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'I believe Dr. Carlton Jenkins gets it': On first day, superintendent helps rebuild a parent's trust

'I believe Dr. Carlton Jenkins gets it': On first day, superintendent helps rebuild a parent's trust

Kim Williams got a call Tuesday afternoon from Madison Metropolitan School District chief of elementary schools Carlettra Stanford asking if she could stop by while in the neighborhood.

The two had been in contact over the last month, Williams said, following up on an incident last school year when Williams’ then-6-year-old son Londyn told his mother a staff member choked him while carrying him from behind out of a room at Lowell Elementary School. The staff member acknowledged picking him up and carrying him out of the room, but denied touching his throat.

The months that followed the December incident led Williams and a group of parents who supported her to lose some trust in the school and district, especially in how it handled an incident of physical restraint against a young Black boy by a white staff member. An email to the school’s parents from the principal a week after the incident, which stated an investigation did not support the allegation, made Williams feel like she was publicly being called a liar.

As Stanford and Williams talked Tuesday, chief of high schools Mike Hernandez and new MMSD superintendent Carlton Jenkins got out of a car and walked up to her porch, Williams said. It was Jenkins’ first day on the job.

“That’s major,” she said in an interview Thursday. “He didn’t have to do that. It just shows me that he’s dedicated to doing his job and not just doing his job, but building relationships with the community.”

[Fragile trust: Response to physical altercation at Lowell Elementary shows how easily school-parent relationships can strain]

Jenkins spoke about the encounter during a Wednesday press conference.

“I wanted to get out into the community anyway, so it was an opportunity for me to get out and see the community and see the people in the community,” he said, crediting Stanford for telling him about the incident. “Sometimes things happen, and I can’t speak to all of the details of it, but I know that there was some harm repair that needed to take place between a family and our school district.”

He said regardless of what actually happened, “we just want to repair the situation.”

“They were wonderful people,” he said of Williams and her husband. “I offer my apologies for any time that we have a situation where a young child experiences something, whether it’s real or not, if it’s a perception coming from the parents, we want to close that gap.”

Williams said she is “finally being heard,” and appreciates that it feels like both Stanford and Jenkins care about what happened.

“It feels good to have somebody that you can relate to,” she said. “Our conversation, he was so down to earth. That’s what we need. We need somebody that gets it, and I believe Dr. Carlton Jenkins gets it.”

[New superintendent to prioritize students' mental, emotional health]

Kerry Zaleski, a member of the “Team Williams” group of parents that formed to support the family, said they had sent a collectively signed email to Jenkins at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday to inform him of the incident and follow-up efforts. The group had a previously scheduled Zoom meeting at 5 p.m., when Williams told them who had just visited.

“It was an amazing feeling,” Zaleski said. “It’s pretty incredible that a leader whose day one on the job felt the need to go directly to the family and apologize. It sends a message to all of us that change is coming, so I think we all celebrated.”

She added that the group will continue to push for a public apology from others involved and keep Jenkins accountable for making the systemic changes they believe are needed.

“We want to make sure that we stay on top of it,” Zaleski said. “We’re so happy that he wants to be a partner and that he wants to address this at a systemic level, but we’re also not going to stop the movement to ensure there's oversight and transparency and accountability.”

Jenkins said he offered to set up a mentor for Londyn to make him comfortable reconnecting with school and begin the year “not with that (incident) on his mind,” and Williams said she appreciated that idea.

“That shows his effort in trying to build a relationship and trying to make things right and help,” she said. “The trauma that Londyn and my family is going through, it’s going to take time to heal, but he’s doing something positive so that we can move forward so that this situation doesn’t happen again.”

[New MMSD superintendent Carlton Jenkins: 'I’m inspired, I’m ready to go to work']

Williams appreciated Jenkins’ message, which was focused on an apology and “having human decency,” she said.

“He talked about racial disparities and everything that was going on in our country today,” she said. “He is working to make a difference in the district for Black students, but not just Black students, all students.”

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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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