Violence in Madison schools is becoming a significant political issue in town. In this week's Take Home Test, Isthmus asks the Madison Board of Education candidates to talk about perceptions of safety in the city's schools We also ask them about an influential teacher in their past.
The Daily Page: Tell us how a teacher changed your life in a large or small way
Many teachers have changed my life in many ways, but the one that really comes to mind is a high school math teacher named Mr. Miller.
Mr. Miller really encouraged all of his students to work to the top of their ability. He was able to individualize instruction to his students and challenge all of them to be the best that they could be. He challenged me to take calculus courses at the UW-Extension while I was a junior and senior in high school. While I ultimately didn't become a math major or math teacher, he showed me how important it was to perform at the top of your ability.
Mr. Miller also introduced his students to many different professions that involved the use of math. He really made math practical and applicable to real life for all of his students. Our schools are full of Mr. Millers, and we must give them the support that they need so they can continue to reach out to our students.
I attended a private preschool that also provided an accredited kindergarten class. When it was time to attend first grade, my mother took me to the "new" school on the first day of classes to enroll me. We had just moved into this school district over the summer. We met with the principal and she reviewed my kindergarten record, my mother gave proof that the school was accredited and the she assured my mother that I would be placed in a first grade class.
I was escorted to my new classroom by the principal and was introduced to young teacher who was excited to meet me and welcomed me into her room. As I stood and looked around my new surroundings, it became obvious to me that I was not in a first grade class. The young children were having organized playtime with blocks. I remember standing in the corner of the classroom and thinking where is my desk, lined up in an orderly fashion with other desks, and kids that were sitting at them ready to learn to read and write.
The young teacher noticed that I was distressed and approached me. Through my tears, I was able to tell her that I was supposed to be in first grade and not in her kindergarten class. This teacher took it upon herself to advocate for me, knowing I was left without my mom to do it. She talked with the principal and I was placed in the appropriate grade, setting the course for my public education experience.
Everyone can name a "favorite" teacher. Usually they are not the easiest teachers; rather the teachers who made you work to be a better person.
English was one of my favorite subjects in high school. What's not to like, you get to read and then talk about what you read. I remember the process of learning to write, the outline with two parts per section and the tedious punctuation of the bibliography and footnotes. For me, writing became a mechanical process, just paraphrasing from books of criticism. Then I had Dr. Marney. She called us "sophomores;" in Latin, she told us, that's "wise fools." Dr. Marney did not accept methodical, uninspired writing. She wanted us to write from the heart and the well-informed mind. An "A" from her meant something. During class discussions she required everyone to participate.
When the smoky teacher's lounge door would open, we would hear discussion of our latest assignments. We could always ask for extra help, and there was the expectation that all of us had something worthwhile to say. She gave us the tools needed to say it and encouraged us to take pride in what we said, to be part of an engaged learning community. Dr. Marney gave us a love of thinking. She encouraged risk taking in writing, and then rewarded us. I was lucky to have her for two years, one as a "wise fool" and one as a senior. I always smile when I hear the word, "sophomore."
Some parents feel the Madison schools are unsafe. What do you say to those parents?
There is a definite perception among the general public, and parents in particular, that our schools are unsafe. The number one reason I hear for why people are moving out of Madison is that our schools are an unsafe place for their children. As a member of the school board, addressing this issue will be my number-one priority. While, in general, our schools are a pretty safe place to be, there are definitely things we can be doing to make them safer and more conducive to learning.
First, I have proposed that all students, parents, staff, and administrators sign a "Student Code of Conduct Contract." This contract will lay out exactly what behavior is expected of our students, and what the consequences will be for not following this behavior. It is imperative that we get all of the parents and students behind this contract and hold them to it.
Second, we must get all parents involved in their children's school as early as possible. When people feel a connection to the school where their children attend, they are much more likely to make sure their child is behaving in an appropriate manner.
Parents, children, staff and our community should be concerned about school safety. We all have a right to feel safe in all our learning environments. We are also obligated, as productive citizens, to provide a safe and harassment free experience for all in our schools.
As with many of our most serious issues at our schools, safety must be addressed by our leaders; board members, administrators, staff, students, parents and community members. The district needs to work on redesigning the current Code of Conduct policy. There needs to be a clear and consistent behavioral model developed which focuses on supporting positive behaviors. Our students must be aware of what the expectations are in their school. The code of conduct needs to be enforced consistently and equitably in each school and across the district. This would ensure that students are aware of the behavioral expectations throughout elementary, middle and high school.
Through strong leadership at our schools, children will understand that bullying, harassment and assaults of others will not be tolerated. As a district we owe it to our students to build positive relationships with students. Everyone needs to know that they are a part of something bigger then themselves and, that is, best reinforced through relationships with others.
Students need to feel engaged in the learning process and encouraged to discover their own paths to success. It is my belief, when we strive to work on the developing strong relationships in our schools, positive and respectful behavior from our students will follow.
When parents have said this at my children's schools, I've asked them to tell me about their concerns and the suggestions they have for the district to address the problems. As a parent, I know families need to feel their children are safe in our schools. The concerns of parents must be taken seriously. Students and staff need to have safe working and learning environments.
We must pay attention to misunderstandings that can escalate to the disciplinary level and have effective education based on high expectations. Issues of bullying and violence need to be addressed in order to improve student safety. When safety is threatened, the district's code of conduct must be enforced fairly and without hesitation. The Madison Metropolitan School District must coordinate better with Madison School & Community Recreation to ensure consistency in discipline and in the sharing of information. We need to involve families and the community in discussions about discipline. I am pleased that the district is already starting this with the "Above the Line/Below the Line" program.
We must continue to move toward a restorative justice system rather than a punitive system. When a student is suspended or expelled, we cannot abandon them.
Many people want to have more security guards in our schools. I feel that the money would be better spent hiring a social worker or counselor. Madison's schools are generally safe, but there is always room for improvement.