While the District’s first annual report showed some academic improvement overall, it also identified “subgroups”—African American and Latino students and students with disabilities—as part of a more targeted effort to ramp up and enrich the education experience.
To reach them, the district is working with community leaders and groups, such as Madison Partners for Inclusive Education, a support and advocacy group founded more than a decade ago for parents who have children who attend Madison public schools and who receive special education services. Beth Moss, whose son recently left the district after receiving special education until he was twenty-one, is a member of the group.
“Our mantra is that students with disabilities should be included in the classroom with their peers as much as possible, and probably even more than what most people consider possible,” Moss says. “I think the district embraces that philosophy, but it’s not always consistently implemented in every school.”
Moss describes her experience with the schools as mostly positive but over the years as a roller coaster. She says the new strategic framework, now firmly in place and in its second academic year, aims to bring more consistency throughout the district to address the issues. Anna Moffit agrees. She has a second grader and a third grader at Thoreau Elementary, and a first grader at Midvale. All of her children receive special education services through the district. “It’s kind of like you get one thing accomplished, and then three weeks later it’s another thing,” Moffit says. “For me personally, and I can’t speak for all parents, I’m advocating all the time. In fact, I probably spend ten hours a week minimum talking with the schools, going over documents, going to meetings.”
As interim CEO of the Urban League of Greater Madison, which develops and supports educational and employment opportunities for African Americans and other community members, Edward Lee says the school district’s efforts to bridge the achievement gap for black and Latino students are encouraging.
While the district has begun diversifying the workforce at both the administration and the principal level, building leadership that is more reflective of the student body, he says it has a long way to go to ensure that its staff and teachers better reflect the diversity of the student body. Alex Gee, pastor at the Fountain of Life Covenant Church and the founder and president of the Nehemiah Center for Urban Leadership Development, agrees.
“When we don’t have the right kind of diversity that we want to have, then it limits the exposure that white students have to black, Latino, Asian teachers,” Gee says. “Then it limits the role models that kids have.”