Steve Somerson and Helena Tsotsis would like Madison's city government and schools to work together. As parents of children in the school district, they say they haven't seen much cooperation in the past.
"A big part of the day, we don't have the students in our schools," says Somerson, who teaches at East High. "If the city can help out with providing some kind of enrichment or providing a place to be, it would help out."
He adds: "I don't think the city and the district can be separate entities."
Since he's been in office, Mayor Paul Soglin has been calling for the city to help the schools. He recently met with the Wallace Foundation in New York to learn about after-school initiatives.
But specifics on how the two entities can cooperate remain vague, especially from the city.
"It's too soon" to ask that question, Soglin tells Isthmus.
The lack of ideas is somewhat surprising given that Soglin campaigned in 2011 on the need for more collaboration between the city and school district and has consistently raised the issue in public forums.
Tsotsis did appreciate some ideas Soglin raised at one such forum, when he said he wanted to work on engaging parents before their children enter schools and plan more summer programming.
Of Jennifer Cheatham, who began her job as superintendent of Madison schools this month, Soglin says, "I'm very impressed with what she's done so far. She's taking inventory of the resources of the schools. She's asking all the right questions."
Cheatham, who previously worked as an administrator with Chicago Public Schools, also says it's too soon to get specific. She first met with Soglin in March, and she says the meeting "went very well."
"We agreed that rather than trying to schedule a regular time to meet, we should have open lines of communication," she adds. "Every time I've called he's picked up before the end of the first ring. He's been extremely responsive to me."
As priorities for collaboration, Cheatham lists working on nutrition and hunger, parental engagement, and after-school activities.
"I wish I could be really specific right now," she says. "It's an opportunity that is a great one for conversation. But it's premature to tell you where we might collaborate."
At an April 18 forum at East High, Cheatham solicited input from parents and teachers and answered questions. She appeared confident and casual, easily addressing hot-button issues like Common Core standards, standardized testing and teacher evaluations. She promised strong leadership: "By the summer, we're going to figure out what the major initiatives are," she told the crowd of about 75. "I'm not planning on layering on a bunch of initiatives. It's about narrowing and getting tighter about our approach to improvement."
Ald. Matt Phair, who sits on the city's education committee, says school and city officials are examining a number of ways they could work together, especially on after-school programs.
"The goal from the city perspective is to look at the larger outcomes that are easier to obtain, like improving attendance and graduation rates," Phair says. "We're just starting to look into those."