Madison is home to an increasing number of rootless young people who have dropped out of school, are unemployed and are often at the heart of many of the community's social and neighborhood problems.
We've asked the Madison school board candidates to identify what Madison schools can do to prevent these kids from dropping out and a related question: How should the Madison schools serve students who are not interested in attending college.
Isthmus' cover story this week addressed the rise of "disconnected youth" in our community -- kids who aren't in school, who don't have jobs and who don't have supportive families to help them. These kids often get in trouble. Is there more that Madison schools can do to address their needs before they drop out?
I feel that not only is there more that we can do, there is more that we must do to address this problem. In my work in community service groups throughout Madison, these are the kids that I work with the most often. While I don't have the solution to every problem, there are several fundamental things we can do.
First, admit there is a problem! My experience with the district has shown me that essentially we are putting our heads in the sand on this issue. 96% of all kids graduate from high school they say. This simply isn't the truth, and we should have a district that values the truth over whatever is politically expedient at the time.
Second, we must develop programs that actually work. Again, hiding from the real data is no way to run a district. There are programs like Operation Fresh Start that work very well, and we must embrace what has been shown to work, and quit doing what might make us feel good, but actually doesn't produce results.
Finally, we must have a district that embraces the community and actually cooperates with the businesses, trade unions, and technical schools that help provide jobs for the people in our district. We must develop apprenticeship programs and use the vast resources of our community to their greatest advantage. People want to help the district, but the culture we have created in our district makes it very difficult for them to get involved.
There is more the schools must do to address the needs of those students who are 'disconnected' and headed down unproductive paths. Our schools are legally and morally responsible for educating these students. The future of our community depends on not allowing any child to fall through the cracks.
We need to identify students-at-risk early and work with their family to develop connections to school. I believe that the school system needs to assign a member of MMSD staff to provide continuity during transitions, to act as an advocate to work with social services if necessary, and to be a familiar face for the family as it navigates the student's school years.
For older students, who are struggling to find a purpose for attending school, we must provide guidance and individual attention through mentoring programs and relevant curriculum.
Classes focusing on real life skills such as money management or interviewing, will make attending school a priority. Certain requirements can create a vicious cycle of failure for some students.
Support for our extensive alternative program, with a wide variety of programmatic options is crucial. I recently visited a site where engaged students were taking on-line classes with flexible hours.
The Youth Apprenticeship Program needs to be expanded. MATC is one of many underutilized resources in our community. As the job force changes, we must provide students with the tools to be self-sufficient, civic-minded, tax-paying citizens. As a community, we can do better.
Our schools, says former county executive Jonathan Barry, do well with motivated, college-bound students, but are increasingly failing students who don't see college in their future. Do you agree or disagree with his assessment that the Madison schools should be doing more with vocational education, and why?
I strongly agree with Mr. Barry on this issue, and I feel that if we do not correct the problem quickly, the quality of life in our city will decrease considerably.
While I do not want a return to the days of 'tracking' based on IQ tests, I do believe that we need to make our schools relevant to all of our students. It is the job of our schools to prepare young people for their lives as adults. Not everyone will be a scientist, a doctor, or a lawyer, and the sooner we come to grips with this the better.
If elected to the school board, I will do everything in my power to bring more vocational education to our schools by actually cooperating with businesses, trade unions, private educational organizations, and the technical college system. As a school district, we are failing the 40% of students who do not go on to college. We are not doing our job of preparing all students for life after high school, and changes must definitely be made.
Today's economy is not built on either-or educational experiences, but on flexibility and life-long learning. Few follow a straight educational or career path. All students benefit from exposure to a variety of pre-career experiences during their public school years. Students with strong academic records can strengthen their resumes and build on their classroom experiences through internships and apprenticeships outside class.
The opportunities afforded in programs, such as the pre-engineering Project Lead the Way at East High School, are for all students, regardless of academic achievement level. This program is a wonderful example of successful voc/tech education. Student participation is diverse, roughly 50% minority/50% white.
Our high schools offer a wide variety of technical opportunities, from Certified Nursing Assistant Training to marketing to agriculture. Unfortunately many students are not taking advantage of these opportunities because of a lack of guidance and rigid requirements -- college prep courses instead of one more useful for employment in a trade. Scheduling decisions require thought and counseling.
Our students need for someone who knows them to help them make good decisions. Our high schools have a talented vocational staff and offer a range of courses. Much of this is underutilized. Students who could benefit and gain employment out of high school or who could find reasons to stay in high school, are not being reached. We need trusted mentors and a more flexible approach to the high school experience and requirements. The High School of the Future needs to integrate better technical and vocational programs in the redesign plan.