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Episode 16 -MMSD's Associate Superintendent of Elementary Schools Dr. Deb Hoffman, joins Superintendent Carlton D. Jenkins
Episode 1630th March 2023 • Lead to Liberate • Madison Metropolitian School District
00:00:00 00:23:32

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Superintendent Carlton Jenkins is joined by Dr. Deb Hoffman, an associate superintendent of elementary schools at MMSD. Dr. Hoffman shares how she is using her years of experience as a school principal to inform district-level work of improving outcomes for all scholars. They also discuss mindfulness and social-emotional well-being, the elementary curriculum adoption, and the importance of learning in diverse 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: Thank you, listeners for joining us again. I am Dr. Carlton D. Jenkins, very proud superintendent here at Madison Metropolitan School District, and you are on Lead to Liberate. And today we have another very special guest. Our guest today has been with MMSD for quite some time. And she will tell you that in just a moment. But I'm very proud to introduce one of our associate superintendents, new associate superintendents, but it seems like it's been for a long time at that as well. Right. But we have with us Dr. Deb Hoffman. And Dr. Hoffman. How are you today?

01:02: Dr. Deb Hoffman: I'm doing really well. Thanks for asking.

01:04: Dr. Jenkins: Okay, great. Why don't you just give our listeners just a little bit about – why MMSD? Why have you stayed? Why are you doing the work you're doing right now, as we hear on Lead to Liberate, trying to get information from individuals who work within our system and want to be here?

f my career as a principal in:

02:18: Dr. Jenkins: Wow, now that's exciting. So you started teaching and now one of your own scholars teaching right here in Madison as well. Ah, tell us a little bit about your journey in terms of some of the creativity when everyone talks about you, they talk about Lincoln. I have to tell, you’ve been at other schools, but everybody goes back to Lincoln. What are some of the creative things that you've done to try to help students get access to learning at a high level so that they can perform well later on in life?

rner programming, way back in:

04:09: Dr. Jenkins: Wow, that's, that's very exciting. One of the things that we know right now, just across the nation, we're talking about it. The reading proficiency level is at 35%. We're in a crisis. So what's been some of your experiences in dealing with that? And what's your experience now? How are you leading, leading to liberate, and getting our schools at the next level, where we can get higher levels of students who are really enjoying reading and who are more at a proficient and beyond level?

04:42: Dr. Hoffman: So reading is a complex learning activity that I have strong passion about, both reading and math I have a lot of passionate about, and I love to learn about learning. And so a lot of my work starting out at Franklin was with K2, kindergarten through second grade, and thinking about developmental reading. And I learned a lot from the teachers I had at Franklin. Most of them were, several of them were dually certified in special ed and regular ed even, even in in the mid 90s. And some of them had what was called ‘Reading Recovery’ licensure. So I learned a lot from observing that program. When I was in Milwaukee Public Schools, we did not have reading recovery. So I learned a lot by watching and then implementing a lot of literacy development, so that we could get our kids reading, and I used to do all the data by hand – tracking, dictated sentences, phonemic awareness, and hearing sounds and words, words. So, um, so that was where I really developed a lot of depth, more depth of knowledge about primary literacy and developmental reading. And then when I went to Lincoln, Lincoln being a third, fourth and fifth grade school, what we did to really examine what was going on with the literacy rates at Lincoln was to try to figure out where the breakdown was – because most of our students, oh, probably 98% of them were decoding well, but not their academic vocabulary was crushing them in standardized tests, and also in other content areas where you're reading to learn and versus learning to read. And so reading at the third, fourth and fifth grade level, developmentally, you want students developing their academic language and their understanding of what they read in order to learn content areas, and that was a huge barrier for our students doing, ah, becoming proficient readers. And so we really studied that, tore it apart, and kept working at it in lots of different ways. By investing in rich text, meaningful text, buying, we spent tons of money on our library and our book rooms to buy texts that were engaging for all students, multicultural text, in order to help students really learn to love to read

07:15: Dr. Jenkins: Right? Well, I tell you, you know, you just mentioned a part about the whole part of really, was word recognition is what it was, and then language comprehension, because students struggle with that piece. And at one point, I was this big, balanced literacy, like most of us, right, being very successful with it. And now we're embarking upon having adopted historical amount of curricular resources for our elementary, and then now moving into it into the middle school. And all of this is based on alignment with the Science of Reading, which isn't new, been around a long time. But we've always had these reading wars. You’re an elementary person, you have been involved heavily in reading. How is this going to influence what's happening right now, in MMSD?

08:07: Dr. Hoffman: Well, hopefully, it's going to influence it positively. [Mmhmm] We want our students reading, it's always been our goal to have proficient readers, third, fourth, fifth grade, so that when they are learning content through reading, that they are not falling down essentially, in those content areas because of their reading skills. One of the things that comes to mind in terms of our professional development plan, and getting some baseline is that we can't control when we hire staff what the pedagogical training is at all the colleges and universities in, in the United States that are training our teachers and across the world - we hire internationally also. And so one of the things that by, by having that as a baseline, especially for our elementary teachers, is to help build the pedagogical knowledge that perhaps is not consistent across universities and colleges that are training teachers. So I'm hopeful that this will help us give a better base to the developmental reading process. [Mmhmm]

w, I tell you, walking in, in:

09:31: Dr. Hoffman: I think it's been a lot of learning this year. As far as learning about the curriculum. We have a lot of highly skilled teachers who know how to teach reading and are improving their skills every day on behalf of our students. I think that having high-quality materials that are consistent across the district is an important piece, because everyone's skill level is different. And so it gives us a framework from which to work. The curriculum will never teach the children, the teachers teach the children. And so the curriculum is a piece of that, and having more culturally relevant materials that have more scaffolds in them to meet the needs of our learners is critical to catching all of our learners and not just, ah, some of our learners. So I'm very hopeful moving forward as we learn to harvest everything that's really good out of our new curriculum purchase, and push our students forward, while continuing to nourish the love of reading, and so students want to read.

10:37: Dr. Jenkins. Right. That's a critical point that you just made in terms of teachers teach our children, not the curriculum. And just, not just high quality instruction, but high quality expectation for all children. So as a leader, yourself, you're going by – how do you start to even that conversation when you see someone doing extremely well? How do you take that and use it in other spaces.

11:03: Dr. Hoffman: So one of the, I think, the most effective ways to support teacher learning is to have the, build relationships between strong teachers or veteran teachers and our newer staff who are less experienced. Another way to do it is through coaching. So way back in the day, there was time and space for – we call them ‘visitation days,’ I think they were a part of the contract. But as a principal, I could assign a staff member or suggest to a staff member, oh, you might want to visit so and so's classroom to get some new ideas. But we can still do that through, you know, small amounts of time and principals being creative, to release teachers to go visit other teachers that they trust, to learn from them, so that they're not feeling vulnerable, but they can go in and look at some other practices. Getting teacher teams talking – I think one of the early things in my career when we had just implemented the Comprehensive School Reform grant at Franklin, I heard teachers in the hallway talking about data and then problem solving. Oh, did you try this? Oh, did you try that? Let's go back. Let's think about this, this and that. And really solving problems around how to help a student move forward. And that's exactly the kind of teacher discourse we want happening.

12:20: Dr. Jenkins: Yeah, I tell you outstanding. Right after the pandemic – and we're not done with the pandemic, we still have some residuals – but what I've been very pleased to see in going into schools and seeing the spaces, like I was in Black Hawk Middle School, in Mendota, several schools, right. And the staff are actually working together to try to figure it out. Because there's some residuals from the pandemic, that we're all, let's just be honest, still trying to figure out. And so when we see these things, I think it's really important, that we accentuate them, and particularly share best practices If anything comes from the pandemic, it’s our willingness and ability to share more in teaching itself, it's not as isolated. But mentioning that, let me say this. Right now, the teacher shortage, and it's not just because of the degrees being conferred. But individuals are really tired. Do you see that sense of needing to focus on social-emotional work students and staff?

13:21: Dr. Hoffman: I fully support the needs of our staff, social-emotional well-being with our students. I, it is so critical right now. So before the pandemic, I was a firm believer in the parallel of teaching mindfulness practices to students to teaching reading. It's an access point, it doesn't require anything but yourself and the skills in your own head to help calm yourself down, to work in your brain, to which is a skill you can use your entire life – and whether you're in a bad meeting, or a class you don't like or whatever. Having the skills to negotiate your own feelings will help you forever, just like learning how to read. And so if we're not teaching those self-calming skills, those regulation skills, all that kind of stuff, we're not really doing a full picture job.

So that mindfulness practice I think is critical to children's well-being and their development. And I use mindfulness but I'm really talking about self-regulation and learning how to manage their emotions. And we have to be teaching both the students and the staff have how to better manage their emotions. In fact, there's some studies over at the Center for Healthy Minds about teacher efficacy improving, having gone through mindfulness training themselves. So do I think that the, that this is another result of the pandemic? Yes. And there were problems before the pandemic, and now they've been completely exacerbated. And we really are needing to work harder and harder to try to help support our students and our staff moving forward.

15:15: Dr. Jenkins: Yeah, I'll tell you one thing, thanks for saying that. Because, right, before the pandemic, we were seeing this escalation of self-regulation needed to occur. But now, after the pandemic, it's not even students, staff – we've seen the community. And so doing your job now goes beyond just a scholar, beyond just the teacher, staff person, but also you find yourself talking to the whole family, and even in the community about, hey, we need to give one another grace during this time. So leading now, do you find that even for yourself, you have to regulate yourself social-emotional, and mental health as well?

16:11: Dr. Hoffman: For sure, I think that's always been something that I've had to pay a lot of attention to throughout my life, or I wouldn't be able to do my job at all. Um, and I think it's a delicate dance between holding myself to a higher standard, and making sure that I am taking care of myself. And that delicate dance has to be supported by the people I work with, and holding me accountable, and also to use all the skills I have built over time to do the best work I can when I'm at work. So I want that for our staff. I want that for our students. And I want that for our families. I think impulse control right now is really causing great harm in our country, in terms of people making snap decisions when they're angry or sad, whether that's from suicide rates, or hurting other people when they're upset, because the impulse control and the self regulation is really out of whack. And it's very saddening, and I would love to see improvement in those ways.

17:22: Dr. Jenkins: Yeah, well, I tell you, I appreciate you sharing that with us, Dr. Hoffman. And we're in this delicate space of understanding that we want all of our scholars to be successful, all of our staff to be successful, and we want to pay attention to the social-emotional, mental health well-being of everyone. And at the same time, we realize where we are in terms of what our ability to have students graduate with a degree that really means something, right? Not just graduating and can't write, you can't read, you can't do computation, just whatever. So leading during these times is a little bit different than even before the pandemic, because I don't know if the whole community really understands that it's a lot different. Now, I know we had some staff, I mean, some parents, actually become teachers for a moment during the pandemic. [Mmhmm] And I love running into those parents, because they said clearly say, ‘Hey, you all could have them back, you could teach them.’ How are you working with parents differently now to try to engage them?

18:29: Dr. Hoffman: Well, I think we have to continue to find out what parents need from us, in terms of collaboration. I think we make assumptions about parents, and what they want to be doing with the school, versus thinking about what they need from us. There's a lot of talk about parent involvement. But I think that is a misnomer that certain parents are not involved. We have a lot of parents that are involved in just ways that are invisible, right? We have parents that put kids to bed every night on time. That we have parents that have who do work three jobs in order to make sure their children are dressed and ready for school, fed and ready to roll. And those, those parents may not be seen at school, in and working in our school, or working in the PTO. And it's assumed that they're not involved because they couldn't come to an event or a conference or something. And that's wrong, because they're doing a lot of things that we never see to get their child to us in a healthy way. And so I just want to call out that parent involvement looks differently for every family. And that parent might be the parent that writes in a notebook to a teacher but never attends events. And it might be a parent that never writes in the notebook but gets their kid to school every single day. And I want to make sure that I recognize that the continuum of parent involvement could be perfect attendance to attending every school function and meeting

19:58: Dr. Jenkins: Mmm. Outstanding. Well, I'll tell you, here on Lead to Liberate, we talk about it, we bring it out, what are we talking about here? There's conversation around Goal Three. Black children and youth will excel. MMSD stands strong on that. Why Black children and youth will excel? Why is that there?

20:21: Dr. Hoffman: Because we need to call out Black excellence as a goal in our school district, as a group that has been historically marginalized, redlined in our city, and we need to pay attention to the achievement disparities that exist, that are caused by our community, society, and our schools. We are a part of the problem, and we need to work on fixing it. So in terms of becoming anti-racist, we need to focus on our Black scholars being, getting access that they've been denied over centuries, and getting full access and rebuilding schools to serve all students versus some students. Our school, our public education system was built to serve basically middle class white Christian, heterosexual boys without disabilities, and we need to upend and think about education continuously, differently, as we learn more about the brains, and also of all persons attending our schools. But our Black students have been marginalized, though. I don't want to get into competition about it, but the worst in our schools and by calling that out, we are calling everyone in. The other misnomer is that any of us can get a robust education without educating everyone. So people used to ask me why I would have my own children be in classrooms where perhaps there was a density of students, unlike himself, and, that's an asset for him. He gets, he gains by being with the diversity of the class, and the diversity of disability, and the most diverse middle school that he could have attended in Madison he went to. So, and he has benefited from that. And that was not an accident on my part that we made those decisions to send him there. And I'm very proud of who he's becoming as a teacher and a lot of his views. My job as a white parent is to make sure I don't raise a white male that perpetuates the problems in this country. And so he needs to rise up and use his cultural capital to upend racism in our city and our community as well. So it's an asset to be raised in a community that's diverse, and people make the mistake of not understanding how much they're denying their own children learning, by excluding and segregating our students. Back to the Black excellence. That's all part of it, [wow] is to make sure that all children are benefiting, but those who have been marginalized the worst in our city are our Black youth [wow] for the longest amount of time.

23:19: Dr. Jenkins: Wow. Thank you. That's powerful. You've heard it, listeners, to this right here from a scholar from a leader, a teacher, administrator, and a parent. And she spoke boldly right here on Lead to Liberate about how we go to create communities where we all belong. I want to thank you so much, Dr. Hoffman, you are quite the justice leader, and I appreciate you being here on Lead to Liberate. And we look forward to our listeners coming back again next week, as we will have another dynamic leader. Thank you, Dr. Hoffman. [Thank you, Dr. Jenkins.]

23:56: 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.