My Views of the Proposed Leopold Expansion

On March 28, the Madison School Board will cast the final vote on the proposed referendum for $14.5M to build a second school on the Leopold Elementary School site. The proposed “paired” school will open its doors to students in September of 2007 and will house up to 550 Kindergarten through second grade students and another 550 third through fifth grade students. If the Leopold community’s current population mix holds, a school of 1100 or more will include 275 (25%) students for whom English is a second language and 121 (11%) who have Special Educational needs. Over half of the students will come from low income homes. Unlike other Madison paired schools that are on different sites, Leopold’s buildings will be on the same grounds and will be physically linked in an L-shape. Students from both schools will share lunch rooms and playground facilities. Students will have separate entrances, but will share buses to and from school.
My duty as a board member is to weigh the pros and cons of this recommendation from the administration. Although I see why current Leopold parents expect great positives from the new building, I believe that these are short-term gains for the school and community and that the negatives of creating an extremely large elementary school may outweigh the short-term advantages. I am particularly concerned that the short-term relief for overcrowding will be undermined when the building reaches full capacity and houses two schools, each of which is far bigger than any K-2 or 3-5 school today. It is my responsibility to ask whether we have the experience to make such a joint school work and what additional resources will be required to assure student success under such conditions.

Continue reading My Views of the Proposed Leopold Expansion

More Leopold Expansion Discussion

The proposed Leopold Expansion discussion continues:

  • Visiting with some Leopold Parents at a recent event, a number of points were discussed:
    • Parking is currently a problem and will be worse as the school expands.
    • “We keep taking away their playground space. Where are all of the children going to play? They need space to run around.”
    • “Why can’t Madison build a school in Fitchburg (ie, closer to where all the homes are going in)? Verona has – Stoner Prairie, in Fitchburg [Map illustrating Leopold & Stoner Prairie]. Many homes are as far from Verona shools (in Fitchburg) as they are from Leopold.”
    • “Where are all of these children going to go after Leopold?” “Will they be bused over to a Memorial/Middle School combination?”
    • “I’m concerned about the (proposed) shared library and cafeteria. Will they be adequately staffed for a school this size? The previous addition did not address the lunch room and library needs.
    • “I don’t want to pay any more taxes, it seems like every year we have a budget crisis but my taxes continue to go up. Couldn’t they plan better?”
  • Arlene Silviera is puzzled about Ruth Robarts recent questions regarding the size of the proposed Leopold school.

Blog is good for democratic decision-making

I’m volunteering with a conservation group in Mexico, so I don’t have a lot of time to write a post. Nonetheless, I feel compelled to take a few minutes to respond to (Madson School Board Member) Juan Lopez who said of www.schoolinfosystem.org, “I think this kind of forum is destructive.” See the story in the Wisconsin State Journal
I respectfully disagree.
A healthy democracy requires healthy debate. The tradition dates back to the Roman forums where citizens debated freely, and support for the necessity of public debate runs through the writing of our country’s founders and our constitution.
Mr. Lopez and other board members might sense an unusual flurry of spirited commentary on this forum, because the board may not have provided a forum for the honest exchange of ideas. Suddenly, this blog provides the opportunity. Granted, the board holds public hearings, but they are rarely discussions. Instead, people speak and the board listens. It is most unusual from my experience when the board engages the speaker in a real discussion.
I encourage Mr. Lopez and the other members of the board to debate issues vigorously at board meetings, as well as post on this blog, which represents the best of what democracy offers for free and open debate.
Ulimately, the exchange of ideas on any pending school district decison will produce a better outcome than a decision without debate.
Ed Blume
The comments section is open on this post. Please feel free to agree or disagree. I welcome any comments.

Board Governance Lacking – No Timely Information on Taser Incident From Board President to Public: Chooses to Attack Robarts

Bill Keys, President of the MMSD School Board, chose to attack Ruth Robarts today in The Capital Times saying she was not the first board member to be concerned about the taser incident. Bill Keys’ letter seems to be unnecessarily spiteful and misses the point that was raised in The Capital Times’ editorial on February 15, 2005 . The editorial ended:
“Robarts is asking questions that need to be asked. And she is doing so in a thoughtful, forward-looking manner that invites the rest of the board and the community to join in a debate that needs to take place.”
There was no criticism of the School Board – just praise for raising questions publicly, which is what the School Board needs to do in a situation where children’s safety is an issue. The taser incident happened at Memorial High School on January 21, 2005. The incident was first reported in The Wisconsin State Journal on January 31, 2005, 10 days after the incident took place. In that article, Ruth Robarts commented that:
“School Board member Ruth Robarts said she was concerned that she didn’t hear about the incident until a reporter’s phone call.” I find this incredible that she would hear about an issue such as this nearly 10 days after it happened from the press.
In that same article “Member Bill Clingan said it’s appropriate that police authority trumps the school’s, and that the incident is a police issue. But as an individual, he doesn’t like to hear that a youth was subdued with a Taser.”
What’s missing – board governance. Neither Bill Keys, as president of the School Board, nor Bill Clingan, as vice president of the school board, did not appear to notify their colleagues about the incident in a timely manner; because, as it turns out, it’s not clear from public documents when they learned of the incident. How can that be? I would expect the first question Bill Keys might ask Superintendent Rainwater is: Why wasn’t the Board notified of this incident (at least before board members were contacted by the press) and what steps are you taking?
However, after learning about the incident, our School Board officers did not put the incident on a school board special session agenda so that they could 1) hear a public update about the incident from the Superintendent and what he was doing (such as, hiring an outside attorney to undertake an investigation), 2) provide the community with information about the incident that could be presented publicly and 3) have a public board discussion about next steps and what, if any, additional direction from the board to the Superintendent was needed. As an alternative, either school board officer could have written a letter to the paper about what the school board was doing to address the issue, complementing the questions raised by Ruth Robarts and letting the community know that this issue was of great concern to the board and that other board members were equally concerned as Ms. Robarts and were asking similar questions.
Instead, the public heard nothing from the school board president or vice president about an issue of importance to them (student safety) and what the school board would be doing. Rather than taking the opportunity to keep us updated, Mr. Keys decided more than one month after the taser incident to attack his colleague rather than thanking her for what she said, letting the public know what other board members were doing, and updating the public about what steps would be taken.

Rainwater pushes a new school: He’s told to prepare a contingency plan

Lee Sensenbrenner writing in The Capital Times on February 22, 2005:
“You’re manipulating my vote,” said Mary Kay Battaglia, who has children at Crestwood Elementary and Jefferson Middle School. “You’re giving me a choice to move my child and 1,100 others or to vote for a referendum I don’t think is necessary.”…
…Board member Bill Clingan said that the board was neither efficient nor intelligent enough to be manipulative…

Truth-in-Advertising: The Proposed Paired Leopold School is a HUGE Elementary School

On February 21, the district administration presented its recommendations for resolving overcrowding problems at Leopold Elementary School and accommodating children from new and future housing developments on the west side of Madison to the Long Range Planning Committee.
During the discussion, I questioned the educational merit of creating a paired K-5 elementary school on the Leopold grounds that will house 1100 students. If the voters approve the proposed May referendum to spend $14.5M to construct a new school at the Leopold site, the school will hold 1100 students in two buildings joined in an L-shape.
Superintendent Art Rainwater dismissed my concern. According to the superintendent, the enrollment number for the proposed pair is a non-issue. The superintendent assured us that �you can find research that supports any size of elementary school from 250 to 650 students�. In other words, there is no optimal size for an elementary school. He pointed to current Madison K-5 schools as a standard.

Continue reading Truth-in-Advertising: The Proposed Paired Leopold School is a HUGE Elementary School

The Crackers – a For Profit Version of NYC’s Yellow Gates

Leave it to New Yorkers to leave no sacred cows. Read on and enjoy the picture –
Gift to the City � is it Art or for the Birds? “The Crackers” is as much a public happening as it is a tasty snack, defying the domino theory. Peanut butter or cheddar cheese. They poured their hearts and souls into the project for over 26 minutes. It required three dozen crackers and spanned over nearly 23 inches along a footbridge in the park at a cost (borne exclusively by the artists) of $2.50. Is it art? You decide. The installation was completed with no permits or bureaucracy, and fed to the ducks after about a half hour. “The Crackers” is entirely for profit
View “The Crackers” and brighten your day

MMSD’s Kurt Keifer on the Administration’s Boundary Plans

Kurt Kiefer via email:

I’m writing in response to your questions from last week re: boundary change options. Tim Potter, research analyst on my staff who is handling all of the GIS work on the project, provided the details.
a) Leopold at 1040 students. I seem to recall the original plan was 800? (it’s now much less than that) Is this correct?
We are not sure how the 1040 figure is derived. Leopold with current boundaries is projected to have 750 students by 2010. Since the new developments are all within the Leopold attendance boundary they are incorporated in that projection. The McGaw Park development, for which there is no plat yet created, would not be included in the projection. Capacity at the Leopold site WITH a new school would be 1120. Students in Leopold in the various modules ranges from 582 to 875.
b) What are the implications of that growth on cherokee and west?
Depending on which plan you are referring to, yes, there could be an impact on Cherokee and West. Cherokee is currently projected to reach 100% capacity in 2010. The two new, platted developments (i.e., Swan Creek and Oak Meadow) are already in the Leopold attendance area so they are already in the projections. Thoreau already feeds into Cherokee and West so the return of those areas to Leopold would not have an impact at middle/high. The return of the area from Chavez could have an impact. On 3rd Friday, there were 31 and 33 middle high students in this area. On 3rd Friday, 21 of the middle school students were enrolled at Toki and 5 at Cherokee. Of the 33 high school students in this area, 11 attend West and 18 attend Memorial. Capacities at Cherokee and West are 648 and 2173 students, respectively.
c) What about Wright Middle School?
Wright is listed with a capacity of 324 and currently they have 207 students. Wright could alleviate any problems at Cherokee that might be caused by new developments.
d) Some wondered why Velma Hamilton was not affected by any of the
scenarios.

Any changes being made to the elementary schools which feed Hamilton would affect the latter. None of the plans affect Franklin, Randall, Shorewood Hills or Van Hise Elementary Schools. These schools are not experiencing significant changes in enrollments due to changing housing patterns or developments.
Let us know if you have any further questions.
Kurt Kiefer
Madison Metropolitan School District
Planning/Research & Evaluation
608-663-4946
kkiefer at madison.k12.wi.us

Big props to the very active Kiefer’s – Kurt’s better half Jone’ is an excellent elementary school teacher while son Oliver is the student representative on the Board of Education.

Question for Ruth Robarts: Better fallback plan required, or new building?

Thanks, Ms. Robarts, for calling attention to the problems with MMSD’s fallback proposal for boundary changes on the west side, if a referendum to build a new elementary school should fail. You point out that under the fallback plan, too many kids would be coming and going from some schools, and that the boundary changes would disproportinately affect certain schools on the west side.
Do you know if anyone has come up with a better proposal to handle west side growth, in the event we can’t build a new school?

Continue reading Question for Ruth Robarts: Better fallback plan required, or new building?

Why I Oppose the Administration’s Recommendation for School Boundary Changes if the Leopold School Referendum Fails

On Monday, February 21, the Long Range Planning Committee of the Madison School Board will hear the administration�s explanation of five options for reducing overcrowding at Leopold School and providing seats for students from new housing developments on the west and southwest side of the district. Last Monday, after I asked the administration to withdraw options that it will not recommend, a set of nine options dropped to five. Of the remaining five options, the administration recommends only two choices. Option A (3A2 PDF) depends on passage of a referendum to build a second school building on the Leopold grounds. Option B (3D1 PDF) assumes that the referendum fails. Madison Schools Boundary Change web page.
I cannot support Option B, the fallback option in the event that the proposed Leopold referendum fails. There are important but unanswered questions about how the proposed school boundary changes would affect the middle and high schools on the west side. However, more compelling to me is that this option moves 1137 students to new elementary schools, including 516 low income students, and moves them in a way that will excessively disrupt many of the eleven affected schools.

Continue reading Why I Oppose the Administration’s Recommendation for School Boundary Changes if the Leopold School Referendum Fails

Roger Price Budget Presentation

Roger Price, the Madison School District’s Assistant Superintendent for Business Services presented a look at the upcoming year’s district budget last Monday night (2.14.2005). Roger forwarded his powerpoint slides (260K pdf) and an excel spreadsheet on tax levies from 1993 to 2005 that he used in his presentation. You can view the presentation (or listen to an audio mp3 file) here.
Barb Schrank took a look at the video clip and has some comments below.

MMSD Budget Forecast – Board Asks Few Questions

Roger Price presented to the School Board a budget forecast (Roger Price Presentation – video/mp3 audio) for the next four years.
Watching the video I was surprised there was very limited discussion and few questions about the substance of the forecast. There was no discussion about or requests for the administration to develop alternative budget forecasts using different assumptions. There was no questions about the assumptions used. There was no discussion about setting a time to review directions to administration for making cuts – for example, what are the personnel policies? There will be no layoffs of administrators. Will that be the same for existing teachers? There was no discussion about when to discuss the financial impacts of programs that are not as effective as others and may be costing more than we can afford for the results. Examples of questions about curriculum – reading: what is being done to appeal federal $2 million, what is being done to review costs of reading and evaluating what is working best for most children, how is curriculum being evaluated at Lapham, how much are new contracts going to cost and relating this to personnel layoffs if referendums are not passed. what programs are not working, what do they costs, etc.
Basically, the majority of the school board assumed that was the gap – $29 million cumulatively over 4 years. No questions were asked about the assumptions used. This is the most important part of a forecast – what the assumptions are, what other assumptions could be considered. Unless you have a good understanding and confidence in the assumptions used, your forecast will be weakened.
The School Board received the information, said thank you and reviewed the dates needed to make a decision about going to a referendum for operating expenses. This is the first time the board has seen a budget forecast for 05-06 – no substantive discussion.
With the exception of the additional years in the budget forecast, which I was glad to see that an attempt had been made to go out several years, this presentation is the same process and discussions that I saw last year. The majority of the Board had no questions last year either – how can that be?
I think I would have lots of questions if I was facing a cumulative $29 million gap between revenues and expenditures in my budget.
Link to MMSD Budget Page

Budgeting and Financial Planning – What’s the Difference?

The Superintendent of a small Massachusetts School District, East Long Meadow, prepared a clear, concise document describing his perspective of differences between budgeting and financial planning ( East Long Meadow MA Financial Planning Overview Document). He described fiscal responsibility of the school district:
“School Committee members, superintendents, and business managers have two levels of fiscal responsibility. The first level is compliance with state and federal law. Compliance ensures that the budget meets state standards and that state funds are directed to legislated accounts and programs. Compliance does not ensure that funds are being used efficiently or effectively, however. The second, higher order of responsibility is that of fiscal stewardship, which goes well beyond compliance and ensures that funds are spent on programs that make a difference and move the district toward its vision. Fiscal stewardship avoids deficit spending and the need for drastic cuts that undermine education. It requires that policy and process are in place to ensure that funds are used effectively and wisely and that deficits are avoided.
How does a School Committee achieve effective fiscal stewardship? The answer is financial planning. You would never build a new house only to tear down part of it because you didn’t budget enough to finish the entire building. Unfortunately, that’s how some districts often handle funds. Some build a district vision for student success one year at a time and often end up spending so much on small projects that they don’t have enough for the programs that would really make a difference. But building a successful district requires a strategic plan, improvement goals, and a financial plan to support the vision–plus the fiscal stewardship to make sure tax dollars are being directed to the most effective programs and departments.”
As MMSD takes its first small, positive public steps developing a multi-year budget, there is valuable information in this budget that can provide guidance for questions to ask about multi-year financial planning and not simply the same budget with inflated expenses.
I sent a copy of this memo to Carol Carstensen earlier this month. I have been asking for a long term financial picture, as has Ruth Robarts and others in the community. I am encouraged to see that the District Administration has taken the first step in that direction on February 14th.

School Board Governance Weak – School Closings

I agree wholeheartedly with the Capital Times February 17, 2005, editorial statement ( Editorial – February 17, 2005that the Madison Metropolitan School district ��seems to be determined to offend every supporter of public education in the city and surrounding communities�� The district administration�s proposed boundary changes and redistricting proposals presented to the board on February 14th was no �sweetheart proposal,� and once again demonstrated the lack of meaningful communication and collaboration between the school board and the public.
The Superintendent and his senior staff work in what appears to many as a heavy handed and an alienating manner, because the majority of the school board lets this happen. Do we want a board that allows the district administration present incomplete proposals and then drive the discussion with the board coming along for the ride? I know I don�t.
If Carol Carstensen, Bill Clingan, Juan Jose Lopez and Shwaw Vang did not support closing schools, then this criterion needed to be communicated to the district administration clearly via a public meeting prior to the development of and release of a district administration report with options for easing overcrowding in schools.
As Chair of the Long Range Planning Committee last year, Mr. Clingan had the opportunity to put in place such an approach for addressing these big planning issues. As Lucy Mathiak wrote in two previous letters ( February 2, 2005, February 14, 2005 )to the Capital Times editor, ��he squandered his opportunity.� This is not a hind-sight comment. A long range planning committee needs to continually be looking long range and adjusting planning as needed.
As hard as the LRPC has worked this year (meeting bi-monthly) trying to meet fast-approaching deadlines, that committee and the public advisory committee has not had an opportunity to discuss strategically and to plan for new buildings, maintenance and redistricting as a package. All of these piecesare interrelated and need to be considered in the context of the impact of various options on decisions about building a new school, closing a school(s), maintenance, etc.
From here on out, I would recommend that board members direct the district administration to work closely with the community and the Long Range Planning Committee prior to releasing a detailed report with recommendations. At a minimum, the Chair of the Long Range Planning
Committee (Ruth Robarts this year) should not be receiving administration recommendations on the fly as they are being released to the public.
Emerson is now off the table for discussion, in part because of Capital Times editorial and public outcry. Also, Ruth Robarts directed the administration to take the option out, because a) there was no support for this option and b) further public discussions would be necessary before revisiting this option.

Cap Times: Don’t Close Emerson

From the editorial page:

The Madison Metropolitan School District administration, which seems to be determined to offend every supporter of public education in the city and surrounding communities, was recently forced to back off from a foolish proposal to close two east side elementary schools and a middle school. But the administration is still recommending that Emerson Elementary School be closed.

Isthmus: Talking out of School: Don Severson’s Letter to the Editor

Don Severson has written a letter to the Isthmus editor regarding Jason Shephard’s 2/10/2005 article: Talking out of School (Shephard looks at the upcoming school board races in this article). Here’s Severson’s letter to the editor:

Madison School Board member Carol Carstensen complains that critics of the Board aren’t really interested in seeking solutions to complex questions. She states that “I get a little concerned when people say, ‘You should be doing this,’ but then are unable to give me a better plan for how to achieve what they want.” The significant issue here is that Ms. Carstensen is unwilling and unable to consider, discuss and evaluate other processes, approaches, criteria and recommendations for alternatives and solutions.

[PDF Version]

Continue reading Isthmus: Talking out of School: Don Severson’s Letter to the Editor

Madison School District’s Boundary Change Scenarios

The Madison School District has posted quite a bit of information, including an executive summary (in html!) on their web site. The details include a number of scenarios along with a school by school analysis. (very nicely done – fewer pdf’s would be wonderful, but it’s a great start).
There are a couple of related meetings Monday, February 14, 2005 that we’ll record and post shortly thereafter:

  • Special Board of Education Meeting @ 5:00p.m. where they will discuss the Board’s Equity Policy and the District’s projected budget gap from 2005 to 2009.
  • The Board’s Long Range Planning Committee meets at 6:00p.m. to discuss the boundary change options.

These meetings are held in the Doyle Administration Building [Map] in room 103 (enter from the back of the building).
Sandy Cullen writes about some parent’s reactions. Lee Sensenbrenner on the District’s 8.6M in pending reductions (or reductions in the increase).

Wisconsin DPI Candidate Lunch 2.17.2005

Jeff Mayers forwarded this event information (calendar) [Candidate information]:
Top two DPI candidates from the 2/15/2005 primary election.
February 17, 11:45 a.m., the Madison Club, Wilson Street, Madison
Join us to hear Jeff Mayers and the candidates discuss the state of
education and the race.
Cost is $15 for Madison Club members and $19 for non-members. Call Loretta to RSVP at the Madison Club, 608-255-4861.
The event is co-sponsored by WHD Government Affairs and Sonic Foundry.

Wisconsin DPI Candidate Fund Raising

dpi013105cash.jpg
The money being tossed around in this race reflects the growing partisan nature of a purportedly non-partisan position (Burmaster was on stage at the recent Kerry/Springsteen rally). Dave Zweifel also weighs in on the changing nature of this elected position.

The DPI Candidate primary is Tuesday, 2/15/2005. Vote – perhaps for Yvarra or Stelzel, two who are running without a serious cash machine….

Given the partisan nature of the job, Zweifel is correct in advocating for a fall election.
Background on the candidates 1/31/2005 campaign finance disclosures: [AP] [Wisconsin Elections Board]

Q and A with MMSD school staff

MAFAAC (Madison Area Family Advisory/Advocacy Coalition)
PO Box 5311
Madison, WI 53705
836-0616 for more information
What: Q and A with MMSD school staff, Valencia Douglas, Jane
Belmore and Marcy Peters-Felice
Subject: How can parents and other community members get involved in school issues; Who is welcome in our schools; How
are decisions made about important issues involving our children;
And how do we file a complaint when we feel wronged???
When: Saturday, February 12th
Time: 1:00-3:00 PM
Where: South Madison Health and Wellness Center, 2202 S. Park St.
This meeting is free and open to the public. We strongly encourage you to come and ask questions of the school representatives.
Snacks will be provided.

School Board Governance Lacking – Fine Arts

Let the School Board know how you feel about the following at comments@madison.k12.wi.us.
Monday, February 7, 2005, I spoke before the School Board during public appearances. The purpose of my statement was to speak about my concern re. the School Board’s ongoing inaction regarding the fine arts curriculum. During the past six years, there have been cuts to courses, reduced positions, continued threats of cuts to curriculum (such as the elementary strings academic classes) without any engagement or dialogue with the hundreds of concerned community members who have voiced their support for a strong fine arts curriculum and have asked (over and over) for the School Board to work collaboratively with the community to develop a fine arts vision and strategy for fine arts.
If the fine arts curriculum were being treated fairly in light of the District’s overall financial challenges, that would be one thing. But this academic discipline has not been treated fairly and in some cases analyses and a board member’s recommendation are made that appear spiteful (for example, a $500-600 fee for the elementary strings academic classes that are part of the School Board approved Grade 4-12 instrumental curriculum). In the fall the District formed a working group with supporters of extracurricular sports. What’s wrong with this picture? Fine arts is also a great way to explore and develop community partnerships.
I believe the City of Madison and its fine arts community need to be seriously concerned with the District’s continued lack of attention to this important curriculum area and the absence of leadership by the School Board to �think outside the box.� Board members are allowing this curriculum to wither even in light of research showing the positive effect on low income student achievement and have missed opportunities for federal funding of the arts for low income children.
On Monday, I was “politely” told that I should be the one to remind board committee chairs to follow up with items on their agenda. What kind of foolishness is this? Each board committee has a support person from district staff who should review this information with the committee and provide periodic updates – publicly, since the public is expecting follow-up.
This follow-up and continuity is not happening. For example, in March 2003 the Fine Arts coordinator provided an overview of fine arts curriculum and community relationships between MMSD and the community to the Performance and Achievement Committee. Board members asked for a follow-up the next year. This did not happen. During the year, I contacted the Fine Arts Coordinator and asked about progress on a Fine Arts strategy. He informed me that his superiors would tell him when to work on this – they never did. Does that mean the public needs to take note of tasks assigned or commitments made publicly at a meeting and follow whether the statements are being followed up? No way.
I also reminded the School Board that the superintendent said that in the absence of a Fine Arts Coordinator, he had told the board a committee of teachers would be put together to handle tasks. Rather than address my concern, I was “politely” told (dismissed) about how it’s taken so long to find a Fine Arts Coordinator, because the District wants the best person for the position. I say hogwash. The District waited 5 months before even putting up an ad for the position when the outreach portion existed.
Are community members supposed to let the School Board know the teachers’ committee is not in place, there has been no posting for the Fine Arts Coordinator position and MMSD positions on fine arts boards are going unfilled because there is no Fine Arts coordinator and another options is needed? The fine arts teachers did just that in early fall – no action by the School Board.
The Board says they are making an effort to find the best person. Yet, the District abandoned the first interview process that included qualified candidates, lowered the standards (removed a licensing requirement) and re-announced the position. Ads were only placed in newspapers. When asked if the District had placed ads with professional organizations that would know how to contact qualified personnel, the District said they did not have the time to do that. (note: many employers advertise online for positions
these days – www.monster.com is the place to be, generally).
Why does the public have to follow up with everything? Why can’t we have confidence that appropriate steps are being taken? Why are there no mechanisms in place for the Board to provide appropriate oversight?
By his actions (and inactions) the Superintendent continues to show a lack of understanding of the demonstrated positive benefits of fine arts curriculum on student achievement, and fails to reach out to the community to keep the arts strong in Madison�s schools, which is something the community deeply values. In times of scarce resources, the district needs to work collaboratively with the community.
In the area of Fine Arts, it appears the Superintendent needs closer supervision by the Board. Yet, the School Board is not providing oversight either. Maybe I’m being too cranky. Afterall, what difference does it make if the Board abandons fine arts? Plenty.
What are the risks of not doing this? The board runs the risk of missing an important opportunity to improve student achievement and build community relationships with a community that strongly values the arts. Also, the board runs the risk of the district not remaining competitive with surrounding districts that have strong fine arts curriculum for their students. This would be an additional burden and negative impact on our low income students whose families do not have the opportunity to move to the suburbs. We can�t let this happen. Our children’s learning deserves more responsibility and accountability from our School Board.
How does the School Board expect the community to support a referendum when there is inaction year after year? They won�t if the public is not confident in the board’s ability to keep our school district strong by reflecting community values.
Specific comments in my statement included:

A. School Board is Non-responsive to the Community.

For three years, children, parents and members of the Madison community have spoken to board members about the important contribution of the fine arts curriculum to successful learning in core academic subject areas. While the School Board forms community committees to address community concerns about long-term planning, extracurricular sports, afterschool, and even school animals, the requests of hundreds of children, teachers and community members over the past three years for such a committee for fine arts curriculum planning go unanswered.
Abandoned promises. While looking for a new Fine Arts Coordinator, the School Board has let 9 months pass without professional support in the fine arts area for teachers and as a liaison with the community. Yet, the Superintendent said a committee of fine arts teachers would be put into place � this did not happen, and there was no follow-up publicly from the Board even after fine arts teachers spoke to the School Board about needing help last fall. Teachers even provided the School Board with possible solutions.
What has this meant? Diminished Community Outreach. There has been less community outreach and communication between the District and the arts community than in previous years. Representatives from the district�s fine arts professionals have not been on boards. I can only believe that if you had asked any of the fine arts teachers who are experienced professionals (many are involved in the community) to be on these boards, they would have been honored to serve. Even if you need to pay for time, the money would have been well spent.
Diminished Long-Term Planning for the Arts. MMSD lacks a fine arts vision that can only be developed with teacher, administrator, and community involvement. Long-term planning for the fine arts curriculum � looking at what currently exists, and what is needed for maintenance and growth of a strong fine arts curriculum is non-existent.
B. Missed Funding Opportunities.
In July, the Secretary of Education sent all school district superintendents a policy letter on fine arts curriculum. His letter began,
�As I am sure you know, the arts are a core academic subject under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). I believe the arts have a significant role in education both for their intrinsic value and for the ways in which they can enhance general academic achievement and improve students’ social and emotional development.�
While we can all agree that we have philosophical and financial issues with NCLB, the points made in the Secretary�s letter reflect the current knowledge, key strengths and benefits to math and reading about fine arts education. His letter also went on to provide links to flexibility in federal grants for fine arts curriculum for low income students and all students and provided links to resources and to research showing independently evaluated improved test scores for low income children. This funding has been available for several years � MMSD�s former fine arts coordinator was not included in grant applications at federal level for fine arts. This is not something you would not undertake independently.

C. Community Enagagement/Partnering

How much longer is the School Board willing to let the District�s fine arts curriculum wither? If resources are as scarce as the School Board continues to warn the public, then action is needed yesterday. Our community values fine arts � that�s clear to everyone. Fine arts curriculum directly benefits children�s performance in school � achievement.
Other districts nationally are independently assessing the proven benefits of fine arts curriculum for low income children�s learning and academic achievement. They are seeing improved results in their test scores. How long is the School Board willing to risk these benefits to Madison�s children?
What�s needed? I believe the Board needs a Fine Arts working group under the Partnership Committee with feedback to the Performance and Achievement Committee. This committee must a) review what exists � existing approved curriculum and standards, b) develop a vision and action plan for fine arts that will lead to a strong fine arts curriculum for our children c) determine costs and d) identify partnerships. I would recommend the first step for the group would be to develop a work plan for board approval. I believe the Fine Arts Coordinator needs to lead this, but I asked the Board to begin now. Even though the Fine Arts Coordinator might be new, there are people with vast experience in this field and strong community ties who can help get up and going and provide the support the Fine Arts Coordinator will need when they are on board.
What are the risks of not doing this? The board runs the risk of missing an important opportunity to improve student achievement. Also, the board runs the risk of the district not remaining competitive with surrounding districts that have strong fine arts curriculum for their students. This would be an additional burden and negative impact on our low income students whose families do not have the opportunity to move around. We can�t let this happen.

California: Mandatory Student ID Cards with RFID’s

The EFF (well worth your support):

Several civil liberties groups, including the ACLU of Northern California (ACLU-NC), Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), and the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) sent a letter today expressing alarm at the Brittan School District’s use of mandatory ID badges that include a RFID device that tracks the students’ movements. The device transmits private information to a computer on campus whenever a student passes under one of the scanners. The ID badges also include the student’s name, photo, grade, school name, class year and the four-digit school ID number. Students are required to prominently display the badges by wearing them around the neck at all times.

Madison Schools Proposed Athletic Field Fees

A reader forwarded me comments that were sent to the Madison School Board regarding the proposed athletic field fees:

As you would guess, many of us who have watched a soccer game, t-ball game or football game and enjoyed the unencumbered spirit and play of our children and have personally mowed the grass, or lined a field, you may oppose the school board proposal of a user fee for the athletic fields during non-school hours.
I sent a letter to the comments section of MMSD school board. Send yours to: comments@ at madison.k12.wi.us
My letter to the school board stated:

Continue reading Madison Schools Proposed Athletic Field Fees

Donna Ford’s Visit to Madison

Madison is fortunate to have Donna Ford, Ph.D. visit on Tuesday and Wednesday, February 8 and 9, 2005. Dr. Ford is the Betts Chair of Education and Human Development at Vanderbilt University. She conducts research primarily in gifted education and multicultural/urban education. Specifically, her work focuses on: (1) recruiting and retaining culturally diverse students in gifted education; (2) multicultural and urban education; and (3) minority student achievement and underachievement.
Dr. Ford will be meeting with TAG staff and administrators during her visit, and will be speaking about multicultural education at West High School as part of a staff in-service. On Tuesday evening at 7:30 p.m., Dr. Ford will be giving a community presentation entitled �Increasing the participation of culturally diverse students in talented and gifted education� at Wright Middle School, 1717 Fish Hatchery Rd. This presentation is open to all interested parents and community members. Translation will be available for Spanish, Hmong, and hearing impaired audience members. Dr. Ford is also scheduled to give a colloquium on Wednesday, February 9 at 11:30 a.m., in the UW Department of Counseling Psychology. This presentation entitled �Understanding culture: Implications for improving minority student achievement.� will be held in Room 154 Education. For further information, please contact Jeff Henriques, jhenriqu@wisc.edu or visit the TAG Parents website: http://tagparents.org.
Dr. Ford’s visit to Madison is supported by the MMSD Department of Parent Community Relations, American Family Insurance, West High School, and the UW Department of Counseling Psychology.

The Public Survey Trap and Music Education

In his weekly advice on music advocacy, Dr. Benham, on www.supportmusic.com talks about public surveys. Useful information can be gathered, but they can also be used to threaten the public or be used as a mandate from the public if referendums do not pass. the music advocate needs to keep music off the surveys. Dr. Benham writes,
“In the presence of a financial crisis one of the approaches used to inform the public of the seriousness of the situation is a Public Survey.
The survey may be used for a variety of reasons, some of which may need to be “read between the lines.”
* To inform the public of the financial crisis
* To inform the public of the need to raise taxes
* To establish a basis for a levy referendum to increase funding
* To inform (sometimes threaten) the public of probable cuts if additional finding is not increased
* To get a sense of what the public values most so that the cuts made cause the least negative reaction
One school district in which I worked mailed surveys to all employees and residents in the district. The survey listed 200 categories or programs within the district. The respondent was asked to rank each with a response of “A” (Most important to retain), “B” (Cut here first), or “C” (Save this if possible). After the district levy referendum failed the district mandated cuts in the music program that would have eliminated 70% of the orchestra staff and 48% of the band staff.
What actually occurred is that the results were summarily ignored, not even calculated. The administration proposed the music cuts based on their own educational philosophy and blamed the community for lack of support for music. The music parents requested permission to review the surveys and discovered the following.
* Of the 60,000 surveys distributed only 211 were returned
* Lack of participation by the community invalidated the survey, exposing the administrative action as self-serving
* Of the nine (9) music categories included on the list of 200 in the survey, music was ranked by the community as “most important to retain” on a basis equivalent with curricular status.
* Music categories outranked all extra-curricular activities as “most important to retain”
Continue Reading “The Public Survey Trap”

Update on Lowell Elementary School and Emissions from Kipp Corp.

On Monday evening School Board members heard from parents, professionals and a local business about emissions from Kipp Corporation.
Parents and Clean Air Madison are concerned that emissions from changes in manufacturing and a permit from the WI DNR will negatively affect the health of Lowell Elementary School children. Kipp Corporation maintains they are operating within both state and city guidelines. Both CAM and Kipp made presentations of their positions to the board.
After much discussion by board members, Ruth Robarts made a motion to ask the state Department of Natural Resources to install an air monitoring device at Lowell Elementary School. Her motion, seconded by Juan Lopez, passed unanimously.

Lucy Mathiak on Bill Clingan & Leopold Expansion

Lucy Mathiak:

Dear Editor: I am writing in response to Bill Clingan’s Jan. 27 letter regarding the second Leopold School. A second school is long overdue. It is the right thing to do.
While there is no doubt that Mr. Clingan will be a vocal advocate for the Leopold referendum, one wonders where his passion for this initiative was in 2003-04 when he chaired the Long Range Planning Committee. As chair, he had the power to move the school forward, and he squandered that opportunity.
According to the school district Web site, the Long Range Planning Committee met a total of three times under Mr. Clingan’s leadership. Planning for a Leopold building referendum was not an agenda item at any of those meetings. The committee did not meet again while Mr. Clingan was the chair.

Madison School Administrators: What is the trend?

Before February 1 of each year, the Madison School Board must decide whether to renew its administrators’ contracts. If the Board plans to cut administrative positions, it must give the administrators notice that their employment contracts will not be renewed. Otherwise, the contracts automatically renew for one or two years.
Because continued shortfalls in state and federal aid for schools force budget reductions each year, the number of administrators and the total cost of their wages and benefits is a factor in the budget for the next year.
On January 24, 2005 Superintendent Art Rainwater used the following graph and table as evidence of a trend of reductions in the MMSD administrative staff.

Continue reading Madison School Administrators: What is the trend?

Wisconsin DPI Candidate Forum


Three of the four candidates for Wisconsin DPI Superintendent participated in a Madison Forum Saturday morning. The League of Women Voters Melanie Ramey kindly moderated. Watch the forum here (video and audio clips). You can also read individual questions and watch/listen to the candidate responses.
Incumbent Libby Burmaster was unable to attend, though the three candidates mentioned that she has not participated in any primary events to date. I find this disappointing. These challenging education times require more debate, a more engaged citizenry and leadership.
I was impressed with the three participating candidates. They addressed the issues and were willing to put their names on a position.
In days long gone, it was likely sufficient to rely on special interests and avoid direct public interaction. Our current President certainly avoids any sort of critical engagements. Russ Feingold, to my knowledge, has always mingled easily with the public. [Melanie mentioned that incumbent non-participation is a growing problem around the state.]
The internet era is dramatically changing the way in which we all communicate, are informed and express our points of view. Any candidate seeking office would do well to participate in the conversation.
I also want to thank the local media for their extensive coverage:

  • 3, 15 and 27. Their coverage enabled these three candidates to have a few broadcast words with Madison voters.
  • Isthmus posted the event in their weekly calendar.
  • Sheryl Gasser emailed and mentioned that Wisconsin Public Radio will be interviewing the four DPI candidates individually starting this Monday morning from 7 to 8a.m. through Thursday morning. I’ll post audio links to these conversations.

Take a look at the forum page and email the candidates with questions. The primary is Tuesday, February 15, 2005. Vote!

Wisconsin DPI Candidate Madison Forum – Saturday Morning 1/29/2005

www.schoolinfosystem.org is hosting a Wisconsin DPI Candidate Forum tomorrow morning at 10:00a.m. at the Madison Senior Center. Three of the four candidates: Todd Stelzel, Gregg Underheim and Paul Yvarra have confirmed.
This is the ONLY Madison opportunity you’ll apparently have to meet the candidates before the February primary.
When: January 29, 2005 10:00a.m. (9:30 if you want to chat with the media folks)
Madison Senior Center, 2nd Floor
330 W Mifflin St
Madison, WI 53703
(608) 266 6581
[Map/Directions]. There’s quite a bit of parking around this facility, just behind the new Overture Center.
Please note that the Winter Farmer’s market is on the first floor of the Madison Senior Center, so bring your shopping bag.
Notes, photos audio and video files will be posted here after the event. I’ll post additional media links as they are available.

Need 3-5 Year Budget – Where Are We Going?

Monday night a majority of school board members voted to go to referendum in May 2005, one month after the April 5th election. To be on the ballot in May, the board will have to vote on referenda language by late February.
Why wait one month? In one month, board members expect to have more information about what the financial needs will be for the next year for educational programs and services. In reality, board members will have an estimate of the revenue gap for the operating budget. Carol Carstensen, before voting yes on a maintenance referendum, wants to see what the revenue gap is and what programs/services might be affected by the revenue gap.
To the public this seems like a jumble of information – vote to build a new school in January, vote to redistrict/close school in February, vote to redistrict so there’s a better balance/mix of students in schools in the near future, maintenance for schools that may be closed, and the real budget – the operation budget.

Expert in multicultural and gifted education to visit Madison

A support group for parents of talented and gifted (TAG) students, the Madison TAG Parents Group, is pleased to announce that Donna Ford, Ph.D., will be visiting Madison on February 8 and 9 to discuss the issues surrounding the identification and retention of gifted and talented low income and minority students. Dropout data from the school district classify more than 25% of all dropouts as well behaved high achievers. More than 50% of these students are low income and more than 40% of them are minority students.
Dr. Ford is the Betts Chair of Education and Human Development at Vanderbilt University. She conducts research primarily in gifted education and multicultural/urban education. Specifically, her work focuses on: (1) recruiting and retaining culturally diverse students in gifted education; (2) multicultural and urban education; and (3) minority student achievement and underachievement.
Dr. Ford’s work has been recognized by many different professional organizations. She received a Research Award from the Shannon Center for Advanced Studies; an Early Career Award from The American Educational Research Association; an Early Scholar Award from The National Association for Gifted Children; and the Esteemed Scholarship Award from The National Association of Black Psychologists. She has published more than 90 articles and is the author of Reversing underachievement among gifted black students (1996) and a co-author of Multicultural gifted education (1999) and In search of the dream: Designing schools and classrooms that work for high potential students from diverse cultural backgrounds (2004).
Dr. Ford will be meeting with TAG staff and administrators during her visit, and will be speaking about multicultural education at West High School as part of a staff in-service. She is also scheduled to give a colloquium on Wednesday, February 9, in the UW Department of Counseling Psychology. On Tuesday evening at 7:30 p.m., Dr. Ford will be giving a community presentation at Wright Middle School, 1717 Fish Hatchery Rd. She will be talking about increasing the participation of at risk students in gifted and talented education. This presentation is open to all interested parents and community members. Translation will be available for Spanish, Hmong, and hearing impaired audience members. For further information, please contact Jeff Henriques, jhenriqu@wisc.edu or visit the TAG Parents website: http://tagparents.org.
You can find out more about Donna Ford by visiting her webpages: http://peabody.vanderbilt.edu/faculty/sped/ford.htm

Editorial: School Board Must Show Unity – A Capital Times Editorial – January 24, 2005

In an editorial in today’s Capital Times, School Board unity is identified as a key factor before deciding on going to a referendum. I couldn’t agree more with this editorial.
At this point in their deliberations, MMSD’s School Board is not ready to make a decision to go to referendum(s), because they have more work to complete and more discussions are needed with the public before making these important decisions. And, I do not count public hearings as conversations with the public.
Board members must be united and they must be able to present a complete, viable package to the public where they can demonstrate other options considered and decisions that led them to this as the best choice for our children’s education.
What is some of the work yet to do? Before voting on Leopold, review updated options for boundary changes and school closings. You won’t have a successful vote on a new school at Leopold if you vote to go to referendum on Leopold in January and come back in February with suggested closings on the east side of Madison. That won’t work.
The “maintenance referendum” is only one part of the operating budget. School Board members need to have the complete budget, and they need to know what the estimate of all revenues are for next year. Waiting for a same service budget won’t get them there and won’t let the Board make the decisions about where scarce resources are allocated. Board members need to begin a process to look out 3-5 years and tell Madison voters what our schools need to be successful, how much that will cost and what options do we have for funding our investment in education.
As a minor aside, the administration continues to tell the board that the maintenance referendum will not cost any additional property tax dollars. Wait a minute – isn’t it the School Board’s decision about how to finance their operating budget. Why wouldn’t School Board members want the “no tax increase option” to go toward the general operating budget.
Let’s get the whole picture – our children cannot afford piecemeal approaches to decisionmaking. Our children deserve leadership and hard work from our School Board members without threats that this list will be cut if you don’t vote yes on a referendum. That option won’t cut it with the voters.
As the Capital Times Editorial writes, “…voters have a right to expect that any referendums placed before the community will have the support of all board members, including Robarts, who was re-elected by an overwhelming margin last year despite the fact that she faced an able opponent and a concerted campaign against her. Robarts is not always right, but she is never so wrong that board members should feel comfortable going into a referendum fight without her.”
Robarts’ Long Range Planning Conmmittee, which she chairs, and the public advisory committee, which she asked the board to form, have been working hard and asking good questions. The advisory committee’s discussions have been substantive and well thought out. The advisory committee’s continued work on the school and maintenance issues will make an important contribution to referendum decisions by board members.
Had Bill Clingan, who, chaired Long Range Planning Committee last year convened his committee from late December 2003 through mid-April 2004, the current members of the Long Range Planning Committee might be further ahead in the process and Leopold Elementary parents would be in a new school in Fall 2006 vs. Fall 2007. Four months of no meetings last year potentially delayed the overall process and opening of the new Leopold School by one year – that’s an unfair burden for the kids.
Continue Reading Editorial: School Board Must Show Unity

Gray Matter and the Sexes: Still a Scientific Gray Area – by Natalie Angier and Kenneth Chang – NYTimes January 24, 2005

I hope scientists researching the differences been the sexes’ gray matter take more time digesting their results than Lawrence Summers, President of Harvard University, did before he made his comments about the innate difference between the sexes in a recent speech.
“Researchers who have explored the subject of sex differences from every conceivable angle and organ say that yes, there are a host of discrepancies between men and women…,” write Angier and Chang,
“Yet despite the desire for tidy and definitive answers to complex questions, researchers warn that the mere finding of a difference in form does not mean a difference in function or output inevitably follows.”
“We can’t get anywhere denying that there are neurological and hormonal differences between males and females, because there clearly are,” said Virginia Valian, a psychology professor at Hunter College who wrote the 1998 book “Why So Slow? The Advancement of Women.” “The trouble we have as scientists is in assessing their significance to real-life performance.”
Continue Reading Gray Matter and the Sexes: Still a Scientific Gray Area – by Natalie Angier and Kenneth Chang – NYTimes January 24, 2005

San Diego Superintendent Alan Bersin & No Child Left Behind

Eduwonk:

Haven’t yet had your fill of political shenanigans in California? Then keep an eye on San Diego where one of the nation’s longest serving urban superintendents is facing political trouble. National implications as this episode shows what can happen when push comes to shove on NCLB.
Superintendent Alan Bersin is poised to reorganize several of the city’s chronically underperforming schools. At two of the three schools a majority of teachers have voted to make the schools charter schools to help facilitate this and at all three 60-80 percent of parents voted to do the same. Remember, these are not schools that didn’t do well “on a single test” but schools that have not done right by students for years.

Continue reading San Diego Superintendent Alan Bersin & No Child Left Behind

The Art of Education Success by Nick Rabkin and Robin Redmond

Rabkin and Redmond wrote in the Washington Post on January 8, 2005 that “…the arts are not just affective and expressive. They are also deeply cognitive.”
Districts with music and art curriculum standards and benchmarks tied to other curriculum see improved test scores. The research is showing more and more that children’s learning directly benefits from music and art curriculum.
The authors note that “Successful programs in Chicago, Minneapolis and elsewhere have proven that arts integration is within the reach of most schools and districts. Now research is showing that connecting the arts to learning across the curriculum is a strategy that helps close the achievement gap and make schools happier places by moving beyond a crippling focus on basics and discipline. It is time for more districts and schools to make use of this strategy.”
MMSD’s fine arts teachers know this and gear their curriculum to provide student’s with the benefits in learning from music and art education. If MMSD administration narrowly focuses on reading, math, science, etc., scores and not what contributes to children learning experiences being successful, administrators will miss the benefits of the arts.
Children and teachers have been telling them for the past several years how music and art benefit children’s learning. Hopefully, they are listening.

Continue reading The Art of Education Success by Nick Rabkin and Robin Redmond

Arts Are a Core Subject Under No Child Left Behind – Flexibility for Federal Funding of the Arts Exists

In an August Letter to ALL superintendents across the country, Secretary Paige (Dept. of Education) stated that the arts are a core subject area of No Child Left Behind, provided research that demonstrates children who are more engaged in the arts do better on tests, and offered guidance on flexibility, funding for arts
Noting that the arts are a core subject under the No Child Left Behind Act, U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige has issued guidance on the law’s funding and flexibility that can be used to improve art education and teacher quality, particularly as a means to improve the educational achievement of economically disadvantaged students through the arts.
The letter cites research that shows arts teaching and learning can increase students’ cognitive and social development and serve as a “critical link” to help students develop crucial thinking skills and become motivated to achieve at higher levels. Research also shows that students who are highly involved in the arts earn better grades and perform better on standardized tests.
Secretary Paige’s letter also reminds superintendents about the law’s flexibility and the funding available to support core subjects through programs supported by the No Child Left Behind Act, including: Title I funds to improve the academic achievement of the neediest students; the Comprehensive School Reform program; and Title II Teacher Quality Enhancement Grants to provide professional development for teachers of the arts.
In Arizona, for example, as part of Superintendent Tom Horne’s current “content-rich curriculum” initiative, $4 million in Comprehensive School Reform (Title I, Part F) funds are supporting arts education at 43 current Comprehensive School Reform schools throughout the state. Additional Arizona Arts Education Initiative school sites are being supported with Title V (Innovative Programs) funding under NCLB.
The City of Madison needs to ask what available funding for the arts under NCLB the Madison Metropolitan District has pursued.
Continue Reading “US Department of Education Press Release: Arts are a Core Subject Under No Child Left Behind”

MUSIC ADVOCACY: Caring Enough to Put the Student First by Dr. Benham

Dr. John Benham, writing on www.supportmusic.com says, “Music Education Advocacy. The concept can make us indignant. Why should anything so valuable to the education of every child need to be defended?”
He continues, “If you�re a parent of a young person interested in playing music, you�ve already experienced first-hand the positive impact of this sort of challenge. If you�re a member of the community with a love of music, you know how much it has benefited you.
But the truth is, we have no choice but to defend school music programs. In a time of drastic reductions in school budgets, music can sometimes be misunderstood as not core to an academic curriculum. But we do know that participation in music is vital to a young person�s academic and social development.”
Advocacy for music education for students is not about what we teach children as much as it is about what children are learning and music education is fundamental to that.
Continue Reading “MUSIC ADVOCACY: Caring Enough to Put the Students First” – Dr. John Benham

Report on Rainwater meeting about East principal selection

An author, asking to remain anonymous, prepared a summary of the meeting on January 18, when Superintendent Rainwater met with community members and discussed the process for selecting a new principal at East High School. The author concluded:
“If you believe that our superintendent cares about East and wants to get it right this time (like he finally did at Sherman and Black Hawk), then you left the meeting feeling good. If you question the process and his decision-making ability given some of his poor choices in the past, you probably left the meeting feeling disappointed, which is mostly what I heard. Nothing has changed.”
“It was not said, but we pay for the mistakes for a very long time. A great principal can turn a school around in weeks, but a bad principal or several principals for several years can really hurt the students going through those schools. It is not just failing to master academics, but their feeling of connection gets hurt as well. It could be argued that some of the problems East is having today stem not only from the void at the top at East, but also from the fact that two of its feeder middle schools and some of its feeder elementary schools have been struggling due to poor leadership.”
You can read the full report by clicking
Report on meeting with Rainwater on East Principal Selection.
Ed Blume
ps. No I didn’t write the report. I didn’t attend the meeting. Ed

Winkler Letter to Keys & School Board on Administrator Contracts

Madison School Board Candidate, Parent and activist Lawrence Winkler forwarded a letter to Board President Bill Keys regarding Madison School’s budget process if cuts must be made for the 2005-2006 School Year.
Winkler provides some useful background information and offers a suggestion to move forward with an improved decision making process. Click below to read his letter or here for a 37K pdf print version.

Continue reading Winkler Letter to Keys & School Board on Administrator Contracts

Music To His Ears by Sandy Cullen, WI State Journal

Janitor Directs Generosity To East High, Trades His Broom For Baton Tonight by Sandy Cullen, January 13,2005, WI State Journal
Jim Ely loves music and the arts.
He also loves Madison East High School.
It’s where he and his wife, Judy, who died of ovarian cancer in February 2003, were high school sweethearts more than 30 years ago, when he took her to his prom and she took him to the TWIRP (The Woman Is Required to Pay) dance.
It’s where they worked together on the 1969 production of “Oklahoma!”
Read the entire article,
Music to His Ears

Dane County School Funding Forum Followup

Margaret Stumpf sent a followup message to the recent Dane County School Funding Forum.

Please check with Channel 10 on the televised version of the State Budget Information Seminar held on WED, Jan 12 at Monona Grove HIgh School if you did not attend. It was very informational. I also have hard copies (as daoe Amy through me) of the infor passed out at the meeting.
All are encouraged to contact Governor Doyle IMMEDIATELY (as the budget is in the works) to encourage him to accept Superintendent Burmeister’s and the Governor’s Task Force on Educational Excellence’s proposals for school fuding.
Letters can be sent to:
Governor Jim Doyle (web email link)
Officer of the Governor
115 East
State Capitol
Madison, WI 53702
608-266-1212
608-267-6790 (TTY
608-267-8983 (FAX)
They can be sent individually or en mass. As we all know, a lot of what individual districts are able to do is based on state aid, and the lack of in areas that the state had committed to (such as 2/3 special ed funding) that was later revoked.

Update on Hiring MMSD Fine Arts Coordinator – Art Rainwater Briefs Board on Ongoing Delay and Reposting of Position with Fewer Requirements

Art Rainwater informed MMSD School Board members on January 10, 2005 that the Fine Arts Coordinator position would be reposted. Why? It’s unclear, as the following quicktime movie shows. There were about 9 candidates.
Members on the committee, who included MMSD and public representatives, said they forwarded two qualified candidates for the next step toward hiring. Why wasn’t one of those people hired?
Art Rainwater says that the license requirement for the position will be removed to attract a broader category of candiate. My question is – possibly a less qualified candidate? There has been no public notice of a substantive change in the responsibilities of this position. You would think that professionals in the field and the arts community would be involved in major changes were being considered. Read Mariel Wozniakl for information on how removing a license can be problemmatic and what experience an MMSD Fine Arts Coordinator needs to have.
Video of Art Rainwater’s Update on Hiring of Fine Arts Coordinator to the MMSD School Board on Monday, January 10, 2005

A Local Music Coalition – Madison Needs Its Own Music Coalition

“…in my view it is the most effective way to ensure that your school district provides equal educational opportunities for all of its students to participate in the making of music!” Dr. Benham exclaims for children in his recent commentary on music advocacy, “An effective local music coalition holds a school district accountable for student-centered decision making.”
Some of the leading reasons Dr. Benham identifies for a local music coalition include:
* A local coalition places the student back to the center of the decision-making process.
* A local coalition identifies the music program as an integral part of the community.
* A local coalition unifies the music program as a unified district-wide curriculum.
* A local coalition promotes music education, not just band, choir, orchestra, or general music.
* A local coalition is a community organization that incorporates all of its constituents in the support of music making.
* A local coalition provides for bringing music into all of life.
* A local coalition puts the “public” in Public Education!
Continue Reading “The Local Music Coalition – Dr. John Benham”

Coaching in Wisconsin – Worth it?

Coaching in Wisconsin – Worth it?

Pearly Kiley – wishoops.net [PDF Version 103K]

“With all this talent, why aren�t we winning more games?”
“My kid averaged 20 points in summer league, why isn�t he playing more?”
“Why are we walking the ball up the floor all the time?”
“I wish we had the old coach back.”
These unfounded sentiments were also a major reason why over 80 coaches
chose to resign, were relieved of duty or retired since last season.
There are coaches who point to AAU basketball and all its dramatically improving impact. Some blame school administrators for showing more allegiance to parents than them in disputes over individual roles and playing time. Still others say it takes too much time � and impossible patience � to deal with the increasingly overzealous parent.
�At the high school level, the rewards aren�t tangible,� said former Waupaca coach Tim Locum, who resigned after last season and is currently an assistant coach at UW-Oshkosh.

Continue reading Coaching in Wisconsin – Worth it?

Maintenance Referendum: Long Range Planning Meeting Tonight

The Madison School Board’s Long Range Planning Committee is holding a public hearing on the proposed maintenance referendum (one of potentially 3 referendums this spring) Wednesday night, January 19, 2005 @ 6:00p.m. at the Doyle Administration Building, McDaniels Auditorium.
I’ve emailed the MMSD TV folks to see if they are broadcasting this event, but have not heard back from them. I will post broadcast information here upon receipt.
Madison Metropolitan School District
545 West Dayton Street
Madison WI 53703-1995 [Map]

Kobza letter to Keys: Don’t cut teachers

Madison School Board Candidate, Parent and PTO activist Lawrie Kobza forwarded a letter to Board President Bill Keys regarding Madison Schools financial priorities if cuts must be made for the 2005-2006 School Year.
In past years, the district limited its budget options when it passed on non-renewal of administrator contracts by February 1 (the MMSD is required to provide six months non-renewal notice prior to the July 1 administrative contract start date).
This date, February 1, passes long before detailed public discussions begin on the next budget. Inevitably as cuts, or reductions in the increase must be made, school staff such as teachers and custodians (or wrestling, or strings in 2004) are the target (because the administrative contracts have not been given the required six month non-renewal notice).
Kobza’s letter (28K PDF) & Linda Hall’s Administrative contract background 2 pager. (77K PDF)

California Bilingual Litmus Test

Susan Estrich – former Dukakis campaign manager and USC Professor takes California Democrats to task for pushing out one of their own over bilingual education:

But unlike much of Silicon Valley, he is a passionate Democrat, and his issue is public education. He has twice served as president of the State Board of Education. The idea that Democrats could reject him had me checking the local headlines this morning twice, to make sure that this wasn’t some joke edition. Have these people lost their minds? This is the most talented guy on the team, not to mention that he’s responsible for about $15 million to Democratic campaigns in the last couple of cycles.
Then I got it. Cut to the chase.
This isn’t about qualifications or performance. So what if he killed himself for the last five years working on the Board of Education, running all over the state encouraging charter schools, using his own money when necessary to help provide start-up funds, while running a multimillion dollar business as his day job?
He failed the bilingual education litmus test.

Mickey Kaus has more.

Wisconsin DPI Superintendent Candidate: Todd Stelzel


I had an opportunity to visit recently with Black Earth resident, Wisconsin Heights teacher and Wisconsin DPI Superintendent Candidate Todd Stelzel. I’ve posted a 13 minute video clip and mp3 audio file where Stelzel discuss his background, candidacy and asks for our vote. Following are a number of fat links to information about Stelzel, who recently completed his Masters Degree at Edgewood College in Madison. Fat Links (click on the icons):

Look for an interview with another candidate, Dr. Paul Yvarra soon. I’ve not heard from incumbent Madison resident Elizabeth Burmaster or Gregg Underheim. If I do, I will post their interviews as well.

There�s something deeply wrong here.

In a letter to the editor of Isthmus UW Psychology Professor Mark Seidenberg wrote, “There�s something deeply wrong here. The educational establishment has embraced methods for teaching reading that have a weak scientific basis and are counterproductive for many beginning readers. They then develop a very expensive remedial reading program to fix the problems created by these instructional methods. Why not do it right the first time?” To read the full text of the letter go to
Dr. Seidenberg’s letter

New Posting for the Fine Arts Coordinator Position Mentioned – Removes Professional License Requirements by Dr. Mariel Wozniak, retired MMSD Fine Arts Coordinator

I was concerned and confused as I listened on Monday night to Superintendent Rainwater inform the School Board that the position description posted for the Fine Arts Coordinator was being reposted without a license requirement so that more applicants could be included. The Fine Arts Coordinator oversees the design and implementation of the District’s Fine Arts curriculum, and this position has an important community role with the City’s varied fine arts organizations.
All other coordinators require a license #10 and so should the Fine Arts Coordinator position. Licenses insure that an applicant has met certain standards and is meant to protect against less qualified applicants being hired.
“The points in the posting indicate a change in the position of a full-time Coordinator of Fine Arts,” Dr. Wozniak, retired MMSD Fine Arts Coordinator pointed out in a recent essay. “While educational change is legitimate, a new role for the Coordinator of Fine Arts and reasons for change should not only be well known by the community, but by arts education specialists who should be involved in those changes. This city values education which includes designated arts instruction in its schools and its enhancement by the arts and other resources in the community. We need to remember that teachers, principals, and superintendents are public servants and should fulfill the community’s educational goals.”
What continues to be lacking in the District’s decisionmaking about Fine Arts education is the ongoing lack of an open process that includes professionals in the field and the community so that best choices can be made for children’s learning.
Dr. Wozniak notes, “The responsibility of the board of education is to make informed decisions for the education of its children with accountability and commitment to its electorate.” This is not possible at MMSD, because decisions about Fine Arts education are being made behind closed doors by a handful of administrators and then announced to the board of education as fact.
Download Dr. Wozniak’s Complete Essay: New Posting for the Fine Arts Coordinator Position Mentioned – Downgrades Professional Requirements

Focus is on education

Patricia Simms and Phil Brinkman Wisconsin State Journal
January 13, 2005
Gov. Jim Doyle on Wednesday used his State of the State speech to put forward a potent “education agenda” for Wisconsin.
It included:
� Increasing math and science requirements for high school graduation.
� Giving school districts more money for 4-year-old kindergarten and for reducing class size in the early grades.
� Rating child-care providers on quality as he promised last May.
Continue Reading “Focus in on Education”

Cherokee Middle School PTO Priorities

The Cherokee PTO recently forwarded their top 5 Madison School District Priorities:

  • Long range planning, especially to include a plan for the increased numbers of students who will be attending Cherokee and West.
  • Maintaining a challenging level of curriculum while providing services to an increased number of students with diverse needs (TAG, music, reading specialists, ESL, special needs and children living in poverty were especially mentioned as being areas in need of services).
  • Insuring a safe and nurturing environment (to include physical safety, cultural understanding and a positive climate).
  • Purchasing and maintaining needed equipment and materials (there was a discussion about teacher’s requests to include basic classroom materials and the difficulty in funding new equipment such as the FOSS science kits required by the district).
  • Preserving facility maintenance/repair while maintaining the small class sizes as we deal with issues of growth.

Is My Music Program Vulnerable to Cuts? – Dr. John Benham

As one superintendent stated, “There is no group of people more capable of rallying immediate and effective advocacy than a well-organized music coalition!” John Benham, music education advocate, reminds his readers in his December 15th column on www.supportmusic.com.
Dr. Benham urges his readers to become active participants in the education decision-making process. “In the face of what appears to have become a national trend to target music programs for reduction, it becomes the responsibility of the music advocate to stay informed by active participation in the decision-making process.” he advises, “We must encourage and/or remind parents and other advocates that the school district really belongs to the community. We must become educated in school polity, empowering the people to ensure student-centered decisions.”
Continue Reading “Is My Music Program Vulnerable to Cuts? – Dr. John Benham”

Panel Discussion on Meeting the Social and Emotional Needs of Gifted and Talented Students

Come listen to a panel of experts discuss the social and emotional needs of gifted and talented students. Diagnostic, assessment, treatment/intervention, educational, parenting and theoretical issues will be addressed. Resources will be shared. This program is intended for parents of children within the full range of high ability (i.e., not only the profoundly gifted).
This event will be held on Thursday, January 13 in McDaniels Auditorium of the Doyle Administration Building at 7:00 p.m. Please note that this is a location change from Room 209.
Please note: Questions for the panelists are heartily encouraged. Questions may be submitted before the meeting at tagparents@tagparents.org.

Continue reading Panel Discussion on Meeting the Social and Emotional Needs of Gifted and Talented Students

Speakers Needed for Schools Make a Difference

Johnny Winston, Jr. forwarded this announcement from Ken Syke:

School Makes A Difference is a career exploration and planning activity for Madison 8th grade students. It is an opportunity for students to hear adults tell about their career journey and to ask questions and have a brief dialogue with the presenters.

Sign up with this excel file and email it to Ken Syke (ksyke at madison.k12.wi.us)

Continue reading Speakers Needed for Schools Make a Difference

What is the Single Most Important Issue in Music Advocacy – YOU! by Dr. John Benham

SupportMusic.com is a website storehouse of resources for defending music education in schools. In December, this website began a weekly blog on advocacy for music education by Dr. John Benham, who is President of Music in World Cultures, Inc. and Director of Graduate Studies in Music at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota.
In his December 8th blog, Dr. Benham writes that “In over 20 years as a consultant for music advocacy I have never seen a music program cut when there was a well-organized and cohesive support group.
There is no place where your participation has more immediate impact than in your school district. Your participation is vital to the health of your music program.
It is quite simple: Your participation is a “YES” vote, providing music making opportunities for the students in your district. Your failure to participate is a “NO” vote, even if by default.”
Continue Reading “What is the Single Most Important Issue in Music Advocacy – YOU!”

Kobza announces for school board

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 6, 2005
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Lawrie Kobza 608 283-1788
KOBZA ANNOUNCES FOR MADISON SCHOOL BOARD
Seeks Improved District Decision-Making
MADISON�Lawrie Kobza, a school activist for over a decade,
announced her candidacy for the Madison Metropolitan School District
Board District 6 seat today. Submitting the maximum 200 nomination
signatures, Kobza launched her campaign with a promise to improve
District decision-making.
“When resources are limited, it is especially important to make good
decisions “, Kobza said. “My professional and community experience
has taught me that the best decisions come from listening to a variety of views, asking tough questions, and carefully considering the possible alternatives. I think the School Board needs to do a better job of this.”
A first-time candidate, Ms. Kobza served as President or Vice
President of the Sherman School parent group since 1998; she was a
2004 recipient of the North Star Award from the Northside Planning
Council for her service to schools on Madison’s north side.
Ms. Kobza has three children in the Madison schools: two sons attend
East High School and her daughter attends Sherman Middle School. With husband Peter Oppeneer, she is an active supporter of Northside youth soccer, basketball, baseball, and softball.
“In allocating our limited resources, I want to be sure services
for our kids are preserved while taking a fresh look at how we might
be more efficient and effective,” Kobza said. “I will seek
out the best information with an open mind to make sure we have a
clear picture of all available alternatives in these tight economic
times.”
Ms. Kobza is an attorney and partner with the Boardman Law Firm in
Madison, concentrating in municipal law with an emphasis on utility
and environmental issues. She is a graduate of UW-Madison Law School
and the UW-Madison Business School. Madison Magazine named her a top
attorney in environmental law for 2005.
END
Authorized and paid for by Lawrie Kobza for School Board, Barbara
Schrank, Treasurer

Hewlett Foundation/RAND Study on California’s K-12 System

The William & Flora Hewlett Foundation sponsored a RAND Education study of the California K-12 System, released today. Press Release | Full Document [900K PDF].

California’s public school system lags behind most of the nation on almost every objective measurement of student achievement, funding, teacher qualifications and school facilities, according to a new RAND Corporation analysis that is the first comprehensive examination of measurable dimensions of the state’s education system.

TABOR – Why did Colorado Approve it?

I posted a series of links to Colorado’s TABOR experience (Taxpayers Bill of Rights) here. One of the articles I linked to demonstrates the root cause of TABOR type laws: “The problem: From 1983 to ’92, spending by Colorado state government rose by 97%, while inflation rose 29.7% and the state’s population increased by 10.4%”.
I think it’s critical for the Madison School District to publish detailed revenue and spending data over the past decade as part the upcoming referendum process. As far as I can tell, Madison School spending was $194M in 1994 and grew to $307M+ in 2004 with roughly a similar number of students. I’ll post the actual year to year numbers, as I asked for here, once we obtain them….

Milwaukee Area School Chiefs Pay Outpaces Teachers

Amy Hetzner:

More than three of every four school districts paid their superintendents more in 2003-’04, when measured against what the average teacher was paid, than they did in the 1995-’96 school year, according to a Journal Sentinel analysis of data reported to the state.
In addition, with perks such as payments to tax-sheltered annuities added in, fringe benefits for superintendents in about half the five-county Milwaukee area districts have increased at a higher rate than their teachers’ benefits. But while rising costs for teachers’ health insurance and pensions have strained contract negotiations, escalating superintendent benefits have gotten little attention.
All of this has happened despite a provision in state law that requires school boards to restrict compensation raises for school administrators to 3.8% or the same percentage increase given to teachers the prior year.
Since the law was enacted in 1993, the Legislature has approved enough loopholes that the law can be largely ignored. There also is apparently no oversight other than local school boards and their voters.
“I mean, so what? So you break the rule,” said Roger Danielsen, a member of the Waukesha School Board, which approved a 15.9% salary increase for its superintendent this year. “I don’t think there’s any enforcement, although we’re trying to stay true to the (teachers’) package.”

I wonder what the data looks like around Madison?

MMSD threw away “crackerjack” administrator

Capital Times Editor Dave Zweifel recently praised former Lapham principal Barb Thompson, calling her a “crackerjack school superintendent” for the astonishingly successful commuity-wide holiday luncheon in New Glarus, just as she organized a similar and equally popular holiday luncheon at Lapham.
By contrast MMSD Superintendent Art Rainwater passed over Thompson in the search to replace East High Principal Milt McPike, instead hiring and then firing a woman who could not lead East.
Read Zweifel’s article at New Glarus shows spirit of the season.

School Privacy Notices

Treena Shapiro discusses concerns raised over school privacy notices:

Sybil Arum’s eighth-grade granddaughter came home this week worried that she was on the verge of being drafted by the military and sent off to war.
The reason for her fear was the Department of Education’s annual privacy notice, which says contact information for secondary students as young as sixth-graders may be released to military recruiters unless the student, parent or legal guardian requests otherwise.
Arum, who is the child’s guardian, quickly determined that her granddaughter was not being shipped off to Iraq, but became alarmed anyway.
“I’m very upset with the age level that this policy encompasses,” she said.
DOE and U.S. Department of Defense officials, however, stress that the military is only interested in students who are 17 and older and will not be following up with students as young as sixth-graders.
“We don’t just automatically release (the information to recruiters); it would have to be on request,” said DOE spokesman Greg Knudsen. “Recruiters have told us that their interest is in juniors and seniors.”

There’s more to this than just information for recruiters. DPI has information on this issue here (parents can opt out. This page describes that process). MMSD’s policy 4157 apparently describes the district’s data privacy processes. Send me comments/questions on this: zellmer at mailbag dot com.

Ruth Robarts Letter to the Isthmus editor on MMSD Reading Progress

Ruth Robarts wrote:

Thanks to Jason Shepard for highlighting comments of UW Psychology Professor Mark Seidenberg at the Dec. 13 Madison School Board meeting in his article, Not all good news on reading. Dr. Seidenberg asked important questions following the administrations presentation on the reading program. One question was whether the district should measure the effectiveness of its reading program by the percentages of third-graders scoring at proficient or advanced on the Wisconsin Reading Comprehension Test (WRCT). He suggested that the scores may be improving because the tests arent that rigorous.
I have reflected on his comment and decided that he is correct.
Using success on the WRCT as our measurement of student achievement likely overstates the reading skills of our students. The WRCT—like the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination (WKCE) given in major subject areas in fourth, eighth and tenth grades— measures student performance against standards developed in Wisconsin. The more teaching in Wisconsin schools aims at success on the WRCT or WKCE, the more likely it is that student scores will improve. If the tests provide an accurate, objective assessment of reading skills, then rising percentages of students who score at the proficient and advanced levels would mean that more children are reaching desirable reading competence.
However, there are reasons to doubt that high percentages of students scoring at these levels on the WRCT mean that high percentages of students are very proficient readers. High scores on Wisconsin tests do not correlate with high scores on the more rigorous National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests.
In 2003, 80% of Wisconsin fourth graders scored proficient or advanced on the WCKE in reading. However, in the same year only 33% of Wisconsin fourth graders reached the proficient or advanced level in reading on the NAEP. Because the performance of Madison students on the WCKE reading tests mirrors the performance of students statewide, it is reasonable to conclude that many of Madisons proficient and advanced readers would also score much lower on the NAEP. For more information about the gap between scores on the WKCE and the NAEP in reading and math, see EdWatch Online 2004 State Summary Reports at www.edtrust.org.
Next year the federal No Child Left Behind Act replaces the Wisconsin subject area tests with national tests. In view of this change and questions about the value of WRCT scores, its time for the Board of Education to review its benchmarks for progress on its goal of all third-graders reading at grade level by the end of third grade.
Ruth Robarts
Member, Madison Board of Education

Continue reading Ruth Robarts Letter to the Isthmus editor on MMSD Reading Progress

Barb Williams: Letter to the Isthmus Editor on 3rd Grade Reading Scores

Barb Williams wrote:

I’m glad Jason Shepard questions MMSD’s public display of self-congratulation over third grade reading test scores. It isn’t that MMSD ought not be proud of progress made as measured by fewer African American students testing at the basic and minimal levels. But there is still a sigificant gap between white students and students of color–a fact easily lost in the headlines. Balanced Literacy, the district’s preferred approach to reading instruction, works well for most kids. Yet there are kids who would do a lot better in a program that emphasizes explicit phonics instruction, like the one offered at Lapham and in some special education classrooms. Kids (arguably too many) are referred to special education because they have not learned to read with balanced literacy and are not lucky enough to land in the extraordinarily expensive Reading Recovery program that serves a very small number of students in one-on-on instruction. (I have witnessed Reading Recovery teachers reject children from their program because they would not receive the necessary support from home.)

Continue reading Barb Williams: Letter to the Isthmus Editor on 3rd Grade Reading Scores

NYC – Balanced Literacy and Reading First Grant – $111 million. Why Wasn’t MMSD Successful?

Why didn’t MMSD qualify for Reading First dollars? NYC was awarded a Reading First grant of $111.4 million over three years for 49 public and 35 non-public schools. NYC offers Balanced Literacy to its school children. Madison offers Balanced Literacy. Why wasn’t the Reading First program able to become part of Madison’s Balanced Literacy?
Part of the reason may lie in the NYC approach to seeking the grant money. NYC formed a committee of teaching professionals, union representatives, experts and parents to review the grant requirements and to determine what program would work with their comprehensive approach to literacy.
NYC succeeded in being able to incorporate Reading First, which is dollars targeted to literacy for low income children. Madison citizens need to know more about what process MMSD used and more specifics about what were the barriers to MMSD receiving Reading First dollars?

Reading First in the NYC Department of Literacy
Letter Describing NYC Process for Seeking Reading First Grant Money

Curated Education Information