Home Madison MMSD Announces Plan to Achieve Black Excellence

MMSD Announces Plan to Achieve Black Excellence


The fates of all our children are linked.

That was the message Madison Metropolitan School District Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham drove home on Tuesday morning at a press conference unveiling a new strategic framework for advancing the MMSD into a new era with a focus on supporting Black students in achieving excellence.

Following more than a year of school board meetings, community listening sessions and feedback from parents, students and teachers alike, the MMSD is ready to incorporate new values into schooling.

For many students of color, particularly black students, changes can’t come fast enough. The gaps in achievement, graduation and advanced learning opportunities for children of color have been well documented.

Now, the MMSD is zeroing in on African-American students specifically in an effort to address age-old systemic issues.

At an event at Nuestro Mundo, an elementary school in Monona, Cheatham unveiled the District’s five-point plan to greatly modernize and improve schools, with a primary focus on galvanizing schooling for black students.

“Every single child must thrive in Madison if our children are to thrive,” Cheatham said. “Our fates are linked.”

More than half of the 27,000 students in the district are students of color, including 18 percent who are African-American.

Nancy Hanks, the Chief of Schools, said that while progress has been made in addressing the educational performance gaps that minority students are victimized by, there is still more work to be done.

Hanks said during the press conference that black students have improved by seven points in average literacy scores and that math scores are up ten points.

“This is progress we can work on together,” Hanks said. “We’re here to demand more. We’re out to prove we can pave the way for black youth.”

Making sure every child is on track to graduate ready for college, making sure each school within the district has a positive staff and student climate and measuring the readiness of African-American children were the goals that the MMSD illustrated in the new comprehensive plan.

Investing in people was the word of the day at the MMSD event. Cheatham made it clear that the path forward would have to include a more inclusive approach to schooling.

The five strategies MMSD is going to use to achieve that goal was laid out in detail by Cheatham:

  1. Empowering school communities: MMSD will have schools devote more of their resources around the needs of individual students. MMSD wants even struggling students to be able to experience advanced learning programs and give parents more of a voice.
  2. Investing in People: the new framework commits to investing in culturally responsive teaching. MMSD wants to make sure that the history and cultures of all students, regardless of their backgrounds, is taught and celebrated. MMSD will expect faculty to reflect a better understanding about the history and effects of racism, structural racism and implicit bias.
  3. Streamline Priorities: MMSD wants to deepen early literacy and math instruction, make sure every school and classroom is safe and create trusting relationships between families and schools.
  4. Plan For The Future: MMSD will improve the quality of facilities across the district, expand community schools like Nuestro Mundo, and create structures that reflect the cultures of all students.
  5. Embrace Innovation: MMSD will provide professional development and training opportunities for school-based and office staff to better equip them with problem solving strategies and utilizing online resources.

Members of the community, along with community leaders, also made their voices heard on the new Strategic Framework. Representatives from groups such as 100 Black Men, Centro Hispano and Madison College stood with Superintendent Cheatham during the event in order to illustrate the community’s involvement with the future of Madison schools.

Henry Sanders, Selfless Ambition Founder and Publisher of Madison365, said that schools need to focus on what kids can do rather than what they can’t. As a product of Madison East High School, Sanders said that expecting kids to do well enables them to actually do well.

School Board member Mary Burke said that children will thrive if we can create the environment in which they can.

“Our team is our entire community and all of those who believe public education in Madison is an asset,” Burke said. “We have a lot more work to do. It’s going to take a strong commitment.”

The announcement of the new Strategic Framework comes as many across Wisconsin are voicing concerns about the environments black students are placed in at school.

School Board meetings in Madison have become increasingly volatile and contentious around the issue of the use of police in schools. Educational Resource Officers (EROs) in schools have, in the estimation of many, become an impediment to black students’ ability to learn in a calming and relaxed school environment.

On Monday night, Freedom Inc, a group devoted to racial equity in both schools and incarceration, showed up at a Madison School Board meeting to confront board members about having police in schools and the impact it has on black students, who find themselves in the crosshairs of those officers more often than their white peers.

Cheatham addressed the issue of ERO’s with Madison365 after the unveiling of the Strategic Framework, saying that she understands the views of groups like Freedom Inc and can appreciate the frustrations many in the community may have around the topic of police in schools.

Cheatham told Madison365 that she is awaiting recommendations and analyses from an Ad Hoc Committee tasked with reviewing the use and stability of having ERO’s in the MMSD.

“We currently have a contract with the City of Madison that places an Education Resource Officer in each of our high schools,” Cheatham told Madison365. “The Board of Education launched an Ad Hoc Committee about a year and a half ago to study this issue, to listen to community members, hear perspectives, and to make reports on their process, findings and recommendations to the Board of Education. As we go forward, we are committed to making decisions that align with our core values of racial equity and social justice and listening to the voices of those who have been most marginalized in our community. Keeping students safe- both physically and psychologically- is our duty and we know no student can learn if they aren’t feeling safe. And while there are different views on how exactly to do that, we will make sure to take all of those views into careful consideration before deciding on a path forward.”