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2020 was a year of change, both sudden and expected, in Madison's local schools

2020 was a year of change, both sudden and expected, in Madison's local schools

Education Illustration (copy)

The calendar’s upcoming switch to 2021 will be welcome for many after the challenges 2020 has brought.

In the education world, it left millions of children, parents and staff members navigating new modes of teaching and having children at home. The reckoning with the country's history of racial discrimination also meant reflection on Madison's longstanding disparities in educational outcomes.

In case you’ve forgotten anything, here’s a collection of stories that show the year that was in Madison schools.

Sudden shift to virtual

The fallout from 2020 is likely to last years, if not decades.

On Friday, March 13, some teachers joked with their students about potentially missing school as concern about COVID-19 grew — they expected to see them the following week, and if not then, a few weeks later.

Evers orders Wisconsin schools closed

Instead, they wouldn’t meet face-to-face in a classroom for the remaining three months of the school year, nor the first four months of 2020-21. Students, teachers and parents have had to adjust to a previously unfathomable reality for anyone who didn’t specifically choose a virtual education: teaching and learning through a screen every day, mostly from home.

Going the distance: Madison teachers miss their students as they adjust to virtual learning
What did we learn? Lisa Kvistad sees 'obligation and opportunity' to learn from challenges
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Erica Butt and Dave Curtis observe as their son, Finley Curtis, participates in his new virtual kindergarten class.

As fall approached, the district announced it would begin the year virtually again. Everyone leaned on their experience from the spring to make improvements where they could, though plenty of challenges have remained.

Updated: Madison School District will begin year with all-virtual instruction
'It's still a big day': MMSD students, families navigate unprecedented first day of school
Unique challenges: Special education was difficult for families in the spring. Will this fall be better?
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Anna Hauser embraces her son Zavier, who attends East High School for two hours a day, two days a week. 

District administrators are currently considering whether to bring more students back for in-person learning for the third quarter, which begins Jan. 25. A decision is expected Jan. 8, and could set off a whole new wave of challenges as the world begins 2021.

MMSD still working on plans for how school will look if in-person returns in January

Services, traditions get adjustments

More than learning needed adjustments as the world went virtual.

Special moments like graduation and key services like providing food each day suddenly needed rethinking.

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East High School senior Deniye Mitchell said she'll appreciate looking back on this time 20 years from now.

Madison students ‘hurt,’ understanding after field trip cancellations for coronavirus
Pomp and strange circumstance: MMSD Class of 2020 laments lost traditions, looks ahead amid COVID-19
MMSD more than triples weekly food distribution from spring with more sites, bus delivery
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Madison Metropolitan School District food service employees pack up their mobile food distribution site at 1600 Wright St. before moving to another neighborhood.

Some scrambled to set up community food donation efforts and other ways to remain connected with students, many of whom faced barriers to logging in to online learning regularly.

‘One community together’: West High Area Collaborative helps Madison families with rent
‘We thought it would be nice to help out’: Group of eighth-graders starts grocery delivery service while off school
'I’m very grateful for this community': School groups look to help feed students during COVID-19 closure
'An honor and privilege to step up': Community, school staff aid MMSD food distribution efforts

Superintendent search (twice)

Choosing a new leader is a consequential decision for any School Board.

So consequential, in fact, that the Madison School Board did so twice in 2020. It wasn’t by choice, but even a decision that was made well before COVID-19 reached Wisconsin couldn’t steer clear of the coronavirus. 

Just over 10 weeks after Matthew Gutierrez, of Seguin, Texas, was announced as the choice for the top job — and four weeks after he visited and toured — he rescinded his acceptance. It came as the district was embarking on its new virtual learning program for an unknown amount of time, and created uncertainty about what was next at a time when energy and focus was needed elsewhere.

School Board chooses Matthew Gutiérrez as next Madison superintendent
Carlton Jenkins named next MMSD superintendent
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Madison Metropolitan School District Superintendent Carlton Jenkins, pictured outside of the Doyle Building, on Aug. 5.

Historic support from community

Amid the long list of unanticipated chaos of 2020, the district saw the completion of a years-long, historic process when voters overwhelmingly approved a pair of school referenda on the Nov. 3 ballot.

Voters approve $350 million Madison schools referenda
Theater renovations at three high schools would be among MMSD's capital referendum projects
Referenda roundup: Madison schools' $350M questions largest among Wisconsin school districts
MMSD operating referendum would fund 'priority projects' like early literacy, Black Excellence

No more police in schools

The School Board made history in another way, as well, voting in June to remove school resource officers from Madison's four comprehensive high schools. The vote followed years of advocacy and came amid a national reckoning with police mistreatment of Black people.

Updated: Madison School Board votes unanimously to end police in schools contract
New report shows arrests, citations at MMSD high schools in 2019-20 remain disproportionate

A board subcommittee recently completed its work, making recommendations the School Board will consider early next year on how to handle safety and security.

MMSD safety, security ad hoc committee to continue 'critical conversations' Thursday

Other big stories

Believe it or not, there was a whole two-and-a-half months in which the coronavirus didn't dominate conversations at the beginning of the year. 

MTI begins ‘national search’ for next executive director as Keillor announces retirement
Kurth resigns as Jefferson Middle School principal
Madison West's microschool shows attendance, credit improvements for students
School Board would make decision on staff ‘racial incident’ discipline under proposals
Citywide Black Student Union a place to ‘come together as a collective’

Some of the work that was already underway continued amid the pandemic transitions, and is coming to a head as the year closes out.

‘A fundamental right’: Madison schools consider a new way to teach reading
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Baskets of books are available to students in the classroom of bilingual resource teacher Lisa Hepburn at Randall Elementary School in Madison.

A Madison East staff member was also indicted on charges of attempting to create child pornography after allegedly placing cameras inside the bathrooms of students while at hotels on field trips. David Kruchten's trial is expected to begin in 2021.

Madison East teacher pleads not guilty to attempted child porn creation charges
Parents unhappy with Madison School District's handling of review following Kruchten case

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Scott Girard is the local k-12 education reporter at the Cap Times. A Madison native, he joined the paper in 2019 after working for six years for Unified Newspaper Group. Follow him on Twitter @sgirard9.

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