Parent Feedback on the Madison School District’s “Branding” Expenditures

via a kind reader’s email: Parent Diane Harrington:

Dear Board Members, Dr. Nerad, and Madison Alders,
My 11-year-old and I visited John Muir Elementary for basketball practice one recent evening. Their gym has banners noting that for several years they’ve been named a “School of Excellence.”
Ben’s school, Orchard Ridge Elementary, had just been dubbed a “School of Promise.”
Which school would YOU rather go to?
But Ben didn’t need a marketing effort to tell him which school was which; he knows some John Muir kids. Ben, too, would like to go to a school where kids are expected to learn and to behave instead of just encouraged to.
Just like those banners, the very idea of your upcoming, $86,000 “branding” effort isn’t fooling anyone.
You don’t need to improve your image. You need to improve your schools.
Stop condescending to children, to parents and to the public. Skip the silly labels and the PR plans.
Instead, just do your #^%* job. (If you need help filling in that blank, head to ORE or Toki. Plenty of kids – some as young as kindergarten – use several colorful words in the hallways, classrooms, lunchroom and playground without even a second look, much less disciplinary action, from a teacher or principal.)
Create an environment that strives for excellence, not mediocrity. Guide children to go above and beyond, rather than considering your job done once they’ve met the minimum requirements.
Until then, it’s all too obvious that any effort to “cultivate relationships with community partners” is just what you’re branding it: marketing. It’s just about as meaningless as that “promise” label on ORE or the “honor roll” that my 13-year-old and half the Toki seventh graders are on.
P.S. At my neighborhood association’s annual Winter Social earlier tonight, one parent of a soon-to-be-elementary-age child begged me to tell him there was some way to get a voucher so he could avoid sending his daughter to ORE. His family can’t afford private school. Another parent told me her soon-to-be-elementary-age kids definitely (whew!) were going to St. Maria Goretti instead of ORE. A friend – even though her son was finishing up at ORE this year – pulled her daughter out after kindergarten (yes, to send her to Goretti), because the atmosphere at ORE is just too destructive and her child wasn’t learning anything. These people aren’t going to be fooled by a branding effort. And you’re only fooling yourselves (and wasting taxpayer money) if you think otherwise.

Parent Lorie Raihala:

Regarding the Madison School District’s $86,000 “branding campaign,” recent polls have surveyed the many families who have left the district for private schools, virtual academies, home schooling or open enrollment in other districts.
Public schools are tuition free and close to home, so why have these parents chosen more expensive, less convenient options? The survey results are clear: because Madison schools have disregarded their children’s learning needs.
Top issues mentioned include a lack of challenging academics and out-of-control behavior problems. Families are leaving because of real experience in the schools, not “bad press” or “street corner stories.”
How will the district brand that?
Lorie Raihala Madison

2 thoughts on “Parent Feedback on the Madison School District’s “Branding” Expenditures”

  1. Thank you Diane!! As a parent of two children at Leopold, I know exactly where Diane is coming from. This marketing plan – as I’m sure the district and board envision – cannot be used to market the district as being one that is like Shorewood and Chavez and Olson – that is NOT the reality for a lot of the schools in the MMSD. Leopold and Orchard Ridge (among many others) are schools that they should be looking at if they want to “market” the district – because what is being done at Shorewood – is completely different than what is being done at Leopold and Orchard Ridge when it comes to the children. I agree with Diane when she stated, “You don’t need to improve your image. You need to improve your schools.” I think using the $86,000 could be put to much better use – if the district only looks to the non-reality schools as a base for their marketing plan.

  2. I went to the community engagement session for the MMSD. It wasn’t really about selling the schools, it was more about improving relationships between parents/the district/citizens without kids. I think this is a good thing. If school finance is to be addressed by the state or if another referendum is needed, the schools will need a lot of support from the majority of Wisconsin citizens who don’t have kids.
    Some of the conclusions at the end of the night included:
    MMSD should share positive stories about the schools and alumni because too often only bad things make the news.
    MMSD needs to make the whole city feel that they are a part of the school system. This was a message they tried to convey during the recent referendum.
    MMSD needs to communicate what changes are being made to address failures.
    The notes from the meeting will be posted soon (I hope) on the MMSD website.
    When I first heard about this meeting I thought it sounded pretty silly but after listening to the Superintendent, I am inclined to support it. The money has been set aside (it is for two years) and the board is committed to trying this.

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