The 2016-2017 annual report of the Madison Metropolitan School District shows gains in reading and math comprehension, as well as progress for English language learners, but lags behind in building personalized pathways to college for high school students.
This annual report marks the last year of the current strategic framework. During the next year, a new strategic framework will be developed that uses the foundational tools the district built over the last five years.
“The first five years was building a lot of foundation and putting a system in place for improvement,” James Howard said. “We know we’ve been making gains, but next you have to figure out how to accelerate those gains.”
The current strategic framework defines the district’s ideal vision as an environment that will allow every school to reach its fullest potential and every student graduate from high school prepared for whatever lies ahead, specifically “college, career and community.” Ultimately, the goal of the district is to close opportunity gaps for students.
“We continue to monitor our achievement very closely of the groups that have been historically had the greatest amount of underachievement,” Howard said. “We will continue to focus on those kids, largely African American kids.”
In addition to equity, the next strategic framework will focus on increasing positive growth in middle schools. The annual reports show progress in elementary schools, but the middle school math and reading levels still need more work, Howard said.
Rather than setting specific goals, the strategic framework creates five areas for the district to focus its energy, such as striving for consistent instruction, a thriving workforce and developing systems of accountability.
As part of the strategic framework, the district is moving toward personalized pathways in high school, which is a program that provides classes around specific careers or fields. Approximately 500 high school students are starting the district’s first Health Services personalized pathway during the 2017-18 school year.
The district is hoping the pathways will be a way to keep kids on track, to accelerate growth and improve engagement. Students become frustrated and disengaged when they do not see how the material they’re learning in class could apply to their actual lives. Personalized pathways would hopefully change that, Howard said.
A growing focus on personalized pathways brings students more flexible requirements. At La Follette, the class of 2017 was required to take a computer literacy course, but younger grades do not, recent La Follette High School graduate Enjoyiana Nururdin said.
“I have a love-hate relationship with things like the pathways…In some ways they’re lowering the standards, and I don’t think that’s helpful for the students,” Nururdin said. “I’ve talked to a lot of adults saying [computer literacy skills] are really useful skills in the workforce, and now these students don’t have it…. But I also think a more realistic and more personal approach for how to be successful is really important.”
Another area of attention for the district is hiring more diverse staff, to best be able to improve achievement for the district’s diverse student body, Howard said.
“I wish we could have more diverse staff. Especially in the decision-making process, there are times when the people that know what’s best for you are the people that are in the community. Or people who will have more discussions with the parents,” Nururdin said.
As the district plans its next five year strategic framework, there will be listening and input sessions to help the community get involved in the planning process, Howard said.
Howard urges the community to be as active as possible in this discussion.
“We’ll do a real deep dive on where we are and where we need to go [in these discussions],” Howard said.