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Melinda Heinritz: Madison's schools have shown resilience
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Melinda Heinritz: Madison's schools have shown resilience

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Melinda Heinritz

Melinda Heinritz

One evening last September in the pouring rain, teachers and staff from the Madison School District picked up 2,500 supply kits from the Alliant Energy Center and distributed them to schools throughout the district. The kits would then be sent home to students so they could be as prepared as possible for virtual instruction.

It may have been raining, but the teamwork and dedication of so many teachers and staff could not have been shining any brighter.

As we begin this school year with the delta variant of the COVID-19 virus potentially clouding optimism, we need to remember and recognize the resiliency teachers, staff, parents and, most importantly, our scholars have demonstrated over this past year and a half.

In the face of an unprecedented global crisis, the Madison School District organized in extraordinary ways to ensure students had food on their tables at home. In the beginning of the pandemic, the district was handing out 16,000 meals per week — much less than usually served when school was in-person. After making changes in structure and organization, over 50,000 meals per week were being distributed last fall.

When the district began its phased reopening in March, it discussed the decision with the teachers union, Madison Teachers Inc. Parents were allowed to keep their students in remote learning if they wished, and they had the flexibility to switch between the two learning environments.

This month, Madison schools fully opened their doors to all students for five days a week of classes. Superintendent Carlton Jenkins and the School Board have worked diligently to put together a comprehensive reopening plan, based on the science of the virus as well as guidance from the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention. The district is implementing mandatory mask requirements, symptomatic testing for students and staff, and appropriate spacing in buildings.

To further protect scholars and staff, the School Board recently called on the administration to develop a vaccine mandate plan before Sept. 20. The teachers union, which supports a mandate, will be involved.

The district also is launching the Madison Promise Academy, a virtual instruction option for 250 students in grades 6-12, as well as a virtual option for elementary students. While the virtual option for elementary students was intended for 150 students, the district received 750 applications. The district plans to accommodate all who applied. Both programs will allow parents and students to make the best choices for their families.

At the Madison Public Schools Foundation, we are proud to be a part of this collaborative effort, and we support any measures to protect our scholars, teachers and staff, including a vaccine mandate.

The 2,500 kits delivered in the rain a year ago were part of the Teacher Support Network, a program spearheaded by the Foundation. Piloted in three schools during the 2019-2020 school year, the program had intended for resources to be kept in the classroom. But when the pandemic transformed our homes to our classrooms, the program pivoted to sending supplies home, and expanded to all schools in the district.

Now that we are headed into a year with in-person and virtual instruction, we will continue to support our scholars in whatever way is best for them.

Heinritz is president of the Foundation for Madison’s Public Schools: fmps.org.

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