Involving the Community (in High School Reform)

I will periodically provide updates for the community so that you can read what the Board of Education (BOE) is working on during the year. I also do so when I have particular interest in, or concerns regarding, decisions made on behalf of the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD).
One area that I believe is of utmost importance and may be on the mind of the public is high school reform.
I am particularly interested in answering two questions as they relate to this issue.
First, what are the problem(s) we are trying to address as a district in our high schools?
Second, how does the current high school framework align with the skills and knowledge required by colleges and employers and in the overall reform movement of standards and accountability?
To address this issue as a board member, I look for specific timelines, benchmarks and periodic updates.
I think it would well serve the community and the entire board to know exactly where we are in the process. Originally, high school reform in MMSD was presented to the community in a BOE Special Meeting and referred to as a “blank slate.”
Recently, the district submitted an application for a Small Learning Communities (SLC) federal grant. It was not awarded. It was at this time that I had requested that the BOE review the process of high school reform in MMSD at a BOE Special Meeting. I have also raised concerns that the administration has decided to apply for the grant again. The board has been told that we have a good chance that we will get the grant on the second round. I have again requested that the board meet as soon as possible.
However, as a board member of seven – there must be four BOE members willing to submit such a request to put this topic on the agenda. So far, I am the only member requesting this motion.
I raise this issue because of my firmly held belief that my role as a BOE member is to represent the community and provide, to the best of my ability, an accessible, open process when major decisions are made on behalf of the community.
It appears that as of today, the grant will be resubmitted before the only scheduled BOE meeting on high school reform on the 19th of November.
A little history. The high school reform process should be transparent and accessible to the entire community. I am trying to get a handle on this process myself. Here is a look at what has transpired so far:

On November 22, 2006 it looked like this:
The Isthmus newspaper noted that high school reform was halted in Madison:

“I believe that discussion concerning the way in which our schools prepare all students for post secondary education and employment in an increasingly global economy is too important to rush.
Interest in this topic is high and we can best serve our future students, our broader community and our beliefs as educators by taking the quality time necessary to hear from parents, students, staff, business people, post secondary institutions, and others who value what a high school education can provide.
I am asking you to cease any significant programmatic changes at each of your schools as this community dialogue progresses. We need a tableau rosa mentality that will allow for a free flow of ideas, an opportunity to solidify trust in our expertise, and a chance at a solid, exciting product at the end.”

The Capital Times reported something similar.
And by November 27, 2006 I heard this from the superintendent regarding his presentation to the Board: “Change occurs more effectively, when the broad public has something to react to.”
The video presentation for this can be found here
It appears however, that when it comes to high school reform, the public may have little to react to as we move our high schools into the SLC model.
Now I recognize that the driving force may be the reality that there are limited resources for funding improvements to our high schools. This, of course, is in direct relation to a broken public education finance system in Wisconsin. But once the SLC check is presented, who in their right mind will question taking the money or back away from the SLC model?
We will be committed to this model without adequate input from the public for the next few years and we will place this in the lap of a new superintendent.
We will be committed to this model without an accessible, district-wide set of diagnostic and longitudinal benchmark assessments that have been determined to lead to continued academic and/or professional success once our students leave high school.
District SLC Grant – Examining the Data From Earlier Grants, pt. 3
We will be committed to this model without adequate discussion in a public and open format among all members of the community.
We will be committed to this model without ever bringing to light our evaluation of current programs implemented at our high schools now so as to ensure that they are instructionally effective.
I have been told that the high school redesign is an initiative of the administration and was defined by the high school principals, the Assistant Superintendent and the Superintendent. The Board is essentially being told to wait to see what gets reported from this administrative exercise.
Much of what I have learned from the Wisconsin Association of School Boards over the past few years tells me that this should be a decision with broad community input. It is the duty of the Board to set the long-term vision of our high schools of the future first; and then, instruct the administration to make it happen.
My question as a board member is this: Is high school reform in Madison really a blank slate or has it become a black box? Community members, you tell me; I welcome public discussion.

One thought on “Involving the Community (in High School Reform)”

  1. Thanks for continuing to raise this issue, Maya.
    The link below includes a number of words and a video from around the community on last fall’s failed (or, more precisely, halted by the School Board) effort to implement changes at East High School:
    High School “Reform” link
    This is a useful time to read a bit of Vonnegut (“Harrison Bergeron”):
    Finally, perhaps we might start implementing these reforms with sports first?

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