Elevating Exploration | Sparking Innovation
WE WANT TO CHANGE THE GAME FOR MMSD, MADISON & 4K-12 EDUCATION
We are the drivers of innovation within MMSD. We are teachers, researchers, and district leaders at MMSD who listen for and seek out bold, new ideas and in order to excite, engage and establish equity in a real way.
ROCKiT was born out of the voices of MMSD. In 2018, then Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Cheatham listened to over 2,500 students, staff, families and community stakeholders in order to develop a strategic framework that centers around the needs, wants and desires of MMSD stakeholders. From these voices, MMSD set a goal to embrace innovation. Working in partnership with American Family Insurance’s Institute for Corporate and Social Impact, ROCKiT, MMSD’s innovation team, launched in the fall of 2018 with the goal to intentionally cultivate, develop and grow MMSD's capacity to innovate around complex, equity-based problems in order to find new opportunities so our students, staff and community thrives.
American Family Insurance Institute for Corporate and Social Impact aims to close equity gaps in America. To make that happen, they invest in visionary entrepreneurs who build scalable social enterprises in the following areas: economic opportunities, healthy youth development, learning and academic achievement, and resilient communities. The Institute provides MMSD’s ROCKiT team with workspace, time, and resources to build innovation skills and capacity.
A History of Innovation: MMSD’s Innovation Grant Fund
From 2014-2018, the Innovation Grant Fund provided funding of up to $30,000 per award to support the planning and implementation of an innovative school-based project for one to two school years.
Since that time, MMSD has aligned the Innovation Grant program with our new Strategic Framework. The ROCKiT team is currently identifying ways to smartly leverage these funds to engage in innovative projects vetted through MMSD’s innovation design process. For more information, contact Beth Vaade at firstname.lastname@example.org
Ready to ROCKiT?
Reach out to us
Contact Beth Vaade at
- Beth Vaade, Executive Director of Research and Innovation
- Leigh Vierstra, Innovation and Improvement Team Supervisor
- Lauren Morris, Innovation Strategist
- Katie Mae Imhoff-Bebeau, Innovation Strategist
- Eric Lequesne, Improvement Specialist
- Lauren Lauter, Improvement Specialist
As the Executive Director of the Research and Innovation team, I build strong partnerships between MMSD and external organizations that leverage the best from both sides to disrupt inequities and foster better outcomes. I have deep expertise and experience in research, evaluation and strategic planning and love using data to learn more about how we work, our impact, and what creative things we can do to improve. In addition to my work with ROCKiT, I also serve as co-director of the Madison Education Partnership (MEP), the district’s research-practice partnership with the Wisconsin Center for Education Research (WCER) at UW-Madison. I have worked in K-12 and postsecondary education and public policy for almost 20 years as a researcher, analyst and teacher. Outside of work I am an avid sports fan and decent athlete, and excel at watching my Wisconsin Badgers, Milwaukee Brewers, and Seattle Seahawks.
As a ROCKiT Innovation Strategist I support MMSD staff in thinking deeply about complex, equity-based challenges. From coaching design teams to facilitating district wide professional development opportunities, my role is to help grow the innovation skills, mindsets, and capacity of MMSD staff. I have been with ROCKiT since its inception in 2018, working with our awesome team to strategize and build the ROCKiT innovation process and framework. I am drawn to this work because it pushes us to think bold, to test our assumptions, to see failure as important learning, and create equitable solutions for complex problems. Before joining ROCKiT, I taught high school social studies and ESL for 12 years and was the department chair for the ESL Bilingual department for seven years. One of my greatest accomplishments was starting the East HS PA-MOJA program, a global leadership opportunity where students from Madison travel to Kenya to learn alongside Kenyan students about conservation, education and global leadership. Outside of MMSD, I serve on the board of PA-MOJA, an international education non-profit that provides educational opportunities for youth in Kenya. In my free time I love to cook and host dinner parties, travel around the world to see friends and family, and ride my bike.
As an Innovative Strategist for ROCKiT my role is to assist schools and departments in designing systems, structures, and procedures with a deeply empathetic, user-centered, and equity-focused approach. I am a passionate, lifelong learner who is dedicated to this work because it is imperative that we devote significant time and resources to rethinking and redefining an educational system in Wisconsin that will best serve underestimated and historically and systemically deprived populations in our ever-changing society. I hold degrees in Elementary Education and African American Studies (emphasis on Black Women) and am finishing up a masters in Administration and Director of Instruction. I’ve been dedicated to and working within education for over 15 years. Before joining the ROCKiT team in its inaugural year, I taught for seven years at the elementary level. Over my 15 years in education I have also worked with many local community centers and social impact groups. When I’m not ROCKiN it, I am engaging in anything that allows me to be creative (painting, dancing, sewing, and writing). I am also dedicated to social justice, traveling, the Milwaukee Bucks and concerts.
As a ROCKiT Innovation Strategist, I support MMSD staff in using empathy and user-centered/liberatory design processes to dig into complex, equity-based challenges within the district. I have been working with the ROCKiT team since the spring of 2020. During this time I continue to pursue my passion for change toward the “new and better” as we look to disrupt systemic problems and improve the education system in MMSD. As we lead design teams, elevate the sharing of ideas, and facilitate PD, we hope to help grow the innovation skills, mindsets, and capacity of people working in MMSD. Through this work, we emphasize bold thinking, the testing of assumptions, and the importance of failure as a step toward growth. I have been coaching and teaching in the Madison community since 2005. Before joining ROCKiT, I taught 8th-grade Humanities at Toki Middle School for 8 years. Outside of my work in MMSD, I lead a Madison nonprofit called Intentional Mentoring which uses 1:1 mentorships to help bridge the gaps between school, community, and home. I am also an ice cream enthusiast who loves exploring the outdoors with my husband, daughter, and dog.
As an Improvement Specialist I am here to help you work through process improvement and understand research and data. I bring to that over 5 years of experience in data analytics and research. Originally hailing from Michigan, I have degrees from Michigan State University and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee culminating in a Masters in Economics, focusing on Labor Economics, education, and Quantitative methods. In previous roles, I've worked with Milwaukee Public Schools and the Kenosha Unified School District through nonprofits that sought to make data accessible, usable, and actionable for teachers and schools. Outside of work I love to create with my hands--whether it's brewing beer, cooking, or woodworking. I'm still fairly new to Madison, so if you see me throw me a recommendation or two!
As a research and school improvement specialist, I bring two decades of experience in teaching, teacher training and education research. I began my career as an elementary teacher in Chicago, where I worked as a teacher and arts integration coordinator for a decade. I moved internationally to Mumbai, India where I engaged in education reform and impact evaluations before embarking on a PhD in curriculum and Instruction at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. In the past few years, I have been on multiple research projects spanning from a study looking at the privatization of teacher education programs in India, to the effects of targeted Sesame Street curriculum on children who have an incarcerated parent, and two comprehensive early education interventions and analyses, as a part of UW's Madison Education Partnership. I also am currently a teacher educator at the University of Wisconsin, guiding new teachers into the profession. I love to draw, paint, screen print and antique. You might see me about town, walking my dog Maude.
Re-imagining the Schools of Hope-Middle School Program
In 2019 ROCKiT sponsored a team from MMSD, Urban League of Greater Madison, and United Way of Dane County to reimagine the Schools of Hope-Middle School program. Here’s a look into how this Leadership development pilot program is uplifting youth, like Chaniyah, at O'Keeffe Middle School.
Innovation is the intentional process to explore, discover, and create bold, equitable opportunities that positively impact 4K-12 education
We support innovation in MMSD! From design missions where prototypes are created and tested to professional development opportunities to grow innovation mindsets, ROCKiT is here to support you, your school and your team!
Got a problem that just won’t budge? Looking to create new opportunities for your students, staff, and community? ROCKiT offers two tiers of support for teams that want to delve deeper into a specific design challenge.
The purpose of an exploratory lab is the initial exploration of a program, experience, system to uncover problems and discover opportunities.
- Best for: projects where research is needed around the ecosystem to understand the opportunities to explore; may be unsure whether the problem is complicated or complex; can result in recommendations for moving into design missions
- Learning outcomes: Discover potential problem(s)/opportunity(s) to solve, recommend options for next steps and summarize key learnings from exploration
- ROCKiT support: facilitation and coaching from a Design Strategist and/or Innovation Extern; space at the Spark Building (if appropriate) to meet; funds to cover supplies
- Time Commitment: Roughly 10 hours over 3 work sessions.
- Past ROCKiT Exploratory Labs: Night School, Summer School, Glen Stevens REACH class
ROCKiT Design Missions allow teams to engage in an innovation process in order to explore a complex, equity-based problem and discover possible solutions to test and iterate on.
- Best for: opportunities where a team exists to move the work forward, leadership support for exploration is strong, and time/resources exist to support this work; urgency for finding a proposed solution to test; willingness to explore new ideas; best practices are not known (e.g., complex, not complicated)
- Learning outcomes: define problem based on empathy work; discover possible solutions to test; test prototype and gather evidence to determine whether to pilot, iterate, or stop
- ROCKiT support: facilitation and coaching from a Design Strategist and/or an Innovation Extern; participation on design team by an Innovation Extern; space at the Spark Building (if appropriate) for team meetings; funds to cover supplies; convening of leadership support and sponsor meetings for design team
- Time Commitment: On average teams meet 5-7 times for 3-4 hour working sessions.
- Past ROCKiT Design Missions: Re-imagining the Schools of Hope-Middle School program, Re-thinking the Justice Involved Youth Re-engagement process, West High School Scheduling, Forward Madison New Education Induction program.
As a way to support the development of innovation skills and build innovation capacity among MMSD staff, ROCKiT offers numerous professional development opportunities.
Our training flights provide professional development and experience in a specific component of the ROCKiT process. From gaining empathy to insight generation to testing rough prototypes, we have many opportunities for professional learning.
- Best for: individuals and/or teams interested in a concept within ROCKiT, but who may not have a specific opportunity/challenge to explore; those looking to infuse a concept into their school/department/classroom
- Learning outcomes: develop/deepen skills and mindsets to support innovation at classroom, school and district level; gain exposure to and hands on tools for developing a specific skill within the innovation space
- ROCKiT support: facilitating/coaching from a Design Strategist; space at the Spark Building (if appropriate); funds to cover supplies & reward for participation
ROCKiT Space Camps provide professional development for MMSD staff in Liberatory design and mindsets for innovation.
- Best for: providing space for individuals and/or teams to learn more about ROCKiT and the ROCKiT innovation process; initial exposure to the concepts; exploring whether the ROCKiT process could be applicable to a department/school’s specific challenge needs as well as more universal applications like curriculum development; onboarding before starting a design challenge
- Learning outcomes: develop skills and mindsets to support innovation at classroom, school and district level; learn about the liberatory design process and have the chance to experience a small-scale design challenge
- Teams and individuals that participate will receive direct coaching from Design Strategist, sub coverage, extended employment or professional advancement credit, lunch and snacks each day parking
- Camps are a 2-3 day commitment
The ROCKiT Galaxy is an organic network of people from MMSD who collaborate around innovation through sharing of ideas, designing, providing feedback and offering critique. ROCKiT Galaxy opportunities are designed to elevate ideas, coordinate collaboration, and increase innovative skills and mindsets.
Current 2021-2022 Galaxy Opportunities
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How we work
User Centered Design
Here at ROCKiT we take a user centered approach. Using innovation processes and tools derived from liberatory design, human centered design, service design, and Lean Startup we are able to take risks, test bold new ideas, and use our failures as key learnings.
Using Agile scrum methods, ROCKiT is able to quickly and efficiently work with teams to move their projects forward.
Our core values
In order for every child within MMSD to receive what they need.to develop their full academic potential, we are intentional about designing with the user, the designer, the provider, the relationships between them, and the impact of the design for greater equity.
We work to push assumptions and take risks.
We need to design with others, not for them. To do so, we should focus on letting user experience and voice (especially students) drive what we do
Fail Fast, Fail Often, Fail Forward
Innovation happens when we feel safe to take risks. We aim to grow a culture that supports failing forward and pushing our boundaries.