In this episode, we hear from Cedric Hodo, senior executive director of building services and operations. They discuss the challenges faced this year by food & nutrition services, and what’s on the culinary horizon. We also hear about referendum construction, including the 41 new playgrounds across the district, gender-neutral restrooms, ADA accessibility, and the creation of new arts and music learning spaces.
00:10: Student Speaker: From the Madison Metropolitan School District, this is Lead to Liberate, a podcast documenting stories of inspiration, growth, and empowerment across our schools.
00:27: Dr. Carlton D. Jenkins: Oh, wow, I just love that music. I'm telling you it gets me hyped every week. Again, welcome back to Lead to Liberate. I am Dr. Carlton D. Jenkins, the very proud Superintendent of Madison Metropolitan School District. Today, we have another special guest. One of our employees today really is over so, so much in our district, and he's come here to MMSD trying to truly make a difference. We have with us none other than the Mr. Cedric Hodo. Mr. Hodo, how are you today?
00:59: Mr. Cedric Hodo: I'm doing very well, Dr. Jenkins. Thank you for this opportunity to come before the community and yourself and hey, let's have a conversation.
01:07: Dr. Jenkins: Yeah, that's it. And we wanted to get you here because the number of calls have come in, and people are asking, like, who's really over this? Who's over there? Well, today, everyone's going to hear it is Mr. Cedric Hodo. And when we start talking about lead to liberate, I can't wait to get in this conversation for everyone in the community to hear how intentional we're being in terms of what we're trying to do from our operations side of the house. So Mr. Hodo, let's just start off with this. Everyone who's worked with you continues to come back and tell me and say, ‘Hey, he is on top of his game, excellent customer service.’ [Yes] And he's trying to make sure that we have a very diverse workforce. Tell me what, what led you here to Madison Metropolitan School District and what experiences that you bring that have really made you say, Hey, I'm in the right place, and I'm going to do whatever I can to help our scholars have the best experience.tate University. Graduated in:
04:49: Dr. Jenkins: Right. Well, thank you so much for giving us a little bit of background about you, yourself. And I tell you, here in MMSD, our community just been outstanding [absolutely] in terms of literally passing a historic referendum. And we had some transition take place when I first came in, and we had to go out and find someone who had that type of commitment to everything you just really said, for this $350 million referendum, $317 million going towards our referendum facilities. So thinking about that, and I know you're very humble, but I'm going to mention this part, he also was a collegiate athlete and outstanding, [laughter] a top wide receiver and in college at his HBCU, and trained up under no one other than Jerry Rice. And so everyone knows the story. But Mr. Hodo brings that level of discipline himself. How has that influenced your work and what you're doing to this as well well?
05:46: Mr. Hodo: Yeah, as a, as a student, scholar and athlete, I think it has tremendously impacted how I think and how I carried into practice. We worked at Mississippi Valley, we probably practiced three times a day, we had some very tough practices, 120 degree heat, running routes, trained under Jerry Rice. So the precision of his route capability, one of the things I learned at a young age, and it stuck with me, his philosophy, when we were practicing catching bricks, was something very unique to me. He said, If you can catch a brick, you can catch a football. And when somebody's throwing a brick at you, it really causes you to think very carefully. You need to catch this brick, [Yes, yes], unless the brick hits you. And so some of our training techniques we thought was a, very progressive, but we learned a lot. But the mindset, I think, was more important. And I think that mindset, I think has carried me – three-a-day day practices, working offseason, coming to summer school, studying and dedicating yourself to your profession. I have brought all of that to Madison, inclusive of myself. And so my team has been a non-stop, and making sure that the referendum stays on track. Transportation remains on track, food services being upgraded, our grounds and facilities across the district – over 60 buildings we, we maintain – is being upgraded on a consistent basis. And bringing that technical expertise to Madison was, that was the beauty and helping this particular community. So I'm excited about the opportunity, we have a long way to go. But I sure tell you, we've made a huge dent in where we were before and when I got here a year and a half ago. And so thanks to your leadership, thanks to the community abroad, thanks to the Board as well. And thanks to my dedicated team who have supported the transition as well.
07:58: Dr. Jenkins: Yeah, well, I'll tell you, thanks for sharing that. One of the things that we all know, that food and nutrition is very important to the well being of any human being. and we have a lot of world hunger. But coming here, looking at our food service program and knowing that we have a team of people, really good people, right. What's your goal? What's your vision? You know, I had a fourth grader tell me – and the fourth graders hold you accountable in our district. Dr. Jenkins, started this year, this food is not right. You know, and you and your team came back. You worked together. I know we have the food supply chain demand, but the fourth graders really weren't hearing that. And I also remember the day they said, hey, they're finally getting it right. So tell me what's your vision for MMSD? And how we're going to do food and nutrition for all children and even down to our lunches. Some because of the transportation. Really we have students eating at one o'clock. What's your vision for this?
08:53: Mr. Hodo: Yeah, yeah, this is a great question. When we came on board, one of the things that we wanted to do is assess where we’re at. And one of the things that we found out was somewhere our infrastructure needed support. And to be honest with you, we had staffing issues, we had supply chain challenges, we came in in the midst of a pandemic. So think about that. [Right] Supply chain challenges, rising cost, declining staff. And so one of the things that was instrumental that I thought that that yourself and the Board did, was we gave a $5 increase that went to our food staff, our food service staff, and that really helped us begin to trajectory where we were at. The next step we did was begin to have a, what we call a culinary excellence training inside of our production staff, production team. The flow of production is the heart of the foodservice operation so our goal was to train our staff to come away from what are called prepackaged items to go to more scratch cooking. So you’re starting to see more robust items come into the food chain – Salisbury steak, we’re doing a multitude of artisan style pizzas. We’re making a variety of muffins – that homemade muffin from scratch. And so these are items in which we need to train on first, before we really can execute at the highest level. The K12 compliance around food can be kind of technical. But the end of the day kids want great food, great service in a fun, friendly atmosphere. And it's our job to do that. And so what you'll see up and coming in the next couple of months, it'll be rolling into next year, we need to make sure that we have the infrastructure in place first. Do we have the equipment to serve food properly? Maintain the storage and temperature of the food properly? Have we trained our staff properly, how to serve and how to cook from scratch? And so the first year for me is really focused on infrastructure. In year two, you will begin to see us begin to make progressive steps toward more robust menu items, more and more robust menu options, themed meals, St. Patrick's Day meals, Valentine's Day meals, meals that's reflective of various cultures. One of the things that's important to us is that food should be reflective of the communities in which we serve. Why can't we have some… it's great Wisconsin is a cheese state, don't get me wrong, but a lot of different varieties of individuals from all over the world. Why can't we have Honduras day, or Guatemala day or LatinX food? How about Hmong inspired recipes. And so you're starting to see Indian inspired and Native American inspired recipes, rice that we purchased from locally. And so our goal is to begin to incorporate recipes from various communities into the take K12 compliance option. And we're well on the way, and so we've made significant improvements.
11:41: Dr. Jenkins: Wow, that's very important that you're doing that level of work. And we really do appreciate it. Because here in MMSD, we want to lead to liberate, but in order to lead to liberate, you have to see yourself as being free. [Absolutely] And you have to see yourself in the plan. Our students… and two of our students are the reason that we did the whole land acknowledgement here in Madison for our Ho-Chunk, the indigenous people here, the First Nations, because two students said they didn't see themselves anywhere in our curriculum, in our schools, or even in society. So that takes me to the referendum. And I know that you were very intentional in terms of trying to make sure that our students of all abilities that they were being seen, all cultures in the buildings. Tell us a little bit about that. What did you do to Southside Elementary [yea] that that's really making the culture come out in the building?
12:37: Mr. Hodo: Yeah, this is, this is stuff that's very unique. I thought this was a really great opportunity, as well as, as a challenge to incorporate themes – art, music, science – to make a difference in the new renovations. For you, for those who may or may not know, I also oversaw Washington, DC public schools. And we went for a historic referendum in the schools. This was called a modernization plan, probably about $2.3 billion, where we were overseeing the revitalization of over 60 buildings over the course of 20 years. And so it gave me a unique perspective as I came to Madison. So one of the things I thought that was important for us is, we need to correct the historical wrongs. The restorative justice peace played a heavy role in to, not only our thinking, but how we design some of the buildings in the upgrades. It's very difficult for a person who's in a wheelchair to have to go up a ramp or a slope, that the radius of their ramp makes it extremely difficult or challenging for them. They are literally out of breath before they get up there. [Mmm] Some of our, some of our disabled and wheelchair bound students found it very difficult to go to the restroom to turn radius in the restrooms while they’re there, there wasn't some ADA accommodations. And so we set forth with our design engineers to make sure that we corrected those historical wrongs. So some of the things that you will see even in locations like La Follette High School, where we have gender neutral restrooms now. This is huge [huge]. You have a huge contingency of those who want the privacy of being able to go to the restroom they desire. That is a human right. That is something that absolutely is critical.
14:18: Dr. Jenkins: So let me just pause you right there [sure, absolutely] for a second because that was huge in our district. And right now, when we’re talking about having access [yes] to various needs for all of our students in all of our restrooms being gender neutral at this particular point. You made a considerable effort to put that a part of our local budget to make sure that all students never had to feel excluded in our restrooms. So tell me a little bit about that.ency and sitting down, we had:
16:36: Dr. Jenkins: Well, I do have to tell you, Mr. Hodo. I heard it again, from my fourth graders. Those new playgrounds, about 41 went in throughout the district and the fourth graders were telling the middle schoolers, including the high school students [yes]. And on the weekend, I see individuals on our playgrounds. What's that impact been like for you?
16:57: Mr. Hodo: The schools should be the hub center of any community. It's the chief learning center, is the chief area in which students spend the majority of their time outside of their home. Then why not make the grounds more attractive. And so when you start seeing our schools, you're looking at brand new playgrounds that's installed, wheel, wheelchair accessibility will be going in on all our playgrounds. We built in over 41 new playgrounds, we thought that this makes a huge difference on our kids. They have a place – a safe place – to come play basketball, hang out, play football, play soccer, run around, kind of, kind of just enjoy themselves. They take pride in our school now. And so you're starting to see Middle School. So for instance, over at Sennett, you know, we have large plots of land, but now we put playgrounds in front. So the kids now are coming there, it's an excitement to come to school, rather than just a bore. So hey, we thought it was a huge investment. We thank you for having the vision for supporting us in that. I thought it was a monumental inequality to have any elementary student or middle school student without access to a playground.
18:01: Dr. Jenkins: Yeah, let me say, that was thinking prior to me, our entire community came together, we do thank our community, [absolutely] for that level of vision, everybody who came before me, and for years, our communities continued to serve and support our school district. La Follette High School – and I think about equity in our district. And we’re trying to make sure that these dollars are serving all of our communities. And I think about the arts. Tell me a little bit about the arts over at La Follette High School, and then Memorial and other schools, because we put a lot of emphasis in trying to make sure we have beautiful, and, spaces that are where we can educate our students to the fullest.
18:42: Mr. Hodo: Yeah, this is one of the most unique perspectives that we gained. First of all, we have multiple committees come together, including community and student voice. And we listened very closely as we went into the design phase. And one of the things we found out was, Madison doesn't really promote a higher level of humanities in regards to music and recording studios, in the arts and whatnot. We saw that as a, a disparity. But it's a great opportunity as well. And so what we saw was by designing art that is reflective of the student culture, by, by designing recording studios and music studios, theaters that are designed of how you can express yourself and express your love of humanity through arts and music. This is a form of learning. And most people may not recognize that. My wife is a musician by trade. And I've learned how to understand music, and the beauty in the music that she brings. But it's also an expression of herself. And so there are a lot of students who are brilliant. And so we thought that this was a creative path. And what you will see in locations like La Follette, when we get through with the arts and humanities areas, you will see areas designed, that it’s designed by students. It’s reflective of the, of the latest culture. And it's inspirational. One thing you want to do is go into an environment that inspires you. And so just like any student with something on their wall, they put things on their wall that inspire them. And we wanted to have that same concept that all our schools.
20:15: Dr. Jenkins: Yeah, and I do tell you this, Madison is definitely an arts community. So to have this level of a referendum to begin to just carve a path out, so that everyone can see themselves within our community. And I love the focus of our Board that they place on equity [yes], and making sure that in all areas of our community that we're touching it and given the most for the dollars that we put forth. You have just really been wonderful here today, on Lead to Liberate. And I want to say to all of our listeners out there, we want you to continue to come back so you can learn more about MMSD and our attempt to Lead to Liberate. And it makes a difference. Everyone here makes a difference for all of our scholars. So thank you again for listening. We'll be back again next week. Thank you, Mr. Hodo. [Thank you, Dr. Jenkins]
Student Speaker: You're listening to Lead to Liberate, a podcast by the Madison Metropolitan School District, demonstrating how the more we know the more we grow.