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Madison School District vows to do better for African-American students

August 1, 2018

The Madison School District is explicitly vowing to do better for African-American students in its new long-term plan.

The plan looks vaguely similar to its predecessor, a strategic framework produced in 2013. Two of three overarching goals share similar language.

Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham attended nearly 100 meetings over the past year, receiving input from more than 2,000 students, staff, parents and community members.

“Meeting after meeting, it was crystal clear to me that this is what our community wants,” she said. “We believe at this state we need to hold ourselves accountable to more ambitious goals” for African-American youth.

The district released a 20-page report Tuesday, outlining three goals officials hope to meet by adopting a variety of strategies and meeting a host of benchmarks in the coming years.

School districts across the country often release strategic plans, typically every five to 10 years, with proponents saying the plans provide the district with a clearly defined direction, while critics argue the reports often include goals that can’t be measured and are forgotten over time.

The district intentionally did not attach a number of years to its plan, Cheatham said, because “traditional strategic plans don’t adequately reflect the complexity of the work that we do.”

Instead, officials recognized last school year that its 2013 plan — the same year Cheatham took over as the district’s superintendent — was in need of a revamp.

The plan sets three overarching goals:

#1: Every child is on track to graduate ready for college, career and community.

District officials will track students’ proficiency and growth in reading and math, the percentage of high school students with at least a 3.0 grade point average and how many students go on to pursue post-secondary education.

The report does not detail specific benchmarks the district must meet.

“There’s something simple and attractive of having a number out there, but it actually isn’t that simple,” Cheatham said. Instead, district officials will work with schools to set school-level benchmarks and track improvement from year to year.

#2: The district and every school in it is a place where children, staff and families thrive.

This goal will rely on students, staff and parents’ responses to “climate survey power questions,” which the report defines as “one question designed to most accurately capture an overall reaction and give us insight into opinions aligned with priorities.”

Officials will also look at staff retention rates, how many students have at least a 90 percent attendance rate and how many teachers of color are in classrooms.

#3: African-American children and youth excel in school.

About 18 percent of the district’s students are African-American, according to the Wisconsin Department of Instruction.

Among a variety of measurement tools, officials will look to third-grade reading proficiency levels, eighth-grade math proficiency levels and rates of participation and success in advanced coursework as indications of meeting this goal.

The district will provide “culturally responsive training” to all employees, including those in the central office, so everyone has a common understanding of the history and effects of racism.

Officials also hope to create a “community coalition” partnering with African-American communities and families, though Cheatham said what this group will look like is still being determined.

Other aspects of the report not included in the 2013 framework include:

Creation of an “innovation team”Exploring full-day, 4-year-old kindergarten optionsCurriculum representing all students, including LGBT students and Native American students.

The Madison Board of Education voted to approve the strategic framework at its Monday night board meeting. District officials will annually present to board members a year-to-year progress report.

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