In the midst of these challenges, the Madison Metropolitan School District heard its superintendent-designee, Matthew Gutiérrez, was rescinding his acceptance of the position to remain as superintendent of the Seguin, Texas school district. This lack of a permanent superintendent can have an incredibly negative impact on African American students. The initiative known as “Black Excellence” began under the leadership of former superintendent Jennifer Cheatham. Cheatham has been gone for almost a year. Nothing about the current leadership suggests that Black Excellence is a district priority. African American children in Wisconsin experience the widest achievement disparities in the nation in reading and mathematics. Our eighth graders are performing 47 points below their White counterparts in mathematics. Our fourth graders are performing 39 points below their White counterparts in reading. Where is the collective outrage over these disparities? Who on the current school board is demanding improvement?
The racial problems of MMSD run long and deep: Issues of achievement, disproportionate assignment to special education, lack of access to honors and advanced placement classes, disproportionate levels of suspensions and expulsions, and disproportionate graduation rates (59% Black vs. 88% White). In the midst of this there is an inverse relationship between the percentage of teachers of color and that of students. Eighty-eight percent of the teachers are White in a district with a student population that is 43% White. And, we have had repeated instances of White teachers using racial epithets and other disrespect toward Black students and their parents (e.g. a White teacher mistakenly sent a text to a Black parent about how the parent and her child were so dumb).
African Americans in Madison have been more than patient when it comes to improving their status — education, employment, housing, and every other measure of health and well-being. There have been over 40 years of reports, task forces and initiatives. Post-pandemic Madison will be a “new” Madison. We have learned a lot in the midst of crisis. We know that far too many of our community members are one paycheck away from poverty — loss of housing, food, health care, childcare, schooling, etc. What is the place for African Americans in this new Madison?