Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) Chief of Leadership Development Jorge Covarrubias plans to continue centering student voices and experiences while creating professional development opportunities for public school staff.
“We’ve come a long way with how we focus our professional learning and how we serve staff,” he told Madison365.
Covarrubias is the head of the Professional Learning & Leadership Development Department for MMSD, which implements evaluation systems as well as provide ongoing leadership development for principals, assistant principals, School-Based Leadership Teams (SBLTs) instructional coaches, and instructional central office leaders, and new educators.
“I’ve been a part of the District ever since I graduated college … so for the last 18 years I have been a teacher in MMSD and a principal in MMSD,” Covarrubias said.
A proud graduate of MMSD, he attended James Madison Memorial High School and grew up on Madison’s west side. Covarrubias attributes his passion for education to his family who immigrated from Mexico in 1979. He was the first person born in his family as a United States citizen.
“The only reason I kept my language, my Spanish language, and learned to read and write was because my family insisted,” Covarrubias said.
Today, he uses his experience both as a former MMSD student and as an educator to better respond to the needs of students currently enrolled in the district. This includes ensuring professional development opportunities for staff.
“There’s a lot of great resources but it’s really about unpacking what we really believe about our students to unlock that potential,” Covarrubias said.
He referred to work done to address implicit biases about students from diverse backgrounds. According to the Wisconsin Policy Forum, MMSD’s student body was 57.8-percent students of color. However, only 13.6-percent of the teaching staff are people of color.
Covarrubias said it’s not just about recruiting staff of color but retaining them. He also emphasized the importance of orienting new staff into MMSD’s culture, and making sure white staff understand.
Recently, MMSD has offered opportunities for students to speak in staff leadership development meetings. Covarrubias explained that staff often talk a lot about students voices, but found it beneficial to have students present to discuss their experiences in public schools.
“For the last couple of years, we’ve had students come in to share a little bit about their experiences in Madison,” Covarrubias said.
While the pandemic presented new challenges for the Professional Learning & Leadership Development Department, he also said it created new opportunities as well. Covarrubias said the district learned a lot more about how to systematize and build into their professional learning over the last year. Staff also have access to resources online.
This includes making anti-racism resources available to school staff. In the 2020-21 academic year, MMSD asked schools to use seven dedicated Wednesdays (21 hours) to engage in learning around becoming anti-racist educators.
“We’ve come in such a long way in understanding how powerful an inclusion model is in MMSD,” Covarrubias said.