Sanderfoot on Ed Lite

Parent Alan Sanderfoot wrote a letter to the Isthmus Editor on Katherine Esposito’s recent article: Ed Lite: Madison Middle Schools Serve Up an Uninspiring Academic Menu:

Dear editor,
Thank you for publishing Katherine Esposito’s article about Madison’s middle schools (“Ed Lite,” Nov. 11, page 12). Please allow me, however, to correct some mischaracterizations in her piece.
On the contrary, my daughter Olivia did not “bail” from Sherman when she transferred to O’Keeffe. Her mother and I worked diligently during her entire 6th grade year at Sherman trying to get the school and teachers to address her unique academic and social needs. Throughout the year, we met with Olivia’s team of three teachers, the learning coordinator, the guidance counselor and administrators. Much was discussed, but little action followed.

During the second semester, the district’s TAG coordinator for middle schools suggested that grade skipping or transferring my daughter to O’Keeffe might be the best option for her. I thought these were radical ideas at the time. I thought there was no reason why her current teachers couldn’t differentiate the curriculum enough to keep her challenged. She already had the motivation to learn but wasn’t being given sufficient guidance or opportunity. So I continued to work with the Sherman staff. By the end of the year, I thought we were starting to make some progress — enough to give us hope that 7th grade would be much better.
Then the changes to Sherman’s curriculum were announced — specifically, the changes to band and foreign language — two subjects that offered challenging opportunities for my daughter without the school needing to differentiate the curriculum. When the changes were announced, my wife and I could see the frustration and despair in our daughter’s eyes, and we felt no choice but to transfer her. Even after that decision was made, I remained committed to working with other parents regarding issues at Sherman and spent much time over the summer meeting with other concerned parents and advocating for the needs of all Sherman students, regardless of academic aptitude. The goal was to ensure that every child was being challenged at a level appropriate to his or her abilities.
To characterize my daughter’s actions as “bailing” paints the wrong picture. It was the hardest decision we had to make regarding her education and it required a lot of strength and courage from my daughter. Her transfer prompted many other Sherman families to take a closer look at the curriculum, and more requests for transfers followed.
I also was appalled that the article describes Sherman’s principal, Ann Yehle, as appearing “disarmingly young, with sun-blond hair and a chipper smile.” Though it probably wasn’t the writer’s intent, such characterization implies that Yehle is too young for the job and … well, we all know the unfortunate stereotype about blonds. Though many parents and students disagree with the direction she’s taking the school, there is no doubt in my mind that Ms. Yehle is acting with the best intentions for the school and its diverse student body. It is fair to debate someone’s ideas and policies, but leave their age and hair color out of it.
Meanwhile, I’m encouraged that the assistant superintendent for secondary schools Pam Nash has assembled a team to study the Madison’s middle schools and how we can bring equity, enthusiasm for learning, and challenging experiences to every student in every classroom — regardless of academic ability, race or socio-economic status. I agree that heterogeneous classrooms are the ideal environment to ensure equal access to education. However, this dream might never become a reality. The amount of differentiation that must occur in such classrooms, as well as the tremendous amount of staffing required to meet students’ diverse learning and behavioral needs, is not something the district is even close to funding adequately. And unless that changes, parents and students are likely to see more “Ed Lite” in the future.