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Episode 12 - MMSD’s District Athletic Director Jeremy Schlitz joins Superintendent Carlton D. Jenkins
Episode 123rd March 2023 • Lead to Liberate • Madison Metropolitian School District
00:00:00 00:18:39

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In this episode, MMSD’s District Athletic Director, Jeremy Schlitz and Dr. Jenkins discuss the impact and correlation of co-curriculars on students' academic success, specifically related to marginalized populations. The conversation touches on Athletic Director Schultz's leadership and advocacy locally, statewide and nationally along with the athletic alumni community giving back to MMSD. 


From the Madison Metropolitan School District, this is Lee to liberate a podcast documenting stories of inspiration, growth and empowerment across our schools.

Oh, I just love that music. Once again, this is Dr. Carlton D Jenkins is very proud Superintendent of Madison Metropolitan School District, and welcome back to lead to liberate. Today we have a very special guest with us today. Someone that's really about transforming the lives of our children. We have our very own district, athletic and co curricular director, Mr. Jeremy Schlitz. How are you doing today? Mr. Schlitz?

I'm great. Thanks for having me, Dr. Jenkins, I always look forward to chance to share the message about what we're doing in our co curricular in athletics here in Madison.

Yeah, so, so much appreciateed it. Just having you here today. Because actually, we have a unique situation in Madison, where as Mrs. Liz is not only the district, overseer of our CO curriculars in athletics, he's also based in a building right now. And we have about 27,000 students, and we have a number of co curricular activities and number of athletics that we do extremely well. Can you tell us a little bit about that managing that job and knowing what you really tried to get out of our students, student athletes, and also our staff?

Yeah, you know, I think I'm very fortunate, in some ways to have my foot in both sides of that, being a district athletic director and a school on, because in any way that you get an opportunity to be operationalizing, and be in contact with coaches and students gives you a really good opportunity to also see the big picture, and how we can make sure that's positively impacting our coaches who really are our teachers of our students in those co curricular activities. You know, sometimes it does feel like I'm juggling sand, which is a phrase I often use as I do some mentoring and teaching with our athletic directors across the state. But that's the athletic director role. You know, you're trying to make sure that you're supporting the students, the coaches in the communities to give those top notch experiences outside of that traditional eight to four school day. And it's really exciting work. It's not just the championships, it's the positive outcomes where we see kids that graduate or see kids connect, and want to be engaged with our schools. And just really also getting an opportunity to work with so many different leaders, whether that be other athletic administrators, or coaches, has been really a positive thing for me.

Okay, well, let's just jump right in it, he'll lead deliberate, we try to get to those things, those strategies that really can help all of our scholars become the best that they can be. And sometimes, we look at co curricular as an extra as an add on. And what has been your experience with the impact of students that you see persists through co curricular, be at the band, be it basketball, soccer, chess, whatever? What's been your experience?

Yeah, I mean, the extra is the added value to the student experience, obviously, but the co curricular is really what we see. And I think back to I was fortunate enough to be tasked to be part of a cross functional team seven or eight years ago here in the district to look at the impact specific to athletics when I was a new athletic administrator just at Memorial, and the outcomes that we're able to see related to both improved GPA, improved attendance, improved behavior events, along with just the leaders in our school, the ones that were, you know, doing not only leading in their specific sport or club, but leading the school, whether that's in student government, whether that is as a high academic honors type student, and then coming back, and we're very fortunate Madison, the number of alumni that have come back to help be part of CO curriculars, whether that's as coaches, as volunteers as people that are supporting our arts and our other co curricular activities and events, because it truly takes the whole community to make such a positive experience for our scholars.

Well, it sounds exactly like you're speaking from my dissertation, because it's what factors contributes to narrowing the achievement gap and looking at co curricular in a large school actually right here in the Midwest. And so when I hear you say, improves GPA, improves graduation rates, and things of this nature, we know they persist over time that will, what about our students who have been historically in some kind of way? marginalized? What do you see in terms of the barriers or the opportunities for our students?

Yeah, you know, I had an interesting journey through this. When I came in as a new athletic administrator, my focus was really on improving the experience and the visibility of our female athletes. My father was a girls basketball coach, and I grew up kind of seeing the differences there and my first coaching experience was as a head girls, golf coach. And just seeing the different ways that it's not only viewed by what was an underrepresented group when we look at that 25 years ago when I started, and then really evolving that into the equity work we can do by putting coaches and leaders of our underrepresented groups in power to be to see what they want to be. And I think that's really, we're ahead of the curve in Madison, because of what we've been able to do to diversify our coaching staff to diversify our leadership, and really to give the students something that they want to be part of, because they can see themselves not just in high school, but what they can do beyond high school. And I've also been fortunate enough to work at the state level, I was president of our state association of athletic directors, and able to move us in a direction where we now have a bipoc ad position created for recruiting and networking, athletic directors across the state. And we're very fortunate in our big conference, the conference were part of that DEIB or diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging is always an agenda item. Currently, I'm the president of the conference. And we make really intentionality around that work, being the work that starts the work we do in athletics. And I think we can definitely see that in our district paying off as we do that in all of our CO curriculars.

While you're to be commended for your leadership there with the organization, and recently my correct and saying that you just won this big state award, what was that award? Tell us a little bit about that, and how you're focused on equity, the way that you're doing it, kind of help bring it to

fruition? Yeah, I have received the Distinguished Service Award for the state of Wisconsin this past year, for our NI AAA, which is our national organization. And I think a lot of that was an outcome of me being able to say yes to some things, I was able to be part of the fifth strategic plan for the NI AAA, which is our national ad organization, and really learning from across the country, you know, the work that we need to do, I was in the Programs Division. And as we work through the strategic plan, and then actually, this past two weeks ago, I was able to be to lead the Programs Division for the state of Wisconsin, in our next strategic plan. And I think, because I've been able to say yes to those opportunities to work with wonderful colleagues, specific to this work, I was able to present at our national conference on underrepresented groups in our profession and things we can do to support them with a colleague of mine out of San Diego. And then you know, those types of relationships and experiences I've been able to have, I've been able to bring back to our state to our school district, and to Madison Memorial and the roles that I play. It's been really, it's been really humbling to be honored by my colleagues with these awards, just because when somebody who you work with recognizes the extra that you do, is really, it's really meaningful. And that's something I've learned in terms of gratitude and wanting to just be grateful for our coaches, for our volunteer coaches, for our parents that maybe support our teams, and in ways people don't see. And gratitude is really what drives that. So I'm thankful. And I think because of that gratitude, I've been fortunate enough to be, you know, awarded those those recognitions from our organization.

Well, I just tell you the truth right here on lead to liberate, to even think about this is definitely Women's History Month. But to know that you came into the game heaven had some experience in knowing that women just do not are female scholars don't get the same opportunities. You've carried that and and you're doing a great job with that right now. But also just your whole equity lens, that you're not only pushing into district, you pushing into the state and tried to push it in the nation. And I must say, Wisconsin, we have some of the greatest disparities. And when it comes to academic achievement, we have the greatest disparities in the country. But it's very comforting to know, someone like you in a leadership role is keeping that at the forefront. And I love when you said that, we start with that. And we know that we try and expand opportunities to lead to liberate and other individuals, they see this and they can benefit from the administrative level from the coaching level, whatever level is all for the end results of our scholars having great outcomes. So thank you so much for explaining the award too, I think that's going to be big for our people in our community just even know that we have that type of focus in MMSD. But I'll ask you this as well. What are some of the great things when you've seen coaches really, truly trying to lead in a way, coach in a way that liberate our students to have them be more than just an individual who participated in co-curricular would be at the band, or sports? Do you have any examples of some coaches that you noticed? Just wow. Yeah.

You know, I think specific to some that I see, you know, at Memorial we've have, we're very fortunate 16 of our head coaches are also educators in our district, in the classroom. And I think having that be an advocate a contact point, somebody that see that's going through their data De and being always present for them has been the most impactful part seeing students that, you know, maybe came in, identified as part of our, our at risk group, as ninth graders develop and do college graduates that played in the NCAA Tournament, you know, things along those lines, which aren't always the team winning the championship, or the player of the year in the state, but somebody that maybe was identified early as, hey, this person may not, we wouldn't bet on them to graduate, finding a coach in the building that can say, I'm your advocate, I'm here for you, and just giving them that trust, that support. The benefit is immeasurable. You know, I think back to my days, I coached 37 Different Seasons, in this district, across in different sports before I became an athletic administrator. And some of my favorite memories weren't. Some of the state championships I was part of as a coach. They were, you know, the student coming back after they graduated from college, to wanting to come to practice, you know, things along those lines. And I see that every day, across our four high schools, is the number of coaches we have that are MMSD grads, is just outstanding. And what we're able to do to create environments where people want to come back and give back, I think is really the true testament of our coach's ability to impact forever.

Wow, that's outstanding, because as I go around the district, and I have some conversations with some of our coaches, and some not teachers, some community people doing very well, and they just want to give back because they tell me their experiences in our district where they had someone, an individual who really believed in them, and that propelled them to go on to do great things. Right now I know too, we have some professional athletes who have gone through Madison and they to reach back. Tell us a little bit about that. Yeah, you know,

Actually, I was able the first high school basketball game Wesley Matthews ever played. I was his coach at the JV level and, and Wesley this past year, spearheaded our play everyday campaign, which was to give back across the district with our foundation for Madison Public Schools, to get some equipment for recess and physical education activities, to give more and impactful access to all of our students, and the things that he does when he comes back. And it's not, it's not just Wesley but but obviously somebody who's going to be in the hunt for an NBA championship this year, you know, front of our mind. And, you know, the other ones that we've had that have had that opportunity goes back a long way. Mark Johnson from from Miracle on Ice, which we just celebrated an anniversary of recently, and is the co-chair for the UW women's hockey team. His whole family went through Memorial, I was fortunate enough to coach both of his daughters in tennis, and his son in golf, and just the impact Mark has still being part of that memorial community. And you know, the story is you and I could talk for hours, about different people that have come back to Madison to MMSD. And whose families want to be here because of the impact that had on their lives, to set them up for what they are able to do in the future.

Well, as I stand now, what message would you send to our parents? And to young people out there? I'm talking about when I'm having these conversations with 4k parents, they're talking about which high school and what experiences that children are going to have in middle school? What would you say to them in terms of getting engaged and staying engaged in schools and the benefits of just being a part of a team?

Yeah, you're talking to a 4k parent to that MSSD scholar right now. Oh, wow. So I can speak to my experience, I decided to join our parent teacher organization, because you just got to say yes, to be part of it. And that the opportunities we have in the access we have for our community members and our family, to be part of something at whatever level they're able to be at. And able to commit from a time standpoint, is phenomenal. And we have programs to reach out to all of our students and families. And you know, just say yes, and if you want to be part of an athletic department, or the theatre production, or any of our co-curricular activities at our schools, reach out to that athletic and activities director, reach out to that teacher, and we're gonna find a way to connect you. And I think it's really truly the village raising the child and in our district, and I'm, and the village that we have is such a wonderful one. But you've got to want to take that extra step and know that we want you to be part of it. I've been extremely fortunate as a parent, I have a second grader and a 4k student. And learning it from both sides and being able to see all the different ways. I'm truly blessed and chose to build a house in another city because where I want to be and where I want my family to grow.

Right? Well, I'll tell you what, what about a parent like my parents, my dad, third grade education, mom 10th grade education, and they had a number of children seven that they were raising, and they want their children to participate. But as we're trying to lead to liberate, how do we make sure we communicate. But that parent and say, Hey, this is for you as well. The fees get really heavy. If you have two children, scholars participating, what would you say to that type of pair?

Yeah, I think that's really why education based athletics. And all of our CO curriculars are the the inroad to being part of everything that we can kind of offer is because we do offer those those fee waivers, you know, financially is never a barrier for our participation. But it's us building partnerships and getting out into the community. For that preparation prior to getting to the education based athletics level where we need to, you know, I asked our coaches, you know, how do we get out to our boys and girls clubs? How do we get out to our community organizations? How do we meet people where they're at, to bring them into where we are at the schools, especially because you want to connect for successful, for instance, high school athletic program, they need to be aware and part of it as a fifth grader, or as a third grader. So how do we bring our community in to see those events and to let our students be the leaders, you know, I look back at the last month, I read your heart out, you know, times and watching our student athletes go into the schools and seeing the smiles and not only the students faces, but the athletes faces, you know, as they're able to share that and build that connection between, you know, our youngest scholars, and our soon to be graduates.

Wow, that's awesome. And I'll tell you this, I encourage you to get over to Mendola elementary school, they have the stompers, I had an opportunity to watch the videos of the stompers. And they have coach Wilson, who's in the fifth grade, that you probably want to start recruiting right now, to be an educator, and just be a part of this wonderful environment that we have here in MMSD. But the reason I say that, because mendota is about as diverse as you can get. And the spirit and the pride in that community resonates throughout our community. And I encourage you to get over there and pick up on some of those young stompers because I believe that they're going to do some big things and how they're being led over there to really believe just believe participating could make a difference.

Awesome. Yeah, absolutely. I've actually a family friend that whose students all went through Mendota, and they do a great thing as a school community, too. It's it's phenomenal to see and also check out my future coach,

Yeah, no doubt. And so I want to encourage us this is Women's History Month, to continue to not only reach out to our scholars to participate, but to continue to grow them as you have been doing in terms of our female leaders, and continue to work with us as we continue to have transformative conversations about how our students in Madison, so progressive in terms of how our students choose to identify, and how that's influencing our co curricular and athletic participation. So let's make sure that we stay at the forefront of that too. So all children know that we really mean all children when we talk in MMSD.

Absolutely. You know, if we're not innovating, we're not doing our job. There

you go. Once again, you've heard here Lead to Liberate. We can't do it as an individual. We have to do it together. And we believe in the power in us. And MMSD thank you so much for listening and look forward to you joining us again next week. Have a great day.

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