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Episode 14 - MMSD’s Associate Superintendent of Teaching & Learning Cindy Green joins Superintendent Carlton D. Jenkins
Episode 1417th March 2023 • Lead to Liberate • Madison Metropolitian School District
00:00:00 00:21:12

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Dr. Jenkins has a conversation with Cindy Green, Associate Superintendent of Teaching & Learning, centered around the Science of Reading. They discuss the district’s focus on early literacy, MMSD’s historic elementary curriculum adoption, and the work happening to ensure all students are prepared for future success post-graduation.


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.

00:28: Dr. Carlton D. Jenkins: Wow, I just love that music. Thank you again for joining us. I am Dr. Carlton D. Jenkins, here on Lead to Liberate. Today, here on Lead to Liberate, we have an opportunity to go behind the scenes to talk to the person who's really navigating a lot of the academic work. And I am so proud to introduce to you, our listeners, Mrs. Cindy Green. Hello, Mrs. Green. How are you today?

00:57: Good afternoon, Dr. Jenkins, thank you so much for having me today. I am doing great. And I am excited to be here and share a little bit of my story with you.

01:07: Yes, that's outstanding. And I tell you right now, I must lift to our listeners, Mrs. Green has behind the scenes, she's definitely pushing the science of reading with all of our staff. I'm talking about our teachers, our administrators, and within our community. She's really working together with Dr. Hicks, and others to get the work done. And we're gonna get into that in just a minute. But I want to make sure that I did lift, we have an individual who is going to be here pushing the science reading with our other staff, so that that work’s going to continue. Now, Mrs. Green, let's just get right into it. This is what we do on Lead to Liberate. We want to talk about those things that's been really important to you and your career, but really important to us at MMSD. And want to understand, why MMSD? Why do you really want to be here? You’re a very talented person. You could be in a lot of places.

01:58: Mrs. Green: That's a great question. I think in order to say why MMSD, I will just take you back a little bit to why I am even in education. Education was not my path. When I went to college, I had no idea what I was going to do and probably changed my major three or four times, and graduated with a degree in social work. I, at that point, went and worked at Cook County Jail in Chicago, Illinois, and was hired as a social worker. They needed a teacher because they were short staffed and asked if I would take on one of their programs for the 90 men that were in the Maximum Security Division. I went and worked with these men who at the time had a reading level of first or second grade, but had all been graduates of Chicago Public Schools. It was one of my first experiences in seeing the inequities and the inconsistencies across our country in education. And with that, I chose to go back and get my degree in education as well as learning and reading disabilities. That started my career.

03:14: Mrs. Green: I worked in Chicago Public Schools for 20 years and was offered an opportunity to come to Madison, Wisconsin. Coming to Madison, Wisconsin was a really exciting opportunity – 50 schools in the heart of a university, it really seemed like a great place to come work. The reason I stay in Madison, Wisconsin, not only because of my family, is because this work is not yet done. We have deep disparities in our educational outcomes amongst our students. And I believe that I must stay here to commit to the work needed, specifically the work around literacy. So that is why I'm in Madison, Wisconsin.

04:02: Dr. Jenkins: Wow, powerful. And now that you’ve come to Madison, Wisconsin, you are the Associate Superintendent over our Curriculum & Instruction department. And you’re doing a lot of work with your other associate superintendents. Can you tell us about that? How are you all gelling right now? What's the main thing?

04:18: Mrs. Green: I would say one of the main things first and foremost is coherence across our schools for K12. We believe that's critically important. So working across the other associate superintendents of schools, as well as across departments to try and be consistent. Um, I would say the second most important thing that we are doing is continuing to focus on our priority of literacy, specifically, early literacy and beyond through the science of reading. As a collective, we are constantly looking at data to see how we are doing in terms of the learning around the science of reading, around the implementation of the science of reading and what materials we need to utilize in order to teach all of our students how to read through the science of reading.

05:10: Dr. Jenkins: Wow, you’re focusing on early literacy and beyond, and just the whole thing here on Lead to Liberate, we want to talk about what are those things are going to help liberate our students. And so you're talking about this early literacy piece, there was a historical adoption of our curriculum here by the district in over the last 15 years. Talk a little bit about that, and that process, what was it like because everyone wasn't on the same page. In Madison, you’re always going to have heavy discussions when it comes to reading and reading materials.

05:40: Mrs. Green: Yeah, I would say the conversation around reading is not a new one. There has been a debate across the country for a long time around, the what we call the reading wars – which is the right way to teach reading. Do we focus on whole language? Do we focus on balanced literacy? What we do know is that the science of reading does actually improve outcomes for our students. And so for us, this is not new. But what we thought was critically important when investigating new materials was to find the materials that best align to the science of reading, and also had representation of our student population. We knew that the materials we wanted to bring into our schools needed to uplift all of the students that we serve, and also ensure that it was teaching from the research related to the science of reading. That process, ah ah, involves community members, family members, school staff, and our central office staff. And that process was a tough one. We had to make decisions about which materials were going to be best for our classrooms that teach English only, and our classrooms that are our dual language immersion classrooms. In the end, we wound up choosing two different sets of materials that we believed were going to best serve both programs in our elementary schools. It was an amazing historic event. And it was a tough road to get there.

07:17: Dr. Jenkins: Yeah, most definitely. I tell you, timing is everything. Coming, now we have these lingering challenges from the pandemic. And we wanted to make sure that we got the most out of this moment. So as a district, we're looking at how are we going to afford this? So were you able to use some of the ESSER dollars to help support this adoption of this new textbook materials?

07:40: Mrs. Green: Yes, one of the great things about the one-time funds we received, is that those funds were really to focus on academic acceleration. And what better way to focus on academic acceleration than to buy a sustainable set of materials for literacy in our K5 buildings. So we took advantage of those one-time funds. We also are taking advantage of those one time funds to do the same thing at our middle schools. So our middle schools serve grades six through eight. And we have not had a consistent or coherent approach to reading materials in our middle schools since I have been here. So we are going to use those one-time funds once again to purchase some new materials aligned to the science of reading for our middle schools.

08:26: Dr. Jenkins: Wow. That's exciting. And I tell you, though, Mrs. Green, we have so many people talking to me about, what about post-graduating? And we tried to make sure that all students are not only just graduating, but they are competent when they graduate – that they can read, and have all these other skills. And there's a large conversation around the articulated skilled trades, just different paths. We have students participating at Madison College, doing exceptionally well, particularly with our students, historically marginalized communities participate in that program. What are your plans for students beyond just for 4K-8? What are we going to do at the high school level?

09:06: Mrs. Green: That's a great question. And this is one of my areas of passion. And what I would say is a game changer here in Madison. We have started to focus on having our students understand that there's multiple paths post high school – we talked about six paths. Not just college, two year or four year. Going right into a career. Going into apprenticeship. Going into a gap year. All of the different options for our students. And what we are trying to do in our high schools is make sure students have those opportunities before they graduate. What we think is critically important is we want our students to gain as much of what they need post high school while in high school. For example, can they earn college credit while in high school. That then is a game changer for some families free of charge, getting college credit. Can they get an industry certification, whether it's a CNA or a welding certificate? How can we provide those types of certifications for our students before they leave us, that can launch them into a successful post high school life, where they are going into something that leads to a life sustaining wage. So that is the work that we are working on. We have great partnerships with our universities here, as well as Madison College, as well as the City of Madison, and a lot of the business and industry that have been creating those opportunities – internships for our students over the summer that are paid. All of the things that we know students need in terms of experience and knowledge and skills so that they can be successful after they graduate MMSD.

10:43: Dr. Jenkins: Wow, that's great! Here on Lead to Liberate, we go right at it. Okay. So you mentioned earlier about the disparities. [Mmm] And we think about education, we think about the Es, right? Education, economy and employment. And if you have those right, then it improves the equity and the excellence in any community. Talk about that just a little bit. Those things that you just mentioned, with an equity lens, how will that influence students who have historically been marginalized in many ways there?

11:13: Mrs. Green: that is such a good question. First, I have to say that it is not MMSD alone that can do that. And I think that's where our partnerships with the City of Madison, with our workforce development, with our colleges is so critically important. One of the things that I think is most important to disrupt those inequities is to ensure that we are diversifying our workforce, and leading students to life sustaining wages. That means giving them opportunities, where they can see what it looks like after high school, that can then be a game changer for them and their family to potentially get out of poverty. How we're doing that is ensuring that we are uplifting and privileging students that come from historically excluded backgrounds and/or from a low income background to be the ones that are afforded these opportunities first. Now, that doesn't mean that these opportunities aren't also available for other students. But what we know is historically, those students have been sometimes locked out of those opportunities, and we need to make sure that in order for them to change their life outcome, and sometimes their family life outcome, it's our responsibility to ensure that they not only have access, but they are given these opportunities. One additional thing I will say to that, which has been part of a strong partnership – and it is a work in progress, I will tell you that Dr. Jenkins – is that our business and industry continue to get on board to hire our students after they graduate high school. Not only to afford them these opportunities, but to help us diversify our workforce and keep them here in Madison. So we are not looking outside of Madison to hire for those jobs.

13:06: Wow, that is exciting. And I'll tell you one thing that's happening right now only in MMSD. But given the disparities in the State of Wisconsin, we're having to push quite a bit in everyone. And I encourage all of our listeners to share this. In our public schools or in schools right now, I'm sorry, in the United States, we have a 35% proficiency rate. That means a whole lot of students are graduating, and they're not proficient. And MMSD with the science of reading wanted to be a leader in this space. And not only just doing the work, talking about the work, but we want to do the work. So how are you partnering with DPI and with the state knowing that this is a crisis we're talking about in the nation to be a leader?

13:51: Mrs. Green: Yeah, that is another great question. That is where we need to go. Many states across the nation have adopted the science of reading as their approach, right? They know that this is the game changer. We have started with a few organizations that are statewide to begin to not only share the work we're doing here in Madison, but how do we leverage partnerships knowing we cannot do this alone. In addition to that we've been really focused on, at the secondary level – so middle school and high school – and thinking about ways to ensure all of our staff have the strategies related to literacy in order to support our students. We know those transferable skills are what is most important for students, along with the credits needed to graduate. But we need students to leave with those transferable skills so that they will be successful no matter what they do.

14:48: Dr. Jenkins: One of the things, I thank you for that answer, that we've been talking about a lot in MMSD, in order to really liberate our students, we have to see the whole scholar. So social-emotional, mental health is really big, and then the pandemic really illuminated the disparities we have. So what are you doing to address that? The whole idea, that we want to accelerate, we want to raise expectations, but we have to take care of the whole scholar and the family now.

15:16: Mrs. Green: Yeah, I'll share what we're doing. And I'll also share my perspective as a parent. I am a parent of MMSD, ah two MMSD students, also. We try to work across our departments to make sure that we're thinking about that through what we call an integrated approach. We know a student doesn't learn academics over here, and then learns about social-emotional learning over there, right? That's exactly what you said, the whole child. So how are we focusing on in attending to both. We know that we have to have very high expectations for all of our students. But we also have to do that with love and with relationships. When adults know students well, they're able to tend to both the academic needs and the social-emotional learning needs. As a parent, I see my own children sometimes struggling with the re-engagement with school after the pandemic, and see them having to really think about that balance of days when they can go hard and heavy with their learning, and other days when they really need to take a step back, and they need a break. And I think that that is what we are focused on here – is trying to find that balance, and also pay attention to when those social-emotional learning or mental health needs need to be at the forefront, and when academic may need to take a little bit of a break.

16:42: Dr. Jenkins: Wow, thank you for that. I'll also tell you, I've been very impressed with our team, as you all have gone out and during instructional tours and environmental scanning, thinking about what has occurred during the pandemic. And just a correlation between what you just said, and what you all are doing. How are those tours helping you all, come back and kind of put it in perspective?

17:06: Mrs. Green: Great question. You can't make decisions about schools and what our schools need without being in our schools. You need to know what is happening on the ground day to day. Those instructional tours and environmental scans have given us an insight into the great work that's happening in our schools, but also being able to connect directly with our students; see what happens on a daily basis; see how individual teachers are taking advantage of meeting social-emotional needs; some of the tools and strategies they use, which is helping us think about how we share that information across schools. The best learning we hear often is when people learn from each other. So that has been very helpful. I think the environmental scans and instructional tours are also helping us make decisions about what we have to do across the system. There are some changes we need to do, there's some opportunities where we need to improve. And there's areas where we need to stay the course. Those instructional tours, environmental scans are really giving us a lot of great qualitative data to be able to make decisions here at Central Office.

18:17: Dr. Jenkins: Wow, that's really important. And at the end of the day, monthly, once you do your instructional tours and your environmental scans, you're coming back talking about the impact, or the non-impact, and then making adjustments. And so when we talk about leading to liberate, this is when we get deeper into it. Having our instructional leaders out working with our staff, working with our administrators, talking to our scholars, I really do thank you for that as well. Now, one thing I have to bring up. This whole thing about the arts. [Yes] You invested in the arts doing last summer, at the tune of about $1.3 million. You work with the university. Tell us a little bit about that. And why the arts? Why the arts?

19:04: Mrs. Green: Why not the arts? That's the first question. Yes, the arts because our students – back to what you said before in terms of the whole child – our students also need well rounded opportunities. And one way we believe well rounded opportunities are afforded to them is through the arts. So that's music, that's theater, that's dance, that's visual arts, ah, performing arts. Last summer, we knew we had to make improvements in the area of the arts. And so we created our first time ever Summer Arts Academy. We wanted to really uplift black and brown community artists. We wanted to ensure our students had access to different art forms that they may not have during the school year. To have that opportunity, but more importantly to explore their own interests that they could then further after summer. We're super excited to say we're doing it again this summer. [Okay.] We have new opportunities and we're creating more courses at our high school level so that students are able to earn credit, and also explore some of these art forms they may have never experienced before.

20:11: Dr. Jenkins: Right. Is there an attendance requirement that you're looking at so that the students can go to summer school?

20:16: Mrs. Green: No, Dr. Jenkins, there is no attendance requirement. We want to ensure every student that could benefit from these opportunities, they have the ability to. No barriers for our students. We're even trying to think through the transportation opportunities so that students can take advantage of this.

20:25: Wow, I tell you, listeners, you heard it straight from Mrs. Cindy Green. She's leading the charge as Associate Superintendent for our Curriculum & Instruction department. And she definitely has a true justice lens. She's for all children, but paying particular attention to our Goal Three, making sure that our African American children and youth excel, but all children excel in MMSD. I'd like to thank you for listening. We look forward to having you again with us next week. Thank you so much.

21:05: Mrs. Green: 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.