Home Madison Jefferson Middle School Parents Gather Amid Tumultuous Year

Jefferson Middle School Parents Gather Amid Tumultuous Year

Jefferson Middle School parents gather to discuss issues facing the school. Photo by L. Malik Anderson.

This story has been corrected. A previous version identified Interim Principal Mary Kelly as Interim Superintendent Jane Belmore.

Last Thursday, a group of parents participated in a Culture and Climate Meeting held in Thomas Jefferson Middle School’s library. 

This session came three weeks after Jefferson Middle School teachers were summoned to an all-staff meeting, where Interim Superintendent Jane Belmore informed staff that Jefferson’s principal, Tequila Kurth, would take an extended leave of absence. Her leave comes after a student brought a pellet gun to school, leading an anonymous teacher to send Kurth and others threatening emails and leak the student’s behavioral records to local media — and act which district officials said broke federal law. 

“You are the voices. You have got to call us, you have got to communicate with us so we can be proactive,” Jefferson Middle School Interim Principal Mary Kelly told parents.

For this particular session, Kelly gave the floor to parents. After a difficult academic year and first semester, parents shared their concerns about the school’s climate before breaking into small groups to define clear needs to ensure a quality learning experience for all students. District staff facilitated these conversations and took notes.

“I think a couple of themes that came up was what are we going to be doing to support the new principal,” lead school social worker Gina Aguglia said.

Parents called for transparency, clear systems, tight structures, and strong principal leadership. The group also discussed providing additional support for teachers to prevent turnover and filling vacancies as needed. 

“I am always going to be available to you. I am always going to be visible,” Kelly told parents.

Some groups spoke about restoring a sense of pride to Jefferson’s community and setting high expectations for students. Parents said they would like to limit distractions for students and get students excited about learning again. 

MMSD Universal Systems Strategist Cynthia Moore said there needs to be a focus on social emotional support and emphasized social emotional learning. She also said Jefferson should build upon student to staff, staff to staff, and staff to parent relationships.

“We also touched on creating that parent community and creating that inviting culture for our parents so that every parent feels welcome in a classroom,” University of Wisconsin-Madison School Psychology Graduate Student Kaitlyn Young said. 

A group of Hispanic parents also said these resources should be extended to the Spanish speaking community. Other groups discussed ensuring the culture remained accessible and inclusive to all families.

Jefferson Middle School faculty discussed suggestions and goals from parents during a professional development day on Friday. Belmore said the district will continue to assess how things are going, however, she said the district will continue to provide additional support.

“When my teachers are happy, my kids are happy and when my kids are happy, the parents are happy and when parents are happy, the community is happy,” Kelly said.