Kvistad discusses new role at MMSD

Lisa Kvistad (Courtesy: MMSD)Lisa Kvistad (Courtesy: MMSD)Lisa Kvistad was appointed Madison Metropolitan School District’s assistant superintendent for teaching and learning at the beginning of this school year. In this role, she works to tie together different departments throughout MMSD to help bring about cohesive instruction throughout the district.

Prior to the start of the school year, Superintendent Jen Cheatham laid out a strategic framework, which among other goals, aims at lowering disparities in academic performance among students of different races. One of the framework’s central goals includes bringing about consistency in instruction across the district through adoption of the Common Core State Standards.

Kvistad sat down for an interview with Madison Commons, which will be presented in two parts. Last week, she talked about her experience at Lowell Elementary where during her tenure test scores increased at the same time as racial disparites in performance decreased. This week, she will discuss her new role at MMSD.

Madison Commons: Shifting gears to your new position as assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, what do you do in this role?

Lisa Kvistad: The position that I’m in now, my work really is to oversee all the departments that encompass teaching and learning. So, I work with the administrators in curriculum and assessment, early and extended learning, educational services, multilingual and global education, a multi-tiered system of support, state and federal programs, student services, talented and gifted and then culturally and linguistically responsive practices the department of equity. All of those folks are under the teaching and learning umbrella, and I work with them really to find those common threads amongst all of our departments that will bring us together so our work isn’t siloed, so our work isn’t individual, so that we’re all moving forward toward the collective goals of the district.

MC: What are some of the priorities that you have in this job?

LK: One of the priorities that actually we have in our framework is coherent instruction for kids based on an alignment to the Common Core State Standards, so that touches all of those departments. And it touches all of the ways that we work with kids, whether it is in a situation in a general ed classroom whether it’s dual-language immersion, whether it’s working with children of special education needs, whether it’s working with gifted and talented students.

So, the Common Core State Standards is a thread that (impacts) all of our departments, and we talk about really what content specialists we have there, what support do schools need for all of our departments and how do we provide that support in a cohesive way and in a consistent way, how do we not trip over each other, how do we really provide the best customer-service to schools that we possibly can. One of the things that a thread between all of our departments is professional development, so how do we provide professional development to schools and to teachers in a way that’s coordinated, in a way that we all use the same language, in a way that really all working toward supporting schools as they implemented their school improvement plans. So, the school improvement plans have goals, and we sit down as a teaching and learning team and take a look at those goals and talk about how we can best support the schools. 

MC: Looking at the strategic plan, the superintendent talks about a culture shift in MMSD, what does she mean by that?

LK: Well, you know it’s really a shift around good instruction. It’s a shift around focusing on the things that we know work well and staying focused on that and not getting diverted by the things that make noise in the system, but really putting the schools at the center and focusing on all of our support and shared accountability for kids and a school level. So, we want schools to know that they can count on central office for support. Central office knows that schools are doing their best work, and we’re really structuring that focus in a cohesive way, so that professional development we provide for principals; there’s a thread and we provide that professional development for instructional resource teachers and for district office people so that we are all talking the same language.

It’s really about a culture of performance, looking at our data, asking how do we know that kids are learning, what does that data tell us and where do we really need to focus our energies to move things forward and accelerate achievement. That vision and that focus around students at the center; we are focusing on alignment to the Common Core and looking at how do we utilize the gradual release of responsibility framework so that kids are college, career and community ready. That comes straight out of the framework. Our goal is to help kids to be ready for college and the complexities of college or career or community; we have to get kids ready for that. And to do that, they need to be growing in independence so that we they come across, when they encounter complex texts, complex situations that they are able to problem solve themselves and they are able to navigate that themselves to be successful.

MC: Where do you think MMSD should focus its energy?

LK: We’re focusing our energy right now really around cohesive instruction, around the Common Core, with a priority around the gradual work of responsibility framework, looking at a high level of strategy, such as close reading, to understand and study the standards. And what close reading does is it looks at a piece of grade-level text, a big piece in the Common Core State Standards is making sure kids have access to lots of text, lots of different kinds of genres, lots of different kinds of engaging reading. And, it’s helping kids to be literate and be fluent and giving kids access to complicated academic vocabulary; you’ll find that piece about alignment to the Common Core, around literacy in all areas, K-12. So, it could be a high school science teacher, it could be a middle school social studies teachers, reading and math, certainly in elementary school, literacy is a priority. So it’s really that focus around student learning that we’re really taking a look at in the framework. It plays out certainly at secondary around the personalized pathways to college and career. We’re certainly also looking at family and community engagement, and within that we’re also looking at accountability. “How do we know that we’re making progress with our kids?” But it’s all that really, that focus around the classroom and the school learning.

MC: Is there anything you would like to say to wrap up?

LK: I think my heart is always at the building level. It is where the action is. It is just the energy of families and kids and teachers all working together is incredible. And, as I come into this position, looking at the way the district is moving forward with the new vision, I think it’s absolutely the right direction. I see people working in ways they haven’t before. I see people working in ways to directly support those schools because people know that those classrooms are the most important places in the district. And, I really believe and I see people want to directly support teachers and build their capacity so that they can serve those kids in new and more rigorous ways. I think it’s a great time to be in Madison. I think it’s exciting, and I really believe that we’re moving in the right direction.