Last week, the consultants hired to organize the superintendent search conducted 31 hour-long individual and focus group sessions to gather information from concerned citizens and stakeholders about the strengths and challenges of the Madison School District, as well as characteristics we would like to see in the next superintendent.
I attended three of these sessions — two general community sessions and the Parent-Teacher Organization representatives ‘ focus group.
Many different opinions were expressed on a broad array of topics, but in each there was widespread agreement about two issues: the need for a more transparent budget process and the vastly underused resource of potential partnerships with parents, businesses and community members who are willing to participate in the creation of a thriving public education system that benefits all of our students.
Many people also expressed the perception that the School Board is powerless in relation to the administration. This perception is fueled by the fact that the board as a whole is actually not connected to its source of power (the residents of the district) in any broad-based, comprehensive way.
It is time for concerned citizens to find common ground on district-wide issues so that we can give the board the support it needs to make principled, proactive decisions about the future of our schools, instead of making decisions that falsely pit schools against each other or that divide taxpayers who have children in public schools from those who do not.
The district is at a point of great opportunity with the promise of a new superintendent, the pressures of a possible referendum, and a School Board that seems willing to engage the public in productive dialogue based on shared concerns rather than divisive ones. (At its planning meeting with the search consultants, the board requested that the written surveys be returned to them so that they could use the input for planning purposes not connected with the superintendent search.)
Over the summer, the Northside Planning Council and the East Attendance Area PTO Coalition have conducted a house meeting campaign to discuss residents ‘ concerns about and hopes for the district.
We have had more than 20 house meetings on the North and East sides of town. In an attempt to reach out to the rest of the community, we will be host to a community roundtable at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday at the Madison Senior Center, 330 W. Mifflin.
We invite anybody who wishes to contribute to this process to join us. We will break into small groups, share personal stories and concerns about how the Madison School District operates, and tease out common themes.
In a public meeting on Oct. 21, we will share the results of the house meetings and roundtable with board member and ask them to act upon the specific issues that we will have identified.
We hope this campaign will be the first step in shifting the relationship between the community and the School Board away from reactive, crisis-driven involvement, toward mutually satisfying, cooperative efforts that benefit the most underused resource in our district — the creative genius of each and every one of our children.
Kemble is co-chairperson of the East Attendance Area PTO Coalition.