by Jonathan Gramling
I have seen the populations growing in these suburbs of Madison, especially their households of color. In days gone by, there used to be a
green space between Madison and Sun Prairie along Hwy 151. That greenspace is no more. Instead, along Grand Avenue, you will see a
relatively new city center complete with schools, retail, a movie theater, grocery stores, medical services and the like. And there are homes
that reach all the way to Hwy 19 and beyond. The growth has been so intense that the Sun Prairie Area School District is building a new high
school in the Grand Avenue area. It will be Sun Prairie West. And it will be a stone’s throw from the Madison border.
In my humble opinion, families are moving out there for two primary reasons. First is the cost of building a home. For the present, at least, it’
s cheaper to build or purchase a home out in Sun Prairie or Waunakee or Deerfield than it is to build or purchase in Madison. Housing
subdivisions are going up all over the place in areas that I would least expect to see it. Many of those are families of color.
The second reason would be for the schools. I remember back when the quality of Madison’s schools was an asset touted as a reason that
people should move to Madison. “Madison is one of the top school districts in the country.” Ever since Tommy Thompson and Scott Walker
began to dismantle public school funding and took away local control in terms of deciding what the tax levy should be, I haven’t heard that as
much. Maybe I am just hanging out in the wrong places.
Whether we want to think about this or not, the Madison public schools are in the competition of their lives. And how the Madison
Metropolitan School District handles this competition will set the course of our public schools for generations to come.
The competition is coming from all sides. There are the newer facilities that surround Madison. As a parent of color, I would have to ask
myself this question, ‘My child is going to experience some institutional racism no matter where they go. Should I send them to dilapidated
high schools in Madison or \newer, advanced facilities in Sun Prairie or Middleton or Verona?’ There is coming a day when the answer to that
question will be a no brainer. Relaxed transfer requirements are making that easier and easier to do.
And then there are the private religious and charter schools that have been popping up all over the Madison metropolitan area. Two charter
schools, One City founded by Kaleem Caire and Milestone Democratic School, are non-instrumentality charter schools chartered through UW
Systems. All of these private schools are competing for the same public dollars that MMSD is competing for. Someday, One City will have its
own high school. Milestone already works with high school students. The competition that MMSD faces will only increase and it has to have
the capacity to be competitive.
There are two referenda that will be on the November ballot, one to approve $33 million in operating funds and $317 million to build an
elementary school in the Rimrock Road area, massively overhaul Madison’s four existing high schools and create a permanent campus for
Capital High School at Hoyt School on Regent Street. We need to pass both of these referenda.
I realize that the timing stinks with the COVID-19 pandemic putting many people out of work and some families facing evictions for not being
able to pay their rents due to unemployment. I would not be enthused about paying more next year. And yet the time is now to get this done.
I have met Dr. Carlton Jenkins, the new MMSD superintendent, face to face and through a phone interview. I like him, where he’s been and
where he wants to take the district. He will be a solid leader for a new era.
And as the first African American MMSD superintendent, what would you rather have for him during the first year of his administrative era,
implementing a new vision for the district or deciding what staff to lay off and rule over a retraction of MMSD. I personally would like to see
And we need to spend the $317 million on the school infrastructure.
In discussing the achievement gap at MMSD, I have often heard it said, “The schools were not made for us.” The Us in this case is African
American students. I have heard that there needs to be more group and hands-on learning. Well anyone visiting the MMSD high schools can
readily see that the classroom and other spaces are not designed for group and hands-on learning and are not particularly wired for 21st
century technological learning. This is a time to not only dream about, but also implement “education designed for US.”
For the sake of our MMSD students and Madison because as the health of its student public education system goes, so too does the city’s
economy. We need to pass the referenda for OUR students. We need to pass them for US.
Over the past 25 years or so, I’ve walked around just about every high school in the greater Madison area
while collecting data and taking photos of students of color graduating with a 3.0 GPA or greater. I’ve
covered dance recitals and concerts in many of the performing arts centers that are attached to these schools.
And many of the classrooms can be adjusted to the particular instruction that is happening in the space instead
of the instruction being modified so it can be held in the space.
I’ve walked through their naturally-lit areas that make the schools look bright and welcoming as opposed to
dank corridors with lighting that casts an artificial glow. And their air conditioning and heating systems keep
the entire building at a temperature that is supportive of student learning. These high school spaces are places
where students might just want to be instead of a place where they have to be.