For The Record

Sunday 10 a.m., Channel 3’s For the Record will feature a debate among the four candidates for school board.
Here is my email to Neil Heinen regarding the station’s coverage including a discussion of some of the issues at stake in the race: To: Neil Heinen Subject: Sunday show
Dear Neil,
A new post up on SIS ( discusses a debate at East yesterday covered by your station. Thank you for this and for dedicating Sunday’s show to the race.
One point that I’m not sure was reported correctly however, is the assertion in your coverage that the current board has not said who they support. The five-member majority has clearly stated their support for Silveira and Lopez (who is of course part of that majority and a candidate) while Robarts and Kobza have stated their support for Mathiak and Cole.
This race truly is for control of the majority and will dictate how we go forward on matters of heterogeneous classrooms (the dismantling of honors and possibly AP at West is part of that), school boundary changes, the construction of new and closure of existing schools, budget concerns, how to responsibly provide teachers health insurance, etc.
The Silveira/Lopez line is that Mathiak and Cole are focused merely on “process”. This significantly minimizes what’s at stake. The board is currently divided and removed from community input. For instance, when a school board member can’t get an item on the agenda because she’s in the minority, or she can’t get information she has requested from the superintendent, we’ve got closed, dysfunctional governance. Mathiak and Cole may not always vote the same with each other or Kobza or Robarts, but the four of them are dedicated to transparency and public participation. With that, I believe the community will be better informed and more likely to support the hard decisions facing our district as we go forward into a land of $40 million more in budget cuts over the next five years.
But there’s an even bigger topic that might be coming up soon. I’d appreciate if you could ask the candidates what they’d look for in a new superintendent. Rainwater has made no secret of his plan to retire in the not too distant future and it’s no stretch to believe that the next board majority will determine whether we hire someone like Art or someone who is less, shall we say, autocratic/didactic, someone who takes his direction FROM the board on policy matters rather than dictating it TO them?
Let me close by focusing on hetergeneous classes. The trend everywhere else is to have more not less AP and honors classes. I met a woman recently who is an education professor at Marquette. She was shocked to learn of MMSD’s policy changes, pointing out that in Milwaukee even the most impoverished schools have AP, with the focus being how to increase participation by more students, especially minority students. Extending the K-8 model into high school is irresponsible. The data clearly indicate that this model is failing our students. Indeed, even at West, the internal data show that the one-size-fits-all English 9 and now English 10 doesn’t work as advertised. Our children attend Stanford and Macalester. Almost all their classmates have had the full range of AP courses in their high schools, even those coming from small towns. Especially in science and math, this is critical. Success after MMSD is a measure that doesn’t get much play, but it really should be the ultimate measure of our students’ success, not just those who go on to college and post-graduate careers, but all our students. Are they prepared to participate meaningfully in society. Do they have the skills they need to be good critical thinkers, to make informed decisions.
As our district grows increasingly more diverse ethnically, and as the disparity socieconomically widens, we have to ask whether we can meet all students’ needs with the little red school house approach, if that model ever worked in a town our size. More important, perhaps, will be how the community will perceive this—a posting a few months back on SIS looked at the district’s demographic data and demonstrated that brain flight has already happened out of the West HS district. Folks will be voting with their feet if they feel those setting policy don’t care about all the children.
How we see ourselves and whether Madison continues to draw new folks to our community depends heavily on the strength of our schools. Obviously I believe we need a fresh start, but however you come down on it, the stakes are high.