Interview with MMSD Interim Superintendent Dr. Jane Belmore
She might have been named interim superintendent for just the 2012-2013 school year, but Dr. Jane Belmore is eager to get at the business at hand with an energy and an effort that will lay down the foundation for a successful transition to the leadership of a new superintendent.
“I think we’re poised to really take action and have a good year. I’ve seen lots of positive energy from people. I’ve had listening sessions with many principals and just this week we’ve had three days of administrative training [where] I was there all three days listening and chatting with people,” Belmore tells The Madison Times in an interview at Madison West High School. “I think there is a level of positive energy out there to begin this year. One of my main goals is to foster the kind of communication that will continue to build trust. That’s something that is really important; especially in schools. Student achievement is impacted positively where teachers, parents, administrators, and the community members are all in that environment where they are able to trust each other.”
Recently, the Madison Metropolitan School District board members announced that they had voted unanimously to appoint Belmore as interim superintendent. Dr. Belmore left her post as Dean of the School of Education at Edgewood College to lead MMSD.
“Jane is the right person to lead our district through an important time,” said Board President James Howard. “Not only is she a respected leader in the field of education, but she also brings expertise in our district and our community.”
Belmore was a longtime teacher and principal in the MMSD and worked her way up to assistant superintendent of elementary schools. After retiring in 2005, Belmore started to teach in Edgewood College’s doctoral program and was asked to be the interim dean of the School of Education. She did such a good job, they asked her to stay for good.
“I never expected to be in this position, but some surprising things happened to me since I’ve retired from the district,” Belmore says.
An interim position like this can often be tricky, but Belmore is looking forward to the challenge.
“Aside from my commitment to the community and to education in Madison, it was the idea of how I saw how a successful interim position could work and it made me have a certain level of confidence that it could work here,” Belmore says of her time at Edgewood. “Talking to the board members about what their goals are I felt like I was a good person to help move those goals forward.”
While MMSD will spend this upcoming year making an extensive search for a new superintendent, the district is in Belmore’s hands this year. Her years of experience will help her get things done as the MMSD interim superintendent.
“I already have a lot of positive relationships in the district,” she says. “And I think I have a good understanding of what the responsibilities and goals are of other people I haven’t met yet.”
In June, their collective bargaining agreement ends with the Madison Teachers Inc., so they need to develop a handbook that will be their guidebook. “That will be quite a task and take a lot of energy,” Belmore says. “We have to have it in place by June, so we’re hoping to move along on it and get it done as soon as we can.”
Belmore came into a position that just recently put a very ambitious minority achievement plan in place. The achievement gap discussion has been talked about quite a bit in just about in every corner of the local community. “Likewise it will be front and center for me,” Belmore says. “The plan provides a consistency that everybody is expecting anyways. My goal is to look at things in the short term and prepare for the long term. Whatever I do this year, I’m doing with the eye of getting ready for the transitional leadership and having someone else come into that role.”
The achievement gap plan is rather complex with six major priorities based on community input, feasibility, educational research and cost, the district refined its preliminary plan. The revised recommendations include:
• Zeroing in on literacy through implementation of research-based curriculum, interventions and assessments, with all schools monitored for successful implementation
• Resources for families including parent liaisons to serve as the consistent connection between families and schools
• Changing the culture of our schools through training in diversity and culturally relevant teaching
• Expansion of the successful AVID/TOPs program to middle schools
• A Mentor Academy to connect disenfranchised students with role models in the community
• Moving away from an outdated discipline system based on suspensions and expulsions toward restorative justice practices
“There are quite a few things with each component that need to be done,” Belmore says. “But we can’t do everything at the same time at the same level. Our first task is look at what are the priorities of the priorities and being able to focus on those. Realistically, what are we able to get done in this time period?”
Belmore says that she’s pretty passionate about the culturally relevant practices piece of the achievement gap plan. She feels her prior experiences will help her with this. “A major goal of Edgewood University was to increase the diversity of the school and the staff which they’ve done over the last decade,” she says. “Our incoming freshman class at Edgewood this year is matching the diversity levels of Dane County. That was our first goal. But what I think is very powerful there is not only have we increased the diversity of our student population there, but our retention rate of our students of color last year was better than other students.”
Belmore says she loves the positive programs going on right now like AVID/TOPS and Four-Year-Old Kindergarten. “We have a lot to celebrate and AVID/TOPS is one of them. The board and community support of the expansion of that program is great,” Belmore says. “One of the good things is that we have data showing that is doing what we want it to do.
“I’m really excited about 4K because we had tried for a lot of years — all the years I was in the District — we talked about that,” she adds. “I consider that a very big success and I think it will go a long way in helping us close the achievement gap. I think it will take a couple of years before we see that difference, but I think we’re beginning to see it already.”
Literacy is also important to Belmore who has a background and training as a reading specialist. “I’m a person who has quite a bit of expertise in curriculum and literacy so I’m really interested in the literacy goals that go throughout,” she says.
One of the things that Belmore is going to be pulling together is a Literacy Summit that she will facilitate. “The Summit is bringing together all of the pieces of the literacy initiative — middle schools, high schools,” Belmore says. “We’re going to work with the people who have been guiding that work just to communicate better so that high school teachers have a better understanding of what elementary school teachers are doing. I think it helps people understand that they are not alone and that it really takes all of us to do this.”
Belmore has been reaching out to the community — going to functions and talking to parents and meeting with agencies and non-profits. “There is a fair amount of that that goes along with this role and I actually enjoy that part of it,” she says. “I like to get out with people and talk about the work we’re doing and seeing what kind of questions they have. I’ve met with a lot of major community partners already — many whom I already had relationships with at Edgewood.”
Her goals are to develop better communication and more trust. “There are lots of ways that we’ll be able to see at the end of the year if that is evident,” Belmore says. “Really, my goals are rather simple. I will be very, very happy and feel I have met a goal at a certain level if every child is better on every measure that we have. Maybe every child is not going to meet every learning target that we have for them, but I would feel really good if every child had shown growth in those measures.”
Belmore sees her role as interim superintendent as one of setting priorities and acting on the present initiatives, while laying the foundation for a successful transition to the leadership of a new superintendent.
“I’m excited and I’m very energized by what I’m hearing from the community. This is a great time,” she says. “What I’m hearing is that everybody really wants to do their part. There are people who are really stepping up and wanting to do their part. So, I think that communication becomes very important so that we’re focusing our efforts on the things that will get us the results that we want. That will then encourage people to stay engaged and be involved and I think that’s what we need.”