great soccer mom who didn’t miss important dates and milestones in her children’s lives. She was always “present” for them.
While she earned many awards for her efforts on behalf of Madison’s children, she did not wear them on her sleeve. Virginia was very humble, keeping her eye on
the prize of academic achievement for her children — and for all of the children under her charge and with whom she came in contact.Virginia was a very dignified
and friendly person who always had a light in her eyes and a smile on her lips. She also had a good word for those who interacted with her.Virginia was a woman of
great academic accomplishment. She graduated from Spelman College as salutatorian of her class (her twin sister was valedictorian) in 1953 with a B.A. in
psychology. She then attended Boston University, in Boston, MA where she received her M.A. in psychology in 1955. She earned her Ph.D. in curriculum instruction
and developmental psychology in 1974 from the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque while also working as an assistant professor of Pediatrics and Psychiatry
at the University of New Mexico’s School of Medicine.
In the mid-1970s, her husband, Dr. Perry Henderson, was recruited by the UW-Madison School of Medicine.“It took them 18 months to convince me to come to
Madison,” Perry said. “And I came here as a full professor. When it got serious, we started considering, ‘What’s Virginia going to do? And what about these three
teenagers we’re bringing up here?’ Once we made the decision — it was a big one — it got between whether the UW-Madison medical school or the school district
would employ her. And she elected to go with the school district, primarily because she would have the same schedule as the teenagers we were bringing here.
There was a conference call while we were still in New Mexico with school district employees interviewing her. One of the conferees mentioned that the
psychologists they hired were special ed teachers and were required to take one course a semester in psychology or something like that. That bothered Virginia.
She asked, ‘Did it make any difference that I had a Ph.D. in psychology with an emphasis in early childhood development.’ That story showed the level of recruitment
that she was getting here. And when she got here, they didn’t know what to do with her. She had a degree in psychology and they made her a special ed teacher.”
Virginia became the school psychologist at Glendale Elementary School in 1976 and she stayed at Glendale until 1988. Virginia was an unofficial bridge between the
school and its African American parents back then long before the parent liaison positions were created by the district.And as the Broadway-Simpson neighborhood
— which was part of the Glendale attendance area — experienced a rapid demographic change and experienced an escalating crime rate, it was Virginia who kept
the school to community relationship together.
Former Madison Police Chief Noble Wray remembers. Back in the 1980s, Wray was the neighborhood police officer for Broadway-Simpson and witnessed firsthand
Initiative to Rename Glendale Elementary School Dr. Virginia
Henderson Elementary School
An Educator for All Seasons
Part 1 of 2
By Jonathan Gramling
Editor’s note: A committee has formed composed of Dr. Ruben Anthony from the Urban League,
Sharyl Kato from the Rainbow Project, retired Dane County Judge Angela Bartell and her
husband Jeffrey Bartell, a retired partner with Quarles & Brady, retired MMSD Chief of Staff
Mary Gulbrandsen, Linda Hoskins, a community activist from the old Broadway-Simpson
neighborhood and Retired Madison Police Chief Noble Wray to spearhead an effort to rename
Glendale Elementary School the Dr. Virginia Henderson Elementary School. The committee has
filed its letter of intent with the Madison Metropolitan School District and awaits for the MMSD
school board to officially take up the request. The following is the first of a two-part story about
Virginia Henderson’s contributions to MMSD and the Madison community and the world.
Dr. Virginia Henderson, who died on April 27, 2019, was a woman for all seasons. She was an
educator, mother, community activist, pioneer, volunteer and wife. She did it so well that one
never detracted from the other. While Virginia was the ultimate professional, she was also a
Dr. Virginia Henderson speaking at the African American Ethnic
Academy Kwanzaa Celebration in 2007.
“Back then, Madison was really struggling with having a number of
neighborhoods that were in pockets of poverty and facing a number of
challenges,” Wray said. “One of those neighborhoods was the Broadway-
Simpson neighborhood, which was a feeder to Glendale. There were a
number of African American parents who lived in the neighborhood who
were new to Madison and new to the Madison Metropolitan School District.
Upon arriving, they quickly found out from the school that their children
were facing some academic challenges. Some of those had to do with
cognitive disabilities, everything from mental health issues and trauma to
attention deficit disorder. These were things that Dr. Henderson was able to
put into perspective for parents and out them at ease with their kids who
were really struggling. I was the neighborhood police officer there and saw
that many parents were upset with Madison Metropolitan School District
and upset with Glendale, feeling that they were not serving their kids well.
Dr. Henderson was able to meet with those parents, individually and
collectively. Not only would she meet with their kids at school, but she
would also come out to the neighborhood and meet with the parents. This
happened to the point where the Mothers of Simpson Street recognized
Virginia Henderson for her work. They appreciated what she did.”
In the late 1980s, the Madison Metropolitan School District could no longer
ignore the fact that there was an achievement gap between Black students
and students as a whole in the district, although people had known that
anecdotally for decades. After the Madison Urban League published several
studies documenting the gap, the district could ignore the issue no longer.
The district decided to do something about it: study it some more.
“Jim Travis was the superintendent from 1986-1992 for MMSD, Perry said.
“His response was, ‘Let’s appoint a blue-ribbon committee to deal with this
issue. Who’s going to chair this committee?’ Someone tapped him and said,
‘You know you have this Ph.D. psychologist out there at Glendale.’ He
called her in and she ended up chairing that committee. And she then
evolved into the director for Minority Students in the School District.”
From 1988 to 1991, Virginia chaired the district’s Minority Student
Achievement Initiatives. And from 1991 to 1997, Virginia served as the
special assistant to the superintendent for Equity and Diversity.
Next issue: Student achievement efforts inside and outside the district.