Mary Burke, a member of the Madison School Board, said the Schools of Hope partnership that's up for a renewal this month should develop more ways to help track its success, particularly around academic achievement.  

The Madison School Board is set to approve another three-year contract with Schools of Hope at the end of the month despite expressing disappointment with the program's lack of identifiable success in improving academic performance.

At the same time, Madison Metropolitan School District officials are attempting to find better ways to measure the impact of such supplemental programming for students.

The Schools of Hope tutoring program provides literacy tutoring, primarily for students from low-income backgrounds and students of color. Board members told district officials in a meeting Monday night to prioritize finding new and better ways to improve literacy for students and better identify the benefits of the program beyond test scores.

“It’s really difficult after all of these years to look and see no academic improvement in outcomes, and it’s not because people aren’t working hard or don’t have the right intentions or all of these things,” said board member Mary Burke. “But I’d like to hear we’re looking at how we reimagine the middle school (program). But the status quo for none of us is acceptable when we come to reading proficiencies or math proficiencies for students of color, and we need to look at our partnerships and also say the status quo is not enough.”

Burke, who does not plan to run for re-election when her term ends in 2021, said the board and district shouldn’t wait until the next renewal to find ways to improve and better track outcomes for students in Schools of Hope.

Superintendent Jen Cheatham and MMSD staff emphasized that programs like Schools of Hope give students a chance to build their social-emotional learning and non-cognitive skills through their interactions with tutors.

“With any relationship … there are some challenges that we continue to work on,” Astra Iheukumere, MMSD’s director of strategic partnerships, said at the meeting. “There’s some mixed outcomes as far as overall attendance and academic achievement, and there are reasons for that. Part of it is data limitations — we don’t have good ways to capture impact.”

Schools of Hope’s Elementary Program operated in 18 elementary schools in partnership with the United Way during the first half of this school year, according to MMSD. Just under 540 students enrolled in the program, which is staffed through a combination of tutors through AmeriCorps and other volunteers.

At the middle school level, about 360 students received tutoring services across nine middle schools. The middle school program includes partnerships with the Urban League of Greater Madison, United Way and the city’s Community Development Division, and primarily provides tutoring for students who are under-performing in math and English Language Arts.

Iheukumere said that the Measures of Academic Progress tests that students take is not necessarily the greatest way to measure the impact of supplemental programming.

Still, improved academic achievement is something board members want to see from the Schools of Hope program.

Board members acknowledged that the district needs to better understand how the program’s strengths fit into the overall services offered to improve outcomes for students.

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“When it comes to Schools of Hope, there’s a whole system of things. Fifteen hours of tutoring isn’t going to actually raise MAP scores significantly by itself,” said Cris Carusi, Seat 3. “It’s how things like instruction, tutoring interventions, school climate and culture work together to lift up our kids.”

Tutoring and support for Latinx students

A renewal of a contract for the Juventud and Escalera programs is also slated for a vote at the end of June. The programs provide tutoring and support services primarily for Latinx youth in middle school and high school, as well as family support. Juventud is available at Sennett, Sherman, Toki and Wright middle schools, while Escalera programming is available at East and West high schools.

Last month Centro Hispano received a $300,000 donation from the Oscar Rennebohm Foundation to expand Escalera to La Follette High School. Officials hope the expansion to La Follette helps provide a smoother transition for eighth-grade students from Sennett Middle School as they move into high school.

“We want to do a ton more, and this grant really allows us to take the next step, to have funding to provide more wrap-around supports for schools,” Karen Menendez Coller, Centro Hispano’s executive director, said in an interview last week.

Menendez Coller emphasized that Juventud and Escalera are critical to helping provide a sense of self for many Latinx youth who face complex challenges in Madison.

“I see too much that our kids don’t have enough swagger. They don’t feel comfortable enough that they can speak up in the way they want to or may need to,” she said. “There are many complexities facing our communities, whether it’s immigration, kids working multiple jobs, the in-state tuition challenges that UW-Madison presents to our kids that want to go to college there … our goal is to nurture them and help them make the transition the right way.”

Education Reporter

Negassi Tesfamichael is the local education reporter at The Cap Times. He joined the paper in 2018. He previously worked as an intern at WISC-TV/ and at POLITICO.