February 2017

Dear Madison Community,

We’re halfway through the school year and have some exciting updates to share with you. In this mid-year review, we’ll start by revisiting our vision for all Madison students (you can hear Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham describe that here), catch up with the graduates featured in our 2015-16 Annual Report, hear about progress on our efforts to diversify our workforce, get an inside look at how schools are building on last school year’s growth and more.

Superintendent Cheatham recently sat down with Madison Magazine to talk about the district’s progress in this fourth year of our Strategic Framework. Read the Q&A.

Where are they now? Our featured 2016 graduates tell us about their first year out of high school.

Kelsea Cystrunk – Innovative & Alternative, Amy Degraff-Castro – Shabazz, Juan Ocampo-Soto – Memorial, Pazee Xiong – East, Ari Davis – West, Sydney Saunders – La Follette

We recently reconnected with them to hear about the exciting things happening in their first year after graduating. We weren’t surprised to see them continuing to reflect the remarkable diversity of strengths, interests and skills highlighted in our Graduate Vision.

Our vision is that all MMSD graduates will:

  • understand that success is based on hard work and that skills are developed through the productive struggle of learning, both in success and in failure.
  • understand themselves and have insight into their character, abilities and limitations.
  • are imaginative and flexible, able to turn new and imaginative ideas into reality.
  • make choices that promote physical, mental, and emotional health and safety, helping them to be joyful and fulfilled.
  • are active participants in their communities, recognizing that they are part of something bigger than themselves.
  • value how the diverse assets of the people with whom they interact give them access to ideas, experiences, and perspectives to help them grow.
  • believe in their abilities and take action in pursuit of their goals.
  • interact with others in ways that promote creative collaboration and problem-solving.

“The past year and a half have been great. I am regularly involved with the Lawrence University Native Americans, Alianza (the Latin American alliance) and Black Student Union. I love attending concerts sponsored by the university and hanging out in the Diversity Center. I finished my first term with an A in two of my classes and a B in the other.”

– Amy Degraff-Castro, Shabazz alumnus – Lawrence University student

Amy Degraff-Castro with musician Wade Fernandez

“I have had an awesome first semester at the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities! My favorite classes included a freshman writing intensive focusing on social justice and a theater class where we analyzed shows that we saw on campus and in the community. I ended my first semester with a 3.36 GPA.”

– Sydney Saunders, La Follette alumnus – University of Minnesota–Twin Cities student

Sydney and roommate (and fellow 2016 La Follette graduate Joanna Hagan) outside of Frontier Hall on the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities campus.

“Kelsea is an assistant manager at Dunkin' Donuts. She is saving funds to move into her own apartment this fall, as she continues to prepare to apply for college.”– Ann DeBroux, Capital High staff member (formerly with Transition Learning Center)

Kelsea Cystrunk, Innovative & Alternative alumnus – Prospective Madison College student

Kelsea Cystrunk

“For the first semester of college, I was pretty proud of my progress. I was able to achieve a cumulative GPA of 3.5 and I hope to maintain it for the spring semester. I have also changed my major from Mechanical Engineering to Biomedical Engineering because I wanted to explore that particular major and learn more about what it takes to be a Biomedical Engineer.”

Pazee Xiong, East High School alumnus – UW–Madison student

Pazee Xiong on UW–Madison's Bascom Hill

“I enrolled at UW–Richland and joined the basketball team in the middle of September and since then, college has been great. I ended my semester with a 3.0 GPA, am still in the field of education and I am the starting Point Guard!”

– Ari Davis, West High School alumnus – current UW–Richland student

Ari Davis, starting Point Guard at UW–Richland

School Improvement Plans

Chief of Secondary Schools Alex Fralin gave us this mid-year update on School Improvement Plans:

“Unlike any other time since we launched the Strategic Framework, our secondary schools are approaching their school improvement plan (SIP) implementation with greater coherence and alignment while measuring progress more frequently.

Our school-based leadership teams have begun tackling issues of race and equity by engaging staff in meaningful dialogue about how to operationalize their equity visions.

Many of our schools identified a SIP strategy focused on improving teacher teams, and we’ve been working intensely with school leaders to ensure teacher teams are being leveraged as a high impact vehicle for meeting the needs of all students, particularly their students of color.”

Nancy Hanks, Chief of Schools - Elementary, relayed to us her excitement about this year’s School Improvement Plans:

“This is the strongest set of school improvement plans that we’ve had over the last 3 years. The plans are focused, they’re targeted and they’re grounded in equity visions that all of the schools created at the start of the year. One common theme around implementation has been around increasing opportunities for students to engage in rigorous tasks, to advance the learning that’s taking place in the classroom. So beyond students just having a great core lesson from their teachers, schools have been really working to make sure that students get an opportunity to take ownership of their learning and to deepen their understanding through more rigorous opportunities for practice.”

Common Professional Learning

Our professional learning continues to focus on great teaching for all and examining race and bias. The National Equity Project has supported our professional learning for principals and school based leadership teams to strengthen our equity-focused facilitative leadership skills. These skills enable staff to hold spaces to discover and develop their identity, relationships and capacity to:

  • manage group dynamics
  • learn and develop a common understanding of our commitment to racial equity
  • develop equity advocates throughout our district
  • lead for change
  • work with families as partners

Our district's strategy to raise achievement for all includes five priority areas. Below you can read about examples of progress we've made in each area over this school year.

Priority Area 1


This year some of our schools have adopted a math curriculum called Bridges, which is having a remarkable impact on student engagement. Both teachers and students have reacted positively to Bridges, highlighting in particular its highly collaborative nature and the opportunities it gives students to work together to both build conceptual understanding of math and concrete number sense. Students love the games. Visit any classroom using Bridges and you’ll hear students discussing what’s happening in the “number corner” and what games they are going to play next to further their learning and understanding.

“Bridges presents useful strategies that make sense to all learners. Students' attitudes about math are changing. They are gaining confidence which leads to higher levels of engagement. Teachers are truly able to monitor student progress. The adoption of this curriculum is definitely a step in the right direction.”

– Mary Brand, Chavez Elementary School fourth grade teacher


We are looking forward to the second round of site-based Literacy Learning Labs, which provide opportunities for teachers to implement instructional practices and receive on-the-spot coaching and feedback. In the labs, teachers also set goals for their instruction and continue to work on these through teacher teams and coaching cycles, bringing evidence of implementation and samples of student work. Schools are gaining a better understanding of the structure and how powerful the labs can be.

We’re also continuing with our implementation of Lexia, our software that helps teachers provide supplemental literacy instruction for students of all abilities. We’re already seeing promising results for students who are meeting their usage minutes in using the software consistently. We're looking forward to continuing to leverage Lexia in the second semester and to providing scaffolded supports to help students meet grade-level expectations.

Hear more from Nancy Hanks about site-based learning labs in schools, in which our Literacy Department has been partnering with principals and coaches to craft interactive, collaborative learning experiences onsite.

Priority Area 2


More than five hundred Madison 8th grade students applied to be in the health services pathway launching this fall at East, La Follette, Memorial and West high schools. We’re excited to see our students interested in Personalized Pathways, which offers students personalized opportunities to study subjects they’re passionate about and helps them make connections between what they learn in class and the real world.

Priority Area 3

Mendota PUPs students

‘Peers Uplifting Peers’ help lead the work of Mendota Community School

Last July we also highlighted a strong partnership between Mendota Elementary School third grade teacher Debra Minahan and Bilingual Resource Teacher Rosalia Gittens. Theirs was a story of believing in all students, holding them to high expectations and cultivating a positive classroom community, all of which led to major growth over the school year, particularly for their African American students and English Language Learners, two focus groups of their School Improvement Plan.

Rosalia Gittens and Debra Minahan with students

It was an exciting time at Mendota, as the school was about to begin their first year as a Community School, made possible through a three-year grant from the Madison Community Foundation. The purpose of a Community School is to help students and families who live in the neighborhood access programming and services by bringing many different health and human service providers and other community partners right into the school. When students and their families are fully supported, our students are then ready to excel in the classroom.

Minahan, along with fellow teacher Tia Tanzer, advises the school group Peers Uplifting Peers, or PUPs. The PUPs students played an important role in the direction of their school as a Community School by surveying their neighbors about their needs.

PUPs students debate on the most pressing needs of the community

In December, PUPs invited the community to watch them debate about, and then vote on, which services are most needed in the community. Students livestreamed their discussion on topics like starting a clothing pantry, racial and religious discrimination, bullying, helping struggling families and more. Audience members then helped them decide what to focus on in 2017.

In their January issue, Madison Magazine featured PUPs and other students and staff from both of the district’s Community Schools, Mendota and Leopold.

Priority Area 4

Thriving Workforce

In 2016-17, we’ve made positive strides toward our goals to hire and retain a talented workforce that better represents the diversity of our student population. Our Executive Director of Human Resources, Deirdre Hargrove-Krieghoff, had this to say.

“One of our goals is to have our teacher demographics represent our student population. Being in Wisconsin, this poses a challenge. We have some work to do in order to get there.

Beginning in 2014, we completely redesigned our principal and teacher screening and selection process, specifically making improvements to recruit for diversity. Part of this includes doing more recruiting outside of Wisconsin, and in some cases, outside of the country.


In addition to our redesigned recruitment and retention efforts, we work closely with the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Education. Through the Grow Our Own Staff to Teachers Program, current MMSD staff who hold at least a bachelor’s degree can apply to become a teacher in our schools through a two-year teacher certification program.

We’re also working with a Teachers of Color Advisory Group to learn recommendations for recruiting and engaging.”

We are in year three of hiring and inducting new teachers, principals and instructional coaches through Forward Madison, a partnership between the district and the UW-Madison School of Education that helps prepare new educators and leaders to thrive professionally in an urban school district. This June, a finished evaluation of Forward Madison as a program will inform a sustainability plan, currently under development.

We now have 20 sophomores and juniors enrolled in TEEM Scholars, a Forward Madison program that helps high school students become MMSD teachers. Students meet regularly to learn about the art and science of teaching and think critically about the role of classroom teachers as agents of social justice.

By the end of the 2016-17 school year, every educator will have been evaluated under the new Educator Effectiveness system.

Priority Area 5

Creating Positive School Climates

This year’s climate survey is out now to students, staff and families. Results will be analyzed and reported in this year’s annual report and used by schools to track changes and set goals for next year.

Technology Plan

twitter: @MMSDIgnite #MMSDIgnite

In early February, students in our “G2 Schools” – Lapham, Lindbergh, Allis, Franklin, Black Hawk, Cherokee, Sherman, Toki and La Follette – received their own digital devices to use in the classroom. The devices are one part of a larger transformation, one that seeks to give students more say in how they learn, allow them to accelerate at their own pace, help them engage in collaborative learning, increase access to information and teach them vital digital literacy skills.

school update

Van Hise students and families build on strengths

In last year’s Annual Report, Principal Peg Keeler and Instructional Resource Teacher Sharel Nelson revealed Van Hise Elementary School's “special sauce,” which helped students achieve extraordinary growth in the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) assessments.

We reported that seventy percent of the school’s African American third through fifth grade students were proficient or advanced and half of third through fifth grade students receiving Special Education services were proficient.

We recently caught up with Principal Keeler and Ms. Nelson to get an update on their students’ progress.

“In the past, we felt that one of our strengths as a school was to hold kids to very high expectations. That continues to be the case. We promote a growth mindset and kids put their best effort toward their goals,” said Principal Keeler. “Our older students are provided a process for reflecting on how they did last time on the MAP assessment. They reflect on areas they feel they need to continue to work on and the goals they set for themselves. They reflect on what parts were difficult and what they can improve upon.”

Nelson discussed the sense of community among Van Hise students and how the Van Hise equity vision encompasses families as partners. “We have a comprehensive family engagement plan. We are working together with our families – all on the same page. The students feel really supported. We’re communicating more efficiently and heading toward the same goals,” Nelson said.

Principal Keeler added, “It’s been a fantastic year, it continues to get stronger.”

Van Hise Elementary School students, families and staff

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