What and how the schools teach our kids, and who makes those decisions, is one of the most hotly debated issues in the Madison schools. Why? Because it's so closely related to academic success and failure. Almost as important to student success are the plethora of extracurricular activities that can round out the educational experience and inspire kids. We've asked the Madison school board candidates to address both matters.
The Daily Page: What role do you see school board members playing in curriculum decisions?
Section 121.02(1)(k) of the Wisconsin Statutes requires school districts to develop a written, sequential curriculum plan in at least three academic areas, specifying objectives, course content and resources and including a program evaluation method. The role of the board is to set parameters, establish policy, and evaluate the district's performance.
The board should also communicate to the public how the district develops curriculum, implements it and then evaluates programs. The board must support the broader community vision of educating our children.
Madison has high expectations of its kids. Parents also expect a lot. We need board members with energy to give for the long haul, who will listen to and engage everyone.
In times when we face strict federal obligations and unfunded mandates, schools are asked to do too much with too little. We need board members who are open, accessible and willing to work with the entire community to find our "hidden resources."
We need a board that thinks creatively about teaching, public engagement, and teamwork. I would like to see more community collaboration with the Achievement and Performance Committee in developing clear expectations for students while setting policy for the standards and skills expected for each grade.
School board members are, for the most part, not educators. So it is neither appropriate nor even possible for them to choose the school curriculum. But they do have some oversight responsibility in these choices. For example, the school board should make sure that all state and federal mandates are satisfied. It should also be convinced that the curriculum meets or exceeds state educational guidelines and that it is sufficiently robust to challenge students at all achievement levels.
It is also appropriate for the school board to serve as a bridge between the school system and members of the community regarding curriculum, safety, and other important concerns.
In addition, the school board should encourage both innovation, when necessary, and the maintenance of those programs that have proven to be successful. The board's role is to ensure that we meet the needs of all our students, and it should provide appropriate support to the teachers and administrators so that they can do the jobs that they were hired to do, namely to teach students.
What extracurricular activities do you recommend that students consider?
Extracurricular activities provide students with opportunities to learn more about their community, other cultures and themselves. They provide opportunities for self-expression and creativity while easing the stress of school.
I've been lucky enough to participate in competitive rowing, recreational skiing, rock climbing and solo hiking in the wilderness. I've tried everything from forensics club to newspaper writing to photography to piano lessons.
I think any kind of heart-pumping sport is great. I took up running when I was 13 years old and loved the freedom I felt when I ran long distances around town. I continue to run today, although my shoes now hold orthotics, my knee has had two surgeries, and speed is now defined as getting a workout in before the boys wake up at 6:25 a.m.
Growing up on a farm gave me little time to commit to competitive sports or after-school activities, but once I was old enough, I held a job in retail. I gained confidence by learning to manage my time, prioritize my activities and communicate with just about anyone.
Extracurricular activities help students find balance. If they are lucky, they will find joy in doing something that may lead to long-term satisfaction.
The short answer to this question is that it does not matter which extracurricular activities our students consider. What does matter is that the students be offered a smorgasbord of choices. Our goal is to produce well-educated and well-rounded individuals.
While reading about LaFollette High School on their web site, I came across the following quotation from a former student: "The thing I'll most remember about LaFollette is the great extra-curricular activities, whether it was a sport or a club, it was always fun."
Extracurricular activities not only enhance the school environment, they also satisfy many student needs, both academic and nonacademic. Students have the opportunity to improve their social skills, show school spirit, develop their athletic ability, meet new friends, or pursue intellectual endeavors without worrying about tests or grades. Indeed, sometimes it is the very existence of these programs that keep some students committed to our schools.
Madison is fortunate that its schools have a rich extracurricular structure. As a board member, I will do everything I can to guarantee that students continue to have equal access to as many of these activities as they find interesting and have the spare time to pursue.