Change Is Hard

Change is hard! This fact holds true to most businesses or organizations including the Madison Metropolitan School District. Though the MMSD is not dying in the sense of being gone forever, the failure of the operating referendum on May 24th has given the school district the opportunity to develop new service delivery models that may enhance student opportunities for success.

As of late, school board members have been receiving e-mail communications from concerned parents related to changes in band and orchestra at Sherman Middle School. The Sherman principal has decided to move band and orchestra to an “8th hour” or after school. My question is, “Why just band and orchestra at Sherman?” Why not facilitate this change throughout the school district in other academic areas?
Local colleges and universities have adopted this model. These models offer courses during multiple times of day and the evening that provide advantages to the traditional and the non-traditional student. Why shouldn’t the MMSD look to these models?
Changes in service delivery such as those at Sherman Middle School could be an opportunity to enhance other programs and curricula throughout the district. Can you imagine students having the opportunity to take advanced placement courses or talented and gifted programs after school while earning grades/credit? How about students needing to recover deficient credits? How about teachers who would like to flex their work schedule in order to take an early morning collegiate course or to better accommodate their childcare arrangements? This could be a “win-win” situation for all involved.
Change is hard. But change is a must given the challenges facing the Madison Metropolitan School District. Change is also an opportunity to explore new ways of teaching and learning for the betterment of the entire school district.

8 thoughts on “Change Is Hard”

  1. Yes, Johnny. In fact, change is likely necessary. But the problem with the Sherman decision was that was change DONE TO the students and parents.
    We, the parents and students, are not willing to accept any longer having change DONE TO US. The failure of the referenda by those of us voting against it (and even some voting for it) was precisely because of the incredible arrogance of the Administration, principals, other staff, and Board of Education thinking it has the authority to make any decision it pleases, or not do what needs to be done because they don’t want to.
    It is not acceptable that parents and students have to fight the Board and Administration to have a voice AT THE TABLE, before decisions are made.
    My draft of goals for the BOE, which some seem to have looked at, has two significant driving points: ensuring measurable student achievement, and significant and substantive community involvement. The two committees most important in this regard become the Performance and Achievement committee, and the Partnership committee (hitherto consider the least important).
    Thus far, I have not seen any indications that the Board or Administration get it.
    However, I do get the sense that the Administration and Board is in retribution mode — a very effective method of turning advocates into adversaries.

  2. Larry:
    Thank you for your comments and I would like to respond. I believe we have spoken regarding your past candidacy for Madison school board. For this, I give you praise and respect for what you did without having ideal financial or organizational backing.
    I have information regarding what the Sherman principal did before wanting to institute this change. I will send it to you and anyone else wishing to read it. Also, I have contacted Superintendent Rainwater, Attorney Clarence Sherrod and Human Resources Director Bob Nadler to see if this change violates any board policy and procedure, state law or the collective bargaining agreement. This is what the school board does… oversee those aspects of the district.
    But he’s my point. The emphasis of writing “Change Is Hard” was not solely directed to the Sherman Middle School issue. It was to make a point of trying new things, something that his school district needs to start doing if it wants to maintain any semblance of excellence. For example virtual schools, charter schools, magnet schools or changes in the school day.
    If the board begins to “micromanage” the school district, when does it stop? Principal Ed Holmes is making a change in the lunch schedule at West. Should the board stop it because some parents don’t like the change? Again, the board should be concerned with policy, procedure, state law and the collective bargaining agreement. However, I do believe that the board can and should take stances that would have an adverse effect on programs, curriculum, community etc.
    Now related to the board goals that you put together. That’s good. I applaud your efforts. But those are YOUR goals or those that you have consulted with. They are not the elected board’s goals. They also don’t lend themselves to individual board members knowledge, skills and abilities. I can tell you right now that there will be changes in the budget process so that there’s more “transparency.” However, that’s not going to change that 5 to 8 million dollars will have to be reduced to stay within budget. It’s also not going to change that parents, students, teachers, staff, community members, unions, etc. are going to be angry when their job or programs are recommended for cutting or reducing.
    Lastly, I would like to respond to your statement regarding community involvement. I believe that it is important and the board should do more and it seems like it will. However, it still will not solve the underlying issue regarding making decisions. For example, the citizen members of the Long Range Planning Committee stated that if the board was going to referendum then all THREE questions should be on the ballot at the same time. The superintendent recommended that Leopold and maintenance be placed on the ballot in April. A majority of the board elected to go the route of the citizens in May. We now see the results. Okay, hindsight is 20/20… Who gets to be on the committee that makes decisions? Is it a diverse group? How many people of color? How many middle class people? How many teachers? How many elected officials? I think you get my point. Just because you have a citizen’s committee, doesn’t mean that people will accept the recommendations. That doesn’t mean, I as an elected member of the school board will accept the recommendations.
    Right now there are groups of people that are enforcing their will upon the Board of Education. They are praying on people’s fears. Those that have a more powerful voice or can spread their message get their needs met and those that don’t are left to suffer and accept their role in society or in this case the school district.
    I believe there is much arrogance to go around.

  3. Johnny,
    With all due respect, it is frustrating to see the district put ideas forward time and time again without FIRST getting parent and community input. There have been many needless upheavals over the past two years because the administration and/or the board acted first and consulted second.
    When this happens, we ALL lose opportunities to engage in creative problem solving. The net result is more anger and distance between the district and the families that it serves.
    I don’t think that, as a community, we can continue on this path if we are to have a high-quality school system. It costs very little to consult and integrate input into planning. It costs a LOT to continue to treat parents and community members as fools who cannot possibly contribute to our comnmunity’s schools.
    What the board tends to treat as people forcing their will on the schools is, in fact, democracy in action – just like when we go to the polls and vote for referendum or school board candidates.

  4. As always, Johnny, thank you for posting. Your comments certiainly help me understand what’s happening in the board and district.
    When you wrote, “I have information regarding what the Sherman principal did before wanting to institute this change,” you offered to send it to anyone who wants it. Can you please post the information on the blog?
    I don’t understand the facts of the situation at Sherman. 1) Is the school day going to be the same length of time? 2) If some programs are moved outside of the regular school day, what classes or programs will fill the time opened by moving some to afterschool? Or are some classes being lengthened? 3) Who will teach the afterschool classes? I guess that you’re trying to explore this issue by asking about the legalities under the union contact. 4) This is a less factual issue, but what district policies, as set by the board, do you see the decision following? Or, does it contradict some district policies? Maybe it’s too early to answer the policy implications. So if you can’t say, I’ll understand.
    Before the public comments at tonight’s board meeting, maybe someone from the administration can simply explain the facts so that everyone’s comments are grounded in what’s really going on.

  5. There is a balance that needs to be addressed. I was recently ask by a friend and neighbor to tell me the one, and only ONE item that needs to be immediately addressed by the board and administration. I responded, “If I had one item of concern, and only one it to be communication.”
    After loosing my personal life and decreasing my personal business success for the past 6 months, I proposed the following last night:
    MMSD newsletter to our Madison residents and MMSD municipalities
    A MMSD Blog on the MMSD website
    Editorials in these from respective board members, administration and respected community leaders
    Articles of interest submitted by community parents
    Extended, interactive forums at all the MMSD schools
    We have a great means by which our public elects community citizens to the MMSD board. By means of a majority vote, we state whom we admire and trust to make the right decisions for our educational opportunities. Does that mean, the community doesn’t get to share their concerns and opinion? No, I didn’t say that. I will propose this: sound, respectful and educated advice, with the understanding of the majority of all our Madison children needs to be provided. The means and ways in which it is provided make a resounding impact not only on the board, but also on our community as a whole. A constant bombardment of negativity does nothing but chase good people away from running for office and from putting their children in our great schools.
    The misnomer of suburban flight has got me stymied. I actually looked up some addresses in the surrounding area school districts of Cross Plains, Middleton, Waunakee, Sun Prairie, Cottage Grove, McFarland, Verona and DeForest. I discovered that mill rates/assessed property tax rates were about the same or higher than the City of Madison. Most, if a bit lower (0.020 vs. 0.022) contributed a higher percentage to their respective public school district. So I might ask, who is chasing whom?
    The Leopold referenda, is the greatest example of community forethought, research, input, study and solution…it failed … and yet we still have people saying community input will help resolve our current problems. I believe a balance needs to be addressed first; we need to be able to provide information to every citizen, no matter where they live in our district or their status in our public schools. It was not a resounding loss, as many would have us believe; 53% is not far from 47%. It is only a factor of 5%. I would venture to say in my own research, it was not conservative radio, it was not the opinion page of the news media, it was not yard signs and sorry folks, it was not a blog…it was a lack of communication; not only to existing MMSD parents and people living on a fixed income, but to voting residents who are single, couples or young families.
    How do we get them engaged?

  6. First, I want to emphasize my appreciation for Johnny Winston putting his ideas on the line at this site, express his honest and considered opinion, and participate in the give-and-take that this blog site offers. Hopefully this dialog will result in better decisions being made by all involved.
    Let me now disagree with some of the comments of Marisue. I disagree with her assessment of the decision process leading up to the Leopold referendum. I attended a significant majority of the meetings and reviewed the materials presented to the committee.
    There seemed to be little discussion or dialog concerning the appropriateness of building a school at Leopold — the driving force was a promise made 3 years before (and costing $7M) and the $2M addition to Leopold previously in anticipation of building a new school on that site. Time was spent reviewing architectural plans for the new school building, grounds, ingress and egress, and other such activities. Building a school was the only option discussed.
    But, Board policy documents delivered to the committee were very specific about how the process was to be conducted (and appropriate, in my opinion). The steps were very clear: 1) consider internal modifications to the current building; 2) consider transportation to other schools; 3) consider building of additions; 4) consider building another school. That process was ignored; step 4, building another school, was the only step discussed.
    Changes at the Ridgeway Apartments (sale to Gorman, the change of the income levels of tenants) was not considered, yet likely would/could have significant impact on the projected population of Leopold. And, while on the subject of projected population, there are demography experts in the community who believe the population projections used by the Board could be significantly improved. I did not hear or did I see any documentation that considered these community experts opinion on this critical matter.
    Step 2, busing, was not considered until after the Board had decided to build the new school, and then only in case the referendum failed. Remember, this step is supposed to be Step 2!
    Step 3, building an addition, was not considered at all. Well, that’s not quite right. At the last meeting, 15 minutes before the committee voted to recommend to the full Board to place both the maintenance and Leopold referenda on the ballot, one of the citizen members raised the issue, and said nothing more than “What about adding an addition?”, to which Art Rainwater simply said “That is not feasible.” That dialog was the sum and substance of the discussion of building an addition!
    Step 1? Well, the Leopold building had been modified over the years to point of impracticality, in my opinion. I believe the MMSD had long ago met that burden.
    Regarding communications. My prejudice, but in these days, when someone suggests “poor communication”, I always think of that phrase as a euphanism for “poor PR”.
    Decisions based on facts and logical deductions are used only as a last resort, if at all. Perhaps there are no facts anymore. Is everyone an advocate? — only willing to admit to “facts” which support his/her position, conveniently ignoring or misrepresenting countervailing ideas. Naivete’ ? I seem to remember a time years ago that seemed otherwise.

  7. I would have a lot of disagreements with Mr. Winkler’s response. I find it interesting that two citizens can attend many of the same meetings with a great difference in interpretation. I will not boar you but will respond to the accusation of being naïve, for that is one description of my personality that I have not heard.
    My opinion is in line with Mr. Winston, however, Mr. Winkler would have us believe that unless you are a member of the school board making the final decision, your opinion is not welcome unless it is critical of the school board majority.
    I think it is threatening that I’m an action-oriented person who can look at a situation, evaluate it and provide specific, step-by-step instructions of what I would like to accomplish. Does that mean, I’m right? No. But my biggest pet peeve if you will, is going to meetings only to rehash the same old, same old. At some point a decision has to be made, but here we go again with another Long Range Planning Task Force. What if they come up with the same solution? That being, a new school has to be built. You didn’t read my recommendations Mr. Winkler, I am suggesting another option under Mr. Blum’s post “Panel OK’s task force on West side overcrowding.” Fact is, any other location is going to cost the taxpayers of the MMSD more money. If that makes me naïve, then so be it.
    And yes, I do look at the glass as half-full rather than half empty…for some on this blog, that’s sickening. It’s not what you want hear. Who then, isn’t listening to whom? Who then, isn’t willing to hear another side of the story? Who then sir, is trying to ‘recruit’ me to my senses and see that there is no light at the end of the tunnel? I refuse to give up. And I refuse to be recruited by anyone. If that makes me naïve, then so be it.
    Fact is many on the school board are listening to my suggestions Mr. Winkler. The school board is listening. The community, (not just you and me and those who post on this blog) needs step forward with some specific tasks for them to try. But instead, the community attends meetings in mass to say, “Don’t close my school!” “Don’t take away art or music or any of my child’s programs.” I would have agreed with the budget cuts for psychologists until my son and daughter saw our neighbor’s son lying in the street after a truck had hit him two weeks ago on his way to the bus stop.
    My grandfather used to say…In the pasture of life, you can smell the flowers or you can smell the cow manure; always remember it takes a lot of fertilizer to make the flowers bloom. (I made modifications, as his words were not manure and fertilizer) I listen to both sides Mr. Winkler, and so far I only hear ‘real solutions’ from the majority on the school board. If that makes me naïve, then so be it!

  8. Marisue,
    I know that I’m probably not being wise to interpret what Larry said, but I don’t read his post as saying that you’re niave. In fact, I’m not 100% sure what he means as niave.

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