Wright Middle School Charter Renewal – Leopold?

I’ve attended a couple of the East / West Task Force Meetings (props to the many volunteers, administrators and board members who’ve spent countless hours on this) and believe that Wright Middle School’s facilities should be part of the discussion, given its proximity to Leopold Elementary (2.2 miles [map], while Thoreau is 2.8 miles away [map])
Carol Carstensen’s weekly message (posted below) mentions that Wright’s Charter is on the Board’s Agenda Monday Night. Perhaps this might be a useful time to consider this question? Carol’s message appears below:

Parent Group Presidents:
The state has backed away from its promises to support the special education services required by state and federal law. Originally the state promised to fund 63% of local costs for special education today the state funds about 28%; in 1993 when revenue caps were first imposed the state funded 45% of special education costs. If the state had kept its share at that level (45%) the district would not be facing the need for budget cuts every year.
Special Board meeting on Monday, November 28:
Madison Partners in Special Education, an organization of parents of special education children, talked with the board about:
· the lack of consistency between schools;
· their concern that not all teachers and principals have adequate training in working with children with special education needs;
· concerns that some of the budget discussions seemed to be pitting children and families against one another;
· their desire to work cooperatively with other parents and with the Board to ensure adequate funding for the district.
Some of the parents are also part of the district’s Parent Advisory Council and Board members talked about using that Council to communicate concerns about specific schools as well as highlighting schools which are doing an excellent job. I agreed that I would help the leaders of Madison Partners to connect with other parents who are concerned about the district’s budget constraints.
The second half of the Board’s meeting was devoted to looking intensively at the budgets for Human Resources and Business Services. These presentations will be available soon on the district’s website, www.mmsd.org click on Financial and then on Reports. I will summarize the information in a future email. The Superintendent and the Assistant Superintendent for Business have created advisory committees for both Business Services and Human Resources. Professionals from the private sector and other governmental levels have agreed to serve and use their expertise and knowledge to help the departments become as efficient as possible.
Lastly the Board looked at a proposal from Virchow, Krause & Company to do a study of the administrative staffing levels in Business Services and Human Resources. The Board wanted to be sure that the study would help us determine what further budget cuts can be made without harming the ability of the district to carry out its legal and financial responsibilities. The administration will bring additional information about this in the next few weeks.
December 5th meeting schedule:
5:30 Legislative Committee (Ruth Robarts, chair) consideration of a charter school bill and also a bill on affordable health care.
6:15 Special Board Meeting renewal of the charter for Wright Middle School
Carol Carstensen, President
Madison School Board
“Until lions have their own historians, the hunters will always be glorified.” – African Proverb

14 thoughts on “Wright Middle School Charter Renewal – Leopold?”

  1. Not only should Wright’s facilities be considered, but what is the deal with Spring Harbor? Too close to the affluent Shorewood Hills to be politically in the mix?

  2. I confess that I’ve been following the East attendance area task force more closely, so am not clear on the relationship between the Wright charter renewal and the West-Memorial attendance task force questions. Could someone spell this out a bit more? I don’t want to assume that I know the issues-connections.

  3. I hope at some point the board will consider having a unified task force composed of representatives from both the east-side and west side long-range planning task forces as a future next step in this process to discuss broader, districtwide issues that affect boundary changes, school opening/closing, new schools, etc.

  4. Jim and David,
    The Spring Harbor facility has been put on the table several times for the M/W task force as a place to change. The problem is the location does not help with Leopold or the West growth. You could move the students and use as an elementary then…who do you bus there?
    At the last W/M meeting there were two suggestions that I am hoping to follow-up on at the next meeting.
    One was to add on to the Wright building and create a 4/5 space for Leopold students that shares gym, library etc with Wright. (With almost 100 seats open it would not have to be a big addition)
    The other idea was to move students from Wright (there are only 230 students at Wright) to a renovated Hoyt and use Wright as an elementary school for the Leopold and other growth.
    The last idea was my suggestion and the administration has a thing about not wanting to use Hoyt because it would hold less than 250 students and needs renovation.
    I can’t get a clear answer on why Hoyt is such an albatross to them but my idea was not welcomed, but Wright has almost 100 seats and we are funding the expense to run a middle school with very few students.

  5. Hi Lucy:
    As far as I know, the Wright facility is the closest MMSD property to Leopold (2.2 miles vs. 2.8 for Thoreau). The task forces have looked at many options, including placing 5th grade classes at existing middle schools.

  6. Thanks, everyone, for the information and ideas. very helpful to putting the Wright proposals in context.
    I was at the O’Keefe hearing last night. One of the issues that has been raised more than once is the projected growth in the LaFollette attendance area and the need to expand the conversation to take that expansion into account.
    As I watch the process unfold, I am increasingly concerned that the existing structures and timelines appear to be working at cross purposes with the solid deliberative processes that are happening in the respective task force meetings. Am I a naive dreamer to hope that the timelines will be flexible enough to allow important deliberations to take place?

  7. I’m the alternate for James C. Wright Middle School on the West/Memorial Task Force. We have discussed the idea of using middle schools to help with elementary school overcrowding. There are a number of problems that have become evident from programing to not enough seats to take all of a 5th grade. Some of those problems are difficult to solve. But we are trying to consider all possibilities and I haven’t seen a plan that looks easy.
    In the case of Wright, there is some confusion about its capacity. The district indeed lists its capacity as 324 students. I don’t know where that number comes from. Our charter only allows 240 students and we actually had a wait list for two grades at the time of registration. The capacity of a school is determined by a combination of its physical space and its programing. For instance, Leopold has full day SAGE for k-3 and this gives it a decreased capacity than if it didn’t have SAGE. Wright’s charter calls for class sizes of 20 in the core academic subjects and this affects capacity the same way. Both are valuable programs in schools with high percentages of low income students. So, Wright actually only has 14 open seats.

  8. Thank you for the clarification, Fern. This is important information on several levels. We’ve seen that the numbers on enrollment vs. current occupancy can differ significantly (e.g. when in-building special programs are not counted). You’ve presented a new piece of less visible information that can and should be given consideration as planning continues.

  9. I think the reason this discussion was taking place here was because the charter for Wright was coming up for renewal. If Wright lost it’s charter (and I don’t support that), then it’s capacity would increase.

  10. The idea of sending fifth graders into the middle schools sends chills up my spine. The culture of an elementary school is decidedly different than the culture of a middle school, and it is not (in my opinion) a shift that should be made too early.

  11. Teacher L:
    I know you’re busy teaching, and if this question goes too far off-topic, I can respect that.
    But I’m curious — what in your view is the ideal grade arrangement for schoolchildren pre-high school? Few topics that I’ve encountered in public education generate as much debate — with widely varying views held by folks I really do respect — as that one. I know people who think students ought to be “bunched” in a few grade arrangements per school (three or even as few as two grades per school). I’ve also encountered those who think K-6 or even K-8 models are best, with older students serving as something like mentors/tutors/role models to younger students. The argument for “less bunching” and a school with a wide variance in grade levels is that it leads to fewer transitions between schools for kids, and students get really familiar with principals, support staff and the like, and that leads to continuity and so forth. But I’ve never encountered a study or research on the impact of transitions between schools for students.
    I tend to think it’s one of those issue where folks argue for the arrangement they are familiar with, or grew up in, or had success with their own kids, without any solid research or studies out there that suggest what’s the best arrangement for a child’s academic needs.

  12. I’m not sure I have an ideal, since I think different students probably thrive in different situations. I can see the value, for instance, in a k-2 school and a 3-5 school, but less so when there are siblings that are 2-4 years apart. I know for my own children (and for many of the families I observe where I teach) having an older sibling to support a younger siblings first year or two is a unique opportunity–no parents are around, so the older child gets to “step up” and the younger child gets the opportunity to see the older sibling as a support. It seems to me that this occurs even when the normal sibling rivalry/bickering is taking place. Based on that, I lean towards the broader age range in elementary schools.
    I don’t have a very clear idea about what I think the middle schools should be like, although I am not a fan of the size or configuration we currently use. I probably lean towards a K-6 model (not realistic in our crowded elementary schools). I do think that moving fifth graders up early would be a real disservice to our 10 and 11 year olds. The growth that occurs from the beginning to the end of fifth grade is pretty impressive (I’m referring here to social/emotional). It is a good age to have the experience of being the oldest kids in school, and I think it allows a positive kind of maturing that may serve these kids well as they move into middle school and face the influence of an older peer group. Of special concern to me is the impact such a move would have on children who are not well supervised or supported. I have worked with 10 year olds who, through one means or another, have connected with 13 or 14 year olds and followed them into some pretty bad situations. Increasing the opportunities for those contacts and connections (for instance, on the significantly less structured middle school bus ride) scares me. Peer pressure is a big deal even when students are the same age–putting our most vulnerable 10 year olds in daily contact with 13 and 14 year olds and asking them to stand up and do what’s “right” is asking an awful lot.
    In smaller districts, I know that students are often in one building from K-12. I have never lived or worked in one of these communities, so I don’t have that experience to draw from. Generally, I suspect that different arrangements suit different community circumstances.

  13. I like Oregon SD’s solution and so do the parents and kids. The breakdown is like this:
    K-4 Elementary (they have two)
    5-6 Intermediate (one school)
    7-8 Middle School (one school)
    9-12 High School (one school)
    I work around the state a bit-in Juneau (Dodgeland SD), they have one building K-12, but the kids are separate with different entrances, and little interaction during the school day.

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