleges have also approached us about. They've heard about the project and they want to know what they can do and how they can help. So people are interested in wanting to be a part of this because it is so groundbreaking, right? [Right] This is a new initiative, and it's something that people haven't seen before. So the innovation behind the Village Builders is intriguing to our high-ed community.
09:45: Dr. Jenkins: Well, I have to ask you this, because we are all about innovation. And we began our conversation with Madison College, a UW. What about connecting with an HBCU, so perhaps they could do two years there and three years there, however we could do it. Because we do know the impact of HBCUs on graduating individuals of color, particularly African Americans who are HSI schools as well. So has that conversation began yet?
10:13: Ms. Grace: That conversation has not begun yet with our higher ed institutions in Madison. But we have begun a conversation with the City of Madison, who has internships. And we've had preliminary conversations as a district about how to start internships with our HBCU students and how to work with the colleges. But we have not approached to colleges yet, because I think we need to finalize and create our goals and outline, before going to the higher ed community.
10:45: Dr. Jenkins: Wow. So have you been a part of just exposing our students to HBCUs? Have you ever been to a HBCU?
10:52: Ms. Grace: Yes! [laughter] I am a graduate, a proud graduate of Mississippi Valley State University, in Itta Bena, Mississippi. So yes, very proud HBCU graduate. And a lot of my work in education has revolved around helping students see the importance of HBCUs. And at the end of this month, we are actually taking a group of students to the State of Georgia to tour HBCUs in Georgia. So we have close to 90 students from Madison Metropolitan School District. And we know that Georgia has the largest concentration of HBCUs in the country. So we're excited about that.
11:31: Dr. Jenkins: Wow, outstanding, well just tell me this. In terms of right here in MMSD. You're not from Madison, right?
11:40: Ms. Grace: I'm not from Madison.
11:42: Dr. Jenkins: What drove you to this work? And what kind of impact are you really trying to have? What's going to be your legacy, your contribution?
11:48: Ms. Grace: I think what really drove me to this work was the continuation of the Village Builders project. Seeing that project, and seeing the thought put into really bringing the community and bridging the community in the schools, that was something that I had never seen before in a school district, I had never seen a real attempt to really do it. And not just a surface level attempt. This is real people who are really ingrained and connected to their communities who want to make a difference in their schools. We're bringing them in, we're giving them the tools, we're teaching them our school system, but we're accepting them for authentically who they are, right? We're not trying to change them. We're trying to change the system that was not designed for them. And so we're really working intentionally with our staff so that they can learn how to advocate and navigate the system and share that information with our parents. And that's where we believe we can make real systemic change.
12:52: Dr. Jenkins: So I say to that, thank you for sharing that. We need a level of advocacy, not only at the local level, but at the state and federal level, because this is something that we all struggling with [mmhmm], in terms of trying to diversify our workforce. Because we know if we have the education, we get that part right, that's going to improve the economics of our community, and the employment, which in turn, touch everything else, our health care, everything. So if you had a chance to speak to the governor today about that $7 billion in the legislature, what would you advocate for?
13:25: Ms. Grace: Fund our schools. Fund our schools and fully fund our schools. Engage with the community that is really working to make a difference in our schools, and be intentional about funding social-emotional agenda items for our students, especially our students of color. We know that we have the gaps in the State of Wisconsin, and I think it's important that we are vocal about that. And that we know, and our school districts know, that our Governor is intentional about breaking those disparities, right, knocking down the disparities. And Wisconsin, also in our literacy for our black students we know that we have work to do. And the Black students are the lowest out of all of those categories. So in doing that work and making sure that we're intentional, we also need to take care of social-emotional, we also need to take care of making sure that the Governor understands the needs of our Black and brown children because we're failing them.
14:39: Dr. Jenkins: Wow. Well, let me tell you this, on Lead to Liberate we always say we just don't call them out. We call them in. So I will definitely be interested in talking to you about how we can facilitate that discussion. And having you directly, you know, speak to some of our legislators, having some of our other advocates in the community have that conversation get started. But what are you doing? And what are we doing in MMSD to reach out to make sure people keep funding this? Because we're so used to starting and stopping. Okay, so what are you doing now? Have you reached out trying to get into any additional resources beyond just the current ESSER dollars to fund this? What are you doing?
15:18: Ms. Grace: We've been reaching out to organizations, we recently received a donation from Communities in Schools for some of this work. We've been also trying to establish and formalize partnerships with organizations. And so with the Communities in Schools, I think that's the real indicator of the work. They noticed our work. They appreciated our work – and this was less than a year of work. So this will help us and it will help us gather more data, collect that data, and then we can reach out and connect with different and more organizations to help guide and facilitate this work.
16:01: Dr. Jenkins: Right. So I'm sorry for cutting you off. But let me ask, you so Communities in Schools. Is it true that they just gave us like, is it $1,000? As a $10,000? What did it give us in terms of support?
16:12: Ms. Grace: We actually received a donation of a million dollars. That's the funding, but the donation actually includes $345,000 of technical assistance. And so that assistance will help guide our work and teach us how to use their platform because we do need to gather data, we want to show impact, funders need that information. But the million dollars will help this work and help continue this work after those ESSER funds are over in the 2025 23-24 school year.
16:47: Dr. Jenkins: Wow. So you’re telling me that we need other community members who can join in, helping us and trying to get these dollars that are for something that we know that will have an impact in decreasing these disparities, that we haven't, really we want to just totally annihilated all of the disparities, and be able to teach all of our children at high levels.
17:06: Ms. Grace: Yes, these funds are going to continue the project, Village Builders, and hopefully, we will be out there looking for the community to help us continue this work. We don't want this to abruptly stop, which is why we've been really trying to engage our national partners and our community partners in a conversation about Village Builders and the immediate impact that Village Builders has had on our schools.
17:35: Dr. Jenkins: Wow. And I just don't want this to be lost. You just said – let me get it right. You said they just gave us a million dollars [a million dollars] to continue to support the Village Builders based off what you've done thus far, and being able to show the data to support the impact. Is that correct?
17:51: Ms. Grace: That is correct, a million dollars. And there's potential for additional funding. So hopefully, we will be able to engage additional funding from the Communities in Schools and gain that funding as well. So I'm really excited about that. Because that means that someone is seeing the work that our team is doing.
18:12: Dr. Jenkins: Yes, well, there you heard it right here directly from Ms. Tamuriel Grace, about the Village Builders, about our engagement that's taking place in Madison Metropolitan School District. And we're definitely about diversity, equity, and inclusion, along with our engagement. So thank you for coming out today. And I hope all of our listeners come back again next week, as we're going to have another, just amazing guest. Thank you, Ms. Grace.
18:40: Student Speaker: You're listening to Lead to Liberate, a podcast by the Madison Metropolitan School District, demonstrating how the more we know the more we grow.
Guest: Jeremy Schlitz
From the Madison Metropolitan School District, this is Lee to liberate a podcast documenting stories of inspiration, growth and empowerment across our schools.
Oh, I just love that music. Once again, this is Dr. Carlton D Jenkins is very proud Superintendent of Madison Metropolitan School District, and welcome back to lead to liberate. Today we have a very special guest with us today. Someone that's really about transforming the lives of our children. We have our very own district, athletic and co curricular director, Mr. Jeremy Schlitz. How are you doing today? Mr. Schlitz?
I'm great. Thanks for having me, Dr. Jenkins, I always look forward to chance to share the message about what we're doing in our co curricular in athletics here in Madison.
Yeah, so, so much appreciateed it. Just having you here today. Because actually, we have a unique situation in Madison, where as Mrs. Liz is not only the district, overseer of our CO curriculars in athletics, he's also based in a building right now. And we have about 27,000 students, and we have a number of co curricular activities and number of athletics that we do extremely well. Can you tell us a little bit about that managing that job and knowing what you really tried to get out of our students, student athletes, and also our staff?
Yeah, you know, I think I'm very fortunate, in some ways to have my foot in both sides of that, being a district athletic director and a school on, because in any way that you get an opportunity to be operationalizing, and be in contact with coaches and students gives you a really good opportunity to also see the big picture, and how we can make sure that's positively impacting our coaches who really are our teachers of our students in those co curricular activities. You know, sometimes it does feel like I'm juggling sand, which is a phrase I often use as I do some mentoring and teaching with our athletic directors across the state. But that's the athletic director role. You know, you're trying to make sure that you're supporting the students, the coaches in the communities to give those top notch experiences outside of that traditional eight to four school day. And it's really exciting work. It's not just the championships, it's the positive outcomes where we see kids that graduate or see kids connect, and want to be engaged with our schools. And just really also getting an opportunity to work with so many different leaders, whether that be other athletic administrators, or coaches, has been really a positive thing for me.
Okay, well, let's just jump right in it, he'll lead deliberate, we try to get to those things, those strategies that really can help all of our scholars become the best that they can be. And sometimes, we look at co curricular as an extra as an add on. And what has been your experience with the impact of students that you see persists through co curricular, be at the band, be it basketball, soccer, chess, whatever? What's been your experience?
Yeah, I mean, the extra is the added value to the student experience, obviously, but the co curricular is really what we see. And I think back to I was fortunate enough to be tasked to be part of a cross functional team seven or eight years ago here in the district to look at the impact specific to athletics when I was a new athletic administrator just at Memorial, and the outcomes that we're able to see related to both improved GPA, improved attendance, improved behavior events, along with just the leaders in our school, the ones that were, you know, doing not only leading in their specific sport or club, but leading the school, whether that's in student government, whether that is as a high academic honors type student, and then coming back, and we're very fortunate Madison, the number of alumni that have come back to help be part of CO curriculars, whether that's as coaches, as volunteers as people that are supporting our arts and our other co curricular activities and events, because it truly takes the whole community to make such a positive experience for our scholars.
Well, it sounds exactly like you're speaking from my dissertation, because it's what factors contributes to narrowing the achievement gap and looking at co curricular in a large school actually right here in the Midwest. And so when I hear you say, improves GPA, improves graduation rates, and things of this nature, we know they persist over time that will, what about our students who have been historically in some kind of way? marginalized? What do you see in terms of the barriers or the opportunities for our students?
Yeah, you know, I had an interesting journey through this. When I came in as a new athletic administrator, my focus was really on improving the experience and the visibility of our female athletes. My father was a girls basketball coach, and I grew up kind of seeing the differences there and my first coaching experience was as a head girls, golf coach. And just seeing the different ways that it's not only viewed by what was an underrepresented group when we look at that 25 years ago when I started, and then really evolving that into the equity work we can do by putting coaches and leaders of our underrepresented groups in power to be to see what they want to be. And I think that's really, we're ahead of the curve in Madison, because of what we've been able to do to diversify our coaching staff to diversify our leadership, and really to give the students something that they want to be part of, because they can see themselves not just in high school, but what they can do beyond high school. And I've also been fortunate enough to work at the state level, I was president of our state association of athletic directors, and able to move us in a direction where we now have a bipoc ad position created for recruiting and networking, athletic directors across the state. And we're very fortunate in our big conference, the conference were part of that DEIB or diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging is always an agenda item. Currently, I'm the president of the conference. And we make really intentionality around that work, being the work that starts the work we do in athletics. And I think we can definitely see that in our district paying off as we do that in all of our CO curriculars.
While you're to be commended for your leadership there with the organization, and recently my correct and saying that you just won this big state award, what was that award? Tell us a little bit about that, and how you're focused on equity, the way that you're doing it, kind of help bring it to fruition? Yeah, I have received the Distinguished Service Award for the state of Wisconsin this past year, for our NI AAA, which is our national organization. And I think a lot of that was an outcome of me being able to say yes to some things, I was able to be part of the fifth strategic plan for the NI AAA, which is our national ad organization, and really learning from across the country, you know, the work that we need to do, I was in the Programs Division. And as we work through the strategic plan, and then actually, this past two weeks ago, I was able to be to lead the Programs Division for the state of Wisconsin, in our next strategic plan. And I think, because I've been able to say yes to those opportunities to work with wonderful colleagues, specific to this work, I was able to present at our national conference on underrepresented groups in our profession and things we can do to support them with a colleague of mine out of San Diego. And then you know, those types of relationships and experiences I've been able to have, I've been able to bring back to our state to our school district, and to Madison Memorial and the roles that I play. It's been really, it's been really humbling to be honored by my colleagues with these awards, just because when somebody who you work with recognizes the extra that you do, is really, it's really meaningful. And that's something I've learned in terms of gratitude and wanting to just be grateful for our coaches, for our volunteer coaches, for our parents that maybe support our teams, and in ways people don't see. And gratitude is really what drives that. So I'm thankful. And I think because of that gratitude, I've been fortunate enough to be, you know, awarded those those recognitions from our organization.
Well, I just tell you the truth right here on lead to liberate, to even think about this is definitely Women's History Month. But to know that you came into the game heaven had some experience in knowing that women just do not are female scholars don't get the same opportunities. You've carried that and and you're doing a great job with that right now. But also just your whole equity lens, that you're not only pushing into district, you pushing into the state and tried to push it in the nation. And I must say, Wisconsin, we have some of the greatest disparities. And when it comes to academic achievement, we have the greatest disparities in the country. But it's very comforting to know, someone like you in a leadership role is keeping that at the forefront. And I love when you said that, we start with that. And we know that we try and expand opportunities to lead to liberate and other individuals, they see this and they can benefit from the administrative level from the coaching level, whatever level is all for the end results of our scholars having great outcomes. So thank you so much for explaining the award too, I think that's going to be big for our people in our community just even know that we have that type of focus in MMSD. But I'll ask you this as well. What are some of the great things when you've seen coaches really, truly trying to lead in a way, coach in a way that liberate our students to have them be more than just an individual who participated in co-curricular would be at the band, or sports? Do you have any examples of some coaches that you noticed? Just wow. Yeah.
You know, I think specific to some that I see, you know, at Memorial we've have, we're very fortunate 16 of our head coaches are also educators in our district, in the classroom. And I think having that be an advocate a contact point, somebody that see that's going through their data De and being always present for them has been the most impactful part seeing students that, you know, maybe came in, identified as part of our, our at risk group, as ninth graders develop and do college graduates that played in the NCAA Tournament, you know, things along those lines, which aren't always the team winning the championship, or the player of the year in the state, but somebody that maybe was identified early as, hey, this person may not, we wouldn't bet on them to graduate, finding a coach in the building that can say, I'm your advocate, I'm here for you, and just giving them that trust, that support. The benefit is immeasurable. You know, I think back to my days, I coached 37 Different Seasons, in this district, across in different sports before I became an athletic administrator. And some of my favorite memories weren't. Some of the state championships I was part of as a coach. They were, you know, the student coming back after they graduated from college, to wanting to come to practice, you know, things along those lines. And I see that every day, across our four high schools, is the number of coaches we have that are MMSD grads, is just outstanding. And what we're able to do to create environments where people want to come back and give back, I think is really the true testament of our coach's ability to impact forever.
Wow, that's outstanding, because as I go around the district, and I have some conversations with some of our coaches, and some not teachers, some community people doing very well, and they just want to give back because they tell me their experiences in our district where they had someone, an individual who really believed in them, and that propelled them to go on to do great things. Right now I know too, we have some professional athletes who have gone through Madison and they to reach back. Tell us a little bit about that. Yeah, you know,
Actually, I was able the first high school basketball game Wesley Matthews ever played. I was his coach at the JV level and, and Wesley this past year, spearheaded our play everyday campaign, which was to give back across the district with our foundation for Madison Public Schools, to get some equipment for recess and physical education activities, to give more and impactful access to all of our students, and the things that he does when he comes back. And it's not, it's not just Wesley but but obviously somebody who's going to be in the hunt for an NBA championship this year, you know, front of our mind. And, you know, the other ones that we've had that have had that opportunity goes back a long way. Mark Johnson from from Miracle on Ice, which we just celebrated an anniversary of recently, and is the co-chair for the UW women's hockey team. His whole family went through Memorial, I was fortunate enough to coach both of his daughters in tennis, and his son in golf, and just the impact Mark has still being part of that memorial community. And you know, the story is you and I could talk for hours, about different people that have come back to Madison to MMSD. And whose families want to be here because of the impact that had on their lives, to set them up for what they are able to do in the future.
Well, as I stand now, what message would you send to our parents? And to young people out there? I'm talking about when I'm having these conversations with 4k parents, they're talking about which high school and what experiences that children are going to have in middle school? What would you say to them in terms of getting engaged and staying engaged in schools and the benefits of just being a part of a team?
Yeah, you're talking to a 4k parent to that MSSD scholar right now. Oh, wow. So I can speak to my experience, I decided to join our parent teacher organization, because you just got to say yes, to be part of it. And that the opportunities we have in the access we have for our community members and our family, to be part of something at whatever level they're able to be at. And able to commit from a time standpoint, is phenomenal. And we have programs to reach out to all of our students and families. And you know, just say yes, and if you want to be part of an athletic department, or the theatre production, or any of our co-curricular activities at our schools, reach out to that athletic and activities director, reach out to that teacher, and we're gonna find a way to connect you. And I think it's really truly the village raising the child and in our district, and I'm, and the village that we have is such a wonderful one. But you've got to want to take that extra step and know that we want you to be part of it. I've been extremely fortunate as a parent, I have a second grader and a 4k student. And learning it from both sides and being able to see all the different ways. I'm truly blessed and chose to build a house in another city because where I want to be and where I want my family to grow.
Right? Well, I'll tell you what, what about a parent like my parents, my dad, third grade education, mom 10th grade education, and they had a number of children seven that they were raising, and they want their children to participate. But as we're trying to lead to liberate, how do we make sure we communicate. But that parent and say, Hey, this is for you as well. The fees get really heavy. If you have two children, scholars participating, what would you say to that type of pair?
Yeah, I think that's really why education based athletics. And all of our CO curriculars are the the inroad to being part of everything that we can kind of offer is because we do offer those those fee waivers, you know, financially is never a barrier for our participation. But it's us building partnerships and getting out into the community. For that preparation prior to getting to the education based athletics level where we need to, you know, I asked our coaches, you know, how do we get out to our boys and girls clubs? How do we get out to our community organizations? How do we meet people where they're at, to bring them into where we are at the schools, especially because you want to connect for successful, for instance, high school athletic program, they need to be aware and part of it as a fifth grader, or as a third grader. So how do we bring our community in to see those events and to let our students be the leaders, you know, I look back at the last month, I read your heart out, you know, times and watching our student athletes go into the schools and seeing the smiles and not only the students faces, but the athletes faces, you know, as they're able to share that and build that connection between, you know, our youngest scholars, and our soon to be graduates.
Wow, that's awesome. And I'll tell you this, I encourage you to get over to Mendola elementary school, they have the stompers, I had an opportunity to watch the videos of the stompers. And they have coach Wilson, who's in the fifth grade, that you probably want to start recruiting right now, to be an educator, and just be a part of this wonderful environment that we have here in MMSD. But the reason I say that, because mendota is about as diverse as you can get. And the spirit and the pride in that community resonates throughout our community. And I encourage you to get over there and pick up on some of those young stompers because I believe that they're going to do some big things and how they're being led over there to really believe just believe participating could make a difference.
Awesome. Yeah, absolutely. I've actually a family friend that whose students all went through Mendota, and they do a great thing as a school community, too. It's it's phenomenal to see and also check out my future coach,
Yeah, no doubt. And so I want to encourage us this is Women's History Month, to continue to not only reach out to our scholars to participate, but to continue to grow them as you have been doing in terms of our female leaders, and continue to work with us as we continue to have transformative conversations about how our students in Madison, so progressive in terms of how our students choose to identify, and how that's influencing our co curricular and athletic participation. So let's make sure that we stay at the forefront of that too. So all children know that we really mean all children when we talk in MMSD.
Absolutely. You know, if we're not innovating, we're not doing our job. There you go. Once again, you've heard here Lead to Liberate. We can't do it as an individual. We have to do it together. And we believe in the power in us. And MMSD thank you so much for listening and look forward to you joining us again next week. Have a great day.
You're listening to Lead to Liberate a podcast by the Madison Metropolitan School District demonstrating how the more we know the more we grow.
Guest: Dr. Angie Hicks
00:10: Student Speaker:
From the Madison Metropolitan School District, this is Lead to Liberate, a podcast documenting stories of inspiration, growth, and empowerment across our schools.
00:28 Dr. Carlton D. Jenkins:
Hello, everyone, again. This is Dr. Carlton D. Jenkins; this is Lead to Liberate. I am your host, the very proud superintendent here in Madison Metropolitan School District. We’re continuing to bring our staff in, to talk to them to find out why do they want to be a part of leading to liberate? We have an outstanding guest today, you will not believe it. I just can't wait until you hear all of her background. First of all, this is Dr. Angie Hicks. Dr. Angie Hicks, a tenant Madison Metropolitan School District, elementary, middle and high school. And now she's taken on several roles here in our school district, not only as a custodian, a teacher, a principal, and yes, now an Associate Superintendent for Middle Schools. We couldn't have had a more dynamic individual, more respected individual throughout our community to be a part of our team. And this is not a recruitment. This is a retention. Dr. Hicks, how are you today?
01:24: Dr. Angie Hicks:
I'm doing well, Dr. Jenkins. Thank you for having me on, this morning. I'm really excited to, um, you know have this conversation and share with you about, you know, why I'm here in MMSD. Why I stayed in MMSD. What I, what visions align with yours in terms of MMSD, and how we can move forward collaboratively and collectively to ensure success for all of our scholars in MMSD.
Yeah, and definitely I would just love to have a conversation, you and I, but right now we're talking about you sharing this with the entire community. We want our students to know – yes, right here in MMSD, you started as a student. And can you tell us a little bit about how your career matriculated as a student and then now, professionally.
02:07: Dr. Hicks:
So yeah, I'm on the mature side, now. I started in MMSD in 1971, in first, in first grade at Aldo Leopold elementary school. And I didn't go to kindergarten because I was in a Montessori, in a Montessori school. But, but starting in, in MMSD, going from first grade through fifth grade at Leopold, while the majority of my teachers in that environment were white. I had one African American teacher, Geraldine Bernard, we call her Mother Bernard, she actually attends my church. They saw me, they valued me, they supported me, [mmm] and they affirmed me. I think that at the time during, during that era, there were a lot of things going on – civil rights movement, women's lib, you know, hippies, all of the, all the different activist movements were going on. I think people were doing the right thing for everybody because it was the right thing to do. [Right.]
I think over time, though, it changed. When I went to middle school, actually, I started off at St. James Catholic School [mmhmm] for sixth and seventh grade, and then went back to Lincoln Middle School during my eighth grade year. And in that space is where I started to feel a difference [mmm] in how teachers saw me or, or heard me, because I love school, and I could excel in school, but I just didn't feel like I was getting the opportunities. [mmhmm] In, in, in some places I was I was beginning to get pigeonholed into what I could be and what I should do. But thankful to my mother, Easter Carson, for pushing me and showing me like no, this is my baby and you're going to be who you need to be.
Um, when I got in high school, I went to Madison West – let's go Regents, whoop, whoop, whoop! [Alright] [Laughter] It was very tracked, like, right, you were going on this path or that path and, and I really wasn't seen in high school, that high school was very large. I was just, you know, a little grain of sand in this whole beach [wow] on the, on the beach, and it wasn't as connected. They were teaching content and not understanding they were teaching a human being [mmm, okay] who needed more than just the information. And so, so, while I had my own adolescent growth journeys, during that, my high school process I was able to recover. Again when we talk about GPAs and all of that I, I started out strong in high school. You know, actually I started off I came in with a whole credit because, I started, went to summer school before even high school started because that's what you could do back then. And I had good grades. And but then, you know, adolescence came in and started smelling myself a little bit, and not not doing the things that I needed to do. But I had a strong enough foundation where I could recover. So when I talk to young people, I really tell them, your most important year of high school is your freshman year, [mmm] right? Because that lays the foundation. You can always, you can always recover if you have some hiccups or whatever along the way. But when you start off and don't do well, and behind the gate, it's really hard to recover. You still can – because there are programs and opportunities and ways to do that. But it, the hill to climb is much more steep.
05:51: Dr. Hicks:
And so then actually, and I'm also when I graduated from high school in 1983. I um, I went and turned in my cap and gown, and to get my diploma. And my homeroom teacher, like shook his head, no. It wasn't there. And, um, you know, you know who I am Dr. Jenkins. So you could see flame coming out of my head like, wait, what? And they wanted to, they said that I didn't have it because I was short, a quarter of a credit or something of gym. I said what?! My mother was, you know, furious, of course, and we called my counselor, because I was leaving that same day to go to University of Iowa for summer school, and I said, Well, Mom, if I have to go back and force a gym credit to get my diploma, I guess I won't be getting it. [Mmm, okay.] So my counselor said that all I needed to do was, you know, send my credits back from summer school or my, my classes, my grades back, and then I would be able to get in. So I did do that. But in retrospect, I ran varsity track as a freshman and as a sophomore. I played varsity basketball my sophomore, junior, and senior. You're like, wait, gym? Like I'm, I'm, so I was concerned. But I was able to overcome that and go on, and go to college.
07:17 Dr. Jenkins:
Let's pause here for a moment, because you didn't just go to college, right? Ah, undergrad, where did you go again?
07:23: Dr. Hicks:
I went, so I went to the University of Iowa. I started there. But then I finished at UW-Madison.
07:29: Dr. Jenkins:
Right. So I just want to make sure our viewers, hear this. She didn't just go to college. She went to big, two big colleges right off the bat, right. Coming from Madison Metropolitan School District. We're talking to Dr. Angie Hicks. Here she is now, someone who almost did not graduate, because of a quarter of a credit, was still a student at a high level able to go to Iowa able, to graduate from UW-Madison, and now have a Ph.D. And I want all the students to recognize this is someone who looks just like you. In fact, they used to tease her, and call her Charles Barkley on the playground. [Laughter] Okay, she's done all this stuff, athletically, but also academically. But here she goes, again. I just wanted to, just come in on this point, because I see your passion for children. Every day, all day, 365 days a year. So what drives you to want to lead to liberate to make sure that students have all of what they need so that they can become a Dr. Angie Hicks from MMSD?
08:36 Dr. Hicks:
So, I would just say, as we're growing up, and we're young people, we don't really understand what it is that we need. [Mmmhmm] And as I've matured into who I am today, I realize that… I understand that now. And so I try to ensure that I can do whatever I can to make sure that the young people who are here, are able to access that. Because we don't know what we don't know, because we don't know it. But once we learn and know, we have to do better. And so I'm here to make sure that our young people have access to opportunities, [mmm] information, so that they can navigate this thing called life. Because life is hard. Everything that feels, feels good to us isn't good for us. But what, we want it in the moment. And so I think that, and plus, you know, I, Dr. Jenkins, I come from a place of faith. [Mmm] And so all of this is bigger than me, and I listen to that spirit to help to guide me into what it is that I should do. Because, you know if the Angie Carson in me shows up, [mmm] it's not going to come out too well. So I have to make sure that I am really being intentional about you know, making sure that the young people who aren't even thought of yet [mmm] so generations and generations to come have an opportunity and access. And it's like, you know that Dr. Martin Luther King said, you know, I may not get to the promised land with you, but I've been to the mountaintop, right? I may not go with you, I may not get there with you. But, um, but I'm gonna help you to get there. And so that's the why. [Yeah] I think that, you know, how our communities go, how our youth go, is how our country is gonna go. And I think that, while you know, economics drives things, I think that everyone needs to have the opportunity. And I don't, I just don't think that you know, and I'm talking as a black female. Now, as a black girl, we didn't always have the opportunities, [mmm] and we, and we still don't have the opportunities. And so someone has to, you know, lead the charge of knocking down the doors and in climbing the walls and going over, going over the ledges so that we can ensure that our young people have opportunity, access, and are successful. And success for me means being able to take care of yourself and your family independent of somebody else [right] doing that for you. But the level of success you attain is limitless. [Right] But I just want to make sure of that, out the gate, foundationally for everybody
11:06: Dr. Jenkins:
Right. And let me just say this, I see your passion. Like we're talking about the Science of Reading, and the LETRS professional development at the elementary level. And now you're in charge and looking at the new textbook selection for the middle schools. And you bring that same level of passion. I mentioned your nickname on the court, that's, that was actually given by the guys who were there because you can compete against anyone – from an academic level, athletic level. And I've just observed you, you go into all spaces, and you’re from MMSD. Also, we're hearing about your elementary and middle school experience. What from that, do you bring into the job today, knowing that you didn't have as many people who look like you? Did, you did have Momma Bernard with you, as well, but what propelled you to say, hey, I can do this too, in MMSD.
12:00 Dr. Hicks:
So I've, you know, I grew up in Madison, and I had a village. So everybody was responsible for everybody, took care of…anybody's parents could communicate to you, redirect you or whatever. So that's, that's what I come from. And, and knowing that, I also know that now, people live next to each other and don't even know their neighbors, which is sad. And our biggest, the big, most important, One of the most important things that we have, and that we need, is communication. And we don't do that. And the connectedness that's gone. And so I'm really, really trying to make sure that we continue to just like, connect. That, that, as an adult now, I, I didn't know what I didn't have then. I didn't know what I needed then. Right? I just wanted what I wanted in the moment. You talk a lot, too, about the long view. Right? [Mmhmm] And it is about the long view, not just in the moment. Because the moment is gonna… it's only that – a moment. [Mmhmm] We know that the future is coming. [Right] So how are we preparing for that? How are we being ready for that? And in order to do that, I have to… I'm a connected person, I want to connect to people, I want them to know that – that they have a village wherever I come and whoever I am, adult, child, you know, peer, whomever, that we have a village. We can't, we can't operate in isolation because if we do then guess what? We’re on our own track, and we're doing what we want to do, and not for the good of the, of the people. [Wow] Not for the good of the community.
13:48: Dr. Hicks:
My mother came to Madison, Wisconsin from Birmingham, Alabama, at Phenix City, Alabama, but Birmingham…
13:54: Dr. Jenkins:
Birmingham, my people are in Birmingham as well. Yeah.
13:56: Dr. Hicks:
But Birmingham. And um, you know, I asked her often. Um, well, mom … she was, she was, she was raised at a time, you know, when the civil rights era. And she said, the, one of the worst things that happened to us is desegregation. [Mmm] Not, not segregation, desegregation, because now we're, we're … with everybody in her community. They were doctors, nurses, teachers look like her. Right? They were a part of the community. They were from the community, if I can't give back and help my community, right? Where I come from, who poured into me, how am I going to be able to do that somewhere else? Again, to whom much is given, much is required. My community poured into me, I have to pour into my community. It's a non-negotiable. It's a non-negotiable.
15:12: Dr. Jenkins:
Wow, let's go right into that point. Because we are on Lead to Liberate. We go deep in, sometimes. I'm telling you now, for our viewers out there, our listeners, I want you to hear this. She described herself as an African American female. Your identity matters. She described her upbringing in a community that looked a lot like her. Understand what she's talking about desegregation. It wasn't that individuals weren't for integration. And an attorney once asked me that, see you so you're not for integration? I said, No, that's not what I said. I'm not for integration, the way that it has happened to us. Now, if you want to start there, we can build it back up, and we can get into the Green Six conditions, Green vs. Kent County, and talk about making sure that we have equitable resources to the benefit of all of ours, here in Madison Metropolitan School District, here in the State of Wisconsin. We just, on the national exam, okay, the national exam, we just came in first place, again, for the largest disparities. You understand? On the NAPE exam. So fourth grade math, the next closest state to us, 18 percentage points. So what Dr. Hicks is saying here is real. This is what we experienced with our students. We talked about the disparities, but we're here to do something about it. She's here to lead to liberate. And she's giving you insight into who she really is, what drives her, her why. So for the rest of the conversation, I hope that you're staying tuned with us, and you're trying to understand it on a deeper level where she's coming from. Because we talk about our students. Well, our students do grow up, and she could be anywhere in the world. And she chose to stay in Madison. Why Madison?
17:02 Dr. Hicks.
Um, Dr. Jenkins, as I stated before, this is this, is home, right? You can have a house anywhere, right? So I could go anywhere, and then create a home. I feel like, while it has been challenging, in spaces and places, I think that Madison has done well for me and my family, in terms of showing up in spaces sometimes that I didn't expect it to, right. Um, I've, as an adult, I've always been on in activism or in space is trying to do trying to do, give back. My soul and my spirit is servanthood, right? And the community in which I live, where my family is, my mother's side of the family is smaller, my dad's side of the family is larger, and they're out out out east in New York. But I needed that connection, right? And I needed to be able to, um, to pour into how my elders poured into me. And if we all leave and run away from where we're from, we can, we can contribute in other places, but I just felt the need, and I was called to stay here. It wasn't my choice. I could have stayed in Texas where I had moved to live, I could have went to Virginia or Alabama. But I chose to stay here, because there was a lot that needs to be done, and like to give back to, not to just my intimate community, but the larger community. [Mmm] And again, I'm here to serve. And when you're here to serve, it's about being selfless, sacrificial, and that being right, but being righteous for righteousness sake. And so that's the why. And I wanted young people to be able to see somebody who, who they truly knew regardless what color they were… actually, Madison being as the, as segregated as it is, that it doesn't matter what you look like. How you care and how you show up for others that matter. Because while we have that dash – you know our birth date, and our, the date we expire. That dash is, is the thing that matters. How do I make people feel? How did I show up for other people? Those are the things, and if I can't do it at home, then where?
19:39: Dr. Jenkins:
Wow, I tell you, we've been today engaged in a conversation with Dr. Angie Hicks, as her mother would say Angie Carlson, as her husband says Angie Hicks. [Laughter] So it has been a great pleasure today to engage with you and one thing that I would like to say as well. And she really touches all children, I think throughout our community. You see students of all races, families of all races, they all look up to, and have been inspired by Dr. Angie Hicks. Thank you.
You're listening to Lead to Liberate, a podcast by the Madison Metropolitan School District demonstrating how the more we know, the more we grow.
Guest: Ennis Harvey
From the Madison Metropolitan School District, this is Lead to Liberate, a podcast documenting stories of inspiration, growth, and empowerment across our schools.
00:28 Carlton D. Jenkins, Ph.D.:
Hello, everyone, and welcome back to Lead to Liberate. I am your host, Dr. Carlton D. Jenkins, the very proud Superintendent of the Madison Metropolitan School District. We're continuing to dive in, and trying to look inside the minds of our staff in terms of what made them want to come to MMSD? Or what made them want to stay in MMSD? And what paths they’ve taken to make sure that they're leading to liberate. Today, we have with us none other than Mr. Ennis Harvey. Mr. Harvey is quite the individual – he has a music background, musician by trade – and now he's our new Associate Superintendent. So let's just dive right into it and get to Mr. Harvey. Mr. Harvey, how are you today?
01:10: Ennis Harvey:
Thank you, Dr. Jenkins. Hey, today's a great day for teaching and learning in MMSD.
01:15: Dr. Jenkins:
Well, I'm glad to hear you say it's a great day, because I know I've been on some paths out there with you in our schools. Can kind of like, talk to us…first of all, before we even get into the schools. Hey, you come from somewhere else, ah, in this country, you have an undergrad degree from historical black college. Could you tell us a little bit about that. And then beyond that, what inspired you to come here to the Madison Metropolitan School District?
01:43: Mr. Harvey:
So my formal training actually started at Tennessee State University, where I marched in the Aristocrat of Bands at Tennessee State. From there I transferred to Morris Brown College, well earned a degree, a bachelor's degree, in music education. At a very early age, I always…had a spirit of inquiry, and the joy of teaching what I learned to others, it was borne out of that passion to become a teacher. Throughout my career, I've been fortunate to have many titles, but my most coveted title was that of teacher. For me, if you're not teaching, you're not leading. And so as I look forward to leading both teachers and leaders, that's my mantra: ‘if you're not teaching, you're not leading.’ Because, I think, it is my belief that a leader knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way. And so if you're not doing those things, we're here to support that and build environments in which all our students can thrive as well as the staff.
02:43 Dr. Jenkins:
Yeah, well, that's outstanding, just teaching and leading. But tell me this, I have to bring this point out. Over the holidays, I understand too, when you were the principal, you also earned another special title. Could you tell us that title? And how did you get to that point?
02:58 Mr. Harvey:
So, at my former high school, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. High School in Lithonia, Georgia, my band program, which when I was principal, my band program was fortunate enough to get an invitation to the Macy's Day Parade in 2019. Throughout that time, as they were preparing, the band director transitioned into another school. We had a couple of people come in to try to fill his shoes, but it wasn't a good fit for both the students and community. At that time, the students asked me to step in, and I was named the band principal. So in 2019, as the principal, I took an awesome group of students to the Macy's Day Parade. We had an awesome time, the students had a dynamic performance, and that will forever be a part of me, as well as those students from DeKalb County, Georgia.
03:53 Dr. Jenkins:
Yes, I appreciate you sharing this story, because I've heard it from others. And I know that you don't speak on it too much. But I just love the enthusiasm that you speak, uh, that you share with us when you're speaking about that experience. So now coming here to Madison, let's jump into it. You came here as the Chief Transformation Officer, and you were working with the elementary schools. And since then, you have changed your position as an Associate Superintendent for High Schools. Wow. How do you go from elementary to high schools? And do you have that same level of passion for trying to work with our high school scholars?
04:30: Mr. Harvey:
So now, I was given an opportunity to come to Madison, it was an opportunity I couldn't pass up both for two reasons. Both to bring the knowledge of education to Madison as well as to receive learning from Madison. Madison is very unique as it’s situated in a place where it’s on the cusp of doing the unbelievable and unthinkable as a staff. And so at one point in my life I was an elementary principal. And one thing I was, I took from that opportunity is how do you nurture students to give them the love for reading? [Mmm] For me, if students’... reading is the very foundation that will liberate them for the rest of their lives, and so that that translates to middle school and high school. And so as I transitioned from being at the elementary level to high school, ah for me, high school students are those students where you can really speak in the abstract, and they can really lean in and say, ‘Okay, let me dream.’ And so I bring that to the space each and every time I'm in it, because we are building the leaders of tomorrow, but are we setting them up to be successful in creating those real post secondary options for them to really be successful? For me, success is not graduation. For me, success is at 25 years old, can they be a productive part of our community, and have a life in which they are thriving in, not just surviving.
06:14: Dr. Jenkins:
Wow. But tell us this, do you have much high school experience yourself beyond having been associate superintendent?
06:20: Mr. Harvey:
Yes, I was the high school principal. I also was assistant band director at a high school as well.
06:25: Dr. Jenkins:
Okay, great. Well, now, when we're coming to Madison, let's just put it out there. We have some of the greatest disparities in the country. We do. We have some of the students here who have demonstrated that they can compete internationally with any scholar in the world. And then, yet, we still have some disparities – long time disparities. So how do you go into a school, and knowing this level of excellence that you want to achieve? And knowing that we're really trying to liberate our students, and liberate our families and our communities? What's your take on that? What are you doing about it?
07:00: Mr. Harvey:
So, it is my belief, if a flower is not growing, you don't fix the flower, you fix the environment in which it grows in. And so building structures that promotes…promotes high expectations while giving them love. Uh, it is…I believe…I think Blackburn said it best in rigor is more than a five letter word. That standards-based learning and high expectations is that any child can achieve. So as I go into the high schools, we have those conversations with principals. Ah, so as we do our instructional, our instructional tools and environmental scans, and then we add an impact check, which is every 30 days, [mmm] we check the pulse of how is the school going? [mmm] How well are we doing? What are we, what are we not? What are we not building on and it's okay, if we're not getting the right because we're here together, we come to the table together to create that environment of inter-rater reliability. Additionally, we started this, this year, we started, we started having our PLCs, where each principal, comes to one school, and we look at certain practices each school has. So we are building a playbook. So we take a best practice from this school, from this school, and from this school. And by the end of the year, we will playbook with all our best practices in which all our students can be in an environment to thrive in. That's both academically and socially-emotionally.
08:28: Dr. Jenkins:
Wow. So you’re telling me in Madison, you know, here we have six high schools. So if I'm in an alternative school with a best practice, you may also see that practice over at Memorial?
08:40: Mr. Harvey:
Yes. And so I think that, that's the, that's the glue, right? Because no matter what school you walk into in MMSD, it is, it is a school, a welcoming school with high expectations, and, and high outcomes. That is the expectation that we have both of our staff and our students here in MMSD.
09:02: Dr. Jenkins:
Yeah, and I think about these disparities. Thinking about what you just said, and I think about equity. What kind of training is going on in the district to really address not just saying the word, but getting to it, what we really are seeing our students, seeing our staff, and responding to our community.
09:21: Mr. Harvey:
Well, before we can talk about training, I think we’ve got to talk about mindsets. We’ve got to talk about diversity, inclusion, equity, and belonging. For me, diverse is presence. Inclusion is participation. Equity is power. And belonging, the same to our students. I see you and I celebrate you. As well, we take both our central office staff as well as our building-level principals, and we're getting to the rest of the staff through inclusion-equity training, on a monthly basis. So I think it starts at mindset, you know. So when we talk about it, we got to get out of the saviorism, right? In when we start talking about race, and be very frank with that race. I think polio fairy says in his book that if you want to keep a people oppressed, mythify it as helping. And so, I don't subscribe to the ‘waiting on superman’ concept. I subscribe to…We were given everything that we needed to survive in this lifetime by our maker. And so I want to really lean into our children, to give them that self assurance, to give them that confidence, that no matter where you go, no matter what obstacles or challenges that face you in this world, we can move forward. Because for me, when you talk about equity once again, that's a difference than equality. For me, you know, equality has given me a pair of shoes. Equality is giving me a pair of shoes that fit. And so we try to mirror that in the environments we create for our students to be successful in.
11:14: Dr. Jenkins:
Yeah, well, I appreciate you touching on this. But now that you have, let's go here. In the Madison Metropolitan School District, we have touted ourselves as being an anti-racist district. We have been a district about social justice. We said we are, unapologetically, how we engage with African-American children, LatinX children, our scholars who receive special needs services, our LGBTQIA plus community. When we think about all of our children, our indigenous children, every child, Hmong. We say here inclusion, we mean it. So when students identify how they identify, we're accepting of that. So what kind of expressions have you seen? Because I've been reading lately, the surveys that came back in from the students, that you're clearly listening to their voices? And you're being very inclusive? You’re taking equity to the next level, you're becoming explicit and not just being anti-racist. You are raising when you see issues of anti-blackness, issues of anti-LGBTQIA plus, issues of anti-Hmong. You know, recent situations happening around the country, we want to make sure that we are who we say we are. So what evidence do you have that students are speaking up? Or how you’re addressing those things?
12:37: Mr. Harvey: Well, first of all, as a black man, I've lived it. Each and every day, you know, and I think that, you know, whatever your political party is, you can have it over here, but this black skin doesn't wash off. [Mmm.] And so I take that approach, as I lean in to have these conversations with, with high school students in the forums, in creating that space, right? We got to set the conditions where our students can, can really lean in and give their truth. You know, I endeavor not to create safe spaces, but brave spaces. And so when we talk about that brave space, challenge them, but while also giving them an opportunity to make mistakes. You know, I do believe that both students and staff should have opportunities to fail in low-risk environments. And so when you, you add an equity lens on it, um, just because they fail, they can get back up no matter what color they are. But when we talk about pushing, pushing in and leaning in, around anti-racism, anti-black, um, for me, the legacy I'm leaving is the life I'm living. And so to that point, with our students, I want to always create that space where they can speak their truth, without blame or judgment, and really set systems in place to hear them, but also change practices based on that. I think a lot of times in education, we create these great quasi systems, but we don't change the practice. And so we say we listened to you, but are we listening to change practice? Or are we listening out of this the way we've always done it?
14:23: Dr. Jenkins.
Wow, ah that's, that's really powerful. And I think about right now, have we had, how we have, just a magnificent program with Madison College, the STEM program. We have a number of students of color, number of students of poverty, students receiving special needs services. How do you replicate that so we can say that all of us students have high-quality learning going on, meeting beyond grade level expectations? And not just tie it to testing, but other forms of assessments that can actually show their strengths?
14:56: Mr. Harvey:
Well, it's, it’s, great question there Dr. Jenkins. First of all, I mean, how you replicate it – we start by observing it during our instructional tours, and really having those conversations. I, I don't approach it from a deficit model. I, I look at what's going well in certain situations, and how do we replicate that to create the models that we want, while understanding that we still have some work to do. But when you speak about the partnership that we have with, with Madison College, and the students that are there, to really see them thrive, I really, have conversations with them: ‘Tell us, what do we need to do to fix it?’ ‘What was your experience like here?’ And how do we support that experience to, to replicate it, as you spoke, throughout all our high schools? And so we're, we're underway with that. And so like, say we, I think we're celebrating a lot of great things we're doing, but we have a few more miles to go to get it done.
15:57: Dr. Jenkins:
Right. Wow, we’ll you said we're celebrating a few of the things. Recently, we received the notice that we have 32 National Merit Semifinalists. And I think that's something to celebrate. When we look at those numbers, we want to make sure that we're getting all of our students within that group, who desire that, to be at that level of a National Merit Semifinalist. Those are like academic all Americans. And then recently, we noticed that the graduation rate that’s 87%, higher than it's been in the last five years. How do we push into these spaces to make sure that our students, in terms of that highest level of learning, and then also, a number of our students are beginning to participate in different apprenticeship opportunities? Talk to me about that. What are we going to do to continue to push, to make sure Madison stays at the forefront of being able to compete internationally?
16:49: Mr. Harvey:
Well, first of all, you know, we have to educate the whole child. And so, to your point of testing and assessments, I think if we continue to push with standards-based, grade level, appropriate standards, high expectations, and then building those, those supports for our students to be successful. Again, it's my belief that all students can achieve at high levels with proper supports in place. And we, to reach that goal of having Madison be at the forefront of it, I think that we are standing on fertile ground, to really say, hey, what does the environment look like both for teaching and learning, social-emotional, and professional learning for our teachers. I think that's the critical piece. I think, because in the classroom, that's where the magic happens, right? [Mmhmm] That's where the true engagement is. So we got to put those supports in place not only for students, but for teachers as well. The more, the more the teachers know, the more they can grow. And so when we approach that, we approach it in a sense of building systemic processes and procedures to support just the ways that you spoke of, those 32 scholars that achieved that. But we want that for all our, all our scholars, right? [Mmhmm] So we have to continue to really lean in, we have to continue to really say, ‘hey, how do we really maximize what we're doing?’ And we have to be very intentional with it.
18:28: Dr. Jenkins:
Right. Talking about intentionality, we're just coming through this dual pandemic, right? We're talking about COVID-19, we talk about social justice, give us your one-minute take on what has been the difference? Or if there is a lesson learned for you coming from the pandemic that we knew, to still the pandemic that we have, the social justice?
18:50: Well, for me, I think the pandemic only illuminated the disparities that we have in America. Uh, and so there, there are some things that we really have to really look at social emotional, because our most marginalized students experienced, in a pandemic, was totally different than our most affluent ones. Where they, a lot of our students, had to be the ones to be the caretakers for their younger siblings, while the parents were out working, versus the affluent ones where they had opportunities to go to tutors, they had opportunities to have, you know, friends in study groups. So we got to be very intentional coming out of the pandemic and putting supports in place to really say, ‘Hey, okay, this happened.’ But how do we really ensure that we build them back to a place where they feel confident enough to say, ‘okay, after this, these two years, I still believe in myself.’
20:01: Dr. Jenkins:
Very good. I tell you what, Mr. Ennis Harvey, the Associate Superintendent here in Madison Metropolitan School District. As you can see, he has much on the plate as he's trying to move the needle and lead to liberate. We really appreciate you being here with us again this week. We look forward to next week. We're going to have to bring you back, Mr. Harvey, because there's much to be said about how we lead to liberate, moving from what was a dual pandemic, to now still yet a pandemic of social justice. Thank you very much. And thank you for listening in today. Everybody, we'll see you next time.
20:34: Mr. Harvey:
Student Speaker: You're listening to Lead to Liberate, a podcast by the Madison Metropolitan School District demonstrating how the more we know the more we grow.
Guests: Gina Aguglia and Sedric Morris
00:10 Student Speaker: From the Madison Metropolitan School District, this is Lead to Liberate, a podcast documenting stories of inspiration, growth, and empowerment across our schools.
00:28 Dr. Carlton D. Jenkins: Hello, and welcome to Lead to Liberate. I'm your podcast host, Dr. Carlton D. Jenkins. I'm the very proud Superintendent of the Madison Metropolitan School District, one of the very finest school districts in the country. And here, what we do, we talk to our employees about what's going on, how are they leading to liberate. We talk to our community people about leading to liberate. And today, we have two very special guests from our Office of School Safety. Everyone's been talking about it around the country – what's going on in the schools during the pandemic. And now that we're emerging out of the pandemic, what's happening. Our district was one of those districts that made a decision to remove our police officers out of the schools. And we had to come up with a plan of how we were going to connect. But we have here our very own. We have Gina and Sedric. So our special guests, Gina and Sedric, how would you tell us that you're doing right now, coming out of a pandemic, knowing all the things been going on in the schools – talk to us about that? What's, what does it feel like now?
01:40 Sedric Morris: Right now, coming out of the pandemic, I would say that it was tough. It was tough for everybody. But I think schools are getting focused now. Right? Systems are starting to come together. Students are starting to settle down. And things are working.
02:03 Dr. Jenkins: Okay, great, great. Well tell me this, because a lot of the talk has been coming out of the pandemic. And you know, we were in social isolation, and then thinking about students how they are trying to manage having been in isolation. And now back in schools, and I heard you saying, yes, systems are coming together. How are you addressing the social-emotional and the mental health? Talk to us, Gina.
02:24 Gina Aguglia: Yeah, absolutely. I think that's something that's so important to be thinking about, we are really intentional about lifting both safety and security in our Office as well as social-emotional and psychological safety. We think that both are very much connected, and both must be balanced and, and, worked on regularly. So the things that we make sure we do is when we're coming into schools and working with schools, that we're really thinking about those safety aspects of relationship building, having-making sure students are feeling welcome, making sure that their social-emotional needs are met. And like Sedric said, we really are, really coming back from this pandemic, and really starting to see systems falling into place. But we know that our kids have a lot of anxiety, we know that there's a lot of, you know, continued concern around, you know, just coming back from this kind of unbelievable experience that we've all, you know, shared with, with going virtual and learning how to pivot from being in person to virtual and now back to in person. It takes a lot of toll on a person, and especially on our children with, you know, that are constantly developing, we know that they are not fully developed brains until they're, you know, 25-26 years old. So we've got a really interesting opportunity here to really support our students who are continuing to develop, and shift, and change, and are faced with additional adversity, how we can utilize safety as a foundation for, to support them.
03:51 Dr. Jenkins: Yeah, wow, this is really a big decision to go to a Office, really, of school safety. When we, we've been very used to having our school resource officers. But during the pandemic, there were different things that started coming up, and having some student conflict and which actually, you had to go to do some home visits. Talk to us a little bit about that Sedric. What, what actually happens doing that?
04:14 Mr. Morris: Yeah, so our home visits we started last year, where we go into students’ home. Students, maybe, in having, you know, some issues at school, we go into to offer other supports, right. Whether it's mentoring, education, tutoring, anything that we can do to help the family, right? So just being able to wrap around, not just inside of the building, but also outside of the building, showing that we care in that way. And if any way that we can help, um, help a student, help a family, get back on track. It's what we call the restorative recovery plan. So that's what we want to continue to do.
04:57 Dr. Jenkins: Well, that's powerful. And I think the fact that you all are doing that restorative recovery. During the pandemic, we talked a lot about that, that some of the students, you have to deal with the whole student, the whole family, and the community. And in that, sometimes, we didn't have the intelligence that we'd normally have been pretty comfortable with. When we were in regular schools, when we had the resource officers in there about what was going on. How did you kind of reestablish that relationship? Do you even have a relationship now with our police officers in our community? And if so, how's that working now?
05:32 Ms. Aguglia: That's a really good question. I think that it was a really tough decision to determine that we were going to be removing police officers. But we heard from our staff, our students, our families, that we were really needing to try to do things differently. And, and so what we've really tried to push is our office around being an Office of School Safety, but really focused on doing things, ah, differently as it relates to safety. And, you know, Sedric mentioned our restorative recovery plans and working with, with families. Sedric and I both come from backgrounds that are much more involved – I'm a, I'm a social worker by background, Sedric is background in corrections and also in Dane County, working on a ton of, I mean, just amazing youth advocacy, empowerment, supporting youth and getting youth connected to resources in the community, you know, through his job in Dane County. So the two of us coming together and really utilizing those, that background as a platform for school safety is a shift. And then with the removal of SROs and really trying to figure out what we are, you know, going to make sure that we continue to maintain, as far as safety and security goes, we've actually developed some really good relationships with the Madison Police Department. It almost is as if without the SROs, we have been even moreabout making those connections. We, we are regularly meeting with the captains across our, the districts that have our, our high schools. We are checking in with our mental health officers. We are learning more about our opioid diversion program within the police department. There's a lot of different things that we are now collaborating with. Whereas where it was, you know, with the SROs in our buildings, were kind of, you know, just an extension of the police department. But now we do really feel like it's, it's transformed into a, more of a collaboration where we're really working together.
07:29 Dr. Jenkins: Wow, this is really interesting. And I know too, as well, I've heard the students. You have three employees, right now in the Office of School Safety?
07:49 Ms. Aguglia: Absolutely, yeah. So Dr. Jenkins is referring to our third Director that we haven't named, who is Bonnie. Bonnie is a certified therapy dog. She is a WAGs dog, which is a organization here in Wisconsin that trains service dogs. But as we've been talking about the pandemic a little bit, Bonnie aged into service dog abilities during the pandemic, and the agency decided not to place her. So she was this very well trained dog that they really wanted to have a good second career for. So I got contacted. My background, like I said, is in social work, but I actually have a certification in animal assisted therapy. And I was really excited to, to adopt Bonnie as my own dog. And now Sedric and I bring her around when we are doing restorative recovery, when we're working with schools, and especially when working with staff. Staff are really, you know, you know, going through a lot all the time and we love to debrief, we love to process, but we also love to bring Barney just for some snuggles.
08:50 Dr. Jenkins: I tell you, I like going out to the schools, and particularly when we're doing a restorative recovery, but to see Bonnie at work, and all of our children and the staff coming by. Everybody wants to talk to Bonnie. Well, when we look into the future, though, because as you said, we're coming back. We're getting systems in place. How well are you working with the principals? And, we had a number of police calls early on during the pandemic. What does it look like now with those calls, because people are still needing assistance. So what are they doing?
09:32 Mr. Morris: People are still calling us, still calling the, our crisis line. We still consult with principals every day. Calls really, definitely dropped from last year. And we are continuing to work with the principals around incidents in the schools and how to debrief situations, right? Not every, not every incident needs a police call, right? So walking through how to…what's the next steps, what's the best situation as opposed to calling the police. So being able to work with those principals and build those relationships, definitely has helped in the long run.
10:23 Ms. Aguglia: And I would say that while police calls from schools have gotten down, we have gotten an increase in school principals connecting with our Office. And so we really are trying hard to make sure that, that principals feel that they have a resource in us – to consult, to collaborate, and to determine next steps. And so, you know, we're never saying, you know, ‘don't call the police,’ we're saying, hey, if it's not an imminent emergency, and you have time to pause, and to create an opportunity for a consultation, we know that when you utilize a multidisciplinary approach, then you are much more likely to have positive outcomes. So if principals can stop, can consult with us, and we can talk through next steps, that always ends up having better outcomes. Regardless of whether or not, you know, police are involved, the more that we can stop and work with our schools directly ends up being a lot more helpful for everyone, including if we involve law enforcement in the future.
11:19 Dr. Jenkins: Wow, I'll just tell you, just seeing you there last year, going through this, and we're all learning during the pandemic somewhat together, and you were practicing it. And you were doing the calls. And now I'm hearing the principals talk about the relationships that they feel like are so strong with you all. And you connecting with the families, with the parents now – how's that going for you personally, with the parents, now?
11:41 Mr. Morris: Parents have, have actually been really good, and really responsive of what we're trying to do, what we want to do in the future, what we'll continue to do. We, you know, have, have, again, back to the home visits. When we ask parents what it is that they need, they're more open, you know, and trustworthy of us building relationships with them. So they are more open to telling us what it is that they need, so to speak, [mmhmm] if that makes sense. So in the long run, instead of you know, when something happens in schools, they’ll be more inclined to reach out, and actually have more of a positive impact and positive conversation.
12:26 Dr. Jenkins: Yeah, have you, have you experienced, at this point – parents…because it's sometimes difficult to share? If you need the service, like mental health? Have parents opened up to you and said, ‘Hey, I think our family could use some of this?’
12:42 Mr. Morris: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I can think of a home visit where we went to, last year, where it was…it wasn't easy, it wasn't an easy situation. The whole situation was, was kind of difficult. But in that moment, a parent didn’t share that, you know, they would love to have some, some extra services, mental health services, but just didn't know how to go about doing it. And Gina was there right there on the spot [mmhmm] to help guide that.
13:13 Ms. Aguglia: Yeah. And I think that just again, back to our backgrounds, we are really connected to resources around the community. [Mmhmm.] But then, you know, we're also really connected to our resources here in MMSD. We know we have psychs, social workers, counselors, nurses, PBIS, coaches, all these, you know, professionals that are in our schools that are really wanting to make those connections with our families. And sometimes our families just don't know where to go, or who to reach out to. So getting our families connected to those community resources, getting them connected to our school resources, and really trying to all work together in and utilizing that as part of the recovery when instances happen, I think is really important.
13:52 Dr. Jenkins: Wow, this is really amazing. You know, our core goals talks about belonging and talks about voice. So have you had an opportunity yet to get the voices of our students? Have you sat back and talked to them about ways that your Office could probably benefit our schools even more? And benefit the students?
14:14 Mr. Morris: Yeah, every time that we’re in schools, right, we're in the schools a lot. We get asked about being- speaking-in different school groups, school based groups. You know, what's next for our office? We've had students come up with great ideas to, to even help. What does our future look like? So being able to just be in the schools, and just stop, and listen, and look, and get, get a sense of what it is that they want, so that we can bring it back, and kind of add it into the work that we do. I think that's important.
14:53 Ms. Aguglia: Well, and we can’t leave a high school without Sedric at least connecting with three or four different students [laughter] who know him through the community, through all of his work in our schools, or family, or sports, you know, coaching. So that's such an impact too, is that the kids are like, ‘Oh, I know that guy. And that guy's awesome.’ And so then it's extra cool to be able to say, ‘hey, and we want to talk to you about safety and stuff like that.’
15:17 Dr. Jenkins: Wow, that's awesome. Sedrick, you are a part of the community. Did you actually go to school here many kids, so many people know you
15:27 Mr. Morris: Yeah, I, um, I am definitely a product of MMSD. Proud, Mudville Elementary, Lincoln, Cherokee Middle School, proud graduate of West High School. graduate from MMSD, as well. So I've been in and out of this community for years. I'm still in the community: coaching, refereeing, mentoring, fraternity, all of that. [Wow.] So I do a lot of work in the community. Yes.
16:02 Dr. Jenkins: So did you go to higher ed, take your classes here? [Yeah.] An where, where did you go to school?
16:07 Mr. Morris: Yeah, I actually went to Upper Iowa to get my undergrad degree and then University of Cincinnati to get
16:16 Dr. Jenkins: Right. That's great. But, what about you, Gina? You're like, you're educated here in the area for your higher ed?
16:24 Ms. Aguglia: Yeah, I got my undergraduate degree here at UW and [Go Badgers!] Yeah, go Badgers! I actually played soccer for the University of Wisconsin.
16:36 Dr. Jenkins: Wait a minute. You played on the soccer team?
16:37: Ms. Aguglia: I did. I did.
16:38 Dr. Jenkins: Wow. Okay. That's why you’re always challenging me about ‘let's play some soccer here.’ [That’s right] Right? Yeah. Okay. I thought I could beat her.
16:48 Ms. Aguglia: It’s going to happen, we’re going to go head-to-head at some point. [Okay, great.] But yeah, I got my undergrad here, had a really good experience here. And I actually went and got my master's degree out in Colorado. And Colorado was a pretty amazing place. And I still love Madison so much that I came back. I really, really love it here. I value being here. And I really enjoy being part of the school district.
17:10 Dr. Jenkins: Wow, well, I'll tell you, you two have definitely been the individuals that we know, can and will continue to help us lead to liberate, and we just want you to continue to push in, about how we can continue to connect with our not only students, but as you've been doing with the families as well, connecting with all of our resources in the community. Because we know that if we do that – establish those relationships – things are going to be better. Things are already getting better. And we're just so excited to have everyone back in person this year. But I also want to thank our listeners again, for listening in to Lead to Liberate, right here. We tried to peel it back, and see what’s really going on in MMSD. Thank you so much for your time. Lead to liberate.
18:00 Student Speaker: You’re listening to Lead to Liberate, a podcast by the Madison Metropolitan School District, demonstrating how the more we know the more we grow.
Guest: Dr. Anu Ebbe
00:10 Student Speaker: From the Madison Metropolitan School District this is Lead to Liberate, a podcast documenting stories of inspiration, growth, and empowerment across our schools.
00:27 Dr. Carlton D. Jenkins: Hello everyone, and welcome back to Lead to Liberate. I am Dr. Carlton D. Jenkins, I am your podcast host. I am the superintendent, the very proud superintendent, of one of the best school districts in the country, Madison Metropolitan School District. Today, we have with us, a very exciting guest. As you know, we like to try to peel it back. Tell it like it is – and have everyone really understand what is it to lead to liberate? Our guest today is very special. Our guests was actually the 22-23 Principal of the Year in the State of Wisconsin; competed for Principal of the Year nationally. She's exciting. We have with us, Dr. Ebbe. Anu. Dr Anu. How are you?
01:10 Dr. Ebbe: I'm great, thank you. And thank you for having me here today, Dr. Jenkins.
01:14 Dr. Jenkins: Yeah, it's great to have you. And we often refer to her as Dr. Anu because some people don't say Dr. Ebbe, but so tell us about that, too. You know, Anu Ebbe, where does this come from? [laughter]
01:27 Dr. Ebbe: Well, my birth name is Anuradha Rangaswamy. I was born in India. And I came to the United States. When I got married, I changed my name to Ebbe. But a lot of the students in MMSD still know me as Ms. Rangaswamy.
01:45 Dr. Jenkins: Oh, wow, that's, that's exciting. Just the name itself. She's quite the story beyond her name. Can you tell us how, you kind of like, got into education? What inspired you to want to be a difference maker?
01:58 Dr. Ebbe: Absolutely. So that goes back – way back – to when I was living in India. And, um, when I was about 11 years old, we were living in a city called Hyderabad. And none of the girls in my neighborhood were biking. And I was the first one to insist that I learned how to bike. [Mmm.] And the entire community was very angry that that was happening, [wow] and came and protested in front of our house. My mom stood up for me. And that moment, my mom and dad said, ‘we need to send her to the United States.’ So like, you know, even back then I was constantly fighting for equality, for social justice for myself, and also for everyone around me. And then when I came to the United States, I came to live with my sister and her wonderful family in a suburb, in the suburb of St. Louis. And, um, during that time, it was right in the middle of the desegregation program. And it was 1984, and my 10th grade year. And I'll give you a moment, a minute to do the math. [Laugher] [Dr. Jenkins: Right, right, right.] And so then, during that year, one of my teachers asked me to stand up in front of the class. And the class took votes on whether I looked more black or white. [Mmm.] And…
03:32 Dr. Jenkins: Wait a minute, wait a minute. You’re saying, the class [mmhmm] in 1984? Took a vote on whether or not you look more white or black? [Dr. Ebbe: Yeah.] Not understanding who and what you really were at the time. Wow. [Dr. Ebbe: Yeah.] Talk to us about it.
03:52 Dr. Ebbe: Yeah, so this was right in the middle of the desegregation program, right? In St. Louis, where students from East St. Louis, or mostly black and some brown students, were being bused into suburbs. So our school community was changing. And I don't think the teachers knew what to do, how to interact with our students, how to teach. And this, these were the kind of the approaches that they were taking, which was really, I think, for everybody, just shook us to the core – shook me to the core. For sure. Seeing that, I was seen in that light, it impacted my identity in a way that was not good. I tried to start assimilating rather than being me.
04:45 Dr. Jenkins: You mean that one activity where the students were voting on you, began to shake you? Had a serious social-emotional, psychological, mental kind of effect on you?
04:55 Dr. Ebbe: Absolutely. In a way that impacted me for many, many years [mm], till even I became a teacher at Memorial High School.
05:09 Dr. Jenkins: At Memorial High School, right here in Madison. Okay. [Here in Madison]. Tell us about it, now - lead to liberate.
05:15 Dr. Ebbe: That was 1998, right. And I was hired to teach in this alternative program called ‘School Within a School.’ It was just like, I felt like I had landed my dream job. I wanted to work at, you know, with students of color, and that's how the system was set up back then. Where the, many of the students I was working with, were black, almost all of them, and a few Latinx students. And the system had clearly failed them miserably. And I could see it, because these students were brilliant, they were bright in so many ways. But they have not been given the proper instruction. [Mmhmm] So I became, you know, I started learning, learning a lot about our school system. And I really had to change me, because I had all these years, like spent all this time assimilating and trying to fit into this norm. And just having those students in front of me, I can't do that anymore. [Mmm!] My students, I have to be who I am, and show them that, so that they too can be who they are, bring their authentic selves to the learning. And together, we, we did that.
06:39 Dr. Jenkins: So at this point, you’re beginning to liberate, right? [Yes] You had to lead. And now it's time to be liberated so that you can also help others become liberated. So what did it feel like? You know, the students, here they are primarily African American, Latinx, here you are coming in? Have they recognized yet, that she….what is she? [Laughter] Okay. What did that mean?
07:00 Dr. Ebbe: So this is the funny part like, I would, you know, they would say, ‘Can I call you just Miss R?’ because back then my name was Miss Rangaswamy? And I would say, ‘No, you have to learn to spell my entire name correctly.’ [Oh, wow] Yeah. And they got extra credit for it. [Wow] I also will learn your names and pronounce them correctly. So there was this understanding about that. But there was also like, you know, this deep work we did around social-emotional learning, but also the academics. Connecting the work, the learning in the classroom, to what was important to the students, lifting their voice. We had incredible family engagement. Our families were in the classroom, supporting us all the time. And it's because we spent the time fostering those relationships. And one of the students wrote to me some years later, who's now working for a nonprofit, and said, ‘Thank you for teaching me how to read.’ And I wasn't a reading teacher at that time, I was a science and math teacher. [Right.] But I had to take on this identity to teach all of it, right? As a teacher, I'm a reading teacher, I'm a math teacher, I'm a science teacher, so that my students could succeed.
08:16 Dr. Jenkins: So as a part of liberation, you have to learn to teach the children, and not just the content. And you did something kind of special as you became liberated yourself, you began to understand the power of connections – for others in seeing the children, in them seeing you – and I think that was really masterful to have them to learn how to spell your name. [Mmhmm]. Just saying your name was one thing, but then to spell it correctly. And you were also reciprocally, learning how to spell their names and learning the students. So that's, that's pretty powerful. So tell us, from moving from that, okay? Now, you’re having this powerful experience, you’re a teacher? And you wanted to go into administration? What happened? How did that happen?
09:00 Dr. Ebbe: So a lot of that was actually inspired at first, by my students. They, you know, they saw that we were making changes in the classroom together. And some of them said to me, you know, you should think about becoming a principal at a school so that you can, you know, do more for more kids. So they were the ones who first [wow] put the thought into my head. And I thought, ‘Oh, that's, that's interesting. Let me look into that.’ And at that time, I was still new to the United States, relatively, I didn't know much about the American school system. So I was still learning. And then I became principal when, you know, got my doctorate and leadership, and became principal at Shorewood Hills Elementary in Madison. And that school, that was very, it's still very, diverse, about 30 different languages are spoken. And, you know, it was a school that had so many language learners, that one of the first things we did together, to educate to liberate, is to really ensure that the education we are providing our students is truly inclusive, that our ELs and any student is not being pulled out of the classroom will taken somewhere else for instruction. But how do we truly, as teachers – and the teachers are amazing – collaborate and plan together for all students in the classroom? Right? [Right] How do we differentiate instruction, and ensure every student is achieving at high levels?
10:41 Dr. Jenkins: Wow. So that particular strategy, you pushed it pretty hard. And so when we talk about all of these disparities that we see. Wisconsin being number one in the nation. Madison, here we are sitting with some of the highest achieving students, but yet we have some serious disparities that mirror those of Wisconsin. So you pushing in like that? What happened to the disparities with all of those ELL students? In that particular school? What, what happened? What did the data say?
11:11 Dr. Ebbe: I want to back up a little bit before I talk about, about the data. Because when we started doing that inclusive work, the biggest thing, biggest work we all had to do, is change our mindsets. [Mmm] About what instruction is or should be. To really, I mean, really unlearning what we have learned. And, you know, in our university teaching in our, you know, learning from our society that has made us so acculturated into this white supremacy culture, right? We have to unlearn that. Shift our mindsets [mm] and really dig in thinking, and really, you know, talking about and helping our students understand that we believe that all students can succeed at high levels [mmhmm]. So that was the first step. And then really reorganizing instruction so that students get what they need right in the classroom. And what we saw in our data was pretty incredible. [Mmm] We saw all students achieving at high level, [wow] we had 85% proficiency, or, or around that ballpark, every year –
12:26 Dr. Jenkins: With all students?
12:28 Dr. Ebbe: Mmhmm. With all students. [Wow] And, you know, there was, there were years when I remember looking at some data where 100% of our African-American students were proficient.
12:38 Dr. Jenkins: You said 100% of your African-American students were proficient?
12:44 Dr. Ebbe: Were proficient in reading.
12:45 Dr. Jenkins: In reading, specifically. And so it's possible
12:50 Dr. Ebbe: It's possible, and that, [Wow], that's the spirit. And that's the, that's what we need to keep thinking about. This is actually possible because race is a social construct. We made it up.
13:03 Dr. Jenkins: Well, you heard it right here only on Lead to Liberate - race is a social construct, pushing in the power of believing that all children 100% of the African-American children in reading were proficient. That’s powerful, Dr. Ebbe. That’s powerful.
13:20 Dr. Ebbe: It was, it was. It's, it's amazing, you know, when, when we achieve like that, as a school. And then, in 2017, we earned the award, the National Blue Ribbon Award for high academic achievement.
13:35 Dr. Jenkins: The National Blue Ribbon Award. Wow! For high academic achievement.
13:40 Dr. Ebbe: And it's the work that the whole community did together. Right. [Wow.] The teachers, the students, the families.
13:46 Dr. Jenkins: Wow, that's a, award, nationally recognized, for cumulative work. That just wasn't one year. [Yeah.[ So once you started in terms of pushing in, knowing that you had 30 different languages in your building, and pushing in all children – 85% proficiency, 100% proficient some years with the African-American students. That's leading to liberate. And it reminds me of that very little girl who wanted to ride a bike [laughter] n her neighborhood. And the protests happened in front of a family. And in spite of that, or should we say because of that, it led you right here to Madison, Wisconsin, what you showed as a teacher, and you showed as a principal. But now you've been elevated to Deputy Associate Superintendent, [yes]. What's your plan? What are you planning to do right here in Madison? How are you going to impact and continue to lead to liberate?
14:43 Dr. Ebbe: So now, as the Deputy Associate Superintendent of Middle Schools – and I just love doing this work – I think about and reflect on, you know, everything. My, my experience as a leader so far, and what I've learned from all my colleagues around me in the community and our scholars. As I do this work, as well, we are in a pandemic, right? And,ah, we have learned in this pandemic, that it has exasperated all the inequities that exist in our community. So um, with, with that in mind, we are always putting social-emotional learning and well-being of students first. For example, this year, you know, the big conversation we had with principals together was, how do we start the year centering on social-emotional learning, centering on relationships, making sure that every scholar who walks into our building has a trusted adult that they can go to? How do we foster collaboration among our young people in the classroom so that they can support one another and problem solve? What routines are we establishing in the classroom? So that was the first go to, you know, to start the school year. But then also leaning into academics, right? Thinking about what do we need our students to be able to do, our scholars to be able to learn and do, not just now, but down the future? What, what are they going to be doing in high school? What are they going to be doing beyond high school? Thinking about all of those things and planning. So that means, really thinking about what standards and high expectations we are putting in front of our students every day. And how are we breaking it down for students? So if our scholars are needing a specific skill, how are we providing those, the targeted skills instruction, right in the classroom, whether it's reading, whether it's math, social-emotional learning, whatever it is. How are we doing that in the classroom and supporting them? How are we getting them to think about their futures? What does it mean to be ready for high school and beyond? Through the ACP learning? The Academic and Career Planning is ACP. What is a GPA mean? What, what is expected of you in high school? Thinking about that right away in sixth grade. So those are all of the things we are doing, and also at the same time, right now, we're in the middle of looking at curriculum adoption for literacy in middle school.
17:48 Dr. Jenkins: Wow, Dr. Ebbe, I'm telling you, this has really been one of my favorite shows. And just to hear directly from you, she's like an icon here in Wisconsin, and throughout our district – everyone knows her, all the children know her, that's the most important part. And the way that you lead, you have led, and what you're going to do for MMSD, we are so grateful for that. And we know that we're headed, it's not good enough to just do one, right, National Blue Ribbon School. We're going to have several of our schools become National Blue Ribbon [yes] under her leadership, as she partners with her friend in crime, Dr. Hicks, herself. Okay. So thank you for joining us, listeners. Thank you, again, for listening to Lead to Liberate. Right here, we try to uncover some of those things that are breakthroughs, to help everyone to become liberated. We know that we can do it. You heard Dr. Ebbe – 100% of African-American students were proficient in reading. Did you hear her? We can do it. So let's come back together again next week, and I look forward to you being here with us. Thank you, again, Dr. Ebbe for all that you've done for us.
18:59 Dr. Ebbe: Thank you, Dr. Jenkins.
19:03 Student Speaker: You're listening to Lead to Liberate, a podcast by the Madison Metropolitan School District demonstrating how the more we know, the more we grow.
Guest: Dr. Nancy Molfenter
00:12 Student Speaker: From the Madison Metropolitan School District, this is Lead to Liberate, a podcast documenting stories of inspiration, growth, and empowerment across our schools.
00:28 Dr. Carlton D. Jenkins: Hello, and welcome to Lead to Liberate. I am your podcast host, Dr. Carlton D. Jenkins, the very proud Superintendent of Madison Metropolitan School District, one of the best school districts in the country. Here on Lead to Liberate, we go behind the scenes and talk to some of our employees about what's going on. How are they really trying to lead to liberate? Today's guest, just like the ones of the past, very exciting. And I'm so glad to know that you're choosing to listen in today. Today, I think you're going to find a real treat, as we have with us Dr. Nancy Molfenter. Dr. Molfenter, how are you today?
01:05 Dr. Nancy Molfenter: I am fantastic. Happy to be here.
01:07 Dr. Jenkins: Yeah, we're happy to have you here, and so are a lot of our parents, a lot of our students, and a lot of other staff as well. Before Dr. Molfenter came on the scene, I had many conversations with parents. And they were trying to describe, as they were trying to describe, what we needed as our next leader in MMSD to truly give all the remarkable opportunities for our students who are receiving any kind of special needs services. And I'm just telling you, she's been dynamic. And it was very conformational for myself, when a parent said, ‘Hey, Dr. Jenkins, you heard us, and we have the right leader.’ What does that mean to you, Dr. Molfenter?
01:46 Dr. Molfenter: Well, I am truly honored to be the Associate Superintendent of Student Services with the Madison Metropolitan School District. This is beyond a dream job for me, not only because of the position, but because of the values of this school district, and what we are working to accomplish together across the district.
02:08 Dr. Jenkins: Wow, and you heard that title, right? Associate. Associate Superintendent. And that's one of the things that parents say, hey, we need someone elevated at the point and who could be at the table. And she also sits at the cabinet level, in on many conversations in the infancy. We think about all of our students – and thinking about all, really, truly means all. And I like to also say, our students with disabilities and new abilities. During the pandemic, we really found out our most resilient students may have been our students who are receiving services from our special needs department. Talk about that a little bit, and what you've seen in our students in terms of their resiliency, and the staff that you having to now supervise.
02:50 Dr. Molfenter: Sure. So we have across our school district, a truly incredibly dedicated, talented and highly skilled set of special education staff. That includes our special education teachers, we call them CC or cross categorical, special education teachers, and special education assistants. Some districts call those paraprofessionals – we use special education assistant as the title. And we had from the moment that the pandemic caused our school district to begin to provide services virtually, we had staff at all levels – Early Childhood, Elementary, Middle, High School and transition services – kick into action, and develop ways of connecting with students via Zoom, via the telephone, texting, whatever worked for the scholars, and setting up ways to provide paper materials for scholars who needed them. Anything that people needed, our staff went to students’ homes and took materials. I had staff who worked with chalk on the sidewalk with students outside when they couldn't be together, all in an effort to keep our students engaged. And many of our students, we found, returned to us – while they needed to adjust, like, just, like all of us did to being back in person – had not lost as much in terms of skills that as, we as we had feared, because our staff worked so hard during that time period.
04:27 Dr. Jenkins: Right. And we all know across the country, it was very much fear that our students, definitely with disabilities, our most marginalized students, our black and brown students, are the students who are definitely going to be impacted the most. And to find some success stories during this time, even though we know a lot of students were really impacted, and we’re still reeling today to try to accelerate some of that, to recover some of the things that were lost. But as you heard Dr. Molfenter say, we had a number of success stories. And we'll talk about the success stories here in a minute. But I want to know a little bit, uh, as I talk to parents, and they talk about IEPs. And some parents are very familiar with the IEP, some parents are not. And our team, I've seen your team get in and just beat it up And talk to us about the IEPs, and this whole idea about anti-racist IEPs, it’s like this thing and it's gotten out there. Even my colleagues are asking me about it. Tell me how you all are digging in, interrogating, and making sure we get the students what they need.
05:30 Dr. Molfenter: Absolutely. So, we pride ourselves in MMSD on making sure that parents are a part of the process – parents, and other family members, and caregivers – are a part of the IEP process. We… last year hired a Family Ombudsperson in Student Services. And she helps work with our families to make sure that if they have questions, they can get their questions answered, providing education to families across the district. In fact, we have an event that's happening just tonight for families to provide them with resources. And in addition to our Family Ombudsperson Anna Moffitt, we also have a program support teacher at every school, who is a special education leader to help answer questions for families and scholars on the IEP process. And then in addition, we have an assistant director of Student Services, who is also available to any family member or caregiver who reaches out to them. And I'm always happy to take calls and answer questions and meet with people, as well. In terms of our anti-racist IEP project, it started in the midst of the pandemic when we were virtual. And we had been for a long time in Madison, like many other districts in the state and across the country, grappling with our disproportionality. We have, um, disproportionality in terms of special education, identification; but also outcomes for our scholars of color, and particularly our scholars who identify as Black. And so what we decided to do in MMSD, was to create tools for teachers and IEP teams to use, to work toward having all of our IEPs for our black and brown scholars be anti-racist. And a very critical part of that process is engaging family members and caregivers and asking them along with our scholars: ‘Does this IEP look anti-racist to you? Does it read anti racist? Does it feel, it feel anti racist? Is it capturing your strengths and your goals for your life that we are supporting you to accomplish?’
07:46 Dr. Jenkins: Wow, so you’re tell me, our core goals, our values, talks about belonging and talks about voice, right? [Absolutely.] Talk about social justice and equity. So you’re actually putting that into play, in an IEP, the family members can say how it feels to them. [Absolutely.] Wow, that's, that's really powerful. And I just tell you, I am so proud to know that we're doing that type of work in our district. But before you even came on board, right, we had parents communicating. We have Madtown Mommas, yeah, I think probably know that group, right. And one of my favorite people in the district was probably the one calling the most and really advocating, not even for her own child. She was advocating almost like an attorney, and not an advocate, but an attorney for everyone else, and as well versed as anyone. And that's Martha. Can you tell us a little bit about Madtown Mommas and what does that mean, Madtown Moms?
08:43 Dr. Molfenter: Sure, I definitely can. Madtown Mommas is a group of passionate parents and family members who, anytime that a parent or family member has questions about the IEP process or the services, or just how their child is doing, and they can, they can contact the Madtown Mommas, they have a Facebook page, they have an email address, they offer up their phone numbers. And they've been working closely with our Family Ombudsperson, and myself, and the Assistant Directors of Student Services. I genuinely appreciate Martha, as well as the other Madtown Mommas representatives, because they let us know when something's not right for a child. [Mmhmm] And when something's not right for a child, or family member in our school district, we want to help resolve the issues. That's our goal. Our goal is to work together for the best possible outcome for each scholar in our school district. So I just have, I genuinely have and will continue to appreciate working closely with them. When Martha calls me or emails me I know that it's because she cares. And I know that we can work together to come to a resolution. Um, we've had some really great successes. And I believe we will continue to do that. So I appreciate that they're in our community. And even beyond Madison, they go beyond Madison as well. But I just, I appreciate knowing we consider ourselves – every staff person in this district – considers ourselves an advocate for scholars. And we appreciate having community partners who do the same thing.
10:21 Dr. Jenkins: Yeah, definitely. Community partners make a big difference here in the Madison Metropolitan School District. And when I first arrived, I tell you, we had a situation with a parent that did not feel like, and I would honestly say, we probably did not meet their needs to that level. And Martha was involved, I was involved, and we just did not pull it off, and I’ll tell you that was one of – even to this day – that's still one of my saddest experiences. Because we want to serve all of our children. And I tell you, similar situation, since you've been here, and the way that your team, you have communicated. And I've heard from parents, you know, when we don't communicate; but now I hear from parents to whom we do communicate. And I just want to tell you how much I appreciate that. And it's been a number of things that have been challenges. But I've seen a lot of opportunities, and you all have risen to the occasion, that I really appreciate it. I want to talk a little bit about Project Search. I had a chance to go to the graduation. And oh, my goodness. This year, we had an opportunity to have what, maybe you want to talk about Jomar a little bit more than I do. We had a special speaker to open up for our staff at the beginning of the year. And I don't think there was a dry in the house. But when we talk about lead to liberate, we mean everyone having an opportunity. Talk about that just a little bit, in the Project Search, and how do we come about that, and tell the impact that he had on our staff?
11:46 Dr. Molfenter: Absolutely. Well, Project Search is definitely one of our transition programs that we are incredibly proud of. We, as a school district, had the first Project Search program in the state. And it was in collaboration that we, we work with our UW-Madison Hospital, and also with the Veterans Memorial Hospital. And we, it's a national and international program to train scholars with an IEP and barriers to employment on different jobs so that they can ultimately have a job that pays minimum wage or higher. The majority of our Project Search graduates have jobs that pay $15 an hour plus in the community. And that's the goal. And so, at the graduation, in August, Dr. Jenkins and I, and a number of other staff members had the pleasure of seeing one of their keynote speakers who was an intern and scholar with the district at the time, a Project Search intern – that's what we call them – and scholar with a district who presented and talked about his story. So then, we had Jomar speak at our Welcome Back for our staff this year, in August. And Jomar is a scholar who struggled with some mental health challenges. He's open about that. He also was an English learner - English language learner - when he arrived in the district, and didn't always feel like he had a place in school, before he came to MMSD and during. And Project Search really gave him what he describes as a family, and the kind of support and training that he needed to be successful in life. Jomar now holds a job at the University of Wisconsin Hospital & Clinics. And Project Search staff get to see him; when I go visit the hospital, I always try to stop in and say hi to Jomar, and other people do the same thing. But he, I think he, he shared with us his life philosophy. And I think it's something that everyone in the district thinks about from time to time. I know I do, which is just everybody needs to bring out their sparkle every day. So no matter what we're going through, or what kind of work we have to accomplish, bring out our sparkle. And I know Dr. Jenkins, you talk a lot about leading with humanity. And I believe that that's what, what Jomar means when he says ‘bring out your sparkle’ to lead with humanity and bring kindness and caring to others. [Yeah] And he does that, he sets a wonderful example for us all.
14:16 Dr. Jenkins: He really is, and he's so inspiring. And he challenged our staff, and he told us, he knew because he knew what our staff did for him, but he could do for others and that we could do it. And this is the year that we're gonna have a breakthrough in MMSD. And we're leading to liberate. So we see students like Jomar, and others, and we see programs like Project Search, we're so excited about the possibilities for our future. But I'll tell you one of the probably brightest students in our district, if not in our state, I know you know who I'm talking about, right? Leani. Talk about Leani and then the special technology that we have. When we talk about lead to liberate, don't underestimate anyone, because anything is possible. And if you just have one conversation with this young lady you realize, like, whatever you thought that couldn't happen, erase it. Leani is like, inspirational and a real teacher. Talk about her a little bit.
15:09 Dr. Molfenter: Absolutely. So Leani is a scholar in our school district who is currently in second grade. She has very complex medical needs. And I can tell you as a 30-plus-year veteran educator that just a few short years ago, and outside of districts like Madison Metropolitan School District, scholars who have the same kinds of complex medical needs as Leani, don't really get an opportunity to be at school. But, we are living in a world of technology. MMSD has embraced that technology. And one of our projects during the pandemic, that grew was called Mission Possible. And it's robots on a mission. So we have robot technology that we use in MMSD. Leani is one of our scholars who uses that technology, so she can participate in school every day with her peers from home. She also has eye gaze technology. And in addition to being one of the most brilliant second graders that I've ever known, she also is one of the most proficient people that I've ever met with eye gaze technology. So that means that she has a screen above her head, in bed, she spends most of her time in bed at home, because of her complex medical needs. But she communicates using eye gaze technology; she engages in her classes using eye gaze technology; she talks to her peers and her teachers; and she is a champion speller at her school in second grade. So we are incredibly proud of Leani, and her hard work. She also, this year, she has started a new challenge for herself, and she will not take any breaks. She loves music, she loves to listen to music, and she loves to make her robot dance at school and participate in any other recreational activities going on. But she will not take a break until her work is done. And even when her teachers tell her it's okay to take a break, she won't until her work is done. So I'm looking forward to seeing where she goes in her life. She's gonna go far.
17:25 Dr. Jenkins: Most definitely not to tell you what's so liberating about Leani too, her ability to just see all people as people. She had one of her friends actually, during the time of the pandemic, and just when we can begin to come back in person with one another, one of her friends came over, at school, really monitoring and watching her when she can get out during those activities, but the way that she can just inspire people to just be better people. And I just love just everything about Leani and what she has done for us. And I say to you, Dr. Molfenter, we have accomplished quite a bit in your short time and I know we're looking to really do a lot more. And I just say to all of our parents, if you know that you want some more assistance, please reach out to Dr. Molfenter, reach out to Madtown Mommas, reach out to us here in MMSD, because we are here for you. We thank you for listening in again this week. And we look forward to more conversations about how our scholars – all of our scholars – are doing in MMSD. Have a great day.
18:35 Student Speaker: You're listening to Lead to Liberate, a podcast by the Madison Metropolitan School District demonstrating how the more we know the more we grow.
Guest: Dr. Kristen Guetschow
00:12 Dr. Carlton D. Jenkins: Hello, and welcome to Lead to Liberate. How about that music? I love that music. I am Dr. Carlton D. Jenkins, and I am your podcast host. Yes, the Superintendent of Madison Metropolitan School District, one of the finest school districts in the country, here on Lead to Liberate. What we do, we go behind the scenes with some of our employees. And they actually tell you how they are leading to liberate. Today's guest, is just like the guest of the past: She has a lot to say. During the pandemic, over the last 30 months, she's been at the forefront, very much back behind the scene, but very much holding us together. I'm telling you, as we've all had our different shares of challenges, she's been right there. Yes. The one and only Dr. Kristen Guetschow. So, Dr. Guetschow. How are you today?
00:59: Dr. Kristen Guetschow: I'm great. Thanks for the invitation to be here today. I really appreciate it.
01:02: Dr. Jenkins: Yeah, glad to have you here. And given all that you've been doing over the last 30 months. And I know for us, it's been kind of like, a little shaky, but everyone expects you -- because you've been holding everybody together [laughter]. How are you? Okay, how are you? Really?
01:15: Dr. Guetschow: You know, I'm definitely doing okay. I think that we're in a space where we're coming through some really rough times as individuals and as a district. And I think that every day, I'm seeing signs of stability, and hope, and moving forward. And that is just what brings me, the um, I think when any of us have hope that's going to help us move forward and figure out what comes next. And this is just a great time to feel where we can see those seeds really have been planted and starting to come to fruition.
01:47: Dr. Jenkins: Yeah. And I tell you, Dr. Guetschow, behind the scenes -- like you've been through multiple superintendents, right now? Over these last 30 months, I think we could probably say we've had three superintendents, right? At least three superintendents last 30 months, and you've seen other leadership changes. The pandemic? So many things that we've talked about internationally, right? [Mmhmm.] What's happening with our students, with our staff, with our families, what have been some of those things that you pushed in on to lead to liberate, to ensure that we get some sense of stability [mmhmm] amongst our students, our staff, and our families to be able to help them make it through these challenging times?
02:24: Dr. Guetschow: I think one of the things that we've done really early on was to recognize that there were mental health challenges that were associated with the physical health challenges. And I think, Dr. Jenkins, you were a key advocate and cheerleader for talking about the whole child from the very beginning. And I think that because of that, we've been able to have conversations about what our students, and our staff, and our families need. As a community, what we need to figure out how to bring that stability back from a time that was just unprecedented in multiple ways, right? We know that we were dealing with physical health challenges. But we also know there are other pandemics, where we were bringing to light, the challenges that our students, and staff, and other family, other community members experienced through discrimination, through health inequities. And we really need to grapple with that in the ongoing fashion in order to figure out how to continue emerging from this time.
03:22: Dr. Jenkins: Wow, you're exactly right. And you happen to sit on the Metrics team, our medical metrics team. Well, we are not only just talking about the social justice issues [mmhmm] that were going on during the time, but we were also talking about vaccinations hesitancy, and we’re trying to just balance it, because it wasn't that people just didn't want to take the vaccinations. Right? And what how did you help manage that? And what were you hearing, to best position us as a district to keep moving forward?
03:50: Dr. Guetschow: So I think one of the things that we just really talked about early on as a district is that, you know, we know some things to help us get through. Even though we've never been through a pandemic, we've certainly know what it means to create stability for students or families who are going through traumatic experiences, right? [Mmhmm] So we knew that communication was important. We knew that hope was important. We knew that relationships were and are important. We know that we need our students to have a sense of hope and a future. So we knew that there were elements that needed to be part of what we were thinking about were key to move forward through this challenging time. And we had to do it together. So while each of us experienced the last 30 months in a different way, in some ways, it was a universal experience. But it all affected us very differently. And we have to recognize that we need to take care of all of us to make sure that we're all moving forward to make sure that our students are becoming those amazing scholars that we know they can be.
04:46: Dr. Jenkins: Right exactly. I tell you even though this is the pandemic, and we had so many losses, so many lives lost, this is one of my proudest moments as an educator. As I saw us come together now as a school, but as a community. And really truly, you know, as a country, in the world, and say, ‘Hey, we have to lean in together,’ [mmhmm]. And but now, doing this in a virtual space, you know? And so, were there other things created, so that students or staff, how do we pour into protecting the mental health? Because during these times, isolation really began to set in all of us. I'm telling you, I am just as guilty, I was impacted, didn't realize how much I needed to be with staff, students, and the community. So what are things that you do to try to address that?
05:33: Dr. Guetschow: Yeah, we really recognized early on that our, we had an opportunity to really lead with the social-emotional learning, and universal supports that all of our students needed. So our teachers, our student services staff, did an amazing job of really thinking about how do we make sure we're teaching math and we're teaching coping skills, right? [Mmhmm] That's been a MMSD strategy for a long time. And we were able to translate that virtually. And now, of course, as we come back into our community. And first and foremost, as we come back, how do we build and rebuild that community, you know, those relationships are key. [mmhmm] And we know that, we just did, have the whole child thrive, we need to make sure that they're in a place of safety, where they see themselves, they see that they are loved and cared for and seen, for everything that they are, the strengths and the challenges that they bring day to day, and that tomorrow's a new day. And that we continue to build our community, through those relationships, through that community. And then our, our children, and our families, and our staff thrive that way, too. We know that it wasn't just our children who were struggling, the adults were as well.
06:39: Dr. Jenkins: Yeah. And that's something I appreciate you always keep the adults in it as well. And something that we've all had to learn. It's not just our students, it's the adults. They're healthy, they can take care of our students. And as you mentioned, we're emerging now, out of the pandemic, but we still have some characteristics from a mental standpoint that we're all trying to address. We have a program, bouncing back? [laughter] Talk, talk to me a little bit about bouncing back, because now as I’m out at the schools, and I get that language from the students. [Yep, yep, that’s right.] . So what are they talking about, the elementary students know about bouncing back. What's this going on?
07:14: Dr. Guetschow: Oh, yeah. So we, we have a number of different initiatives through our elementary, middle, and high schools, where we do universal screening for trauma exposure and symptoms, and Bounce Back is one of them. [OK] And so we really find out from our teachers, where they might find some students that they're feeling worried about. And also we ask them about what their strengths are, right? So for all, it's mostly third graders, we say, you know, how are things going for your classroom? And where are some places of challenge? And where are some places of strength? And then some of our students who are needing something a little bit extra, we have a 10 week bounce back group that we co-lead with therapists from the community with our student services team members, and students learn all kinds of coping skills that they love. The adults who are teaching it love. And like you said, very often, they'll come out into the school environment and say, you know, use some of these strengths or use some of these skills, and let people know that they're, you know, teaching, teaching someone coming in there, their new breathing technique, right?
08:17: Dr. Jenkins: Right! That’s what I was learning with the kids! Right, yeah, yeah.
08:21: Dr. Guetschow: Yeah, you know, so this is, this is how you do, you know, this type of breathing, you know, this is a volcano breath, you know, all kinds of all the ways [All of that] Exactly. So this is one of the places that bring me a lot of hope -- is that we are teaching our students skills that they are applying young, and then they're teaching the grown-ups in their lives how to use these skills. And I really think that, you know, for all the challenges that are out there, our, our students are coming up with more in their back pocket for tools in their toolkit to manage whatever comes next. Right? We don't know what the next stressful events going to be in anyone's individual life, in our community, in our society. But I really believe that our kids are resilient. They've been taught some skills, they've been applying these skills. And that gives me a lot of excitement about how they're going to be able to kind of become their best beings moving forward.
09:13: Dr. Jenkins: Well, I really want to thank you for the bouncing back because a student really helped me. [laughter] After we were going through tough negotiations, I'm in a building, and I see one of our scholars in the hall, and I'm asking what he's doing. And he was telling me about these breathing techniques. [laughter] I said, ‘Where did you get this from?’ So he said, ‘This is what we're learning.’ So he started to show me [Yeah]. And I told him that, you know, I know it, because I go through some of these stresses, we were just finishing negotiations. Now I'm talking to a third grader, right? And he’s ‘Oh! You could do it as well. This is all you have to do.’ And I just started laughing. That's okay. I have to get into the Bounce Back program.
09:43: Dr. Guetschow: That’s right. We have to, we have to know where we find our teachers in life. And often it’s them.
09:48: Dr. Jenkins: So I'm hoping when he graduates I can hire him right here in the district someday in the future, you know. [laughter] But I tell you, it's been a lot though. Because not only have the students with their social-emotional and mental health. Staff, as you said. But then our families, and then we have a lot of multi-generational families within our community. So we stayed out longer with virtual, and then coming back and we're still seeing residuals. And…But we do see the excitement of being back in person now. People want to be back, but we have to kind of help them. What are we doing in our schools? And how do students know how they can reach out to someone? How would…I'm a parent? [Yeah] My child is not successful right now. For whatever reason, or I don't even want to say successful, they’re just having challenges communicating. Who do we reach to? How do we reach to them? What are the programs that we may have?
10:38: Dr. Guetschow: Yeah, I'm thrilled you asked that question, because I get a chance to promote our amazing student services staff [mmhmm]. We have highly-trained mental health professionals in each of our schools. We have school psychologists, school social workers, school counselors, our nurses, and, and you know, all the interactions that our teachers and others have every day. We've got lots of people that are there to support our kids as a whole child, right? Not just to learn reading, although that’s important, is to make sure that they've got all the skills they need to be successful in life. And I would really say that families should start with who they have a relationship with. It could be the teacher, it could be calling the school and asking for an opportunity to talk to the school psychologist or school social worker, and really expressing you know, where your concerns are. Really getting a chance to hear where your child's thriving, but also, like, to problem solve together, because you are the expert of your child, as a parent, and we have some expertise that we can, like, walk alongside you with. And I really think that that combination together, you just can't beat - between the expertise of the parent and the expertise of the school, I really think that amazing things can happen.
And then they can really help navigate what the next things are. So it might be that there's something right in school that can get a support, because we have lots of programs, and partnerships with outside community agencies. And also, there's, there's lots of other places that we can, can get connected with for support. For example, we just contracted with an agency called Care Solace, [mmhmm] and we'll put the link on the podcast page. So Care Solace is a great program that we have that can really support our families, our students, their families, staff and their families to really manage the complexities of navigating mental health in the community. We know that it takes multiple phone calls to find a right therapist or right support out in the community. And it's just an opportunity that families or staff folks or students can look to navigate mental health resources within their webpage, but also to talk to a live, real live person to help make some of those phone calls and help get connected to resources in the community. So we just know that, that managing your family's health and mental health care can be a real challenge. And it's just one more resource that we have available to staff and families.
12:58: Dr. Jenkins: Wow, that's awesome. I tell you going through these times, we know that our most marginalized families, our families who are multi generational, we know the impact, the real impact on black and brown families, our families with students with special needs. It's real. [mmhmm] So what I often hear from families, how do we connect? And how do we get therapists -- individuals who perhaps look like us – is, what are we doing in MMSD? You know, that's, that's a real deal in relationships. [It is] So what do we have?
13:32: Dr. Guetschow: Yeah, it's a real deal. So, a couple things. One is just recognizing that it is a real deal, right, of naming that. The second is, we're continuing to work with our community partners, right? So some of this was something that we can work on within MMSD, and some of it is, you know, how do we work on it as a whole community. And even beyond that, this is a national issue. We are applying for some grants that really work to diversify our staff. And so that is part of our long-term planning with some grow your own projects. And we also are doing, there's some small but important things. Like, we've hired a Spanish-speaking Mental Health Navigator. So we’ve got someone that can support families in managing those mental health navigation needs out in the community and getting them connected to resources, so that language isn't a barrier. We hired a mental health BRS, so a bilingual resource specialist, who can really support in taking down all the language barriers that exist around accessing mental health resources. So small but important pieces that we're doing, both in our some of our programs in expanding, as well as really looking to diversify our staff. And then it just really we need to continue to grapple with this as a community, as a nation, that we have a real shortage of mental health professionals nationwide, and we really need to target diversifying our mental health professionals as we go. And families should be really comfortable, really continuing to look for resources that feel comfortable to them, right? You're not going to benefit if you don't feel like it's the right match. And so to keep looking until you find the right person for you and your family, either at school or in the community.
15:21: Dr. Jenkins: Yes, that's real talk, for real people. Because as we're trying to lead to liberate, we want to make sure that voice is important. We want to make sure that belonging, part of our core values are there. And I'm just very proud of some of the work that we'll continue to do in our Student Services area. And I have to say, right here, Dr. Guetschow, she is very humble, and did not know that I was going to say this. But she's well thought of throughout the state, she but because she's so humble, she tries to be quiet about it, but I'm going to brag on you for a moment. Everyone knows that you don't only help in our district, you help others throughout the state, you help with DPI, you do a lot of things like that. How do you manage to keep yourself together with all that's on your plate? [laughter]
16:10 Dr. Dr. Guetschow: Oh, my gosh, well, that, you know, this is like, talking about the personal is a lot harder than talking…
16:18 Dr. Jenkins: Yes, it is, see. [laughter]. She could talk about everyone else. She was doing fine. Did you hear that? Did you just see that? That's why I had to bring it out here. [that’s right]. She will not talk about herself.
16:28: Dr. Guetschow: Well, I practice what I preach, I surround myself with really an amazing team who will keep me humble and keep me motivated and give me hope. And I really, the work that our staff do every single day to support all of our families - and the work that my team does - and when I see what our individual students and families are doing every day, I just know that we have work that is taking hold, and I, it brings me excitement. And I know that tomorrow's a new day and we try again. So I think that it's complex work. But I know that each step we're taking is in taking the step in the right direction that just keep advocating for our students and families. And that keeps me going every day.
17:10: Dr. Jenkins: Wow, well, I really appreciate it. We've had a long history in MMSD of just outstanding individuals in this department. And Kerry Stampfli, one of your close [mmhmm], close [yep] colleagues who had stepped up in the road, and the void, and she's also going to stay with the department here, with the district. What has it been like you two? You've been like tag-teaming, running together? Like, what's that like with you and Kerry Stampfli?
17:40: Dr. Guetschow: Yeah, so I, you know, this, this is my 25th year in the school district. And I would say, you know, that is one of the key strategies that I've had each year -- is that I've there are, you know, multiple other staff people that I learned something from every single day, and Kerry is absolutely one of those folks. [mmhmm, right] So mostly, I just feel so grateful to have someone that we just can sit down and talk about where things are going on in our hearts, and where things are going on in our heads so we can problem solve. And we can have sympathy and empathy for each other as we're figuring out what can be hard things. And you know, also we are MMSD employees, and we're also humans that have families, and other challenges, and, you know. So it's nice to have someone that can be a friend and a colleague, to recognize someone as a whole person. Like we like to look at our students, right to also look at our colleagues that way as well. But yeah, incredibly grateful to have someone who just challenges my thinking. And lets me know if I'm in the right path or if I'm not, because that's what you need and in the world is someone that can, can let you know, the good, and the bad, and the ugly. [laughter]
18:57 Dr. Jenkins: Well, I tell you Dr. Guetschow, we really do appreciate you being here today. And I'm glad our listeners had an opportunity to hear you, and to also learn the wonderful things we have going on in MMSD. I am looking forward for not only what you're doing now, but what you're going to do in the future, as we continue to try to be one of those districts that's leading to liberate. I thank you so much for your time. And listeners, we thank you for listening in again. Dr. Guetschow.
Guest: Nicole Carrion Vaughn
0:00:11 Student Speaker: From the Madison Metropolitan School District, this is Lead to Liberate, a podcast documenting stories of inspiration, growth, and empowerment across our schools.
0:00:27 Dr. Carlton D. Jenkins: Hello, and welcome to Lead to Liberate. I am Dr. Carlton D. Jenkins, a very proud superintendent here in the Madison Metropolitan School District. I am your host of Lead to Liberate. Today, we have a very fine, very fine teacher with us today who is going to talk about a little bit of her challenges, a little bit of her opportunities, and why she chose to leave where she was and come here to Madison Metropolitan School District. We have with us today, Ms. Nicole Carrion Vaughn.
0:00:57 Nicole Carrion Vaughn: Hello.
0:00:58 Dr. Jenkins: Hello. How are you doing? [laughter]
0:01:00 Nicole Carrion Vaughn: I am doing alright.
0:01:00 Dr. Jenkins: How are you doing? Okay. I'm just so ready to get going with you here. But tell us a little bit, how are you doing? You know, the last 30 months going through a pandemic, here you are not a native of Wisconsin, if we have it correct? You actually...can you tell us a little bit where you come from, and why did you choose to come to Madison Metropolitan School District [oh man] to start in your career?
0:01:26 Nicole Carrion Vaughn: Oh, man. I'll try to make it as, I guess, brief as possible. So, I'm originally from Manhattan, New York. My whole family's from New York. [Mmhmm] But I ended up moving when I was about three- or four-years-old to Alabama. So I grew up there, and went through the Mobile Public School system there, elementary, middle, and high. And ended up going to my undergrad there, which was the University of South Alabama. Got my Bachelor's in Music Performance as well as Music Education. And then when I was about to go into grad school, I was trying to think of different places I wanted to go. I didn't really want to stay in Alabama at all. So I auditioned at USC in California, auditioned at Boston Conservatory. Auditioned at the Georgia Southern University, and a couple other places. And so I ended up going to Georgia Southern, which is where my now husband went and finished his graduate degree. And by about, I think about six months in, I ended up losing my TA-ship because of a merger between Georgia Southern University and Emory University. And so I was kind of in this rut. I wasn't sure if I wanted to continue with my Master's at this point. You know, I had already kind of gone through like, at least six months and I was like, ‘Ah, you know, I don't know if I can continue with this.’
0:02:46 Nicole Carrion Vaughn: But then I ended up getting a call from a close friend of mine who was the professor at UW-Madison for flutists. And he was like, ‘Hey, you know, I've heard that you're looking for a new Master's program.’ And I was like, ‘Well, yeah, kind of. You know, I'm not sure.’ He was like, ‘Okay, I need you to get on a plane. I need you to come and audition, and we're gonna get you squared away.’ And I was like, ‘Uh, are you sure?’ He's like, ‘I need to see you here, in like February.’ And I was like, ‘Okay, great.’ So I came, auditioned. Within 30 minutes, they were like, ‘Yeah, so you've already been accepted, so we're gonna go ahead and take care of your needs, whatever TA-ship we can get you, we'll get you one.’ And so I ended up going and getting my Master's here in Flute Pedagogy as well as performance. At this point then, this was, I wanna say probably December 2019, was when we were starting to kind of slowly start to shut down a little [mmhmm] because of COVID, and I'm getting ready to graduate in like five months, and I receive an email from somebody in an MMSD saying, "Hey, we're looking for educators to fill the spot at Jefferson Middle School. We know that you haven't applied, but we're reaching out to see if you would be willing to do so."
0:04:03 Nicole Carrion Vaughn: And so I was like, ‘You know, this is great. I'd love to teach, but I have still, like, five months left of grad school. There's no way with my schedule, I'd be able to come in and teach.’ And so they were like, ‘Okay, well, we'll reach out to you in five months.’ And I was like, ‘Okay, you know, whatever. They're not actually going to.’ I was planning on trying to find a different job at this point. And then five months later, in April, I get an email from Mr. Larry Love, and he's like, ‘Hey, I heard...are you still willing to come and interview for this job?’ I was like, ‘This, this is…’ I'm strong in my faith. And I'm like, ‘God must be playing with me. Okay, let me go ahead and [laughter] see what this is all about.’ And so I said, ‘Sure, you know, I'd apply.’ So I applied and they were like, ‘Okay, we'd love for you to come in and interview.’ And so I came, and interviewed, and the next day they were like, ‘Would you like the job?’ I was like, ‘Sure.’ So it was kind of just like handed to me on a silver platter, it almost felt, felt like. So that's how I kind of ended up here. Long journey, but...
0:05:06 Dr. Jenkins: Yeah. Long journey. [laughter] I'll tell you. From New York to Alabama to here.
0:05:10 Nicole Carrion Vaughn: Oh, yeah.
0:05:10 Dr. Jenkins: And I just tell you, having gone to school in Mobile, Alabama, that's quite something as well. My roommate, Mississippi Valley State University too, was from Mobile.
0:05:21 Nicole Carrion Vaughn: Oh, okay.
0:05:21 Dr. Jenkins: And we used to talk about the education system. But I will just tell you, Ms. Carrion Vaughn, we're excited to have you. And now, as we're recruiting and trying to retain staff, we often hear, it's hard to recruit individuals from Down South, and it's hard to keep them here. [Mmhmm] But you've had quite the story. So how's it going for you so far? Let's do that first.
0:05:42 Nicole Carrion Vaughn: So far in MMSD, well, I'll start at my school. I am really blessed to be able to work with, you know, the students that I do have. I will say I've had a lot of challenges, specifically at the school that I'm working at. Just, with overall, dealing with your typical behaviors and things like that. But the, I guess the blessing in disguise is that I get to teach a little over two-thirds of the school [mmm] as a music teacher.
0:06:12 Dr. Jenkins: Okay. Okay.
0:06:14 Nicole Carrion Vaughn: And so even when I don't teach the other third of the students, they somehow find me.
0:06:19 Dr. Jenkins: Wow.
0:06:20 Nicole Carrion Vaughn: And they somehow know me. [Wow] And so, um, you know, they’ve, the students will try and test my buttons here and there, whatever, and they'll see what they can get away with and see what they can't get away with. But what they don't know is, I grew up differently from them.
0:06:35 Dr. Jenkins: Right, Right.
0:06:37 Nicole Carrion Vaughn: So, the way that I grew up in the South, it was all about respect. [Right] It was all about making sure that you're holding yourself to a high standard. [Right] You don't have to have somebody else trying to push you to hold up to that standard.
0:06:46 Dr. Jenkins: Wow.
0:06:47 Nicole Carrion Vaughn: And um, so I take that and I put that in my teaching. And I tell my students, ‘Hey, I've asked you to do X, Y, Z. I'm gonna continue to push you to do X, Y, Z. I'm not gonna let you slide from that. You're gonna do it eventually. [Mmhmm] Whether you don't want to do it right now, that's up to you.’
0:07:02 Dr. Jenkins: Wow.
0:07:02 Nicole Carrion Vaughn: But just know that regardless, I'm gonna hold you to the standard. [Right] And they'll be like, ‘Oh, but Ms. Vaughn, Ms. Vaughn, I don't wanna do it.’ I was like, ‘I know. Sometimes I don't wanna get up outta bed and go to work, but sometimes I have to.’
0:07:12 Dr. Jenkins: Right.
0:07:13 Nicole Carrion Vaughn: Most times, all the time I have to, unless I'm sick. So, you know, and I try to kind of instill that into them. And so the other students hear a little bit about it, and then they're trying to come and be buddy-buddy with me. I'm like, ‘Look, don't be buddy-buddy until you come into my classroom. You might feel differently.’
0:07:28 Dr. Jenkins: [laughter] Right. Right. Right.
0:07:30 Nicole Carrion Vaughn: But yeah, no, so it's definitely a little different coming from the south, coming to here. I tend to notice that from when I was in school, students didn't really have a choice. [Right] Like, you do this, you do as I say, not as I do. Up here it seems as though with the students, I've seen the students have a little more leeway. They tend to kind of get to do whatever they want do and kind of skirt by it. But, you know, I kind of try to bring in the mix and like, ‘Look, okay. I'm a music teacher. I'm totally okay with, you know, teaching you whatever you want learn, but we've gotta do this. This is a partnership. [Wow] This isn't a one-way. I'm not gonna be a dictator. You're not gonna do whatever you want because you're 12. So, [laughter] we're gonna work together. You tell me something that you want to learn. You get to follow some of these rules – get to, you don't have to, you get to – follow some of these rules, [right] and we'll work together and create a community.’ That's how it should be. Learning is a part of, it's a community, it's not just a, it’s not a lecture. It's a community where we can learn from each other. And so I think coming from the south and coming up here, having those two differences, and being able to kind of blend that together is pretty cool.
0:08:48 Dr. Jenkins: Wow. So this is actually your third year, correct?
0:08:51 Nicole Carrion Vaughn: This is my third year here. Yes.
0:08:35 Dr. Jenkins: Yeah. And let me tell you, over the last 30 months, going through the pandemic, historic, right? Here I am 30-plus years, and individuals who've been around, this shook us up in the world.
0:09:05 Nicole Carrion Vaughn: Oh, yeah.
0:09:06 Dr. Jenkins: And then you came in the midst of a pandemic, a dual pandemic must we have, right? [Mmhmm] You're dealing with the health pandemic and then you dealing with the public lynching of Mr. Floyd up in the Twin Cities. [Mmhmm] And as I was going around the schools, because we were just coming back into the schools, and knowing that students were socially, emotionally, mentally at a different level, they had been in isolation. I'm walking around in schools, I guess I should tell everybody how we met. [chuckle] And students are trying to re-engage, staff trying to re-engage. Students are tired, staff tired, and I'm offering a little support, to staff. But when I went in this one class, the students were engaged, and the teacher had on this particular [laughter] kind of clothing [laughter] and looking funny. But the students were all there, and the respect in the class, just how you described it, the blend between who our students are – because our core values, we believe in voice, we believe in belonging. But you know, the thing that you did was really more of a Goal Two for us, in terms of a thriving environment. I saw students who we traditionally, during this time last year, we’re seeing struggling. We were seeing them struggle. They were engaged. They looked at you with a lot of respect. And mind you, to our listening audience, she was only a second-year teacher at this point, but had the maturity of a veteran teacher. And that was amazing. So as we're moving forward, and we're talking about the arts, that's another thing. You had them engaged in the arts, in which we know the arts are going to be a big part of how we're moving forward. So, tell us now that you've been going through the pandemic, and students are back. What's the difference this year versus last year with the energy level?
0:11:07 Nicole Carrion Vaughn: Well, it's a little, it’s a little complicated. Last year, obviously, you know, the students were finally back in the classroom, and so they were excited to finally see their friends and physically be in a space where, um, they could be around people, which is something that was very difficult, of course, for me and I'm 27-years-old, for kids who are 11, 12, 13, can't be around their friends. That was something that was really amazing to see, was just how they lit up. But, you know, they're finally in that routine now. They're back at school. [Mmhmm] They're kind of figuring out where their place is. And I think the energy that I'm seeing now in comparison to last year is, the students are...the students do want to learn, they want to come in. There’s, you know, if I'm going to be honest, there's some things that students still have to figure out, [mmhmm] such as like how we actually engage with each other. Maybe ways that they're talking to each other. Those are opportunities for learning, for sure. I've seen a little more, I guess negatives on that side, but the positives as far as the engagement and the learning is concerned, they are engaging. They are asking questions.
They're finally feeling comfortable enough to raise their hand and say, ‘Ms. Vaughn, what did you say about your musical theater? Like, where did it start again?’ Trying to get those, if they were distracted for a moment by talking, trying to get that back. Now, of course, in the moment that might be annoying to a teacher, right? Where you just said it probably three or four times, and then a student who was talking says, ‘Hey, Ms. Vaughn, what'd you say?’ Like, [chuckle] it can be annoying, but at the same time, understanding that these are kids, like they're going to be like that. And of course, I'm going say, ‘Didn't I just say it?’ And they're like, ‘'m sorry Ms. Vaughn, I was just talking.’ I was like, ‘Okay, so then what'd we learn?’ Then they're like, ‘we probably shouldn't talk.’ ‘All right. So then do what you need to do to make sure that you're going to focus.’ And sometimes they'll get up and they'll move. Sometimes, that's something that I've noticed a little that's actually very exciting is that students are actually making that choice for themselves, [wow] to go someplace and sit in a place where there's going to be the least amount of distractions, things like that.
0:13:41 Nicole Carrion Vaughn: This morning I was just talking with a student probably, about 20...no, no, like 10 minutes before class started. They had come upstairs and they were asking a teacher for lotion. And so I was talking to the student who didn't necessarily do too well in my class last quarter. And I looked at him and I was like, ‘Hey.’ He said, ‘Yeah.’ I said, ‘What's something I could do to help you move forward this quarter, maybe boost that grade up? What's something that’s going to help you succeed?’ And he just kind of looked at me and he shrugged his shoulders. So I was like, ‘No, you know, you're a bright kid. Use that brain of yours. That same brain that told you to come upstairs and grab some lotion, use that same brain.’ He's like, ‘I don't know, maybe help me not get distracted.’ I was like, ‘Okay, let's talk about it. What's something that I can do?’ And he started talking to me about, you know, maybe ways that he could be less distracted. And that's something that's been definitely more visible this year in comparison to last year.
0:14:38 Dr. Jenkins: Wow. I tell you, when I'm listening to you, it’s just like an old soul sitting here talking at 27, reaching our students, building relationships, setting expectations, human enough to allow a 11-year-old, a 12-year-old to be at an 11-year-old or a 12-year-old. Everyone wants to get right back at it. That's the way that we've done things – right back at it. But we have to realize social-emotionally, from a mental standpoint, our students are really and truly at this critical age in middle school and we have to establish relationships. This is what I'm hearing you say. This is what I thought last year when I observed you in class, it was the magic. You're putting the magic in the game. And I just wanna say to a lot of veterans, to our listening audience, if you get a chance to go to a concert, to see Ms. Carrion Vaughn’s students perform, you're gonna be amazed. She's an artist, a true artist, but she has the pedigree behind her that she could be anywhere. And we're so pleased to have you in Madison Metropolitan School District. And I must say this to you too, because we keep it real on Lead to Liberate, she's a young African-American female that has just taken control of what's going on by empowering students, not directing them, by empowering them to have voice and to take ownership for their own learning. I thank you so much for being here with us today.
0:16:06 Nicole Carrion Vaughn: Thank you for having me.
0:16:11 Dr. Jenkins: Yes, definitely. Until next week.
0:16:14 Student Speaker: You’re listening to Lead to Liberate, a podcast by the Madison Metropolitan School District, demonstrating how the more we know, the more we grow.
Guest: Corvonn Gaines
0:00:11 Student Speaker: From the Madison Metropolitan School District, this is Lead to Liberate, a podcast documenting stories of inspiration, growth, and empowerment across our schools.
0:00:27 Dr. Carlton D. Jenkins: Wow, I love the music. Hello, I am Dr. Carlton D. Jenkins, the very proud superintendent here of Madison Metropolitan School District, and I'm your host for this podcast. We thank you for listening in to us each and every week. We're going continue to try to bring our staff at MMSD, and talk to them about why they really chose MMSD, and what they're doing to have an impact here with our students, how are they engaged in our families, what are they going to do in the community, and what we hope to see as their legacy as they lead out. Today, I have an opportunity to do something very special. We have one of our very own, we're talking about Randal. Yes, we're talking about James C. Wright. We're talking about West High School. A graduate that's come back to contribute in many ways, Mr. Corvonn Gaines. And so today, welcome to the podcast. How are you doing?
0:01:21 Corvonn Gaines: I'm doing great, Dr. Jenkins. Man, thank you for having me a part of your podcast, I'm looking forward to, you know, building with you and connecting with you.
0:01:27 Dr. Jenkins: Yes, most definitely. We are so excited to have you. When you were named as the athletic director there at West High School, we all said, ‘This is going to be a great fit.’ And what definitely, what it means to all of us is that our Goal One - that students are graduating from high school, ready for college, ready for career, ready for the community - and to have one of our own come back, tell us what does this mean to you?
0:01:53 Corvonn Gaines: Man, this means everything. I'm a product of MMSD. Like you said, I've been through James C. Wright graduated from Madison West. And to come back home, to be a part of the same staff, the same community, that took me under their wing and to give back, that's a dream come true for me.
0:02:08 Dr. Jenkins: Wow. And when we talk about West High School, West is definitely one of our shining schools, not only in the district, but in the state and in the nation. Because we have some of the most outstanding academics coming out of West, year in and year out. [Yeah.] Now, but we also know we have to talk real, that there are challenges, right? And when we see challenges, we see opportunities. And this is why you were selected. So tell me, what do you see at West, and what are you hoping to do here in the near future?
0:02:36 Corvonn Gaines: I feel like this is a great opportunity for me, just to come back. I want the kids to see me in a different light. I want them to see me and say, "Hey, that's Coach Gaines. Look what he done, he's been in our same shoes, same seats, and look how far he's come." And I want kids to see me and say, "Hey, I can do exactly what he's doing and I can make something out of myself." And I want to continue to do that for all the students, and especially our Black and Brown students.
0:03:04 Dr. Jenkins: Wow, that’s, that's powerful. I noticed, I had an opportunity to see you in action. I came over with breakfast for the champions. Tell us about that. What’s that all about?
0:03:12 Corvonn Gaines: Man, so at the high school level, we want to continue to uplift all of our athletes and praise them for their accomplishments. Because after high school, sometimes it's hard, you can be pulled in different directions, a lot of distractions; so we want to continue to make sure that we celebrate all their accomplishments. So we had the ‘Breakfast of Champions.’ A lot of our student leaders were there, it was just a great atmosphere, we had, ah... You were there, Jeremy Schlitz was there. So it was just a powerful movement, I hope we can continue with that for the future, to give our students something to look forward to, and to build upon.
0:03:43 Dr. Jenkins: Yes, I noticed at the ‘Breakfast with Champions,’ you just didn't have athletes. You had a number of students participating. Can you talk to us a little bit about that?
0:03:53 Corvonn Gaines: Yeah, we want to celebrate those co-curriculars as well. We want to bridge that gap where we're all in this together – you have your academics, co-curriculars, and you have your athletes. We wanna continue to bridge that gap, we're all in this together. And we have to continue to uplift one another. That's why we all have jobs for these kids, and they need our support. They need our help. This world is, is moving fast. We're coming off the COVID pandemic, so they need our support and we’ve got to continue to uplift them, and be that bridge that they need.
0:04:22 Dr. Jenkins: Yes, I'll tell you, you mentioned the pandemic, and I thank you for doing that, because over the last 30 months, the co-curricular activities kinda suffered a little bit, not being able to get together. Can you talk about that and what it means to you?
0:04:38 Corvonn Gaines: Oh yeah. So just seeing the kids down, not engaged, it kinda hurt me a little bit because like you said, I'm used to seeing them in a positive light, doing things that they love to do. So when I saw, you know, take away sports from them, and no school, and things like that, it just hurt me a little bit. So now that we were starting to slowly get those things back going, the kids are starting to get excited. But we just gotta continue to make sure that they are engaged in the classroom. Because that's when things can, can go south a little bit, and we want to continue to uplift our kids – that you step into this building, you feel loved, you feel valued, you feel seen. So when you step into the classroom, the teachers can give you that, something that you might not receive all the time. And we have to build those positive relationships that will carry over into the classroom as well as athletically and in co-curriculars.
0:05:26 Dr. Jenkins: Yeah, I'll tell you, it's quite amazing. I watch you interact with the students, and just that whole thing, our core values of ‘Belonging,’ and you truly, like, approach all students with that. And also lifting the ‘Voice’ – another one of our core values. And when we talk about this pandemic, a number of students communicated out to us – isolation didn't go well. The social-emotional piece of that, we saw mental health on the rise, and we saw our students making different choices in schools, that, not that they have never made these choices, but we saw them at a higher number. So last year versus this year, what's the difference in the environment? What do you see?
0:06:07 Corvonn Gaines: I see … we did a lot of work at West, just uplifting our teachers, right, to prepare them for welcoming back our students. And a key thing that we've been working on this year is relationships. You know, you’ve got to be able to build relationships with our students, and especially the students who need it the most. You know, you see a kid walking down the hallway, just pick out something small and say, ‘Hey, I like your shoes.’ ‘Nice hair cut.’ Those small, subtle things will carry over for a long time. Then, when a student is feeling upset, you can approach them easier because you've established a little bit of a relationship with them, and they feel like they can trust you. They might not express it the right way, at the right time because they're going through something, but they will still remember that, ‘Hey, this teacher said I got nice shoes on today,’ and it might make them feel some type of way. And that is the bridge to build that relationship.
0:06:55 Dr. Jenkins: Well, I tell you, Mr. Gaines, here on ‘Lead to Liberate,’ we go right at it, right? We talk about the tough things. Let's talk real right now, you and I, here we are. The listeners, they're looking in. It's just you and I, an African American male graduated from Madison Metropolitan School District. All data says that you may not be sitting where you are right now today. So talk to us, here you are, one of those data points that we've talked about when we look at African American males who may not make it. You have gone through the system. Was it all easy, peaches and cream or what impacted you? What influenced you? And then, what are you going to choose to do for others who look just like you?
0:07:39 Corvonn Gaines: Man, the journey I've been on, it's been hard. But I did have a lot of support. And, you know, I have people in place that help uplift me in times of need. And I want to continue to do that for other students as well. And you, you think about me being a young, you know, African American. Playing sports. All I can think of was – sports is my only way out. [Mmm.] Playing sports, physically. [Mmm.] You don't have to actually throw the football to be a part of athletics. You don't have to shoot the ball in the basket to be a part of athletics. Now, you don't even have to be a coach to be a part of athletics. You could be an administrator doing everything behind the scenes, and still have an impact within sports, and you still feel like you're a part of something.
0:08:26 Corvonn Gaines: So me being a part of the athletic department, kids can see that, ‘Hey, I don't have to be able to shoot a basketball anymore.’ [Mmhmm.] I can do the administrative work, and still be a part of athletics, and still have the same impact on athletics and have the same impact on kids' lives just by doing the admin work. And that's what I want kids to see, that, hey, there's different journeys to make it out. You know. Sports is not the only way. And that's what our young Black men, we always say, "I wanna be NFL, I wanna go to the NBA," That's all we hear. But now there's another avenue when they see me, they say, "Hey, maybe I could be a AD where I, where I'm hiring coaches."
0:09:01 Dr. Jenkins: Wow.
0:09:03 Corvonn Gaines: You know, where you, and you're training coaches to have an impact on those younger kids. So I, I say that is a, you know, thing that I, that motivates me every day, is that I know that kids are watching.
0:09:22 Dr. Jenkins: Wow. That's awesome. I tell you, part of our Goal One is also talking about our students not only just graduating, but they're ready for careers, in college, in the community. So now you look back at your experience here in MMSD and what you hope to do, what about careers? Are you having that opportunity to talk to students about other life choices that they can make about being responsible as a young person? And how they're going to contribute back to society? How's that playing out for you?
0:09:53 Corvonn Gaines: Man, it’s…that plays out for me every single day. I have an open door policy. I know being a leader now, but I always make time for our students. They need to come in and talk. And we talk about life. We navigate, we come up with different goals. And I want to know their hobbies, and what they like to do. And so, we talk about ‘How are you going to attain this goal?’ ‘What have you done to get to this goal?’ ‘Who do you know to get to this goal?’ ‘What resources do you have to help you reach this goal?’ And if you don't have anything down, if you don't know people, that's my job. And if I don't know somebody, I will make a phone call to connect those two people together to ensure our students have some avenue, and some bridge to get to where they want to go. And that's what I'm about, building that bridge and being a resource. I don't know everything, but I do know certain people, they may know everything. If they don't, they might reach out to somebody else. It's all about the network, and being that bridge and connection for our younger kids and our youth.
0:11:01 Dr. Jenkins: Wow. Well, let me just tell you this, because we say we talk straight here, Lead to Liberate.
0:11:07 Corvonn Gaines: Yep.
0:11:01 Dr. Jenkins: There are a lot of young people who are matriculating through our system, they get up to high school, and they're not feeling confident about their academic skills. And so they start making other choices. What do you say to them? I mean, because we’re talking about early literacy and beyond, but we have students in high school right now, some are projected to graduate and they may not had a skill set. What should they do? Should they consider just leaving high school or how should they manage that?
0:11:35 Corvonn Gaines: No, let them know that it's okay. We've all been there, but we're not going to give up on you. We're going to figure out how to get you the support and help that you need in that classroom. And we do want to be proactive when we see situations like this. Because working in the school district, you see things happening, you know the next steps for some of these students, if we don't help them when we need to. And so we want to, athletically, we want to get in these buildings early, we want to start reaching out to kids in middle school, saying this is the things that you need to do in order to participate at the high school level. Right? Because there are certain grade requirements needed to be eligible to participate. So if we can start reaching these kids early, getting them engaged early, "Hey, you need to know how to read." Like, that is the key component, because when you are disengaged, it's probably because you don't know what's going on in a classroom, right? So you feel the need to stray away, and be in the hallways where you're comfortable because you're not comfortable in the classroom. [Mmm.] So if we can continue to figure that out, reach these kids where they are, get them the support that they need, which is mainly reading, then they may feel comfortable in that classroom, where they can avoid the hallways. Right? Because the hallways is an avoidance for high school students most of the time.
0:12:46 Dr. Jenkins: Wow. Well, I tell you this, Mr. Gaines, it's definitely been a pleasure having you here on this podcast. And I'm gonna take a page out of your book, when you said to compliment somebody. I really like that West staff jacket you're wearing, and if you want to gift it to somebody, I think that's about my size.
0:13:04 Corvonn Gaines: Hey, you know what's crazy? [Laughter.] When I was coming over here, I was like, "Should I bring him a West Athletic shirt?" [Laughter.] And I said, "No, I'll give it to him when he comes to a basketball game or something."
0:13:13 Dr. Jenkins: Right. Well, I definitely plan on being in a basketball game. But I think the last part of what you just said, about the avoidance in the hall when you don't feel comfortable in the classroom, and I think what you all have set out to do to build relationships this year? We all know that you have Mr. Kigeya this year, your new principal, and the staff working hard together to build relationships. It's been a pleasure having you here on this podcast. One of our very own, everyone. You're talking about a MMSD graduate coming back to make a difference. Thank you for listening in, and wait ‘till next week.
0:13:39 Student Speaker: You’re listening to Lead to Liberate, a podcast by the Madison Metropolitan School District, demonstrating how the more we know, the more we grow.
Guest: Carolyn Stanford Taylor
0:00:11 Student Speaker: From the Madison Metropolitan School District, this is Lead to Liberate, a podcast documenting stories of inspiration, growth, and empowerment across our schools.
0:00:27 Carlton D. Jenkins: Hello, and welcome back to Lead to Liberate. I am Dr. Carlton D. Jenkins, a very proud superintendent of Madison Metropolitan School District. And we really do appreciate everybody choosing and listening in at our podcast each week. We're bringing it to you real. We're going behind the scenes, cutting under the layers that haven't been talked about. What are the challenges? What are the opportunities? And we're bringing real people from MMSD. And we want to know why did they choose MMSD? And we're going to talk to them about their hopes, their aspirations for our children, for our community. Yes, and what it is that they want to leave as their legacy. Today, I am so proud to have with us, our one and only, our former State Superintendent, the individual that was leading us through the pandemic, in many ways. She worked on a local level, state level, on a national and a global level, really trying to make it happen in this historic pandemic. Recently retired, and now she's joining us today in MMSD for a conversation on Lead to Liberate. Yes, very proud to have with us, Ms. Carolyn Stanford Taylor, the individual that has led us through this pandemic and now joining MMSD. How are you Ms. Stanford Taylor?
0:01:45 Carolyn Stanford Taylor: I am wonderful, thank you. It's so great to be here with you today.
0:01:49 Dr. Jenkins: Oh, we're so glad to have you here. And really, we have you here for us, but we also have you here for the community. Because individuals want to know, what would make Mrs. Carolyn Stanford Taylor, long-time district employee, led the state, the most celebrated African American in Wisconsin's history, come to MMSD? Tell us, why are you really here?
0:02:13 Carolyn Stanford Taylor: Well, I am MMSD proud. This is where my career began. I started as a teacher with MMSD, moved on to become an administrator here. Spent 21 years here before moving to the state level as Assistant State Superintendent for 17 and a half years, and then as State Superintendent for two and a half years. So when I had the opportunity to come back and to give back, I accepted readily.
0:02:39 Dr. Jenkins: Wow, that’s, that’s really interesting to me because I was sitting there with the ‘Big Five’ superintendents and we had some challenging things to do, ah, during the pandemic. And one of the things that was really challenging about it, how do we - not just look at ourselves as individual districts, but how do we come together? And there she goes. Mrs. Carolyn Stanford Taylor, she created a space for us to begin to collaborate, and we've been doing that collaboration right now as the ‘Big Five’ superintendents. Tell me, how is that going to play out in our district? You're known for collaborating, you're known for bringing different groups together, your new title here, Deputy Superintendent of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. So what does that mean here in MMSD?
0:03:23 Carolyn Stanford Taylor: This gives me an opportunity for all of those things that I did at the state, and for all of the experiences that I brought to the state, to use those at a local level. When you're at the state level, you're talking broadly, because districts vary throughout our state. And as you mentioned, bringing the ‘Big Five’ superintendents together was one of my legacy, ah, things that I will always treasure. Because I saw a collaboration with those five who had so much in common. Being a State Superintendent is a lonely job. Right? You're at the top, everything comes to you, everything rests with you, decisions made rest with you. And so to bring them together, with people who have like challenges, because we know those ‘Big Five’ districts have so much in common: you have the majority of our students of color, majority of our students with disabilities, our English Language students. And so why not create a space for you all to have those conversations about strategies that are working for you, or challenges that you are having, and be able to collaborate around those. And I'm so happy to hear that that continues past my term as State Superintendent.
0:04:39 Dr. Jenkins: Well, that's awesome, and definitely is going to continue past your legacy there at the State. But right now in our district, we know we have historical, historical opportunities for our black and our brown students, our students who are receiving special needs services, our students from poverty, our indigenous students. We just have so many historical challenges here in Madison. And we know that if we're truly going to be about disrupting what has happened, we need to use some of your skill set and engaging our families. Can you tell me a little bit about that? What's your intent? Because really and truly, we need our families; and our community in our schools, in our schools with our families, and in our community.
0:05:24 Carolyn Stanford Taylor: Well, let me just say first, Dr. Jenkins, I was so pleased when you accepted the invitation to become the Superintendent of Madison Schools. I think in a lot of ways, we're like thinkers. One of the areas that you and I both agreed upon early, was around early literacy. And beginning in the early stages, so that we create a solid foundation for our students. So that we're not pouring money in at the back-end, we're investing in our students at the very beginning. So those things we agreed upon. And I see your work in terms of the literacy, and how you've created collaborations with others around literacy to lift that up, to train our educators around that, and that's going to pay dividends in the end. The other area is around family, youth voice. And this was one of the things that as a principal when we used to do action research. One of my early research topics was around parent involvement, as at the time is what we called it. And my questioning was, what does that mean? Or is it parent engagement? So before really - this term of engagement really started, it was one of my wonderings. And what does that mean to be engaged? And how do we bring those stakeholders into the educational environment, and value what they bring to the table? Because we know that our families are our first teachers of our students. They have valuable information to share with us. And that we need them to be partners in this enterprise.
0:07:04 Carolyn Stanford Taylor: And I know oftentimes we get so busy with what we're doing day-to-day, that we don't take the time to bring families with us. We don't listen enough to our youth about where they want to go and to let them lead. And we had a brilliant example of that just a couple of weeks ago, we put together a Youth Summit. The first of its kind, in which it was conceived, organized, and facilitated by our high school youth – phenomenal youth – who from beginning to end, right down to inviting the speakers that they wanted to have at this event. There were more than 100 students present, and I can tell you from the students who came from other areas like Verona, who enjoyed the opportunity that these students laid out for them; and the speakers that were invited to this opportunity on topics that they felt were relevant to them. Options beyond high school. Finance, what do we would do with that money? How do we grow? How do we keep it? Restorative justice. Mental health. These were topics that they chose. We listened to the voices of those students. And they facilitated, and they went back to their peers who weren't able to attend, to say, ‘Hey, this is what happened. You should have been there. Next time, you're there.’
0:08:40 Carolyn Stanford Taylor: Wow, that's awesome. And I'll tell you Ms. Stanford Taylor, we can listen to you all day talk about the work that you're doing here and what you plan to do. Recently, we were notified that we have over 560 perfect AP scores. [Wow.] When you look at our high schools, so much going on with our schools, schools being just tops in the state, tops in the county. When we look at our elementary, or we look at our middle schools, we know that we have some outstanding teaching and learning going on. Have one of the best staff in the country. But yet we still have these disparities. And these disparities here in the State of Wisconsin - on the recent NAEP results, we're number one again, and not only just number one, but the next closest state... We had 37% in terms of our disparities, the next closest state had 18%. So now when we think about including these families, you know, we're really excited about this too, right, because we know we have to do this. This thing called the Village Builders. We talk about staffing shortages, talk to us a little bit about this.
0:09:49 Carolyn Stanford Taylor: And actually, Dr. Jenkins started this thinking in terms of, can we give people from the community into our schools, working with our children? We thought about the pandemic, and what happened with our families and our students during that time with them being disconnected and bringing them back into a school environment which they'd been absent from for almost two years. There were some in and out, but mostly being absent. And how did that adjustment, or how did we see that adjustment happening, so that students could maximize their engagement? And so we know just by child development, the things that happen at certain times during a student's life. But looking at our students who had not had a normalized school experience over the last couple of years, how are we bringing them back, and how are we tending to their social-emotional and mental well-being? And so we came up with this idea of bringing people from the community who are advocates for our public schools, who are in working with our kids, volunteering, and doing that kind of work. Bringing them in on a regular basis as a Village Builder. And so at the elementary level, we have people who go into the schools, who work with students around their readiness.
0:11:14 Carolyn Stanford Taylor: It's that warm, nurturing individual who can help students process their emotions, and whatever it is that they bring with them that morning, to get them ready to engage in what's happening in the classroom, so that we don't have students absent from that environment. And then at the high school level, we created positions that are called Student Engagement Specialists, and those folks will work across transition points, because we know that we lose many of our students at that high school transition. So, much of what we're talking about is about relationships. It comes back to relationships. And we know in the early stages... I always say that kindergarten teachers got it right. It's that carpet. [Mmm.] When you bring kids around the carpet. [Yes!] When you can help them see that they belong in that environment. And they talk about what happened, and ‘my baby brother that was born’ and ‘my folks went on this trip’ or ‘grandpa and grandma came to visit,’ those kinds of things help to build community. And so, we have to bring more of that back into the schools where students do believe that the adults in that space are there for them. These are trusted adults that they can go to no matter what's going on in their lives.
0:12:29 Carolyn Stanford Taylor: And so at the middle school and high school level, we have these Student Engagement Specialists, which go across from high school to middle schools. And they spend a great amount of time with those students, building those relationships, creating mentorships to bring back and forth. [Mmm.] And so we're looking for better outcomes because of what we're doing with the Village Builders.
0:12:50 Dr. Jenkins: Wow, that's awesome. And then, also, just the way that you've taken it to the next level. We had some initial thoughts about it, but you come in and you're talking about ‘Grow Your Own.’ I was out, ah, at the schools and I'm seeing individuals from our community [yes, yes] – parents, young people, looking for - initially job opportunities - but now they're having an impact. I had the opportunity to talk to some of them just face-to-face, some of the parents said, "Wow, what a game changer, this opportunity. I knew I needed employment, but now I'm in education. I want to make a difference, and I want to go on and continue my education, and perhaps become a teacher." So I'll just tell you, I have to thank you for what you've done for this whole Village Builder, and just building confidence in our community, ah, as you have. And I'll tell you, we only have a few minutes here left, but I want to also bring out at this time – what has it meant for you to come back, and you see these young talented administrators here in Central Office, and what role would you play with them?
0:13:50 Carolyn Stanford Taylor: So that was part of the call for me, too. I looked at your administration, and I saw that this was an administration of diversity. There were so many black and brown individuals in leadership positions. And recall, that I started working here in 1980 and things looked a whole lot different. There were many spaces where I was the only person of color. [Wow] And I desired to be able to work in an environment with people who looked like me, who thought like me, who could create those avenues for change in our schools. And I wanted to be a part of that change, because I see that happening with this group of dynamic, young individuals who have such great ideas. But not just ideas, it's the execution of, [mm hmm] and creating this relevance across the district for what it means to have diversity in our schools, and in every space where we have students and families that they might be able to identify with those folks who were in front of them.
0:14:55 Dr. Jenkins: Well, you heard it, Ms. Carolyn Stanford Taylor. She's here today talking to us about where we are, where we're going, and why she chose to come to our district. We're so pleased to have her. And I'm just going to tell you this. As we're coming out of this pandemic, and we still know that it's real, there are things that we're going to have to do differently. And right now we have to engage our families. You heard it directly from her, in terms of our engagement, we have to reach beyond our walls into our communities and bring our communities into our schools in a different way. This is going to be key as we continue to try to transform our district into what we know it can be for all students. And all means all. We're going to finally lay it to rest, the Brown v. the Board of Education, and we're going to execute and do what we need to do in our district to, yes, to lead to liberate. Thank you very much for listening in to us, you've been wonderful.
0:15:59 Student Speaker: You’re listening to Lead to Liberate, a podcast by the Madison Metropolitan School District, demonstrating how the more we know, the more we grow.
Guest: Tara Tindall
0:00:10 Student Speaker: From the Madison Metropolitan School District, this is Lead to Liberate, a podcast documenting stories of inspiration, growth, and empowerment across our schools.
0:00:27 Carlton D. Jenkins: Hello and welcome to Lead to Liberate. I am Dr. Carlton D. Jenkins, the very proud superintendent here in Madison Metropolitan School District, and I am the host of this podcast. Today, we have an opportunity to have one of our amazing staff members - this is an individual that's already had an impact on our district and we know that is gonna continue to have an impact. Today, you're gonna have an opportunity to hear her story, why she chose MMSD, and what she hopes to do in the future. Ms. Tara Tindall, how are you?
0:00:38.4 Tara Tindall: Good.
0:00:39.2 Dr. Jenkins: Okay, great. [Laughter] We're so glad to have you here today. Can you, first of all, just tell us a little bit, in terms of, about yourself, or why you came to MMSD?
0:00:48.5 Tara Tindall: Sure. I originally grew up in Black River Falls, Wisconsin. That's the home... That's the headquarters for the Ho-Chunk Nation, which is the tribe that I belong to. And I wanted to say, part of the reason why I'm here is because of my own experience growing up in Black River Falls in Wisconsin, in a small rural town, that I did not see myself or my people reflected in the school. I would finish my work and I would ask my fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Hagan, if I could go to the library. And she would smile, really proudly because I was the first one done and that I wanted to read some more. So I go to the library and I didn't tell her the real reason why I went there was because I wanted to find out about my tribe and about my people. Because there was no books in the school about my people. And I would search the library for books about... at that time, we were called the Wisconsin Winnebago, and there was no books about Wisconsin Winnebago, and if there was, they were probably 50 years old. And I would only... I would end up going to the encyclopedias, and look up Winnebago or I look up Indian.
0:02:56.4 Tara Tindall: And by the time I was done with fifth grade, I knew pretty well about the Cherokee Trail of Tears. [Mmm.] And all throughout my academics from K, kindergarten, up to 12th grade, I did not ever learn about my people or my tribe. And I also wanted to mention that when I started school, when I started kindergarten, I was the first person to attend public school in my family. Yeah, in the '70s. Because before that, all my older siblings were attending a one-room Mission, Indian Mission School. So that was a big adjustment for our family. And growing up in Black River Falls in the '70s, attending public school, I guess you… it wasn't probably as bad as the '50s Civil Rights, but it was... I've seen a lot of violence. And it was usually directed towards the Native American males, my brothers, my cousins. So I grew up with that. And… and I also... When I did go to college, I got a degree, my undergrad, in history, because I wanted to learn more about all of the tribes in Wisconsin.
0:04:43.7 Tara Tindall: So I'm trying to make a long story as short as I can, but after working for my tribe for 10 years in Indian education, then I, um, I ended up moving to Alaska with my husband. We had a baby by then, and I ended up going to get my, um, teaching license in Alaska. And I was really fortunate because Alaska has a very supportive higher education system regarding indigenous education. And they also have a requirement that every, every teacher takes at least three courses that are related to American-Indian or Alaska native. And when I finished that one-year program, then I went to New Mexico to be a teacher in a classroom, in Gallup, New Mexico, where my students were 100- 99% Navajo speaking, and that really, um, enriched my life.
0:06:10.6 Tara Tindall: So after that, I became, I decided to come back here to Madison to go to college and get my Master's in Curriculum Instruction. I also decided to get, to become a reading teacher and a reading specialist. So after I completed my Madison academics, I got a job at my hometown in Black River Falls, where I served as an interventionist for four years for elementary students. But I decided I needed to change. So I applied here at MMSD. Partly, because I needed a change, but also because my children live here, in Madison and my grandchildren. And I've always felt a special connection to this land that we, the Ho-Chunk people, call Teejop.
0:07:14.5 Dr. Jenkins: Teejop.
0:07:15.2 Tara Tindall: Yeah, Teejop, it means Four Lakes, [mm-hmm] in our language.
0:07:22.1 Dr. Jenkins: Today, we have Mrs. Tara Tindall, and we're going to talk about what are our opportunities, and what are some of our challenges. First of all, I wanna start off and thank Marena Fox and Isa Saiz, because they were two students pretty much like Mrs. Tindall, going to school in the '70s, they're going to school now, [mm] right here in MMSD. And those two students said last year, that we don't see ourselves in the curriculum, we don't see ourselves on the walls, we don't see ourselves in the community. It’s as if though, Dr Jenkin, we don't exist. Wow. And that started some real conversation in our community as we try to lift the voices of our students and make everyone feel belonging as a part of our core values.
0:08:26.7 Dr. Jenkins: So Mrs. Tindall took part in us doing a land acknowledgment here in Madison Metropolitan School District. Every school will have a plaque. We talk about Teejop, we are all learning. Colonization is real. A process of erasing our indigenous people from this land. Today the land that we're on, the Ho-Chunk land. Ho-Chunk. We're all indebted and acknowledge where we are, and we start off many of our activities by acknowledging that. Can you talk about that a little bit? The land acknowledgment. And what did that mean to you, knowing that you too, are Ho-Chunk? And I'm glad that you went to New Mexico, get a chance to meet the Navajo. You mentioned a minute about, you know, Cherokee as well, Trail of Tears, but just, just talk. It's your mic, you're on the podcast, your show.
0:09:33.5 Tara Tindall: So I wanted to talk about the Indigenous invisibility that Marina Fox Baker and Isa Saiz talked about. That they felt like me in the '70s, did not see themselves or learn about themselves, or their people in the curriculum. But there's also the flip side about Indigenous invisibility, and that is wanting to be invisible. Because when you are noticed and you're often the only Native American in the school, then you get spotlighted as being the expert on everything Native. I also wanted to share about the status, um, called Urban Natives. Urban Natives are, is a term that's fairly new, and it's in comparison or contrast to Reservation Natives. So Reservation Natives are the ones who grew up on the reservation, and there's certain images or ideas that one has about Reservation Indians, they're all the negative stereotypes that you might have about natives; unemployed, and...
0:11:09.1 Tara Tindall: But I also wanted to share that, Reservation Natives and Urban Natives share a common history. [Mm-hmm]The common history is that they've experienced intergenerational historical trauma of families experiencing relocation, foster home placement, and out-of-tribe adoption, as well as the same trauma as Reservation Indians, such as the boarding schools. The boarding schools took place from about the 1880s up to maybe 20 years ago, where the children were taken away and placed in residential boarding schools far away across the country, most often. And sometimes these children did not come home. [Mmm] Last year, there was a large, large movement to recognize all the children that all lives matter, that Brown lives matter, because of our children that did not ever come home from the boarding schools. They were finding their bodies on the grounds of the Indian reservation boarding schools, or the boarding schools.
0:12:47.3 Dr. Jenkins: Did you say 20 years ago or 200 years ago?
0:12:57.7 Tara Tindall: 20 years ago.
0:12:52.6 Dr. Jenkins: Wow.
0:12:54.5 Tara Tindall: So our Urban Natives, some of them are not aware of their own history, even our Reservation Native students are not aware of their own history [mm-hmm]. Like I was. So when we did that land acknowledgment, to me, I felt a sense of connection, I felt a sense of renewal, and I felt a sense of healing. [Mmm] I felt like my ancestors were there. [Mmm] All of the ones who fought off, who fought to protect the land, and to protect their families. I felt that their spirits were there, and that they were giving us all a boost. And.. it was very emotional for me because this is Ho-Chunk land. So it really, it means a lot. And I wanna thank you for that, and thank the School Board, and all of the community who supported that work. And I'm really glad to be here, because I feel like the work is continuing, the work is going on, including the work that I've been doing on, um, creating Native American lessons for K-5 social studies, and I also created a, um, a teacher - a Native American teacher readiness module, that all teachers would take when they started school this year.
0:14:56.1 Dr. Jenkins: Wow. What about the anti-racist work that you've also created, that I was just made aware of? Can you just tell us a little bit about that? We have a few minutes here, but I wanted everyone to hear this as well.
0:15:07.1 Tara Tindall: Yes. With the help of C and I staff, I did create a... I actually created two teacher modules. [Mm-hmm] One is a book study, and then the other one is the anti-resist module you're talking about it. [Right] So I give the teachers a pretty good knowledge base to go from on how to teach about American Indians, and dos and don'ts. And, for example, I suggest - do not use stereotypes in the classroom, do not use Native American mascots and certain phrases that might be offensive to a Native student. I encourage teachers to become knowledgeable about the 12 tribes of Wisconsin, and about Act 31, which is a state mandate that each public school in Wisconsin would offer learning opportunities about American Indian and Wisconsin tribes, twice in elementary and once in high school.
0:16:39.8 Dr. Jenkins: Wow. That's so appreciative, that you have focus and you haven't just focused by yourself, you have your colleagues as you acknowledge in C and I. And as a district, we are taking Act 31 very serious, right. To do the exposure twice, as we were talking about early on, and then once in high school, that's a minimum. We owe so much to Ho-Chunk, we owe so much to you as one of our leaders and you're doing wonderful things in our district. You are having an impact. The elders, when they came out for the land acknowledgement, that was powerful.
0:17:17.9 Dr. Jenkins: The room, you had to be in it to feel it, but there was a spirit and it was a togetherness. And you all are leading the way in our district. And just know our Board, our community, our students, and our staff, we're very proud to say the relationship that we have, and we're looking forward to you doing bigger things in our district as you continue your journey to become an administrator in MMSD, and that will happen. So best of luck to you. Thank you for listening in today. You heard it from one of our very own, Tara Tindall.
0:17:52 Student Speaker: You’re listening to Lead to Liberate, a podcast by the Madison Metropolitan School District, demonstrating how the more we know, the more we grow.
Guest: Melinda Heinritz
0:00:11.1 Student Speaker: From the Madison Metropolitan School District, this is Lead to Liberate, a podcast documenting stories of inspiration, growth, and empowerment across our schools.
0:00:27.4 Dr. Jenkins: I love that music. Wow! Welcome again to Lead to Liberate. I am Dr. Carlton D. Jenkins, the very proud superintendent here in the Madison Metropolitan School District. We have Melinda Heinritz, one of our fierce leaders throughout the state; she's leading the Madison Metropolitan School District’s Foundation. And I'll tell you, she has been quite a leader, bringing along not only the district, but the community and the state, and gaining a national voice. And so, having said that, and throughout this podcast, you're probably going to hear a few jokes because Melinda Heinritz is known for her jokes. I probably won't have many jokes, but I would definitely enjoy hers. Okay. So having said that, Melinda, thank you for joining us on this podcast. As we know that you're a very serious person, but you also have a sense of humor, can you just tell us a little bit about yourself. and then we'll talk about the work around public funding.
0:01:21.2 Guest Melina Heinritz: Absolutely, and thank you so much, Dr. Jenkins, for the opportunity to be a part of your podcast. I'm sorry…no jokes, because I take every Tuesday afternoon off from telling any jokes. So sorry, it's not gonna happen. [laughter] Okay. But I have been in Wisconsin now 30 years. I grew up in Indiana. I am the proud product of public school systems in the State of Indiana. I have a son who is at West High School, so this work for me is very personal. It's a way to give back and thanks for the great public K-12 education I received, and for all the love, support, and academic support my own son has received. I've been with the Madison Public Schools Foundation since the summer of 2016, and it has been such an honor and privilege to work with the people who helped to found this organization. But I think also just evolving in our partnership with a district to meet the moment in the 21st century in terms of what our schools need, what our kids deserve, the partnership we need with a community to bring all that together. Working with you, Dr. Jenkins, is a real honor, and something I feel very passionate about every day, having a chance to represent the Foundation and the great work that we're doing together.
0:02:46.4 Dr. Jenkins: Wow. Well, thank you for that. And your son at West, now a junior at West, I think, right? [Melinda: Yes, yes.] One of the things we really think about as we want to lead to liberate, we think about where we are, what we've been, and where we are. And one of the things all of us have truly learned, since the public lynching there of Mr. Floyd in the Twin Cities. And we've learned as a community that we can't -do not just schools, but community - the same way that we've done it. And we noticed that a lot of people... just felt the need to come together. We felt in school, one of our biggest challenges, we had a major crisis with COVID-19, we had twin pandemics there going on, that we had to reach out to one another and really try to help. What did you feel like your role was at that time, because the Foundation have always helped, but during this time... it was totally different.
0:03:42.2 Melinda Heinritz: Yeah. Absolutely, we run a program, as you know, called ‘Adopt-A-School,’ which brings partners into the lives of our schools, and those partners help to deliver human material and financial resources. And until recently, those organizations couldn't be in our school buildings for obvious reasons. So one thing that we saw is that it changed the relationship with those partners, not because they are any less committed, but they were creative in all new ways in terms of, if we can't be in the buildings, what are the ways in which we can support our schools, our students, our staff and our families in ways we never thought about. I think one of the biggest differences over the last couple of years has been through our Teacher Support Network, which is an online store. We raise money, we put money into accounts, and our school staff members can go on to the store any time of day, order exactly what they need, and have that material delivered directly to the school. That was a critical part of our evolution with a district in 2020. When we are getting ready to go into the 20-21 school year with virtual instruction, the community stepped up and help to contribute over $200,000 to create kits for our students to make sure that they had what they needed for virtual instruction at home.
0:05:11.3 Melinda Heinritz: So I think this community, any time we've asked them to step up, whether they're voting in support of a referendum, whether they're asked to help kids in the time of crisis like COVID... They have been with us every step of the way, and it's really a privilege to work with the community that is so consistently supportive of public schools.
0:05:32.9 Dr. Jenkins: Wow, I appreciate that. During these last 30 months or so, schools around the world have just really realized that the funding that we have for schools, it's not really adequate. During the pandemic, it really showed up even more so for our most vulnerable, most marginalized communities. And we have to say here in Madison, we did see a community that stepped up in a lot of ways, [right] so we appreciate the $200,000 for the kids. But we've noticed that the Foundation that stepped up in other ways, pushing our equity challenges that we have and illuminated it in amongst our community. What are some of the things that you feel like you've done that's really been most impactful for some of our biggest challenges?
0:06:19.2 Melinda Heinritz: In a word, advocacy. As you may know, it's only in really recent years that the Foundation has embarked on an advocacy journey, if you will... And you're at the retreat we had in August 2021, where we were talking about ‘Hey, ‘21 was our best year ever in realizing $4.8 million,’ we felt very proud about in terms of resources we secured for our district. But when we really thought about what's happened over 30 years in our State, both in terms of funding and policy, I'm so proud of a Board that would say, If we're gonna be a great partner to our district, in our community, the $4.8 million is great, we're grateful for it, but we have got take some risk and do something on a state-wide basis, if we want to be a premier partner to our district in our community, then we have to go to the mat. And we need to fight for every public dollar we can secure from our state and even from our federal government, and we need to do it in a way that's holistic because... and this is so true of your leadership... yes, it's about Madison, but it's about rural districts, it's about suburban districts, about urban districts, because the scale may be different, the conditions may be different, but we are all suffering from the pain of that disinvestment.
0:07:42.9 Melinda Heinritz: So let's figure out a way that we can work together holistically, let's engage with business leaders, community leaders, and advocate with our political leaders, that our current approach to public K12 in the State of Wisconsin is simply unsustainable. And Madison may be able to weather some of that, but if you're in a small district, you have another budget cycle of two years in a row of no increase to per pupil funding in the face of a pandemic, they won't be able to survive. So advocacy to us has become so critically important because... our staff, every classroom, every school district across the state, great things happen every day. But there's a point at which you can't continue to do that if you don't have the state investing in... But it's true for Madison here, the monies that we have that are helping to fund our schools, also help to make this a vibrant local economy -- and a strong community for everyone. So that's a long answer, but advocacy is just absolutely fundamental now to our identity, in our partnership with the community and our school district.
0:09:00.1 Dr. Jenkins: Wow. No, it may have been long, but it was definitely needed. And I tell you, I'm reminded of Dr. Martin Luther King, when you were just speaking, right, injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. And the work that you've done here, but the $4.8 million yes, so much I appreciate it. But you also lead...she's very humble...the whole referendum, a historic $350 million referendum right here. The citizens of Madison have always stepped up when it came to supporting our schools. How do you feel about that?
0:09:35.8 Melinda Heinritz: Absolutely amazing. And I will say, we have a strategic plan, it was a strategic plan developed in 2017. One of the pillars of that plan is advocacy, and one of the foremost initiatives we identified is we knew our district at some point would go to a referendum for a blockbuster package. And we wanted to be ready. We wanted to be that partner for the district, we wanted to be that partner for the community. And we're so proud to have had the chance to partner with our district, and just the amazing talented professionals that work every day on behalf of our kids in our schools. And to go to the voters, and get the highest percentage of ‘yes’ votes in our history to, as you said, a historic referenda package. And I'll just contrast that with why advocacy is so important. Which is in our first 20...about 21 years now, we'll have secured $35-36 million in resources, and one night working together with this community, $350 million. [Dr. Jenkins: wow, wow] So that's why, you know, it has to be a multi-faceted approach with the district in our community to ultimately ensure that we have the resources we need.
0:10:50.4 Dr. Jenkins: Wow, and as you mentioned, multi-faceted. We try to look at how do we - as a school system - bring in our partners and get in alignment. But it's bigger than a school district and the Foundation, you've been party to really reaching out to business...to the business community. And schools, prior to the pandemic, sometimes operated in silos, and the businesses operated inside silos. Learning from the death of Mr. Floyd, we saw that we all had to come together. [Melinda: right] And you've been fierce in that leadership, and pulling everybody to the table. Tell me more about that.
0:11:26.2 Melinda Heinritz: Absolutely. I think one of the things we have really gotten our heads around, and I'll start with this from a personal perspective... When I started this job in the summer of 2016, there are so many things about public K-12 in the State of Wisconsin that I didn't understand. Information I didn't have. ... So whenever we're trying to engage with a business leader, a community leader, to put the facts on the table, there's never any judgment. We are so appreciative of the opportunity to have that conversation. And just to bear in mind that these individuals don't do the work that I do on a day-in, day-out basis. But when we have a chance to sit down and explain, for 14 years, we haven't had an adjustment to inflation in terms of per pupil funding. [Dr. Jenkins: mmm hmm] And they’re business people, so they can't believe that we're expected to do all the things that we're expected to do, and yet we have not had a consistent partner in terms of that state funding. And to learn that if we had just kept up with inflation, Madison Public Schools, as you know, Dr. Jenkins in ‘22-23 school year would have had another $82 million to work with. That isn't just about Madison Public Schools and our students and families, that is about our local community and our local economy. And that whole 14-year time horizon, we're talking about almost $660 million in monies that would have been invested in this community, in our schools, and our kids, in our future, that we didn't get because we weren't keeping up with inflation. So part of our role right now is to engage business leaders in that kind of information, putting those facts on the table. Because we need them, we need their consistent partnership with us, a public-private partnership, and you and I are very invested in building that together. But that's part of how we're gonna change the trajectory of what's happening in Wisconsin -- is that, as you said, it can't be just Madison, we have to all be working together toward the common good and outcomes that serve all of our kids well.
0:13:38.5 Dr. Jenkins: Listeners, this is what we need to talk about -- partnerships. It doesn't matter, Republican, Democrat, Independent. We're talking about individuals who are gonna support our schools, support our children, we want to support those who we know used to wear a diaper. You heard the numbers, just think if we had those $82 million right here, now in Madison Metropolitan School District. We're losing people right now out of the State of Wisconsin, because we have to make sure that we are investing appropriately. When I first came here in 1993, and I was assistant principal in Madison at Madison Memorial High School, and before that, I was in Beloit, Wisconsin was really and truly was at the forefront. We used to be number 11th in the nation in terms of funding our schools. Now we're down to 25th. But when we look at what we're doing for our special needs services, we've dropped to 48th. Only Idaho in Indiana are behind us. And then when you look at the ELL population, we're dead last. This is not a part of the Wisconsin idea. This is why we have Melinda Heinritz here today. Now, recently, your vision came to fruition - you had a conversation about a year ago with Brooke, the President of the Board up in Osceola. You had a group of people in the room, but you all were having this conversation about what hurts one child at one end of the state, it hurts another one at the other under state. And, you have this vision for say, ‘Hey, how can we do this, how could we come together and talk to our legislators?’ Because they're very important too, all of our legislators are very important. So, tell us about yesterday. What happened here?
0:15:17.1 Melinda Heinritz: Yes, so we had the great opportunity to partner with Madison Teachers, Inc., and the Madison Metropolitan School District to host a ‘Unity in the Community’ rally on the steps of our State Capitol. And the idea really was to bring community members from across the state, all walks of life, all perspectives, to understand the need we have to work together on behalf of K12 in the State of Wisconsin. We also knew it was critical that it couldn't just be a program of Melinda and Dr. Jenkins and people, or just Madison. Because if we say we're about all kids, then it's gotta show up in everything we're doing in this advocacy journey. So we had the great good fortune to have Kaelee Heideman, who is a 2023 Teacher of the Year from the Oshkosh School District - she's a K through 5 school counselor. And then Kabby Hong, a 2022 Teacher of the Year, an English teacher at Verona Area High School. We had our very own Yoanna Hoskins, who is a senior at La Follotte High School, student representative on the Board of Education. And then Brooke Kulzer, who's on the Board of Education, School District of Osceola. And they were able to just so beautifully bring their personal experience in real time in their communities, in their district, but also helped to make the case to our business and political leaders an investment in K12 is just that - we are not a burden, we are an investment. We are the source of future opportunities, we are the engine of the economy. There is no better economic development tool than investment in public K12. And we have gone through an era where we have favored the lowest possible taxes to such a degree. We haven't invested in that future, and that's among the reasons we have the workforce shortages we have currently. And as you know, Dr. Jenkins, by 2030, if nothing changes, will be 130,000 people short of who we need to fill available jobs. We have to invest in our K12 pipelines. Whether you want a trades person, you want someone on your two-year campus, your four-year campus, someone immediately in the workforce, customers, clients - teachers and schools are your best friend. That's who's gonna prepare those students for any of those post-secondary futures. So I was so happy to have a chance to work together with an Oshkosh, an Osceola, a Verona, because while the scale may be different, we all have the same issues, and we all have the same opportunity to work with our communities for a brighter future for the State of Wisconsin.
0:17:56.8 Dr. Jenkins: Yes, most definitely. And partnerships like the Foundation are so much needed. Right now in our district, we're looking to really take on some of the challenges around reading. The Science of Reading is very serious in the Madison Metropolitan School District, where our Board has made a historic investment last 30 years in early literacy and beyond. We're going to be doing the professional development - the Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling. We're taking the Science of Reading very serious, and we really appreciate your support. Just the other week - you want to tell the audience about Nuestro Mundo, the books?
0:18:33.1 Melinda Heinrtitz: Yes, thank you for that. So through our Teacher Support Network that I mentioned previously, we have an endowment that was named and created in honor of Karen Raggatz, who was a district staff person. And through that endowment, we for - two years in a row now - have been able to provide a kit of eight books for every 5K student in the district, which is about 2,000 kids, 16,000 books, and they are selected in partnership with district central office, Madison Reading Project. We work together with vendors to create these kits, and to ensure that the books in them represent the kids who are gonna take them home, and have their very own little library. And we also know that research shows even having 20 books in a home growing up makes a fundamental difference to the trajectory of children that are in that home. So it seems like a really nice story, and it absolutely is! But, it is just critical. It's a wonderful message from the community, ‘we believe so much in you kids, we're gonna give you your very own library to take home,’ but it's more than that, it really is about putting them on a footing. And as you and I talk about, Dr. Jenkins, if we as a community ensure that every 3rd grader is a rockstar reader, then there's no stopping us. And it's really exciting to have a chance to partner with you and your team, in our schools, to make Madison a place that its reputation around the globe - if you want kids to learn how to read and be rockstar readers, look at the Madison School District and what it's doing.
0:20:17.3 Dr. Jenkins: Wow, I'll tell you just one other quick thing - the Thoreau literacy support. I was there, too, at the event. If you just give us a quick second on that, I know it was getting ready to close here, but I was wondering if you could say something about that.
0:20:29.7 Melinda Heinritz: So we had another former staff person leave a legacy. She created an endowment specifically for literacy programs at Thoreau. And Kathy Castello, who's on the Foundation Board, retired principal, shared with an audience that we brought together in September talking about all the creative and amazing things staff have done with that investment income, which is about $12,000 a year, to help support literacy for students at Thoreau. And I will say this is a Foundation fund that's been in existence for more than a decade. How staff have continued to evolve and innovate, how they use those funds to continue to meet the needs of students now.
0:21:12.9 Dr. Jenkins: Wow, what an awesome thing to do. And I'm telling you, to transform our schools - to lead to liberate - you really have to have great partners like Melinda Heinritz and the Foundation. Just... the individuals on the Board, they get it. They know that our children are our most precious commodities; they understand that in order to have our national security protected, we need to educate to liberate. We have so many schools - I've been through 34 schools, out of the 52 schools, already this year, and I'm gonna continue over the next two weeks get through all of our schools. And I'm seeing amazing things, connections out there with our students that we haven't seen in 30 - 30 months. I'm telling you, you're seeing the smiles on the faces now. You're seeing the magic of the teachers come to life. Our teachers, our students, our district, needs support from our entire community. Let's not have Melinda just be the only shining individual, which we know we have many of them. But we're encouraging is - there’s room for everybody to get involved with Madison Public School Foundation. I encourage you to become a Circle Leader. Yes, you can donate to the Foundation, and you can tell the Foundation how you want that money to assist. Also, I encourage you - you don't have to give money, you can become a part of our advocacy group. Tell everybody - not just here in Madison - but go to Osceola, tell them there. Go to Verona, tell them there. Go down to Beloit, tell them there. Go to Milwaukee. You can be a part of this thing that we're doing now, creating partnerships to lead to liberate. Thank you again for listening in to Madison Metropolitan School District.
0:22:51.5 Student Speaker: You’re listening to Lead to Liberate, a podcast by the Madison Metropolitan School District, demonstrating how the more we know, the more we grow.