The number of low-income kids coming into the Madison schools has accelerated in recent years, posing a new set of challenges for educators.
We've asked the Madison school board candidates to talk about those challenges, including the apparent loss of some middle-class families who've left Madison for suburban schools.
In 1991, one in five students in the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) came from low-income families, as defined by eligibility for free or reduced-price lunch. Today, the district's low-income population is at 41%. These kids frequently do poorly in school. What are the most important things the schools can do to help them perform better academically?
Madison schools are committed to teaching all of its students, but children of poverty are particularly challenging. What is really required is early education, 4K or perhaps even earlier. Children of poverty must have high quality day-care in order to be successful in school.
There will be 2100 Kindergarten children entering Madison Schools in 2007, with 42% of them living below the poverty line. Of these, 525 will be coming from family/friend daycare, which is not regulated and does not properly prepare these youngsters for school. The sooner we reach these children with quality early education, the sooner they will be able to attain grade-level expectations in our K-12 classrooms.
The successful Schools of Hope program must expand to deal with the increased numbers of children that can be helped. We must also continue to support small class size, staff development for training teachers on the most effective practices, retaining our social workers, psychologists and nurses, tutoring programs, homework centers through MSCR, restoration of Home/School coordinators, and alternative and technical programs on the high school level.
Finally, we must make these students and their families feel welcome in our schools, and we must offer the students a quality education that opens the door to a successful future. All students have a right to expect that our schools will be the great equalizer for them in our democracy.
I've struggled with this answer because I believe this is essentially a question we must ask those most affected by poverty. I am by no means the expert. I want to be a board member who works from the inside out of issues, not from the outside in.
Low-income families need to get the message from the school board and the community that their education matters. We need to continue to improve and refine our dialog with the community.
I have seen all too often that low-income families feel their concerns are not validated. As a result, many are reluctant to participate in our schools and parent organizations. As a school board member, I will visit our schools, our neighborhood centers and community events and actively involve everyone in the process. Parents, grandparents, active citizens and guardians can all contribute to supporting our kids and our schools.
I would like to see board members hold informal meetings to discuss things like barriers to parent involvement, services needed for families and connections we need to make with the greater community.
The citizens most impacted by our decisions as a board should have an opportunity to communicate with us and inform us so that we don't continue to make decisions based on our perception and not on their reality.
We need to provide every child with a safe, stable environment where rules are understood, consequences are consistent, and learning to an individual's potential is achieved.
To one degree or another, there appears to be middle-class flight from the Madison schools, which, in turn, drives-up the percentage of poor kids in certain schools. What can the school district do to keep middle-class families committed to the Madison schools?
We should offer middle-class families precisely what we must offer all our families: a safe learning environment which ensures that all our children feel secure enough to study and learn, an appropriately challenging curriculum which moves the students forward to continuously more complex skills and achievements, and a top-notch teaching staff that has the tools and training to prepare each child for the next level of challenge.
We must support programs such as strings, expand foreign language classes, and more extracurricular experiences (debate, forensics, drama) which are important for every child.
Families must be able to participate in their child's education, and our schools must listen with respect to their concerns. I propose a Parent Advisory Committee, which would meet monthly with the Superintendent and School Board. At these meetings parent representatives from each school would present their viewpoints and questions and, in turn, learn the latest news from the District. A reciprocity of respect would grow from such meetings and is much needed nowadays.
Hopefully, some day we will no longer think of children of poverty, middle-class students, or Talented and Gifted children as being so different from one another. Rather, we will realize that all children need the very best we can give them -- the best teachers, the best administrators, the best equipped classrooms, the best possible of everything. When this occurs, we will finally value each child's unique possibilities.
Fundamentally it comes down to this -- how a long-standing institution like a school system accommodates rapid changes in demographics.
I believe that we must support neighborhood schools and at the same time bring about a change in how we do things. The most important things we can do are to; one, maintain a level of quality parents expect in their schools, and two, bring about advances and innovations so that the public does not view the schools as stagnating.
The budget problems our schools are facing have been a frequently discussed topic during this campaign. In response to these budget constraints, all we have seen are big cuts from year to year along with referendum proposals to "save" the cuts from being made. I think the board needs to do more, or we face serious flight from the public schools by the middle class.
Let's look at our district as our local educational support system for the community, bringing in a wider spectrum of community members, organization and agencies that draw on the resources of the whole community.
Parents will naturally seek to find the best opportunity they can afford socially or financially in order for their kids to experience a better life. We need to restore our finances and renew the public trust in the board to plan for the long-term and reform our schools for a new age with new demands.
Okay, what are your five favorite CDs (or recording artists) of all time?
Not necessarily in the order of importance:
- Anything by Carole King. She spoke to a certain time in my life and she was born in the same month, same year and same city.
- The Beatles Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, a revolutionary breakthrough in popular music.
- All of Ella Fitzgerald, bar none.
- Beethoven's "Violin Romances" performed by Pinchas Zukerman.
- Mahler's "First Symphony" conducted by Erich Leinsdorf and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. As graduate students, my husband and I attended an open rehearsal (cheap tickets) of this work at Boston's Symphony Hall and we were blown away by its power and beauty.
That's a tough one. If you'll permit me, I've narrowed my list to six recording artists: The Flaming Lips, Death Cab For Cutie, Echo & the Bunnymen, Lyle Lovett, R.E.M. (original vinyl), and Saint Etienne.