Madison Metropolitan School District hosts first public meeting to address achievement gap

Madison residents gathered Tuesday night at West High School for the first in a series of public meetings to discuss Madison Metropolitan School District’s (MMSD) plan to address the district’s achievement gap in student learning.

In the school’s library, community members, concerned parents and MMSD employees formed small groups to share feedback and ideas regarding key programs and initiatives proposed in the plan.

MMSD first released the plan in early February. The document outlines six key areas for the district to focus its efforts: instruction and support, college and career readiness, culturally relevant practices, safe and positive school environments, family engagement and a diverse and qualified workforce.

The plan's release followed closely on the heels of the Madison Prep charter school, which was proposed to address the achievement gap, but was voted down by the School Board in December.

Tuesday's meeting was the first of 12 sessions scheduled to engage the community in revising the district’s $105.6 million plan to tackle racial and socioeconomic disparities in student achievement over the next five years.

Following the completion of all public meetings, the finalized plans will be presented to the Board of Education for approval in April or May.

During the meeting, participants split into groups under the six areas of the plan, and discussed concerns about recommendations proposed in each category, including programs to strengthen literacy, expand career readiness and improve ACT college test scores, and institute diversity training for all staff.

Other initiatives included efforts to revamp disciplinary actions, improve communication between schools and parents, and develop a “grow our own” program to support local students and staff interested in becoming teachers and principals.

David Driscoll, a father with two students in the school district, said he found the document too bureaucratic and reminiscent of approaches to solving the achievement gap that had been tried and failed.

“I wonder whether this approach gets to the heart of things,” he said. “The substance of the plan doesn’t treat the plan as it needs to be treated—as a big overhaul.”

Recommendations included in the plan suggest expanding already existing programs, spreading practices previously explored but not fully implemented, and developing new ideas the school district has not used before, Superintendent Daniel Nerad said in an opening statement prior to group discussion.

Nerad assured participants every suggestion would be looked at, but said he could not promise every idea would be incorporated into the final plan. Rather, reoccurring themes in the meetings will be included in revisions.

As a part of those revisions, Dawn Crim, a mother of a daughter and son in the school system, said she would like to see clearer tactics laid out in the plan. 

“They are trying to think of everything under the sun,” she said. “I’m looking for prioritizing and strategies that work.”

Crim, who has been engaged in school district discussions for the past six years, said she also questioned whether programs and strategies in the plan would be safe from budget cuts, as the district has cut similar programs in the past.

Other participants also brought up the necessity of having consistency and coordination across schools, and the need for a model school that has successfully dealt with the achievement gap.

As meetings continue through March, Madison Commons will launch a series of stories examining each of the six key areas of the plan: instruction and support, college and career readiness culturally relevant practices, safe and positive school environments, family engagement and a diverse and qualified workforce.

These stories will focus on explaining strategies included in the plan, implications of the programs, and the various concerns and viewpoints raised in meetings. 

Check back regularly for updates on the latest updates and discussions on MMSD’s public meetings.

For more information on public meetings or to read the preliminary plan, visit the MMSD website or register here.