MMSD High School Redesign Committee Selected

According to a report from a recent East High United meeting, where MMSD Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Schools Pam Nash did a presentation on the District’s high school redesign plans, the following eleven people have been named to the redesign committee:
Pam Nash — Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Schools, former principal of Memorial HS. While at Memorial, Ms. Nash oversaw the development and implementation of the “neighborhoods” school restructuring and implementation of the 9th grade core curriculum.
Alan Harris — Principal of East HS, former principal at Black Hawk MS.

Loren Rathert
— Interim principal at LaFollette HS, former interim principal at East HS, former MMSD Social Studies Coordinator, and former principal at West HS. While at West, Mr. Rathert oversaw the development and initial implementation of the SLC grant, including the initial implementation of the school restructuring and the 9th and 10th grade core curriculum.
Ed Holmes — Principal at West HS (since fall, 2004), former principal at Wright MS and former assistant principal at West HS. Mr. Holmes has been principal at West during the continued implementation of the SLC grant, school restructuring, and 9th and 10th grade core curriculum.

Bruce Dahmen
— Principal at Memorial HS.
Sally Schultz — Principal at Shabazz HS.
Steve Hartley — MMSD Director of Alternative Programs. These include the Transitional Education Program (TEP), the School-Age Parent Program (SAPAR), Operation Fresh Start, the Omega program and many others. Mr. Hartley also oversees the District’s implementation of the state-mandated Youth Options Program (YOP), which requires the District to pay for appropriate educational opportunities for eligible high school juniors and seniors whose needs cannot be met at their own schools. A wide range of students may take advantage of YOP. The District’s YOP implementation and — importantly — policy regarding the giving of high school credit for non-MMSD courses is currently under review and has been discussed on this blog —

Lisa Wachtel
— Director of MMSD Teaching and Learning Department, former MMSD Science Coordinator. Dr. Wachtel oversees a staff of 30-40 educational professionals across a variety of content areas. Possibly important, when asked by the Superintendent to cut two people from her staff for next year, she chose to eliminate two TAG staff (leaving a TAG staff of only five people for the entire district, if the BOE approves the cut).
L. Alan Phelps — Professor in the U.W. Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis (School of Education) and Director of the U.W. Center on Education and Work. He seems to have special interests in special education and intercultural learning. Here are links to two of his recent papers, one entitled “Using Post-School Outcomes Data to Improve Practices and Policies in Restructured Inclusive High Schools” and another entitled “High Schools with Authentic and Inclusive Learning Practices: Selected Features and Findings” —

M. Bruce King — Faculty Associate in the U.W. Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis (School of Education). Dr. King is a longtime West area parent and was hired by the District to serve as the West HS SLC Evaluator. He is the author of the November, 2005, report on West’s English 10 initiative that has been heavily discussed on this blog —

Diana Hess — Associate Professor in the U.W. Department of Curriculum and Instruction (School of Education). Dr. Hess’s special area is social studies education, with a particular interest in training teachers to do discussion-based instruction, especially around controversial issues. Here is a link to an article by Dr. Hess entitled “Teaching Students to Discuss Controversial Public Issues” —

17 thoughts on “MMSD High School Redesign Committee Selected”

  1. All a bunch of Doyle building insiders picked to approve the plans already laid out by the superintendent — with the rest of the world shut out of the process! What a joke!
    I have no idea why the MMSD is called a PUBLIC school system. It ought to be called the Madison Metropolitan Administrators School System.

  2. I sent these comments on the “high school redesign” committee to the Madison School Board this evening:
    hello all:
    Thank you for all that you do.
    I am writing to inquire as to whether there will be additional people named to the “High School Redesign Committee”?
    Certainly, academic staff should be represented. I hope that you balance the present membership with community, parent and student members.
    How about:
    2 High School Students
    2 Middle School Students
    2 Parents (High School and Elementary children)
    Community Members:
    2 Government (city and state) – Paul Soglin and Lee Dreyfus or Chuck Chvala
    2 Business (Tech and manufacturing)
    2 Non Profit (Arts and Community Service)
    1 Military, 1 Police
    2 Alumni (1 less than five years, another 10 to 20 years)
    1 from MATC
    2 from non- ed school UW
    1 from Edgewood College
    1 from a utility (MG & E or Alliant)
    1 from the City Water Department
    Add these 16 to the current group (10) and I think you have a reasonable set of experiences, which is as it should be.
    Thanks for reading and best wishes,

  3. L. Allen Phelps has taught a course at UW called EdAdm 940-American High School: Reform Initiatives and Restructuring Strategies. Syllabus is at UW website. Main texts were Restructuring High Schools for Excellence and Equity: What Works, The Productive High School: Creating Personalized Academic Communities, and Breaking Ranks: Changing an American Institution. Long list of supplemental readings with titles like A Guide to Authentic Instruction and Assessment: Vision, Standards and Scoring, and Making Schoolwork More Like Real Work. One topic covered in the course is “constructivist approach to teaching, contextual teaching, authentic pedagogy, alternative assessment models.”
    At WCER (Wisconsin Center for Education Research) he was the head of the RISER project (Research Institute on Secondary Education Reform for Youth with Disabilities), which Bruce King also worked on. RISER uses the SAIL model-Schools of Authentic and Inclusive Learning.
    The Center on Education and Work, of which he is the head, has produced projects like PLTW (Project Learn to Work) which is testing new age vo-ed in various schools. It’s very interesting to browse through their website. They have sample lessons you can see from some of their classes.
    Also SBE (School-Based Enterprises) which brings enterprises into high schools, with at least 10 youth with disabilities on ‘staff’ of each businesses.
    His personal focus appears to be improving life outcomes for youth with disabilities. Restructuring schools is a big piece of the plan. Other people also want to restructure in the same way but with a different focus, say closing the achievement gap for minorities.
    For those of you not familiar with the educationists’ thoughtworld, ‘authentic learning’ is a key concept. Authentic learning stands in opposition and total contrast to evil useless traditional learning. AL has three main facets. 1. Students construct knowledge. It is student-centered, not teacher-centered. Students work together in groups to discover everything on their own with some minimal guidance from teachers. 2. Disciplined inquiry. This means an almost total shift of time to small group work on projects and experiments. 3. Learning which has value beyond school. Abstract concepts have no value. Applications and real world examples which connect directly to students’ own lives are the only type of knowledge which has value. A fourth extra facet sometimes named is inclusion.
    Mr. Phelps does not address the issue of high achieving students specifically, although many of his peers do. But it is always implicit and sometimes explicit in his writing that for every child this AL is the only learning which has value, classrooms are heterogeneous, and all children learn best and correctly this way. I don’t see any indication that he or the rest of these folks are thinking of including classes with alternative teaching models for students with other learning styles. This method is THE method for everyone.
    Until a couple of days ago, I was totally baffled by this high school redesign business. I couldn’t understand what it was all about. But now that I’ve been looking into the background of these guys and the folks on the Math Assesssment Team, my head is swimming. I learned more than I wanted to know. There is a huge push for restructuring high schools and a lot of prior thought and work has gone into developing these ideas by our monolithic education schools and their cohorts. They’ve been pushing around the edges for quite awhile and have made some real inroads at places like West High. But they aren’t nearly finished.
    But, as E.D. Hirsch puts it so neatly in The Schools We Need and Why We Don’t Have Them, “lifelike, holistic projects…turns out to be a very insecure way of learning such things as standard grammar, spelling, phonics, and the multiplication table.”(pg. 86)
    I’m not anti-real-life-example. When a class has learned about similar triangles in math, getting up and going outside to measure shadows to figure out the height of a tree is great way to stretch legs, make a real world connection, and learn something about what shadows are as well. But to tilt the education model so far towards group learning, discovery, and experiment that all day every day is just a string of these experiences is too much, especially when it is more likely to be structured so that they have to first measure the shadows and objects and THEN try to figure out the principle of similar triangles from their data and what they might guess about the effect of the sun’s angle on shadows. For one thing, this is not efficient. There aren’t enough hours in the day to do all learning this way. For another thing, group learning is noisy and very stressful for some children. A little bit goes a long way for these children.
    Also, a child’s primary responsibility should be for his/her own learning. This model forces him/her to be personally responsible for everyone else’s learning as well, no please or thank you. That is a huge onus to put upon a child, all day every day, year after year after year. How about Tuesday and Thursday mornings, for an hour each, as a more reasonable load? Part of the trick of getting the general method(not from Phelps) to work, which you can read about ad nauseum, is to structure grading of assignments so that the brighter children are expected not only to pull their own weight, but to figure out a way to induce the others to do their share as well. This is harder than just doing the whole group’s work oneself, which would be their first inclination. You see, the educationists are convinced that strong students can more effectively motivate other children than the teacher can. Thus they are obliged to do so, as the other children also need to make progress. I’m all for volunteer peer tutoring-emphasis on volunteer, but this is another matter. This sort of service may be offered by someone or requested of someone, not demanded as an ongoing condition for being permitted to attend school.
    We must find a way to keep classes with other models for at least some children. Speaking for myself, one of my children simply cannot be in that kind of environment. If things got so nuts that even all the private schools started following this model, I would have to home school her. I won’t subject my other child to it either, although he might survive it, albeit reaching less than full potential. Families should have a choice, either of attending schools which are structured more traditionally, or there should be various options within each school. Parents who know their kids need to socialize and move around most of the time and learn better when they can do that, can choose AL, and parents whose kids learn more and more easily from traditional coursework (with the normal mix of group work in suitable classes, like drama, music, and science lab) should be able to choose that model. They could survey parents to get an idea of what proportion of classes should be AL classes.
    I’ll put up something about Bruce King a bit later. I encourage everyone to take a look at these people’s writings. We are in for quite a ride. It is clear that they are trying to find a way to break through that 11th grade barrier and take it all the way up. It isn’t ‘authentic’ to switch models just because people want to get ready for college. Their model prepares for college and life in general much better in any case, especially college the way it’ll look once they have had a shot at restructuring that as well. There are hundreds and hundreds of papers you can read and after you read enough of them you realize that they all say the same thing and have the same vision.

  4. Thanks, Jim. As usual, you’ve made all the right suggestions. I should add that Pam also said something at the EHU meeting about consulting with Edgewood and MATC people.
    Thanks, too, Celeste, though it seems it may be worse than I feared. I am all for increasing the post-high school success of students with disabilities. I am all for raising the academic success of our educationally disadvantaged students (whatever the reason they may be academically disadvantaged, e.g., coming from poverty). And I am all for providing relevant learning experiences for those students who aspire to technical careers or joining the work force. But I cannot support revamping our high schools to meet the needs of those students in a way that removes from our schools what our future scientists, scholars, governmental leaders, and so forth need to fulfill their ambitions. It seems so clear to me that that’s the road we’re on, despite the spin and “happy talk” (which is, of course, nothing more than spin and “happy talk”).
    If you build it, they will come. But if you take it apart, they will leave.
    That’s not a threat, happy talkers; that’s reality. (And it’s already happening, though characteristically, we’re in denial about that.)

  5. All of the previous posts have been very discouraging and frightening. Unfortunately, I pretty much agree with everything I’ve read.
    Although, many of the people on the committee should be able to make positive contributions, there are not segments of our school community being included. Jim Zellmer makes some good suggestions. I assume his suggestion about someone from the Water Department was meant to be funny! I’ve been so upset with the “authentic learning” that Celeste Roberts talks about. Quite frankly, my view has been that it is an easy way for teachers to get out of actually teaching! She also talks about kids “surviving but not reaching their full potential.” That is exactly what my kids are going through. Private school isn’t an option I want to consider, for many reasons. One being, I’m paying a lot of money through my property taxes to the schools. My kids ought to be able to get a decent education. I previously posted something similar to Laurie Frost about making sure our future scientists, scholars… are not neglected and got attacked, as being a horrible person. She is right. We do need to educate all kids. It is hard to know what to tell your kids to do to prepare for college. Our own University is so tough to get into. I’ve talked to parents whose kids have been 4.0 students or at least close. Their kids couldn’t get in. The universities are changing their admission standards, too. There seems to be such a lack of consistency in our District. Each school seems to be an island to itself. Our High Schools do need to be revamped to insure that all schools are offering the same instruction to their students. I just hope it will be QUALITY instruction!

  6. I think the City Water Department, along with the politicians I mentioned should be included. We often take our political and utility infrastructure for granted – until they don’t work (voter databases, water quality, power outages, disasters). I suspect they will have some interesting things to say about our local K-12 system.

  7. Thank you for sharing the list of names for the redesign team. I have written to Superintendent Rainwater and Assistant Superintendent Nash, suggesting that, in addition to MATC and Edgewood reps, the review include:
    1) someone from the business community, which has legitimate concerns about the knowledge and skill levels of their future employees, and,
    2) someone from the UW System, not School of Ed, who has a deep understanding of admissions requirements and general ed requirements, so that parents can feel confident that our high schools are truly preparing our students for the demands of entrance to and success in post-secondary education. (If not someone from UW-Madison, UW System has its central admin in Madison, so someone should be available.)
    The addition of parents is a no-brainer, but one that was not on my mind when I wrote to MMSD admin.

  8. I hope our Superintendent acts on Lucy Mathiak’s suggestions. Our high schools need to be offering the instruction that is needed for college admission. I’ve had several conversations with teachers, guidance counselors and college admissions people. None of them seem to be on the “same page,” as to what is needed for admission. There has been a trend with colleges now to base admission on or put more emphasis on factors other than grades. Our kids need to know how to plan for their future. Jim, I do agree with you that people from our various city departments, may have some valuable insights. I was just thinking with our current water problems, you may be joking with that suggestion! Our current High School students, as well as the rest of our community, need these decisions to be made wisely and promptly!

  9. Concerned parent, I never meant to attack you that time. I am really sorry that it seemed that way to you. I was only saying that we, all of us, need to be careful about our language. I’m still learning myself. Like in my earlier post, I forgot to include that of course I think Mr. Phelps’ goal of helping kids with disabilities is a worthy one. If someone hadn’t stepped up and patched in for me, another reader might have misunderstood my post to mean that I don’t have concern for these kids and I just think my own kids are important, etc. Believe me. During the elections when there was some tense talk about candidates, my husband’s coworkers were advised to come to SIS to read his and my postings to see what nasty people we are. That is because I am still working on mastering care in phrasing and not leaving out necessary smoothing statements. Sometimes I have been too blunt.
    Hey Jim, I sure hope the guys who run our utilities haven’t been reading Atlas Shrugged and taking it too literally. It would be too bad if the water stopped running and the lights went out!

  10. Celeste, I was probably overly sensitive. As you can see, you and I are in agreement much of the time. Actually, my recent post was not referring to what you wrote to me about my choice of words. I was attacked by another poster who thought I was trying to say that kids with special needs shouldn’t be educated. This is all horribly frightening. I hope our District can start making better decisions. It seems that what should be our goal, is too often lost in politics. That, of course, is giving students a quality education!

  11. I am not an expert on school board procedure, but wouldn’t it make more sense for the Board to tell the Superintendent who should be included on the redesign committee? The Board should designate the people they want on the committee, and can of course accept or reject suggestions from the Administration. This will allow the community to make suggestions to the Board, who will then determine the final makeup of the committee.
    By doing this, the administration will not be open to claims that the committee membership was stacked to reflect the administration’s perspective. It also seems to me that such an important decision, which will affect the entire Madison school system, should be made by the Board, and not by the Administration. Let the Board vote on the membership of the committee, and direct the Superintendent to act on that vote. After all, isn’t the Board ultimately responsible for the performance of the District? Isn’t the Administration supposed to be acting at the direction of the Board?

  12. It was our understanding that the board would be consulted further, either as a board or via Performance and Achievement committee, before the redesign process proceeded.
    Unfortunately, the community has had more presentations and information than has the board. I first saw the list when it was forwarded to me from an e-mail listserv. I wish that this were not typical, but it is the way that processes like these have worked for years.
    For those of you who question the value of posting, please be aware that this is how the constitution of this group was made public.

  13. As Lucy’s post so aptly illustrates, this is the Madison Metropolitan Administrators’ School District, not the public’s. The board and public can just butt out, thank you very much!

  14. Hi Lucy,
    Please help me understand this. A committee was set up without board approval and is going forward with high school redesign. This seems backward. The board is supposed to direct the administration on overall policy issues like this. Is there a reason the board can’t tell the administration to dissolve the current committee pending a discussion and vote by the board? Isn’t the board abdicating it’s role for developing policy to the administration?
    Thanks for answering.

  15. A few thoughts on reading the tea leaves regarding the current Superintendent’s “high school redesign” initiative:
    A) Irrelevant, given a new Superintendent is to be selected in 2008.
    B) Timing: move it forward now, while the School Board (along the public/parents paying attention) is spending time on the 2007 / 2008 budget (yet another reason to move to a longer term approach):
    C) Perhaps this process implies, to a degree, the probability of an internal candidate replacing the current Superintendent.
    D) The school board will only address this issue if: The President (currently Johnny Winston, Jr.) places it on an agenda for discussion or action, or a majority presses for action (4 votes). Interestingly, parent and board activism stopped the proposed changes at East High School last fall. Email your comments to the board:
    Background on the proposed changes at East (following those already implemented at Madison West):
    Madison Schools Superintendent Art Rainwater Halts East High Redesign
    East High Student Insurrection Over Proposed Curriculum Changes?
    Discontent Brews Over School Changes
    East High School to Follow West’s One Size Fit’s All 9/10 Curriculum?
    High School Redesign & Academic Rigor: East High United Meeting 11/9 @ 7:00p.m.
    Revamping the High Schools – Jason Shephard
    Clearly, the composition of this committee implies a direction.
    Lack of community participation (parents, students, alumni as well as a wide swath of our citizenry) does not bode well for electoral confidence in our $340M+, 24,342 student public school system.

  16. Here is an E-mail I sent the Board,
    Dear ;
    I urge you to discuss and vote on, as part of a regular public school board meeting, membership on the MMSD High School Redesign Committee. I think that elected officials and not the Administration should determine the make-up of such an important committee because recommendations will affect the entire MMSD for many years. Allowing public input on the make-up of the committee will insure that all viewpoints are considered. It will also make sure that the BOE and Administration are not open to charges that committee membership was stacked to reflect a particular narrow perspective on education. Please also consider representatives from the following when discussing membership on the redesign committee:
    Wisconsin Association of Independent Colleges and Universities
    Board of Regents
    Thanks for your consideration.
    Laura Chern

  17. Other potential considerations for input to the high school redesign committee could be: trade associations (requirements for entry into the particular trade), a variety of professional associations, and colleges throughout the country; not necessarily just in WI. If our schools prepare students for the global marketplace, we want to look beyond Madison and the state. Looking at the questions asked on random college applications can be very interesting indeed. A question that could drive curricular modification: Will mmsd students be prepared for a wide variety of post secondary educational and work opportunities?

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