Nichelle NIchols, Seat 1
1) Closing the achievement gap starts with honest acceptance that we are indeed a different Madison than we might want to believe. As a community, we need to understand that we are all connected and impacted by this issue. As a school district, we need Board members and administrators at every level who have a sense of urgency and who are committed to doing the hard work that is required to close achievement gaps along the pipeline. We need to continuously work toward faithful implementation of best practices that are well-researched. This will require a strategic and system-wide effort to plan, learn, evaluate and act. As a community, we also need to think creatively and collaboratively to better align our resources and assets to confront issues of poverty, especially when over half of our students live in families who are eligible for free and reduced lunch. Efforts that bring key stakeholders from all sectors of our community together to take a collective impact approach are critical.
2) I believe the preliminary plan has a host of promising ideas, but falls short in weaving them all together to show the impact for the cost. I would have liked to see projections of how many students would be positively impacted by each initiative and the duration of time to see the results. There were ideas in the plan that are already in implementation phase, as well as new ideas. It was difficult to see how they all connect together as a total systems approach. However, I was most excited by some of the core infrastructure changes that need to happen in our district to level the playing field for all students, and in particular our students who are disadvantaged. Alignment of the K-12 curriculum and scope and sequence will have long-term benefits; the Early Warning System will help identify and get supports in place early for struggling students; and hiring more diverse staff and implementing culturally relevant teaching strategies will have great impact if faithfully implemented.
3) We increase parent involvement and engagement by building stronger relationships and trust with parents. Our outreach efforts must have this as a goal, and must be sensitive and responsive to the many diverse families served by our district. We must define what parent engagement looks like while considering the realities of a broad range of parents who differ widely in socio-economic status, job flexibility, language and cultural backgrounds. What works for a stay-at-home mom or dad may not work for a mom or dad who works two jobs. What works for parents with vehicles or who live within walking distance from school may not work for parents who rely on public transportation. We must find creative ways to make participation more achievable by all. Ultimately, engagement is about having open and welcoming environments that really value parent input and participation; and to be as inclusive as possible and committed to finding as many gateways to our schools so that even those parents who may not seem involved buy into the value of it.
4) The first way to bring people together is to be honest about our challenges and to also acknowledge our strengths. I understand that teachers do not want to be blamed nor do parents want to feel that their concerns are being dismissed. I bring a perspective that is focused on our district improving for the sake of our students — by starting with honesty. I believe strong communication, and an open-mind to listen and learn are ways to bring people together. Board members can make better decisions when they are aware of the real experiences happening inside of our schools and out in our community. I am a parent with kids still in the district; I am a professional working in the community and I understand the intersection between parents, schools and the broader community. I have always been committed to working together with people of all types and backgrounds to find solutions. I will bring this to the Board.
5) There is no easy way to deal with the district’s budget crunch, let alone a “best way.” Board members have to balance the needs of the district with those of taxpayers. The district will face significant fiscal challenges given that our primary operating fund (Fund 10) is projected to face a $12M deficit in fiscal year 2013. It will be imperative to fully understand what expenses are included in those projections and how they might change depending on a variety of scenarios presented. Depending on other operational efficiencies that are presented to the Board, I would prefer not to use the under-levy tax at the full amount for the 2012-2013 budget, but again, we will have to see several scenarios on the table before deciding what will keep our schools operating well and improve student learning. We have to evaluate all options and work diligently on preserving strong relationships with our employees as well as our taxpayers.
6) A sense of urgency and commitment to closing the achievement gap and my view of this issue as a district-wide concern rather than a “narrow” issue as my opponent has said, clearly distinguish me from my opponent. From the very beginning of my campaign I have emphasized closing the achievement gap as one of my very top priorities. My opponent has only within the last two weeks decided to mention it in her core platform among defending public education, and leading the transition from the collective bargaining agreement to the new employee handbook. While these are both very important, to not place closing the achievement gap on equal par with them demonstrates a lack of understanding of the seriousness of the issue on our entire district and community. The achievement gap is not an issue that we can tackle as an “afterthought.” Another distinguishing factor is my acknowledgment and clear understanding of the community we are now in Madison and the on-the-ground challenges we face in our schools and in our community. This makes me a more effective board member to lead at this crucial time of great transition.
Arlene Silveira, Seat 1 (incumbent)
1) Madison schools now have programs in place that will help close the gap: four year old kindergarten, expanded summer school, small class sizes in schools with the highest levels of poverty, early literacy programs. Madison, as a whole, must be involved because the achievement gap is the result of social, economic, and educational factors.
• In-school improvements that raise the quality of instruction. Professional development in culturally relevant awareness; consistent curriculum, expectations, discipline across schools; effective plan for recruiting staff of color.
• Expanding the definition of schooling. Open schoolhouse model with community partners; comprehensive family engagement plan; longer school days or Saturday school; academic emphasis in after school programs.
• Social and economic policies so all children are more equally ready to learn. The community must ensure that children have affordable, stable housing; safe neighborhoods; and access to health care. Our District works with many community agencies around these issues.
2) I believe the superintendent’s preliminary plan identifies a wide array of future options and strategies, but that the preliminary plan is just that — preliminary — and must be quickly developed into a workable, measurable and affordable plan of action. The listening sessions the superintendent has conducted have been valuable. The final plan should be a comprehensive document that builds on existing programs and includes new initiatives. The goal is consistency: children must have the support and learning environment they need to succeed every day and every year of their schooling. There can be no gaps where a student’s needs are not being met. A priority list is required. Accompanying this document should be program goals, resources required, budget, time-line for implementation and time-line for results and information on how the effectiveness of the programs will be measured. With this information, the Board will be able to effectively determine next steps.
3) I strongly agree with the premise of this question: educating a child is a shared responsibility and family involvement improves student achievement. That’s why I added a Parent Engagement Coordinator position to the budget in order to look at what is working in individual schools to successfully engage families. We must take what works and share those strategies district-wide as part of a comprehensive family engagement strategy.
We must also reach out to parents in non-traditional ways. I voted to restore the Ready-Set-Go conferences which have parents and teachers meet so a student’s needs can be discussed and supported. I support the Parent University model as an opportunity for families to receive information in how to support the learning needs of their children. I am an advocate for the Open Schoolhouse model where families and community members can come into the schools to learn together and use the school’s resources.
4) I have a different perspective: I don’t think there is a lot of “fighting” and “politics” in Madison about education. I think there are strong feelings. But I also think that without a passionate and emotional connection to our schools — and I have that passionate commitment — we won’t improve our schools. I am guided by the belief that we all share a common goal: making Madison’s public schools the best they can be in order to educate every child. As public schools go, so goes the community; we must work together to make Madison’s schools better. As a Board member I have strived to maintain inclusive, respectful dialogue with all those who have a stake in our schools. I believe the public schools belong to our community and I will continue to reach out and ensure we are involving the entire community in finding solutions and improving our schools.
5) There are four necessities: be clear about priorities; insist on data and program evaluations to determine what works; involve the community/staff in the process; and work collaboratively to keep cuts as far from the classroom as possible.
I have balanced the current and future needs of the district with the needs of the taxpayer: we have increased the district's rainy day fund to provide options for future programs; we have restored the AAA bond rating which has allowed us to refinance and pay off debt at lower interest rates. I have pressed the administration to continually evaluate our processes and curriculum to determine if there are ways we can achieve our goals in a more cost-effective way. Our budget challenges underscore the need for a Board member who understands the budget, has experience with fiscal planning and who is committed to public education rather than seeking to undercut or defund public schools.
6) I am the only candidate who has brought about change and who has a proven record of making our schools more effective. I spearheaded the drive to implement 4-year old kindergarten which is working to help children from low-income homes catch up to their peers. I expanded summer schools classes and early literacy programs. I have prioritized small class sizes, critical for our kids’ success, in our schools with the highest levels of poverty and in all the early grades. I am the only candidate who has worked to close all the gaps in our schools — I have also championed programs for high achievers. My focus is also broader than my opponents: our schools face an array of complex challenges — fiscal, educational, and how to negotiate fairly with our teachers when collective bargaining agreements end. I have the experience and the skills to address all those issues.