The Madison School Board is expected to vote on a set of significant items Monday for the district’s near- and long-term future.
The agenda for the 6 p.m. virtual meeting includes votes on three state waivers for the 2020-21 school year and a plan to purchase land for a new elementary school pending the outcome of the Nov. 3 capital referendum.
Board members discussed all of the items at meetings earlier this month.
The meeting will include an opportunity for public input. At 5:15 p.m., the board will meet in closed session to discuss negotiations with Madison Teachers Inc. over possible base wage increases for the 2020-21 school year.
The three waivers up for a vote would provide exemptions on state requirements for instructional minutes, attendance policies and the civics exam. Staff asked the board to approve the waivers, which would be filed with the state Department of Public Instruction, to help as they navigate an unprecedented school year that will remain virtual for at least the first quarter.
In a memo to the board explaining the rationale for the waivers, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning Lisa Kvistad wrote that they would “provide the district with increased flexibility to respond to needs within this COVID pandemic, whether we are in a fully virtual, hybrid, or face-to-face teaching and learning environment.”
The attendance waiver would exempt the district from statutes focused on truancy as they’ve adopted a “more robust” attendance system than in the spring.
The rationale focuses on language related to truancy in statutes that mentions missing “part or all” of a day, which is complicated given the elementary practice will be to take attendance only once per day. The waiver would also allow an exemption for notification timing requirements.
The district is providing flexibility for students to complete asynchronous tasks on their own time. It would also give the district flexibility in what it includes in a notification to a parent of a truant student, which would normally require a threat of a fine or jail time.
“Given these uncertain times when positive and supportive relationships are so crucial to our student/family engagement and school success, we would rather not be compelled to use this language in our communications with families,” the rationale states.
On instructional minutes, Kvistad wrote that the district plans to meet DPI’s expectations, but wants to “ensure that we have flexibility to meet the needs of our students when providing both synchronous and asynchronous instruction.” Specifically, Kvistad said they are seeking the ability to count minutes on days when there are parent-teacher conferences or staff development, neither of which is allowed under state law.
“Through our instructional design and school master schedules, we know that staff will have PD (professional development) and collaboration time on Wednesday,” Kvistad wrote. “Students will also have asynchronous lesson expectations on Wednesday. With this waiver, we can count the asynchronous learning on Wednesdays as part of our overall minutes of instruction.”
Finally, on the civics exam, Kvistad wrote there is not a way to administer the exam virtually “and we will not be able to support the necessary accommodations that may be needed for individual students.”
“In addition, most students take the civics exam during the first semester of their 9th grade U.S. History course, which is our current Virtual Learning environment,” she wrote. “Given the uncertainties of a return to a hybrid or face-to-face environment, we want to allow maximum flexibility for our students by waiving this civics exam requirement.”
The proposed land purchase would be contingent on voter approval of the capital referendum question on the Nov. 3 ballot.
If successful, the district plans to build a new elementary school where Badger Rock Middle School currently operates at 501 E. Badger Road. Under the agreement, the district would pay nonprofit Rooted $6.4 million and build an attachment to the already existing building.
The district would then no longer lease the space for BRMS and Nuestro Mundo, which operates out of a building in Monona. Rooted and the neighborhood center that operates in the building would remain in their space.
Board members expressed support for the idea during a Sept. 14 Operations Work Group meeting.
“It is absolutely the right place for us to build the elementary school,” Ali Muldrow said. “The ability to serve that immediate community effectively and create a school in walking distance of hundreds of children is really powerful.”
Board member Cris Carusi added that she was glad the agreement preserved the urban agriculture opportunities on the property and stressed that there is much left to the process of planning a new school.
“We’ve committed to letting the residents of the south side determine the design and the function of this school,” she said. “The purchase agreements are easy, but we have to make sure that we’re putting participatory processes in place that share power ... in really meaningful ways.”
If the referendum passes, the school would be expected to open in 2023.
Board members approved a plan last month to house a neighborhood elementary school in the new building and move Nuestro Mundo from its leased space in Monona to the Frank Allis building, where most students in the Rimrock neighborhood are zoned to attend.
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