United Way’s Academic Success Community
Pushing Quality & Quantity
|Joe Maldonado worked at the Boys’ & Girls Club of Dane
County and UW-Madison’s Division of
Diversity, Equity and Educational Achievement before
joining United Way in 2017.
ultimately evaluate those proposals so that the agencies can run their programs.”
Recently, Maldonado’s team introduced their new strategic plan, called a Mobilization Plan, at Edgewood College on March 15th.
“We had a public launch that basically described our plans to the public and also featured and highlighted folks who work in the areas, our stakeholders,”
Maldonado said. “So we had folks who represented our partner agencies. We had Karen Menendez Coller from Centro Hispano. We had our partners in the schools,
Mike Hernandez from East High School. We had a student voice, Alondra Kechel. We had a parent voice, Anthony Johnson. He works for Briarpatch and a father of
seven. And we had someone from the Wisconsin Center for Educational Research to speak to the theory and research behind the plan.”
In past Mobilization Plans, the Academic Success team focused on easily quantifiable goals in the areas of reading, math and graduation. And while these are keys
to academic success, the CST felt that more was needed in order to ensure the long-term success of each student.
“Our five priority areas are mastering of academic content — which includes some of the things that I talked about — social/emotional learning and non-cognitive
skills,” Maldonado said. “That is really those things that make young people ready for the next step, whether it is going to college, being ready for a job, being ready
for a career, being ready to be someone who is civically engaged. The next priority is behavioral health. That’s really important because many of our students not
only deal with traumatic experiences, but also anxiety, depression and in some cases suicidal thoughts. We really want to call out the fact that in order to be
successful academically, you need that piece. The fourth priority is academic success and a sense of leadership and belonging for opportunity youth. Opportunity
youth are the young people who are in our high schools who may be credit deficient. They may not be on track to graduate. They may be in the juvenile justice
system dealing with family issues at home that are keeping them away from school or even, in some cases, dealing with immigration issues. By really focusing our
attention on that group of students in particular allows us to make sure that we actually get them to the finish line to be able to graduate and that they are ready for
the next step. And then the fifth priority area is family engagement. And that’s not just teaching parents how to be better parents, but actually harvesting the wisdom
and the knowledge that they have to be able to get students to be able to succeed. We know parents know what is right for their children. They know their children
better than anyone. We have to be able to work in partnership with them to be able to make sure they succeed.”
The Academic Success CST is not just concerned with pushing out as many high school graduates as they can. What they want to see are citizens with the
emotional, educational, community and value tools that they need to be successful in their lives, but also be able to contribute to their communities. While academic
quantity is good, academic quality is equally important.
“We have stated a goal of having students ready for graduation,” Maldonado said. “But our language in this plan is students succeed academically and graduate
from high school prepared for higher education, career and community. In order for students to be able to have a productive life and get out of poverty, they have to
be able to have the skill sets that get them to the next level. Graduation isn’t enough. So a holistic approach to student success and making sure that they are ready
beyond high school is really what is new in this plan.”
While the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida was horrific, Maldonado was impressed by how the students were equipped to deal with
the tragedy as engaged community members.
“One group that impressed me was the young people in Florida who after the tragic school shooting were really well-organized and fearless in pushing for changing
the gun laws,” Maldonado said. “I read an article that talked about how they received an education that doesn’t exist that much anymore. They were trained in
civics, so they understood how their government works. They learned public speaking skills. They knew how to advocate. So even as the school shooting was
occurring, they were prepared to be able to document it, to be able to tell their story, to be able to ask good questions and ultimately once everything subsided, to
develop a really well-organized plan to be able to get their voices heard. These are the skill sets that any young person needs, but unfortunately many don’t have.”
And it is in light of the continued mass shootings that the Academic Success CST and its partners are looking more at the impact of mental health issues on
academic success and personal belonging.
By Jonathan Gramling
When he moved to United Way of Dane County last year to be its community impact director for United
Way’s Academic Success Community Solutions Team, it was just a natural progression in Joe
Maldonado’s career. Starting off in youth programming in MSCR and other youth program after he
moved to Madison from Milwaukee, Maldonado kept climbing up the ladder, first in the pre-college
AVID/TOPS Program at the Boys & Girls Club and then as a guidance counselor for the UW-Madison
Chancellor’s and Powers-Knapp Scholars programs. Maldonado has seen the issues surrounding
academic achievement, particularly for students of color and low-income students from multiple levels
and perspectives in each stage of academia.
And now, as its community impact director, Maldonado is in a position to facilitate United Way’s efforts
to have an impact of racial disparities and other issues in education in Dane County.
His work is to keep his Community Solutions Team moving.
“I work with a group called the Community Solutions Team that sets strategic direction for the
organization in the area of academic success,” Maldonado said. “We support programs throughout the
county that work with students from kindergarten to 12th grade. The team and I also manage our
investments. We invest about $2.1 million in education. Some of our programs include the Schools of
Hope program and Achievement Connections as well as about 15 community agencies throughout the
county like community centers, mentoring programs, tutoring programs, literacy programming and
school-based programming as well. We manage the RFP process in this area. It’s a biannual process
and so I actually haven’t gone through the process yet. We put out the Call for Proposals and we
“One program that is supported through United Way that I want to highlight is in partnership
with Journey Mental Health called CBITS,” Maldonado said. “CBITS is a program that operates
in four school districts and screens sixth graders for traumatic experiences. If a student is
found to have had them, the program works with them in groups with trained therapists in the
schools to be able to cope and ultimately become whole. Trauma affects their academics. If
they have had a traumatic childhood experience, it’s going to take away from their learning. To
be able to manage that is ultimately a life skill they will need anyway. Having those types of
partnerships and being in touch with those kinds of professionals is what really drives the
work. You can be a student in college getting a 3.8 GPA, but if you’re not happy and you don’t
have the peace of mind to be able to get through your day, what’s it all for? So being able to
support our kids and equip them with the tools early on in life ultimately it not only helps their
grades, but also helps them as human beings.”
Maldonado emphasized that his CST does not work in a vacuum. It collaborates with other
educational programs to achieve common objectives.
“There are other entities in Dane County that do really great work in bringing together
community agencies,” Maldonado said. “One of those is Madison Out of School Time (MOST).
We want to lean on their wisdom. We want to lean on the wisdom of school districts. There are
so many people throughout this city who aren’t even United Way agency partners who work
with the kids who are either involved in the criminal justice system or are stealing cars or
are dealing with immigration issues. We want to honor their work and be able to make sure
that we highlight their work because we can’t do it without them. We want to lean on the
wisdom of our volunteers and kids and families to be able to figure out where we are going to
go from this step forward. We want to make sure that our investment supports what our
It takes a unified village to raise — and educate — a child. Through its Community Support
Teams, United Way is working with others in the community to implement solutions that lead to
the long term health of individuals and the community. We are better united.