Task Force Insight

Dear Board,
While serving as a member on the Long Range Planning Committee for the West/Memorial Task Force I came to a few insights I would like to share.
Our charge was to seek solutions for the over-crowded schools in Memorial and Leopold attendance area as well as address the low income disparity throughout the area.

  • Overcrowding in Memorial – with current data and projected growth to be over 100% capacity in 5 of the elementary schools I believe the only solution to this problem is a new school. With the purchase of the far west land the board must believe this as well. This should be the number one priority of the growth solution for MMSD. There is space at Toki/Orchard Ridge and a few seats at Muir for this attendance area and additions could be made to Falk, or an update and expansion of Orchard Ridge/Toki could be made, but otherwise there is no room without changing programmatically.
  • Leopold overcrowding is much more complicated, as you know. This huge expansive slice of Madison and the entire city of Fitchburg attendance area has somehow become one elementary school. I do not support an addition to this school for many of the same reasons I did not like two schools on the same land. It is lots of seats in one part of town and you create problems for the future. If Shorewood or Crestwood had 1000 seats we would be busing kids from Fitchburg to that school because that’s where the space is. An addition without a new school means a principal, staff and others at this school are functioning like the other 4 – 5 hundred space schools but with double the students, is that fair to the staff of that school? Would you want to be the principal of 800 – 900 students? I would rather have a school in Fitchburg or south of the Beltline off of 14 to help Leopold and the Allis attendance area that currently is sent to the other side of Monona.
    There is space at Midvale/Lincoln, Randall, Shorewood,and there is 110 seats at Hamilton, 94 seats at Wright, and 118 seats at Cherokee. And of course the strange building of Hoyt that must have ghost or something since no one wants to touch it. There is space in West. The move of Leopold to Chavez is wrong minded since it shifts the West area problem to the overcrowded Memorial area.
    The Elephant in the Room throughout the entire Task Force was Midvale/Lincoln and the perceived lack of quality at that school. There is 75 seats at Lincoln and 62 seats at Midvale this year and each time the suggestion was made to shift students from Leopold to M/L it was met with distaste, (except for two apartment buildings of 30 students) as the memo from the Swan Creek neighborhood (see attachment) was an example. That memo, while it outraged me, is a glaring example why we can’t solve Leopold overcrowding (see memo [pdf] from Midvale Parent Jerry Eykholt to the Swan Creek Parents). On the task force Leopold was sent to Chavez, Randall/Franklin, Thoreau over and under M/L, but somehow those 137 seats at M/L seemed too far away. I think the district is failing Midvale/Lincoln.

  • Our low income since 1989 has doubled in the district while it has not in the community. Pairing Midvale Lincoln did not solve the income disparity problem and I fail to see the solution in changing boundaries. If you move poor students you upset those relationships and it seems like busing, if you move a high income neighborhoods into the area you risk losing those kids to private schools. Midvale/ Lincoln has over 100 students electing to not attend public school because of the perceived problems. I have an interesting solution that would be progressive and possibly irritate the district’s mode of all schools looking exactly the same: Use M/L as a “test site” for the always boasted curriculum of Singapore Math and Direct Instruction. Announce that to improve the (Achievement) Gap you are going to test these curricula at this school, which has a high rate of low income to see if the test grades there improve at a greater pace than a similar school using the districts accepted curricula. You would have higher income parents coming back to the school, reducing the disparity, improving the schools image and also show you are progressive and willing to do a scientific approach to curriculum selection for the district. You could test these two curricula, that are often sighted as better than what MMSD offers, and really analyze the improvement. If it works ….say in 5 years great…if not go back to the districts accepted curriculum.
    The doubling of our low income in such a short period of time (as well as the minority data) show the district is no longer a reflection of the community and we are losing students to the private sector, like most urban schools. MMSD has always had a wonderful reputation and has boasted how well the community attends the public school compared to other communities. We are quickly losing that grip and I feel it is less about “boundaries” but about quality of the education or “perceived” quality. While I am not downing the diversity that I enjoy and elect to have my children be a part of, you must see the problem with losing middle and high income students in a district that needs all those parents to participate in the community schools. Improving the curriculum and making it overwhelmingly attractive to all is the best way to solve the disparity issues at many of these schools, not all of course. The Math stinks in this district and I know you hear this all the time but look at the data, you are losing kids because of the curriculum, not due to boundary lines.

Thank you for your time to our children,
Mary Kay Battaglia