Anti-racism, and a district’s 4 other stimulus spending priorities

Here's how Madison Public Schools is "crowdsourcing" its staff's ideas for COVID recovery
By: | April 15, 2021
Plexiglas separate desks in New Jersey's Madison Public Schools, which has been offering hybrid instruction throughout 2020-21.Plexiglas separate desks in New Jersey's Madison Public Schools, which has been offering hybrid instruction throughout 2020-21.

Social justice education and teacher empowerment will play key roles as Madison Public Schools leverages stimulus funds to move past COVID.

Equity, diversity and inclusion will be key themes in Superintendent Mark Schwarz’s crowdsourcing initiative, in which leaders of the New Jersey district will gather ideas from principals, teachers, students and families on charting the path forward.

“We don’t want to feel like district goals are being driven by central office and the school board,” Schwarz tells District Administration. “Teachers and principals know nuances of where the areas of need are and they have the best intuition about what will have the most traction with students.”

Here, Schwarz shares some of the principles that are guiding Madison’s stimulus spending decisions:

1. Empowering faculty. Schwarz has supported the formation of several faculty working groups, including groups focused on social justice and anti-racism, to enhance academic and social-emotional learning in the coming months.

These groups are looking at strategies to drive more equitable student outcomes. The initiatives include generating the data needed to provide quick interventions, anchored by a multi-tiered system of support, as soon as a student show signs of academic or emotional struggle.

“We are going to crowdsource ideas and at how they line up with district goals and with actons we already have planned to develop a refined and expanded strategy for next school year, Schwarz says. “We want to empower teachers and principals to run these programs.”

2. Adaptive ed-tech. When data does show a learner struggling in a particular subject, the district has purchased adaptive software to target the specific skills the student needs.

This software will augment and further personalize classroom instruction, particularly in math and English language arts. The goal is to implement an “early-warning system” that will allow teachers to respond with quick academic and social-emotional interventions.

3. Social justice. Madison Public Schools is a predominantly white district. Schwarz recently hired a diversity, equity and inclusion consultant to guide educators in leading more robust class discussions about race and anti-racism.

“I heard from our faculty that they want to talk about race more but they don’t know what to say, they don’t know what books to read,” Schwarz says.

Schwarz also formed a community anti-racism advisory group that includes local Black Lives Matter leaders. The district is also collaborating with a community group called the Madison Alliance for Racial Equity.

4. Capitalizing once a ‘slingshot moment.’ COVID’s disruptions have illuminated like never before disparities students face in access to technology, mental health care and home environments.

“The reality is that this an opportunity,” he says. “All of a sudden, we have a huge awareness of  the achievement gap.”

In his district, educators will recommit to fostering self-efficacy in the youngest students, using, for instance, math programs that don’t require language proficiency to develop foundational math skills.

The district will also expand access to these types of program after-school and during the summer, when learning loss occurs.

“When kids come to kindergarten with gaps, those tend to persist,” he says.