DCCPA Madison School Board Candidate Forum 1.25.2012 audio

Event photos and candidate links.
Don Severson: Need to always find ways to make the students and the teachers feel good. Thank you for coming, and welcome, to the Dane County Council of Public Affairs forum for the Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education Candidate Forum. We're very pleased and thank the candidates for coming out early in the morning, preparing themselves for this discussion. We believe it's a very important and significant opportunity to be able to provide some information, and background for the citizens and the public to become aware of, and make better informed decisions as the election proceeds.

We have provided in our notices and also on the website, the Dane County Council of Public Affairs website, the website addresses, and email addresses for the candidates. You can go to those connections and continue to follow the candidates and get further information.

We have some of them, not all, have brought some campaign literature. That will be available out in the lobby, on the bar, after the meeting. There is no connection between campaign literature and bar except for a place to put.

I would like to ask and remind folks, if you have cell phones, please put them on vibrate or off. We have Jim Zellmer from School Information Systems videotaping the proceedings. That video tape will be put on the website, the Dane County Council of Public Affairs website. I don't know if there is any media here yet or not. They were invited.

Woman 1: I'm from WORT if that's all right?
Don: That's absolutely perfect. Thank you. Welcome, glad to have you. With that, let's get started. We have four prepared questions. Each candidate will have an opportunity, for up to three minutes, to respond. Each candidate will have two minutes with their opening statements, and also two minutes at the end, with closing statements.

We expect we will have ten to fifteen minutes available before nine o'clock in order for the audience to ask any questions. We'll go over that proceeding when we get to it. With that, I would like to get started.

Each candidate will make an opening statement for up to two minutes. I have a timer. Arlene and I were joshing beforehand. She says, "You're going to relish this, aren't you, Don?" She gets to say, "three minutes are up, Don!" We'll attempt to keep it going on schedule.

The first opening statement will come from Nichele Nichols.

Nichele Nichols: Good morning, I'm Nichele Nichols running for board of education seat one, challenging the lovely lady to my left, Arlene. What I want you to know about me is that I am from Madison, a native "Madisonian." I was born and raised here. I graduated from Madison West High School, and attended all of Madison Public Schools through elementary and secondary education. So, I feel like I know this community very well. I'm from the schools and I bring that perspective. I'm incredibly dedicated to our public education. I'm also a mother of four sons who are African American and they've also attended Madison Schools since they've been school aged.

Part of my inspiration for running and being willing to step out has been a painful experience in many ways of having young bright students who in elementary school, appear to be proficient and aspiring, learning, and achieving. Then something happened at the secondary level. Now, part of that I've attributed to adolescent development and peers kind of forming their identity.

There has also been something else that has happened, where you see our young people starting to disengage and to stop learning. It is a painful experience as a parent when you are still trying to push them forward, hold them accountable to their own learning, and wanting them to get as much as they can from their public education.

I share that with you to say for the last fifteen years, I've also been working in this community in the non-profit sector. I've worked at organizations like Family Enhancement, doing parent education, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Community Action Coalition and I'm currently employed at the Urban League.

I bring all of that work that I've done in the community, working with families, children and really dealing with issues of poverty. My own experiences as a parent and my appreciation for the fact... Thank you.


Don: Arlene
Arlene Silveira: Thank you. Good morning, my name is Arlene Silveira, and I'm a parent, business woman, a taxpayer, and current school board member. I'm running for re-election for the Madison Board of Education, Seat number one. I am a parent of a child of color. I'm a very proud parent of my daughter, Carly, who is currently a sophomore at UW Milwaukee. She went through the Madison Schools, attending Leopold Elementary, Cherokee Middle School, and West High School. I was very involved in Carly's education, serving on the PTOs and various committees throughout her time in the Madison Schools.

Professionally, I've worked in the private sector at Promega Corporation for 27 years. I'm currently the Director of Global Custom Sales. I've held various sales and marketing leadership roles at Promega. I've experienced as a budget planner, facilitator, negotiator, and actively managed cross-functional project teams.

I think these are really important roles in a school board member. I've developed the ability to communicate complex matters simply and the ability in determining the true needs behind our customers. Again, I think these are attributes to a school board member to better understand the needs of our community, our staff and our students.

I'm a taxpayer. I own a home in Fitchburg. My mother lives with us, which I help support. I understand the effects a downturn in the economy or property taxes can have on people, especially those on a fixed income.

Public schools belong to the community. I'm actively involved in many community organizations, primarily focused on education, and have been involved in many boards and different organizations.

And I am an incumbent. I've been on this school board for six years and two terms. I served three of those years as board president. I'm currently chair of the operations committee. I have served as chair of the planning and development, communications and a number of other committees. I serve on the Common Council Board of Education liaison, which links the schools to the city and currently serve as the advisor to the student senate.

I look forward to sharing more of my ideas about the schools today, and thank you again.

Don: Mary Burke.
Mary Burke: Well, thank you and thank you for coming out and learning more about the race for school board. I'm running because I believe that public schools are the key to the strength of our community and our schools need to be as strong as possible. It means providing a great education for every child. Ever since I started mentoring two boys on the south side 12 years ago, I've been involved in education in our community. Whether it is after school programs or summer programs through the Boys and Girls Club reaching thousands of children, serving on the Foundation for Madison Public Schools, co-founding the AVID/TOPS program that now serves nearly 500 students across all four Madison high schools, mentoring young women or tutoring first graders over at Frank Alice, I've committed my life to improving education in our community.

I believe we can address the academic achievement gap that exists without sacrificing programs and education for all our students. In listening sessions I've held with parents, I heard so many things that we can be really proud of. And on top of this list are our teachers.

We need and we have to build on those strengths. It won't be easy. The district will continue to face many challenges.

People encouraged me to run because they know I'm uniquely qualified to address these complex issues. I have a degree in finance, experience in strategic planning. I have public sector experience serving as the secretary for the Wisconsin Department of Commerce. I have concrete education experience in founding the AVID/TOPS program. I'll bring to the school board the experience, the skills and the partnerships that I think we need to move forward.

We need to build on our strengths, focus on what works and do better for our children.

Don: Thank you. Michael?
Michael Flores: Good morning and thank you for giving me this opportunity to introduce myself. I am Michael Flores. I am running for Madison School Board seat two. I am from the east side of Madison. I attended Marquette after I graduated from East High School. I continued on to MATC. Now I am a proud parent of three great kids who are in the school district, in the Madison school district.

I have first-hand experience of the school district and some of the issues that it has faced over the years.

My interest in the school district is not political, but to help the community I live in, the community that my children will grow in, that my grandchildren will grow in, I hope.

I currently serve as a firefighter and paramedic for the city of Madison, and I proudly do so. It has always been my interest to serve my community. I am very proud of the city that we live in, and I look forward to continuing that strength that the city has, the diversity it has.

I value education. I value our educators and I think we need to empower them to allow our children to grow to their full potential and that's why I'm here. I think we need to be involved as a community, and this is part of being a community. Thank you.

Don: OK, the first of our four prepared questions that each candidate will respond to, and Mary will be the first one. The question is, describe the roles and relationships of the board of education, the administration and the teachers union? How do you propose to provide leadership in working with these groups as you understand the current roles and relationships, as well as your expectations for future roles and relationships?
Mary: You know, I believe that while the school board has very specific legal roles, I believe the key work of the school board should be focused on first, establishing a clear vision of student achievement as a top priority for our schools, our staff and our community. Second, setting clear standards for student performance. Third is establishing the type of assessment and accountability process that can measure this success and help create that roadmap towards even greater success. Fourth is aligning resources to focus on students meeting these standards of achievement. Fifth is creating a positive climate for student success in our schools and in our community.

And lastly is building collaborative relationships with parent groups, community non-profits, businesses, city government, with the focus on developing a consensus for student success as our community's top priority. We can't expect success unless the board's key work is focused on student achievement.

In terms of the roles, it should be a top priority to make all relationships collaborative. The issues surrounding student achievement are not easy and success will only come if we feel we are working together, rather than working against each other. While the board sets policy and the administration is responsible for implementation, it is important that we are working together to achieve collaborative, positive working relationships between board members, between the board and administration and between the administration and the staff.

We have challenges we need to face, and we are most successful when we face them together with the common vision and a united effort.

Michael: I believe the board does set the policies and hires and evaluates the superintendent and represents the community. In the vision, I agree that it needs to follow that those policies are implemented in the schools. I want a mutual respect to exist for the staff on all levels. I want to ensure that the staff has the support and resources that they need to be effective. We need to equip our educators with the resources they need to better educate our children, and the support from the community.

We need to listen to those who serve our children from a day-to-day basis. I totally agree with Mary. It is a community. I think it's very important, regardless of who is on the school board. I implore all of you to continue to be part and drive this community forward. We need your support and we need to be there as school board members to support our educators. Listen to our children. Thank you.

Don: Nichele?
Nichele: The way that I understand the role between the board of education, administration and the teachers' union is that it's a balance of power and those relationships are all inter-related and critically important in terms of helping students achieve and in order for this district to fulfill its mission. The role of board of education members is really to set the vision and the goals for the district and to make policy, approve multi-million dollar budgets, to hire and evaluate the superintendent, to assure alignment of the strategy, the resources, to ratify collective bargaining units, to provide oversight for our facilities and to evaluate our education programs.

The administration is really responsible for implementation of that policy and that direction. We look to our administration to make good recommendations, strong recommendations, around student achievement, budgetary priorities and organizing the resources that we need in order to achieve our outcomes.

The role of the teachers' union is really to protect teachers and other staff working in our schools and to make sure working conditions and wage and benefits are in place so that our teachers can do the job that they need to do.

There is a balancing act there and I feel like over the years we've done a good job of making sure that there has been balance, but part of this question also talks about what might happen in the future. In the future, we know that under Act 10, there are potentially issues with that potential balance being unbalances. I feel like my job as a new board of education member is to come in with an openness for compromise, an openness to find solutions and to make sure that we are committed to keeping balance.

We cannot afford with the student achievement issues that we have to have new board of education members coming in and kind of tipping the scale. We cannot afford to have our teachers and staff and schools feeling as though they are not heard and protected and set up not to do a job well.

So I feel like you need a board of education member in the seat who is committed to compromise and solution, who understands that as we embark on a new era in our district, that you come with a sense of reasonableness and dedication to the district still being able to thrive and produce, and I bring that in my leadership style.

Arlene: With respect to the board and the administration, the superintendent directly reports to the board. I believe that a policy governance model in the board-superintendent relationship is really critical for moving the district forward. The board should create vision and policy and then delegate to the superintendent the implementation of the vision and the policy. The board should be responsible and accountable for ensuring the policy is implemented in a manner consistent with the direction and goals of the board and consistent with state and federal law.

Now, as any supervisor would do for their employees, the board should also identify areas in need of improvement for the superintendent and set personal goals established to identify new opportunities or strengthen areas of weakness. The board is responsible for the evaluation of the superintendent and should collect broad-based feedback in the evaluation process. The board should be committed to ensuring the district has strong leadership and is moving in a positive direction.

MTI and NASME are the unions that represent the majority of our employees and many times, people seem to forget that the people who are represented by the unions are our employees and are primarily the people in the classroom working with our students. I believe as a board member, it's my responsibility to ensure that our employees feel respected and have good and safe working conditions.

I also make myself available to listen to our employees any time. Most of the time, we end up directing the conversation or concern back through the district and the superintendent, but we have to be there to listen to what's happening in the school and to listen to the concerns of the people working with our kids. Our staff is in the school on a daily basis and I 100 percent support their involvement in decision making. We need to do better and bringing the people who work with our children into the decision making on a daily basis.

When the current contracts expire in June of 2013, the collective bargaining agreements are going to be replaced by a handbook. This process is extremely important as it's going to define how we work with our employees, mainly the mandatory hours of work, the general parameters around wages and benefits, working conditions, methods of evaluation, disciplinary action and grievance procedures. This should be a collaborative process between the board, the district and our employee making this process work.

Many parts of the current agreement can be easily transferred into a handbook. There are going to be sections where change is going to be desired by the board and the district, and I believe there needs to be an open discussion with our employees on how to achieve such a specific end. And then board members should review and approve the handbook, have final approval. Once the handbook is approved and finalized, I believe it should be followed as our collective bargaining agreements are today.

Again, it is all about listening in collaboration. We do work together, board, administration, teachers' union because they represent our employees and we all have to work toward the common goal of high expectations and high achievement for our students.

Don: Thank you. Multi-tasking this morning. Not doing very good. Our second question, which will be back to Arlene to start, what do you believe the value and place of alternative and innovative curricula, programs and services for meeting differences in student learning styles, needs abilities and transitions. Describe any particular such alternative or strategic priorities, including systemic changes, you believe would be appropriate for the district at this time.
Arlene: I love this question. I wish I had 10 minutes to answer because there's a lot to talk about. I've always been supportive of the district's alternative programs because I do understand that children learn differently and have different needs. MSD has a broad range of programs addressing different student needs. We have over 30 alternative programs in the district, from complete schools, like Malcolm Shabazz City High School, to in-school programming to community partnerships with MATC, the Omega School and Operation Fresh Start, to outside programs such as the hospital school and the Dane County Shelter School or the school at the Dane County Jail.

We have programs in each of our high schools designed to help our special education students who benefit from nontraditional settings. We have programs designed to help high school students who are at risk or credit deficient with a goal to help them graduate. And we have programs focused on helping students with emotional behavioral needs.

We have innovative curricula such as the dual language immersion program and the global academy that's housed at Memorial High School. We have school-based innovative programs, such as Toki's expeditionary learning and crew program and AVID. We have Nuestro Mundo, Wright Middle School and Badger Rock Middle School, which are charter schools, and Spring Harbor Magnet School, and those are really just to name a few.

With that said, I do have four areas of concern with the district and alternative education programming curricula. The first is lack of data to effectively measure the effectiveness of programming for students over time. Are the programs helping our students? If so, do we need to expand the programming? The board is currently looking into this data issue.

The second is there is not enough support with emotional and behavioral needs in the middle and the elementary school. I've been an advocate for this for quite a while. This is one of the reasons the superintendent started the committee on alternative and innovative education.

I've advocated for and supported the pilot program at White Horse Middle School this year, which is really pulling kids with severe mental health needs out of the classroom, but keeping them in their school for support. The board has now directed the formation of a task force between the district and the community, the mental health community, to look at ways that we can partner with the county and the community to better help our kids.

The third issue that I have is lack of plans to direct expansion of the programs. Where are the plans? I mean, it's great to say let's be a dual language immersion district, but we need the plans to guide what we're doing. Do we want to be a dual language immersion district? If so, what languages? How many schools? How are we going to measure the effectiveness?

There's a lot of good ideas, but we need to step back and make sure that we have plans that have assessed what we need and plans to implement if we go in that direction.

Finally, ensuring that we continue to support all students and a focus on literacy and early interventions for children who are at risk. My goal is really to strengthen the core and provide programs that are accessible to as many students as possible. I think the expansion of DLI from Nuestro Mundo into the four attendance areas is a very good example.

We live in a time, sadly, that we really do have to focus on budget. Students' needs should be primary, but there are budgetary concerns in expanding these programs.

Michael: I agree with the points Arlene has made. As a parent, I have seen the differences even within my children, how they learn, and to put kids in a box and assume that they're going to learn just the same, it's a little bit naive on our part. I had to structure the way that I conveyed my messages in a different way to each one of my kids. I think we should keep in mind that each one of us is an individual and we should continue to find innovative programs that are research based and proven to help the kids in our community. I correlated this question to being a paramedic to being a firefighter. We need to assess the current interventions in our educational system. Continue with the programs that do work, that have been successful, that do not only benefit the kids, but they benefit the community. We get a community that's involved. We raise our own kids to become successful community members, providing services to each one of us.

Also, we need to reassess what is not working and we need to correct it. For kids that are having issues that the current interventions that we are applying, they're not working, we need to look nationally if not globally for research-based programs that will be effective for those kids. It's our duty as community members because they will serve us in the future, one way or another.

We need to empower our educators with a way to evaluate how the programs are working and if they're being effective for our children, without distracting them, without creating a clutter of paperwork that takes away from their very valued role as educators. That's it.

Don: We skipped Nichele, as she pointed out. I'm sorry.
Mary: Oh. That's OK.
Nichele: OK, so what do I believe is the value of a place of alternative and innovate curriculum, programs and services for meeting differences in student learning? I think great value. I think our district has already done a really good job of introducing and implementing innovation in curriculum programs, to address the various learning styles of students in our district. As Arlene already mentioned, we have one example, dual language immersion. And I think that that has been innovative and it's been a great alternative to meet the needs of students and families.

With that said, when we look at systemic changes that are appropriate for the district, I think where we have some room for improvement are in a few areas.

One is, we do need to have better use of data and to use data to inform effectiveness, evaluation and what the next step is in those programs. I know that the district has invested in various assessment tools that are just kind of in their primary launch years, and it will be vitally important the board of education members are asking good questions and looking at how data can inform our direction.

The other thing though where I feel like our district really struggles and fails is around this whole issue of engaging students culturally, especially at the secondary level. I feel like there is much room for improvement around talking about and addressing issues of how do we teach black kids.

I'm saying black meaning that I'm committed to all kids, but part of the debate and the conversation that we've had in our community over the last year regarding Madison Prep was very much centered around, "Well, do African American students need a different learning environment? Or do they need to be taught differently?" And the reality is, I feel like there are so many kids in our district as we are becoming an increasingly minority, low-income school district in which we really need to focus on what are the teaching strategies and how do we culturally relate to students when language isn't the primary issues.

So, dual language immersion I love. But if language isn't the issue, how do we systemically approach kids who sometimes in the classroom might intimidate us or scare us, or they speak or their posturing doesn't make us feel comfortable in the teaching environment? And that's not a slam on teachers. That's something in which, as we become a more urban district, I feel like we need to hone in on that.

We have a small unit in the district now that's committed to cultural relevancy. I would like to see that work magnified and expanded so that we really are supporting our teachers in the classroom because that's where it all happens.

I also think we could do a better job of evaluating charter schools and other innovative programs as they come to the table so that we really are having more consistent standards for what we expect out of any proposal that comes to the table. That's what I would bring as a board of education member.

Mary: You know, I believe there's an important role for alternative and innovative programs. However, I believe any new ideas should undergo a thorough review first. Then, if it shows promise, start as a pilot in order to assess its feasibility, work out any implementation issues, better judge the chances for success on a large scale. In this way, we would not be expending precious resources before having the basis for knowing whether a new program is likely to meet the needs it's supposed to meet. We also have to consider the downside of alternative and new programs. The educational landscape is littered with flavor of the month ideas that may seem like silver bullets to the challenges we face but only end up wasting resources. What we need to focus on is best practices, rather than innovation. Best practices that have a track record of success either in our own district, in our own schools, or across the country. There're a lot of great things happening in our Madison schools that we could build upon. We need to identify programs that are really working and look how they can be expanded. Success will only come by focusing on the key programs with track records of success that can be implemented district-wide.

Four years ago almost to this exact day, I sat down with a teacher over at East High to learn about a new program that they had just started piloting called AVID. What came out of that meeting in her classroom was a partnership that we formed between the Boys and Girls Club and the Madison School District called AVID/TOPS. Today, it has nearly 500 students across all four Madison high schools and is anticipated to grow to 1,000 students.

AVID is a curriculum and a program that was first created over 40 years ago. It was designed for students in the academic middle who are generally from low-income households and would generally be the first generation in their families to graduate from college. We combined this curriculum with Boys and Girls Club resources for organizing and pay tutors, matching students with mentors, going on college field trips, creating summer job internships and organizing community service activities.

Nearly 100 percent of the students in the first two graduating classes at East High have gone on to post-secondary education. What's even more impressive is that as it has been rolled out across the district, district wide, we have GPAs that are 30 percent higher for African American students and Latino students in the program over the control group. We also have higher attendance rate and fewer disciplinary issues.

AVID/TOPS is to me a clear example of how we can boost student achievement among students who have traditionally not been succeeding. It's based on a program created 40 years ago but implemented district wide in a new way.

Don: Thank you. OK, our third question, and Mary will start this one, what are the issues/opportunities within the control of the board the resolution of which would proactively provide for allocation of existing resources, for instance, funding and staffing, for A) improving reading achievement, B) improving math achievement, and C) reducing the achievement gap between minority and low income students and others?
Mary: I believe that in each of the areas, the district should identify best practices. Again, whether it in our own schools or whether it's in other districts across the country that have proven effective. These best practices, to me, would then create various options that should be evaluated. I would evaluate these options based on first, does it track record of success? Has it been proven effective either in our own schools or in other schools across the country? Second, is it likely to succeed here? Just because it works one place, doesn't necessarily mean it works another place. We cannot afford to waste precious resources or time or let the achievement gap continue.

Third, how is it affecting our existing schools? Or how would it affect our existing schools? If we address this issue but at a significant cost to our other students or other schools, it's not smart and it's not fair.

The fourth is, is it cost effective? Resources are precious. We need to make sure we give the greatest impact with them. How sustainable is it over time? We want progress not only this year, but we want it for our kids in the long term.

If it's possible, new strategies should undergo a pilot. Then I would suggest rolling them out district wide. I believe we need to aggressively address the achievement among our students of color and those from low-income families. Education is the ladder out of poverty and currently the ladder that we're using is not working for a lot of students.

I look forward to the superintendent's plans and how to address these issues. As a school board member, I would evaluate these plans along with any other that are being considered according to those criteria that I mentioned.

If Madison Prep were one of these, I would evaluate it alongside the other options. Again, resources are tight. We have to fund programs that are going to have the greatest impact on student achievement. I would only vote for Madison Prep if it was the best option that was on the table. In that case, I would want its seat to be run as an instrumentality of the district, as our other charter schools are.

What I will not vote for would be the status quo that does not address these serious issues. I've known too many children over the last twelve years that have fallen through the cracks. Every week, I work with four first graders at Frank Alice, and I see the kids that who are already significantly behind. I've seen AVID/TOPS students who have addressed these issues successfully in our schools. We need more initiatives like this and we need to focus and expand them.


Michael: I would like to back track to the prior question for a moment. I would like to touch on -- Nichele had mentioned the DLI. To me, I've seen the DLI first hand with Nuestro Mundo. I have always valued knowing a different language. I'm fluent in Spanish and English and I know some French. And because of the Spanish and English and French, I can understand Italian and Latin languages come easy to me. Also, I see the value that the kids have something that connects them to each other and it builds a support structure, be it another language that they can have a conversation in private within a group with a second language. I think DLI builds and reinforces a real strong community. It doesn't have to another language.

Sports -- I think we falter. That's the first thing we cut. Sports or arts. I love art, music. I have instilled in my kids the value of music, and I think that reinforces the strength in math.

We talk about wasting resources, and to me, and I'm touching on what Mary said, we need to be selective and discriminate of our expenditure of finances, but then again we have to be expedient on the choices that we make so we can implement those interventions to our kids and help them. Because the biggest resources to me is that child that's fallen behind three months, six months, a year, because it took us that long to make an executive decision, go with it, because we were too afraid of financial issues. I agree with being frugal, but in the long run, our kids are the biggest investment, and I cannot overemphasize that enough.

Now, going to the response of question number three. I'm not an educator, so I'm not a curriculum expert, as well. But I know and I can see what works and what doesn't work. I can make the critical decision of looking at what we're doing, what is working and continue to enforce and support what is working. I can identify the problems that we have and I can see what is not working. I can say, "Hey, we need to stop that. It's not going in a positive direction."

We need to look at the evidence of success for the programs that we have based on the research. Is that my time? OK.

Arlene: All right, this question really focuses on issues and opportunities within control of the board, and so, what I say is that I think it is critically important at the board level, when you're talking about issues of improving reading achievement, math achievement, overall achievement gap, that the board sets the direction. The board sets the tone. It is the policy maker in which the superintendent needs to implement. And so, within the board's control, I feel like that's the very beginning, which sounds like an understatement, but to me, it's critically important. The achievement issues in our district have to be a top priority. We need to be asking very good questions and demanding that the data be presented, solutions are on the table and that we're evaluating critically where we see success, where the challenges are and what are the benchmarks for moving forward.

The other thing that I think is within the control of the board in terms of addressing achievement in this district also starts with having a priority around our diversity issues in this district. We need to set direction and ask the superintendent and his team to implement boldly and assertively issues that will bring in more teachers of color so that students in our district feel legitimized and are feeling like they are validated in the learning environment.

I also believe within the board's control that we could have more focus around engaging the parents and making sure that there is a stronger connection between community and school. It is an important role for people in our community with students in our schools to feel like their voices are heard, that their issues are a priority, and that there is going to be resolution and direction set and heard by the board.

I also feel like we need to look at an organic and systematic way of making sure that kids are getting more learning. I don't believe that you can have kids who are already several grade levels behind and think that one teacher, several teachers, during a regular school day are going to be able to address all the issues of achievement. We really have to look at ways that we can help teachers differentiate and look at the ways that we can extend learning opportunities for low-income students or students who are seriously behind where they need to be in proficiency.

One of the other big things that I think is within the control of the board is there has to be a focus on alignment throughout the district. The bottom line is things that look good on paper, things that come before the board as a plan are not always implementable in our schools. I know from the work that I've done at the Urban League, when I'm in partnership with schools, we have principals who are completely overwhelmed. We have teachers who would like to be able to execute, but often times don't have the tools or support.

Nichele: Thank you. The question is the issues and opportunities which we would control that would proactively provide for the allocation of existing resources, and I think there are number of issues and opportunities that come to mind. If we're going to look at allocating different resources to focus on student achievement, we first have to understand what's working and what is not working. We have to be able to assess if a child is learning. I think we all know that we don't have very good assessment tools right now with the state WKCE. I supported the district's move to invest in newer assessment tools, the MAP testing and the EPASS system, which is going to provide our staff with more real-time data on how our kids our doing in different setting in the schools.

We also have the kindergarten screener, which is going to be a very good indication, for example, for the success of four-year-old kindergarten or kindergarten readiness. So we have to know how are they doing.

The second is good data on the programs we use in the classroom. You know, just recently, we've really started to focus on evaluating the programs and the curriculum in the schools. I was on the board when we approved the Hanover Research Group's study on our literacy programs, which came back to the board in 2011. Based upon that, we were able to make decisions on what is working and what's not working and reallocate resources and staffing to the programs that are effectively working with our kids.

The math task force was approved in 2009, consisting of members of the district and the community UW mathematicians and UW math education. They really looked at math data in the district and determined, based upon data, what we needed to do to shore up our math programs, and that was really that we had to work with middle school math teachers to get them better knowledge of teaching math and teaching skills at the middle school level. So the board approved money for and made it mandatory for middle school math teachers to work on that so the transition from middle school to high school would be better for our students.

The third issue/opportunity is the availability of good data from the district. We get what's called data. Usually it's not very helpful and it doesn't come in a very timely manner. As a board, we've been talking to the administration about how do we get better data in a more timely manner. You know, we've made a lot of cuts downtown and I sense that resources cut down there has really hurt our ability to obtain good data in a timely and critical manner.

Then the fourth issue is our willingness to make controlled change. If we're going to properly use assessments and data, we must be willing to identify things that aren't working and change things that aren't working. I use the term controlled change because we keep hearing from our schools and our staff that we change too many things. We can't keep changing based on the flavor of the day. We have to focus, use the data to make good decisions for our kids.

Don: Thank you. Now, for our fourth question, and it will be back to you, Arlene, to start. Question is, what are your priorities as a member of the board in proactively working with the teachers, staff and the district's administration to bring about changes in the relationships to affect systemic changes for the resolution of the problems of organizational effectiveness, student achievement, teacher performance and allocation of resources in the district. Arlene?
Arlene: Thank you. You asked priorities, and my priorities as a board member are high expectations in achievement for all of our students, a well-trained staff that is reflective of our community, a safe learning environment for our students and staff, and respect for the tax payer. Now, we have a number of opportunities coming before us this year that are going to affect the priorities I just talked about.

The first is the budget. We kicked off the budget process last week. We're going to be approving and discussing and approving the budget sometime in the April/May time frame. That always has a dramatic effect on the priorities of the district. We are at a point where we can't do everything. We have to make tough decisions. We have to identify priorities and then make tough decisions. We may have to re-allocate resources if we want to support the priorities of the district and the community.

The second is going to be the change from the collective bargaining agreement to the handbook, which I talked about. That's a process that needs to start now. The collective bargaining agreements expire in June 2013 and as I said in an earlier statement, it needs to be a collaborative process. If there are areas the district or the board or our employees want to change, we need to leave time to have a discussion so the process is seamless in the transition from the CBA to the handbook.

We're currently undergoing the superintendent's evaluation. That started last week, or, actually, earlier this week. And that's really important because again, as I said earlier, the superintendent is really the one who directs the district based on the vision and priorities set by the board. We have to ensure that we have a strong leader that is out there leading the district in the appropriate direction.

We've just hired a new chief diversity officer, from Milwaukee. I believe she started this week. That's going to be really critical because, as we've talked about and as I said earlier, a well-trained staff that is reflective of our community. It's not only bringing in staff that reflect our community, but this position is going to look at curriculum, working the affirmative action plan, working with the community to help in the achievement gap of our kids of color and low income that are not achieving to the levels that they should be.

We have the upcoming superintendent's plan to address the achievement gap. Mark your calendars. It's going to come out on February 6. That's going to be really critical for directing how we move forward this year as a district. It's also going to play a role in the budget process. This is something that the community needs to be involved in and weigh in on. So I look forward to hearing from all of you.

Then we have DPI's new teacher evaluation system. It stalled a little bit, but it should be coming out this year. How as we move forward are we going to be evaluating our staff? And that's critical to success in the classroom.

As the specifics of much of what I've listed have not been or can't be communicated, I can't get into much more detail, nor is there time.

Don: Thank you. Nichele?
Nichele: OK, so my priorities as a new member of the board in proactively working with teachers, staff, administration, would really be making sure that at all times I am board of education member in the governance role -- meaning, I believe there is a fine line when you are proactively working with teachers and administration, and sometimes getting caught up in the details and the minutia at the lower levels. It's important for board of education members to understand those details, to hear from the community, from our teachers, from our principals and to keep a finger on the pulse. But at the end of the day, a board of education member, really, in the governance role, needs to remain committed and focused on policy, evaluation and how the plans for educational achievement are going to be implemented and actualized in an operational sense. I feel like I will bring that to the board. My priority, obviously, would be on student achievement for all of our kids, but in particular, for the kids that we know that we are not doing as well with. I think it's vitally important around organizational effectiveness that we look at our system, our district, as an organization and measure and ask ourselves, are we meeting our outcomes? If we're not meeting our outcomes, what is the continuous improvement plan to do so, what's the timeline to do so, and how are we going to correct those things which are not working?

I believe that our district right now is under identification for needed improvement. We need to have a bold and aggressive plan for that. We have schools within our district who are not meeting their annual yearly progress. We need to have clear focus on those schools. What is the plan?

I believe that the superintendent needs to be held accountable for his own performance objectives, but also the performance of our district. And these are critical questions and push that we must have as board of education members to make sure that Madison schools are moving in the right direction.

I also know and I've said this briefly that our principals need to be in a position where they're able to actually run good schools. That means, from a board level, what are the resources that principals need in order to help support teachers in the classroom, and that those allocations of resources, that kind of policy making needs to be part of the dialogue.

At the end of the day, it's really all focused on student achievement. Where are we going as a district? We are a changed district. We already know that. So we need to be able to address our challenges, our changes boldly and move into the future with confidence.

Michael: I've been a parent, a firefighter and a DJ. I've had the advantage of accessing schools throughout the years, and also as a member of the community. So I see what's going on in our schools. I will continue accessing the schools with a bit of a more critical eye as a school board member and see what's occurring in our schools, what needs to be revamped, and what is working. I will be available to my kids, our community kids, the kids, staff, parents and taxpayers to listen to your concerns, because if I'm not, I will hear from my kids and their friends.

I'll need to ask for accurate information coming from parents, from students, parents, teachers, administrators, the superintendent so I can give you an honest evaluation of the programs, what is working, and push for respectful critiques of the system and what works.

I think we need to quit fighting amongst each other. We all have a mutual goal and that's to improve the learning structure, improve the school system for our kids. And we can't do that getting defensive.

So, we need those numbers. We need that clear-cut information without taking it personal and asking ourselves what can I do today to make this a better learning environment for all of our kids.

I think the key is that mutual respect for the staff. I want to empower the students, the parents, the teachers and the principals so they can do what they need to do to improve the system.

Don: Thank you. Arlene?
Arlene: You know, I believe that when we look at organizational effectiveness issues, you have to start with what we believe is the core mission. To me, in our schools, that's learning. So we should be evaluating our processes and our systems around how well they're supporting learning. We should ask ourselves, do the teachers have the support that they need? Are they using best practices and are we helping them get up to speed on those best practices? Do they have the information and tools on how to asses how students are doing? Are there plans for intervention when students are falling behind? Are we effectively engaging parents in the students' education? And most important, are we able to attract, retain and develop great teachers?

So I think when we talk again about organizational effectiveness, we have to go to the core and evaluate all our processes as to how well they are supporting that core mission.

I would look to best practices in other districts and also, again, within our own schools, to see what is working best in terms of meeting those type of support systems for learning.

I believe we do need to be very smart with our resources, making sure that they are having the impact that they're designed to do and reassessing programs that we think may not be meeting that standard. But I think we also look at, do we have adequate resources in our schools to meet these challenges.

We could be able to bring in far larger amounts of resources through partnerships. I believe that learning and our education needs to be a community-wide top priority and that we should be looking at how we integrate other efforts in the community towards learning into our schools and into how we can meet the challenges we face.

With the Boys and Girls Club, we worked on this. How could we integrate after school programs to what was going on in the schools so that we were extending, basically extending the learning day for those students? The same thing in the summer. Right now, after school programs are not highly integrated into the classroom and into those individual student's needs.

We also should be looking at resources we're losing as students leave the district. We've had a huge increase in open enrollments. Eight years ago, we basically had no students leaving the district. Now we had almost 1,000 applications filing applications this year, up 50 percent from the previous year. Each one of those students takes with them thousands of dollars of resources. At an average of $6,000 per student, that's a six million dollar per year outflow of the district, and the trend is troubling.

That doesn't even mention the number of students we have lost from middle and high-income families who are choosing not to live in the district. So I would make sure not only that we're using our resources effectively, but we're also looking at how we can maximize them.

Don: Thank you. OK, we have about ten minutes or so for questions. We'll open it up to our members for questions. Ask that you make it questions and not comments. And hold your questions to 30 seconds and let us know who you're directing your question to, if there's one of the candidates or you want all of them to respond, please tell us that as well.
Audience Member: I address you as a former superintendent of schools, and I'm appalled at the drop-out rate in the city of Madison because I know best practices exist. I sat through a meeting the other night for five hours where the best practice of Madison Prep was voted down. I heard you talk about bold leadership. It is critical for bold leadership. But, as I look at all of you, it's a thankless job. I have to applaud anyone who's willing to run for school board. But I just can't fathom what went on the other evening, as far as a board that wouldn't take action on something that is proven. So, for each one of you, I ask you, how are you really going to rectify this situation where we have an inactive board to do something that's critical for kids. We must have a drop-out rate that is hardly any students at all. There is no reason why we can't work with businesses. As a business leader, so much of us are willing for creative types of things to make sure our kids get an education and work with those involved.
Don: Thank you. Who would like to tackle that? Michael?
Michael: Number one, from my perspective, I was not at the meeting, but I'm very curious about Madison Prep. I have certain apprehensions that I will not go into currently, but we have had the achievement gaps for years and we need to be more proactive. Going back to the time versus expense, we have allowed too much time to those gaps exist, so we need to be proactive and react and implement change to reduce that. I am curious as to what kind of idea from a private, what would you, what do you think would help coming from you, to our school systems, if I may.
Audience Member: Well, I have donated...
Don: Could we ask for that response another time, or directly?
Michael: Email me.
Don: Yeah, if you would please. OK, any other candidates want to respond to that question?
Arlene: Sure, I'll respond. So I was also at the boat for Madison Prep and I did speak in support of Madison Prep. I think what's more important than just saying 'yes, I spoke in support of' is why. I spoke in support of the school because I felt it provided an opportunity for our district to look an innovative way to address learning issues and achievement issues within a charter school format. Like Mary, I would have preferred to see the proposal actually be an instrument of the district. I know from working at the Urban Lake, without knowing all the details, that there were many, many conversations and negotiations and attempts to do so. For whatever reasons, that was not accomplished. But the concept of the school, based on the data is appalling, was enough to make me feel like, maybe we've got a chance here, maybe we need to try.

Now, I spoke as a parent, but I do want to say from a Board of Education member. And I'm going to extend the benefit of the doubt, there was an administrative analysis and in the administrative analysis there were issues around cost and there were issues around the teachers contract.

If you're a board of education member in a closed session, and the superintendent gives you his administrative analysis and says I don't recommend this and you all have discussion of which I was not privy to, you are charged with the duty of looking at is this plan feasible, is it best practice and how would we know that, and do we have an effective way of really evaluating what's before us. I wasn't part of those discussions but I do believe.

That every one of those Board Members had to make a decision that was tough, based on the information they had. What was unfortunate that night was that we had so much public testimony, especially from the African-American community, who spoke in support of the school.

While the Board needed to make the decision it needed to make, for whatever the reasons were, it was the way in which it was executed that I think hurt people.

When you read a pre-written response, when you take a 10 minute recess before the vote is called, and it looks as though it's not a contemplation in the mix, I think people in the audience were appalled by the response. And there has been a lot of debate and there's been a lot of divisiveness around this whole discussion at Madison Prep. What I would bring to the board is a spirit of collaboration and communication because it is a huge job with a lot of responsibility.

Don: Mary.
Mary: Yeah, I mean, that's a great questions. To be honest with you, it is my passion for education and making sure every child has that chance to climb that ladder to higher education and out of poverty. To me, we're too good of a community to let this issue go unaddressed. But, I do believe there should be various options we should be considering. I think charter schools in general are not the answer. We can look just down the road to Milwaukee to see that that has not been a solution to education issues. I do believe charter schools could meet, have a place in terms of meeting a high-priority unmet need. But I think we need to have other options on the table.

As I said, with AVID/TOPS, we have seen success in a very short amount of time. We need to be addressing early literacy things. Addressing issues when they're in sixth grade or ninth grade when we know in first grade they're already behind is a real problem.

So I believe while there's a lot of disappoint that people feel around the issue of Madison Prep, to me, regardless of what the future is for that particular initiative, the benefit is the spotlight has been shined on this issue and I believe we are a community that will step up and address this issue because of that.

Arlene: I was there that night, too, actually sitting on the stage and I was one of the board members that voted no against Madison Prep. I did so after quite a bit of deliberation. It was probably one of the harder votes I've ever made in my time on the board, to be quite honest with you. But I do think there were some issues with the program and the plan, from cost to supports to teacher contracts to number of administrators, to a management fee, that I thought didn't best address the needs of more kids in the district.

Is there a need for something like Madison Prep? Absolutely, 100 percent. That was not a vote against a need. That was not a vote against the community. I just didn't think it was the best way to use our resources. And I have more details which I won't get into here.

So, how do we move forward? I do think that, as Mary just said, it is now a time that we do have to be bold. We do have an opportunity with some financial things we're doing in the district to be bold in programming, to expand what is working in our district, to look at different ways of expanding the school day, getting more time with our students, looking at innovative ways to address their needs. I think that discussion is happening now and the spotlight is going to be on that discussion starting in February as we move forward with the board as a board discussing the plan to do that.

People may or may not agree. I think there is, unfortunately, it really split this community in a very negative way and I think we all have to come back together and work toward the common goal.

I agree with Nichele. I thought it was really unfortunate that by the Monday of the school board vote that you already probably knew by reading things in the paper how many school board members were going to vote. I think that's completely wrong. I think it's our responsibility, even if you know how you're going to vote, to listen to the community and then you vote on stage. You don't vote in the press because it is our obligation to listen and hear what people have to say and discuss. That was not the will of how it was happening. So that's how it rolled out.

Don: Thank you. I think we have time for one more question. Dorothy?
Dorothy: This question is for all of the candidates, and I want to know if you have the support of the union, and if you do, will you be able to make decisions that they may not support knowing that you will no longer have their support at the next election?
Mary: I don't know at this point whether the unions have decided who they are endorsing as candidates, so I certainly have not been endorsed by the unions. But regardless of whether I am or whether I'm not, I'm not running to represent any special interest. I'm running to represent the parents and the children of this community.
Michael: On the same taken, the only union that I have supporting me is 311, my firefighters union. I'm not here to be a school board member for a number of years. I want to do the best I can do taking this step. But if it burns some bridges because people thought I should have sided with somebody at the cost of our children, I am happy to do anything to better empower our children, and I think we need stay away from special interests. It's great to have the support. I have the support of the community. It's great to have the support of my union. I'm a firm believer in unions. Until recent events, I've been behind the scenes quiet and just lived my life. But sometimes you need somebody that's a voice to bark out in justice for you. So I believe in unions, but I believe in our kids.
Nichele: As Mary said, I'm not sure if the union has already made their decision on which candidate or candidates they will endorse. I have not heard. I highly doubt that I will get their endorsement for the reason that I already said, that I supported Madison Prep and, unfortunately, I think part of the dialogue that happened in this community was that, if you supported Madison Prep, that automatically made you anti-union, which was so untrue for so many people. So, I'm here to represent the community, to be a good leader, to be a good steward. And if they wanted to support me, that would be great, but I think at the end of the day, you're responsible for making critical decisions at the board level and you have to be able to rise above the interests of particular groups who want you to say and vote a particular way.
Arlene: I have not heard yet, either, about the union endorsement. It doesn't matter one way or another to me if I'm endorsed of not in how I'm going to interact with the community, represent our teachers and make decisions. I have been endorsed in the past by MTI in prior elections. As I've said in a couple of my responses, big things coming up is going to be the transition from the collective bargaining agreement to the handbook, and I bring this up because I think it has to be an open and collaborative process. There are changes that we're going to want to make as a district, and I think that is good. If I'm endorsed by the district or not, I'm going to proceed with the process of collecting feedback and making a decision that is best for our district.

But I have tremendous respect for our teachers and I do think it's important to listen to them, as well, as I always have, and involve them in the decision making. Again, whether or not I'm endorsed makes not difference in how I function as a school board member.

Don: Thank you. OK, we have enough time now, and I'm sorry we didn't have time for more questions, but we'll close out with closing statements from each of the candidates and we'll start with Mary.
Mary: Thank you. As I mentioned, it was 12 years ago that I got involved, really, in education in Madison when I started mentoring two boys on the south side who were seven and nine at that point. In those kids, I saw all the promise, but I also saw all the challenges. I got to know their teachers. I saw what caring, compassionate, committed people they were. But I also realized that it wasn't enough. I basically dedicated my life. I retired from Trek Bicycle to raise money and plan for a new Boys and Girls Club on Allied Drive. Those kids needed to have a place to go after school that was productive, that was safe, that was caring and that would help them have a dream for what they could become and help them achieve it.

As I worked through the Boys and Girls Club as, obviously a volunteer as board chair, we started to see that there were limitations on the impact of after school programs and summer programs and that we really needed to be partnering with the schools. That led to the start of the AVID/TOPS program four years ago.

Through that program, I've worked more with teachers and administrators, other community non-profits, and I believe that that is the key to our success is being able to bring together the resources. Set as our community top priority education, and figure out what we need to do to get it done, what do we need to change that's being done that is not working, what do we need to add that might be best practices and proven effective elsewhere. But to me, it all gets back to kids. I've held listening sessions the last two weeks with representatives from parent organizations, and what you hear is that we have a lot of good things to build upon, but also, we need to address those challenges.

I firmly believe that we can address these issues regarding the achievement gap and still be providing a great education for all our kids.

Don: Thank you, Mary.
Michael: As a paramedic, I have seen [indecipherable 1:17:38] . I grew up on a [indecipherable 1:17:40] right next to [indecipherable 1:17:41] and so on. So first-hand experience, I have seen friends fall into pits. We need to be vigilant and we need to help and be proactive, so I appreciate... In closing, what I bring to the board is that first-hand experience of being a kid at risk, the ability to bring people together, a willingness to listen and learn from others. I have a hardworking drive, critical thinking thanks to my job, personal involvement in the schools, and a general commitment for improving our schools. I believe investing in our children is the most important action we can take. So thank you. Thank you.
Don: OK. Nichele.
Nichele: All right. What I hope to leave you with is that I feel like I'm very qualified to be a Board of Education member not only as a parent with kids who are still in the district and seeing what is happening and what's unfolding as we talk about plans and improvements, but also professionally, for the last 15 years, I have worked in this community working with families, the same families who we are talking about in our district. And I'm very much committed to our public schools being better and addressing the issues of our community. I also just want to clear up for you that my role at the Urban League as the VP of Education and Learning leaves me in a really unique position because I have the perspective of partnership with schools. Every week, my team of folks is out in schools, middle schools and high schools, working on this very thing called student achievement. It's done through a unique program called Schools of Hope, which brings in community volunteers to tutor students who are struggling in math and literacy.

I know just through Schools of Hope, there is no easy fix. There is not one fix. What I bring to the Board of Education role is that perspective that we have got to be committed for the long haul to really address our achievement issues.

I am an advocate of public education. I am courageous, if I say so myself, willing to provide leadership, willing to stand up and to make my voice heard, to let the vote be known and my rationale behind it, and always a good steward of the resources of our taxpayers.

My focus is really on the achievement gap. It's on driving accountability for results, and that's not cliché language. That's real language. We are better than this. I know that we are better than this and we have to get traction on this issue. I believe that parents and students need to be engaged in our schools even more than they are. And lastly, that our teachers need support because the real learning happens in classrooms. We need good alignment from the board level into the classroom.

Arlene: Thank you. Public schools, particularly those in urban areas, which Madison now is, are facing significant challenges -- from public funding, to meeting the needs of all students, to recruiting outstanding teachers, to defining the workplace relationships between stakeholders. Challenges can also bring opportunity, and some of our questions outline that today, and I prefer to see the positive potential of this school district. I am committed to public education in our 25,000 students. I will independently evaluate new ideas and academic outcomes. I understand that there is more than one issue facing our school district, and as an experienced board member, I do look forward to working with you to make MMSD's future a promising future.

If you do look back at my time on the board, especially the three years when I was board president, there was a focus on collaboration with the community, leading the community-based strategic planning process, actually leading the community-based referendum to get more money for our infrastructure and needs of the school, working with the community process to evaluate the new superintendent.

I think it's really critical that we do work together. We have a divided community now. We need to come together because the number one priority of the Madison community in the Madison Metropolitan School District needs to be educating our youth, all of our youth. And we can't do it as factions. We can't do it as us against them against you. We have to be one community. I have that expertise of bringing people together and working together toward a common goal, and I look forward to doing that with all of you. Thank you very much for your time.

Don: Thank you, Arlene, Nichele, Michael, Mary. We appreciate your commitment to your candidacy and to the needs of the community. And we appreciate your offering your thoughts and views with us today. And hopefully, this will continue to stimulate some discussion throughout the community, and I wish all of you the best of luck. Thank you very much. [applause]

Recorded by www.schoolinfosystem.org