MMSD Superintendent Carlton Jenkins Leads in a Decisive Era
Leadership for a New MMSD Era
|Dr. Carlton Jenkins, the new Madison Metropolitan School
District superintendent brings a wealth of experience to the
position and earned his Ph.D. in education administration
from UW-Madison in the 1990s.
been, I have been able to accomplish that in terms of increasing graduation rates for the most vulnerable populations in terms of students in poverty, Black and
Brown students, special education students and poor white students as well as Asian and all other groups. Coming here to Madison is really just building upon the
work that I have been doing. It is culminating right here in Madison. And my extensive relationship with the business community and the university, it is a wonderful
fit for myself.”
In watching Jenkins field questions in a Zoom meeting with community members before he was hired — and during this interview — Jenkins came across as a
frank administrator who will not beat around the buses, but will confront issues and problems in a very direct, non-personal way.
“When you get over 50 years-old, you just thinking and behaving differently in a good way,” Jenkins said with a smile. “You just let go of anything that is immaterial
and you just say, ‘This is who I am. And this is what I am trying to do.’ I’m always in a learning mode. But I just don’t have a lot of time for game playing. We’re in the
business of trying to make a difference. And that’s what I hold to each and every day I wake up. In the interview, I just said, ‘I’m going to show who I am, so that
they won’t have to play any guessing games. If I didn’t get the job, I didn’t get it because I was just who I was. It wasn’t meant to be. And if they selected me, they’
ve already seen who I am. So now, there shouldn’t be any guessing games when someone comes to me and I’m saying what I need to. I’m a nice guy, but straight
Part 1 of 2
By Jonathan Gramling
Dr. Carlton Jenkins, the Madison Metropolitan School District’s new superintendent is someone who
has come to the fight well-prepared to succeed in the fight against racial disparities and for a quality
education for all MMSD students. Carlton has worked in school systems and schools that range in size
from the small Saginaw, Michigan district to the giant Atlanta, Georgia district and the Columbus, Ohio
district with 74,000 students. He’s worked in the suburbs and in the urban centers. He’s worked in
minority-minority and minority-majority school districts.
And Jenkins has come back “home” to Madison to bring his expertise and experience to bear on
MMSD’s challenges and opportunities.
“I call this home because I studied here as an administrator,” Jenkins said. “And we’re looking at
some of the things relative to increasing graduation rates. If you look back at everywhere I’ve
While America is experiencing two pandemics — COVID-19 and the unrest due to the
murder of George Floyd — Jenkins also looks upon it as a time of opportunity. He
doesn’t sit back and fret. He asks what we can do.
“We have a racial tension with the civic unrest because of what happened with Mr.
Floyd,” Jenkins said. “That’s not over. We’re in the middle of a movement and trying
to bring communities together. Typically, if we didn’t have COVID-19, it would be
easier to get out and physically see one another, touch one another and have those
conversations. But now we are doing everything virtually and we have to pivot. Our
reality is not just the reality of Madison or Minnesota. This is the reality of the world.
And so I think this is an opportunity for us to change our approach and rely on the
virtual meetings that we have to communicate even more. It’s more challenging. But
I hold a lot of virtual meetings just trying to get to know people and let them know
who I am and let everyone know that we are in this together. We’re no different than
anyone else. How we can become leaders in this moment is what I look to do. How
will we lead in this moment? For our children, I had an interview with a group of
students yesterday and I told them, ‘This is a wonderful time for you. This is probably
the best time of your life. It rivals the time of the 1960s movement. And this could
even be bigger as we are seeing something not all just racial divide. This COVID-19
has brought human decency to the forefront because people are having to rely on
other people to get through it.’”
The murder of George Floyd hit close to home for Dr. Jenkins for not only is he a
Black man, but his school district is in the Minneapolis urban area.
“I can tell you the moment it happened,” Jenkins recalled. “I was 16 miles from the
spot on 38th and Chicago where it took place. I have a nephew who lives a mile
away from where the actual incident took place. And my nephews from around the
country and other people, when it happened, for me in my 64 years, it was the worst
incident that I can recall that had happened that really shook my whole body and took
me through an array of emotions. It just said to me that it is time. It is time for the
world to change. It was about race, sure. But it was also about oppression and
individuals saying, ‘Enough is enough.’ Human decency is a must. It is a
fundamental right for individuals to be human beings and to believe and have an
expectation that they should be treated as such. From what we saw of a public
lynching, we have to say, ‘No more, no more to all of those things of oppression.’
That’s why you see the multi-groups protesting. You see that this protest went around
the world because people just seriously say, ‘Hey no more.’ I am excited and I think
that with COVID-19 slowed us down enough to where we started to rely upon one
another, this is a movement and a time in our history where when we look back, we’
ll say, ‘That didn’t just change America. It changed the world.’”
With MMSD beginning the school year as a remote-learning-only experience, Jenkins
is concerned about how the absence of face-to-face instruction is going to have on
all students, especially vulnerable students who lack the resources of more affluent
students. Jenkins believes it is going to take the entire village’s extra and prolonged
effort to make a difference so that no child falls behind.
“Before COVID-19, we had an issue of disparities, in particular with our children,
Black and Brown students and socio-economic, in these gaps,” Jenkins said.
“During COVID-19, it has been illuminated to another level because of some of the
technological differences. In our district, even before I got here, there has been an
intensive effort to make sure that all students have the devices. And then we had
hot spots in the community. But there is also another issue, the socio-emotional
impact of COVID-19 with the unemployment, with the family stress for the student,
our teachers and our community. That could be one of the causes of a further divide.
So we are being very intentional of identifying those students who lost out. Not only
do we have the summer slide, but we also have the COVID-19 slide in terms of the
students regressing. Some students found success in that, but you are absolutely
correct when you say our most vulnerable students experience it the most. We’re
going to have to be intentional about reaching out to those families and we’re going
to need the help of the community. I appreciate the 100 Black Men. They have
already stepped up to say, ‘However you need us, we will be there.’ I appreciated
those brothers because I said to them, ‘What we need you for this time is different.
We need relationships developed just to encourage the students to participate in the
home-line learning, to encourage our students when we provide other opportunities
outside of school.’ We need them to decrease the gaps of learning and to increase
their learning. We need the students to be able to participate. This is a community
affair. We are in the middle of a health crisis. And we’re going to need the collective
community to move us forward. And that is not just in Madison. That’s around the
world. This is a serious community issue with a health crisis and then learning being
paramount in terms of what we’re trying to do. But we have to protect socio-
emotional and mental health well-being of our students, staff and our community at-
Next issue: COVID-19 measures and the school referenda