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Episode 13 - MMSD’s Associate Superintendent of Engagement Tamuriel Grace joins Superintendent Carlton D. Jenkins
Episode 139th March 2023 • Lead to Liberate • Madison Metropolitian School District
00:00:00 00:18:35

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In this episode, Dr. Jenkins is joined by Tamuriel Grace, MMSD’s Associate Superintendent of Engagement. They discuss the impact of the Village Builders project, how it’s bringing the community into our schools to increase student and family engagement, and a recent $1M donation from Community in Schools.


00:11: 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. Jenkins: Wow, once again, I love that music. Here we are, again, I am Dr. Carlton D Jenkins. And we are here again on Lead to Liberate. I'm very excited to have with us, one of our new Associate Superintendents, Ms. Tamuriel Grace. And Ms. Grace, how are you today?

00:45: Tamuriel Grace: I'm doing well, thank you. Thank you for having me today.

00:46: Dr. Jenkins: Yes. And so we're very excited to hear from you today, because a lot of people are asking questions about this new department. What's this new department that we have here at MMSD, that's supposed to be helping our children and helping our staff?

00:59: Ms. Grace: Our new department is the Engagement, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion department. And it includes our family engagement department, strategic partnerships, and our new Village Builders project.

01:09: Dr. Jenkins: Wow, that sounds exciting. That's a whole lot of stuff. But I really want to get to what does this mean? And we talked about lead to liberate – what's going to be the impact? That's what the people in the community are asking me, what's going to be the impact of this new department. Talk to me a little bit about the engagement piece. Why engagement?

01:27: Ms. Grace: The engagement piece is critical, because we know that we need to engage our most disengaged students and their families. So our department works with some of our most disengaged students and their families, bringing them into the schools. And our department also has student engagement specialists, family liaisons, and village builders, who else at work with these families, they work with the schools and they are looking for creative solutions to engage our families, and bring them back into the schools.

01:57: Dr. Jenkins: Wow, well, let me tell you this Ms. Grace, here on Lead to Liberate, we just keep it real. Okay, and keeping it real is the fact that we know that Wisconsin has the largest disparities in the country. We know that here in MMSD, our students – historically – have not done well in terms of disparities, our black and brown students, but particularly our black students have not done well. And our disparities are, too, some of the largest in the country. Now, I will say, the country itself is not doing as well. There's only 35% of the students who are proficient at reading [mmhmm] in the country. In this state, right now, we look at the same thing, roughly 34.9, but here in MMSD, we’re 37%. And that's not anything that we want to brag about. So tell me, what's your department going to do, to reach out and engage our families? And how are you going to get the parents involved?

02:53: Ms. Grace: One of the tactics that we're using is our staff is working, actively, doing home visits. They're working with families, they're also calling students and doing small student groups, to empower our students, and so that students see themselves in their school environment. Because if we know that we can correlate a student reflection and seeing themselves in the school, the curriculum, and the staff members, our staff are primarily staff of color, so the students can see themselves reflected in staff, in their schools. Families can see the reflection in the staff who are communicating with them, and who are inviting them in engaging them once they get to the school. So we know that that will correlate to higher confidence in academic achievement. We have staff that are setting up tutoring for our scholars, we have staff that are working with community organizations to come into the school and work with the scholars. So those are the correlation and the partnerships that the strategic partnership department is working with, and student and staff supports.

04:03: Dr. Jenkins: Wow, you know, I really do like what you just said, but I'm gonna have to ask you – because this is Lead to Liberate – you go right at it. Okay. What about the parents? And we continue to talk about reading. We're doing the science of reading right now. We have our staff trained on LETRS. And we're trying to make sure that our students have all of the best . Our board just adopted here, the historical, historical, resources to be able to support our students and our staff. But how do we get to the parents? Because we need the parents in the building? And our philosophy – schools in the community, communities in the schools – but communities also bring parents. So how are we going to do that?

04:43: Ms. Grace: I think one of the ways that we're doing that is we're going out into the community, we're going to community events and in spaces where our parents are at, and we're meeting them, and we're building those relationships. We have to build and establish relationships, and create trust. We know that it, there's a lot of historical mistrust with public school education for a lot of our families. And so our work is to rebuild that trust, and rebuild those relationships. And I really believe that having the Village Builders in our schools and having staff who are natural relationship bridgers is critical to doing that work. And they're able to bridge that relationship and establish those relationships with our families, because they're part of the community, a lot of our staff are parents themselves. And that's what gave them and encouraged them to work in MMSD, as part of this Village Builders project.

05:40: Wow, you mentioned this Village Builders project. This is, like, really outstanding. A lot of people asking additional questions, you know, we had all of this ESSER money – this came in on ESSER money. How are we going to sustain it? Different questions that come up about the Village Builders. Can you, kind of first of all, just tell me a little the individuals who are working with our students? Tell me a little bit about them.

06:06: Ms. Grace: Yes, these are natural facilitators, these are community members, these are parents, and they are tied to the communities in which they work. So that's the beauty of this project, we're bringing community members who may not have the traditional educational credentialing into the spaces with our families and students, because they're already trusted. They're already in the community, they're already making an impact in the community. And so now we're giving them an opportunity to make an impact through our school community.

06:07: Dr. Jenkins: Right. And so what I've been also hearing, that our Grow Your Own. We're looking to this particular group to diversify our workforce with our teachers, because we know the research says that if a child has one staff person of color, they will more than likely persist to graduate from high school. If they have two, they will more than likely persist through college. So is this like a strategy of you all or what? Tell me about that?

07:05: Ms. Grace: This is definitely a strategy. Grow Your Own has been really important for our work. We've worked with Jen Schoepke to work with Madison College; we actually have created a two-year program with Madison College to put…it's a cohort model for some of our Village Builders and student engagement specialists that want to expand their education. The beauty of the program is we have people who have some educational background, higher ed background, we have some that have degrees, we have some that have bachelor's degrees, and just want to transition into teaching. And so we're working with our Teaching & Learning and other departments to kind of craft what this looks like for each person. It has to be individualized, because we have people at different spaces in their life. But we are working to kind of grow and help them figure out what they want to do and what their next steps are. Because we don't want them to live in these positions, as you stated earlier, we want them to transition to social work to classroom teaching to Superintendent if that's their goal, [oh oh - laughter], we want them, we want them to be able to transition into whatever role that they see fit. We know that they're natural helpers, right. So a lot of them are looking at social work. We have one that's interested in school counseling. So we are really trying to individualize and take them where they are, and bring them to where they want to be.

08:47: Dr. Jenkins: Wow, so you telling me, you're really trying to lead to liberate by taking organic scholars – here, I am am, no education, but I want to help my community. Knowing that I can serve students and help the staff I can get in this program in MMSD, go to Madison College, then I'm eligible for the pledge to go to UW-Madison and get my degree?

09:11: Ms. Grace: Yes, we're working with UW-Madison. We've also had some preliminary conversations with Edgewood College. And there's some other colleges that local colleges have also approached us about. They've heard about the project and they want to know what they can do and how they can help. So people are interested in wanting to be a part of this because it is so groundbreaking, right? [Right] This is a new initiative, and it's something that people haven't seen before. So the innovation behind the Village Builders is intriguing to our high-ed community.

09:45: Dr. Jenkins: Well, I have to ask you this, because we are all about innovation. And we began our conversation with Madison College, a UW. What about connecting with an HBCU, so perhaps they could do two years there and three years there, however we could do it. Because we do know the impact of HBCUs on graduating individuals of color, particularly African Americans who are HSI schools as well. So has that conversation began yet?

10:13: Ms. Grace: That conversation has not begun yet with our higher ed institutions in Madison. But we have begun a conversation with the City of Madison, who has int ernships. And we've had preliminary conversations as a district about how to start internships with our HBCU students and how to work with the colleges. But we have not approached to colleges yet, because I think we need to finalize and create our goals and outline, before going to the higher ed community.

10:45: Dr. Jenkins: Wow. So have you been a part of just exposing our students to HBCUs? Have you ever been to a HBCU?

10:52: Ms. Grace: Yes! [laughter] I am a graduate, a proud graduate of Mississippi Valley State University, in Itta Bena, Mississippi. So yes, very proud HBCU graduate. And a lot of my work in education has revolved around helping students see the importance of HBCUs. And at the end of this month, we are actually taking a group of students to the State of Georgia to tour HBCUs in Georgia. So we have close to 90 students from Madison Metropolitan School District. And we know that Georgia has the largest concentration of HBCUs in the country. So we're excited about that.

11:31: Dr. Jenkins: Wow, outstanding, well just tell me this. In terms of right here in MMSD. You're not from Madison, right?

11:40: Ms. Grace: I'm not from Madison.

11:42: Dr. Jenkins: What drove you to this work? And what kind of impact are you really trying to have? What's going to be your legacy, your contribution?

11:48: Ms. Grace: I think what really drove me to this work was the continuation of the Village Builders project. Seeing that project, and seeing the thought put into really bringing the community and bridging the community in the schools, that was something that I had never seen before in a school district, I had never seen a real attempt to really do it. And not just a surface level attempt. This is real people who are really ingrained and connected to their communities who want to make a difference in their schools. We're bringing them in, we're giving them the tools, we're teaching them our school system, but we're accepting them for authentically who they are, right? We're not trying to change them. We're trying to change the system that was not designed for them. And so we're really working intentionally with our staff so that they can learn how to advocate and navigate the system and share that information with our parents. And that's where we believe we can make real systemic change.

12:52: Dr. Jenkins: So I say to that, thank you for sharing that. We need a level of advocacy, not only at the local level, but at the state and federal level, because this is something that we all struggling with [mmhmm], in terms of trying to diversify our workforce. Because we know if we have the education, we get that part right, that's going to improve the economics of our community, and the employment, which in turn, touch everything else, our health care, everything. So if you had a chance to speak to the governor today about that $7 billion in the legislature, what would you advocate for?

13:25: Ms. Grace: Fund our schools. Fund our schools and fully fund our schools. Engage with the community that is really working to make a difference in our schools, and be intentional about funding social-emotional agenda items for our students, especially our students of color. We know that we have the gaps in the State of Wisconsin, and I think it's important that we are vocal about that. And that we know, and our school districts know, that our Governor is intentional about breaking those disparities, right, knocking down the disparities. And Wisconsin, also in our literacy for our black students we know that we have work to do. And the Black students are the lowest out of all of those categories. So in doing that work and making sure that we're intentional, we also need to take care of social-emotional, we also need to take care of making sure that the Governor understands the needs of our Black and brown children because we're failing them.

14:39: Dr. Jenkins: Wow. Well, let me tell you this, on Lead to Liberate we always say we just don't call them out. We call them in. So I will definitely be interested in talking to you about how we can facilitate that discussion. And having you directly, you know, speak to some of our legislators, having some of our other advocates in the community have that conversation get started. But what are you doing? And what are we doing in MMSD to reach out to make sure people keep funding this? Because we're so used to starting and stopping. Okay, so what are you doing now? Have you reached out trying to get into any additional resources beyond just the current ESSER dollars to fund this? What are you doing?

15:18: Ms. Grace: We've been reaching out to organizations, we recently received a donation from Communities in Schools for some of this work. We've been also trying to establish and formalize partnerships with organizations. And so with the Communities in Schools, I think that's the real indicator of the work. They noticed our work. They appreciated our work – and this was less than a year of work. So this will help us and it will help us gather more data, collect that data, and then we can reach out and connect with different and more organizations to help guide and facilitate this work.

16:01: Dr. Jenkins: Right. So I'm sorry for cutting you off. But let me ask, you so Communities in Schools. Is it true that they just gave us like, is it $1,000? As a $10,000? What did it give us in terms of support?

e ESSER funds are over in the:

16:47: Dr. Jenkins: Wow. So you’re telling me that we need other community members who can join in, helping us and trying to get these dollars that are for something that we know that will have an impact in decreasing these disparities, that we haven't, really we want to just totally annihilated all of the disparities, and be able to teach all of our children at high levels.

17:06: Ms. Grace: Yes, these funds are going to continue the project, Village Builders, and hopefully, we will be out there looking for the community to help us continue this work. We don't want this to abruptly stop, which is why we've been really trying to engage our national partners and our community partners in a conversation about Village Builders and the immediate impact that Village Builders has had on our schools.

17:35: Dr. Jenkins: Wow. And I just don't want this to be lost. You just said – let me get it right. You said they just gave us a million dollars [a million dollars] to continue to support the Village Builders based off what you've done thus far, and being able to show the data to support the impact. Is that correct?

17:51: Ms. Grace: That is correct, a million dollars. And there's potential for additional funding. So hopefully, we will be able to engage additional funding from the Communities in Schools and gain that funding as well. So I'm really excited about that. Because that means that someone is seeing the work that our team is doing.

18:12: Dr. Jenkins: Yes, well, there you heard it right here directly from Ms. Tamuriel Grace, about the Village Builders, about our engagement that's taking place in Madison Metropolitan School District. And we're definitely about diversity, equity, and inclusion, along with our engagement. So thank you for coming out today. And I hope all of our listeners come back again next week, as we're going to have another, just amazing guest. Thank you, Ms. Grace.

18:40: 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.