In this episode, Dr. Jenkins speaks with Dr. Anu Ebbe, MMSD’s Deputy Associate Superintendent of Middle Schools. Dr. Ebbe was named Wisconsin’s 2022-2023 Principal of the Year. They discuss identity; shifting mindsets to believe all students can succeed at high levels; and what’s happening at the middle school level to prepare students for high school and beyond.
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: Hello everyone, and welcome back to Lead to Liberate. I am Dr. Carlton D. Jenkins, I am your podcast host. I am the superintendent, the very proud superintendent, of one of the best school districts in the country, Madison Metropolitan School District. Today, we have with us, a very exciting guest. As you know, we like to try to peel it back. Tell it like it is – and have everyone really understand what is it to lead to liberate? Our guest today is very special. Our guests was actually the 22-23 Principal of the Year in the State of Wisconsin; competed for Principal of the Year nationally. She's exciting. We have with us, Dr. Ebbe. Anu. Doctor Anu. How are you?
01:10 Dr. Ebbe
I'm great, thank you. And thank you for having me here today, Dr. Jenkins.
01:14 Dr. Jenkins.
Yeah, it's great to have you. And we often refer to her as Dr. Anu because some people don't say Dr. Ebbe, but so tell us about that, too. You know, Anu Ebbe where does this come from? [laughter]
01:27 Dr. Ebbe
Well, my birth name is Anuradha Rangaswamy. I was born in India. And I came to the United States. When I got married, I changed my name to Ebbe. But a lot of the students in MMSD still know me as Ms. Rangaswamy.
01:45 Dr. Jenkins
Oh, wow, that's, that's exciting. Just the name itself. She's quite the story beyond her name. Can you tell us how, you kind of like, got into education? What inspired you to want to be a difference maker?
01:58 Dr. Ebbegregation program. And it was:
03:32 Dr. Jenkins:saying, the class [mmhmm] in:
03:52 Dr. Ebbe:
Yeah, so this was right in the middle of the desegregation program, right? In St. Louis, where students from East St. Louis, or mostly black and some brown students, were being bused into suburbs. So our school community was changing. And I don't think the teachers knew what to do, how to interact with our students, how to teach. And this, these were the kind of the approaches that they were taking, which was really, I think, for everybody, just shook us to the core – shook me to the core. For sure. Seeing that, I was seen in that light, it impacted my identity in a way that was not good. I tried to start assimilating rather than being me.
04:45 Dr. Jenkins:
You mean that one activity where the students were voting on you, began to shake you? Had a serious social-emotional, psychological, mental kind of effect on you?
04:55 Dr. Ebbe:
Absolutely. In a way that impacted me for many, many years [mm], till even I became a teacher at Memorial High School.
05:09 Dr. Jenkins.
At Memorial High School, right here in Madison. Okay. [Here in Madison]. Tell us about it, now - lead to liberate.
05:15 Dr. Ebbe.That was:
06:39 Dr. Jenkins:
So at this point, you’re beginning to liberate, right? [Yes] You had to lead. And now it's time to be liberated so that you can also help others become liberated. So what did it feel like? You know, the students, here they are primarily African American, Latinx, here you are coming in? Have they recognized yet, that she….what is she? [Laughter] Okay. What did that mean?
07:00 Dr. Ebbe:
So this is the funny part like, I would, you know, they would say, ‘Can I call you just Miss R?’ because back then my name was Miss Rangaswamy? And I would say, ‘No, you have to learn to spell my entire name correctly.’ [Oh, wow] Yeah. And they got extra credit for it. [Wow] I also will learn your names and pronounce them correctly. So there was this understanding about that. But there was also like, you know, this deep work we did around social-emotional learning, but also the academics. Connecting the work, the learning in the classroom, to what was important to the students, lifting their voice. We had incredible family engagement. Our families were in the classroom, supporting us all the time. And it's because we spent the time fostering those relationships. And one of the students wrote to me some years later, who's now working for a nonprofit, and said, ‘Thank you for teaching me how to read.’ And I wasn't a reading teacher at that time, I was a science and math teacher. [Right.] But I had to take on this identity to teach all of it, right? As a teacher, I'm a reading teacher, I'm a math teacher, I'm a science teacher, so that my students could succeed.
08:16 Dr. Jenkins:
So as a part of liberation, you have to learn to teach the children, and not just the content. And you did something kind of special as you became liberated yourself, you began to understand the power of connections – for others in seeing the children, in them seeing you – and I think that was really masterful to have them to learn how to spell your name. [Mmhmm]. Just saying your name was one thing, but then to spell it correctly. And you were also reciprocally, learning how to spell their names and learning the students. So that's, that's pretty powerful. So tell us, from moving from that, okay? Now, you’re having this powerful experience, you’re a teacher? And you wanted to go into administration? What happened? How did that happen?
09:00 Dr. Ebbe:
So a lot of that was actually inspired at first, by my students. They, you know, they saw that we were making changes in the classroom together. And some of them said to me, you know, you should think about becoming a principal at a school so that you can, you know, do more for more kids. So they were the ones who first [wow] put the thought into my head. And I thought, ‘Oh, that's, that's interesting. Let me look into that.’ And at that time, I was still new to the United States, relatively, I didn't know much about the American school system. So I was still learning. And then I became principal when, you know, got my doctorate and leadership, and became principal at Shorewood Hills Elementary in Madison. And that school, that was very, it's still very, diverse, about 30 different languages are spoken. And, you know, it was a school that had so many language learners, that one of the first things we did together, to educate to liberate, is to really ensure that the education we are providing our students is truly inclusive, that our ELs and any student is not being pulled out of the classroom will taken somewhere else for instruction. But how do we truly, as teachers – and the teachers are amazing – collaborate and plan together for all students in the classroom? Right? [Right] How do we differentiate instruction, and ensure every student is achieving at high levels?
10:41 Dr. Jenkins:
Wow. So that particular strategy, you pushed it pretty hard. And so when we talk about all of these disparities that we see. Wisconsin being number one in the nation. Madison, here we are sitting with some of the highest achieving students, but yet we have some serious disparities that mirror those of Wisconsin. So you pushing in like that? What happened to the disparities with all of those ELL students? In that particular school? What, what happened? What did the data say?
11:11 Dr. Ebbe:
I want to back up a little bit before I talk about, about the data. Because when we started doing that inclusive work, the biggest thing, biggest work we all had to do, is change our mindsets. [Mmm] About what instruction is or should be. To really, I mean, really unlearning what we have learned. And, you know, in our university teaching in our, you know, learning from our society that has made us so acculturated into this white supremacy culture, right? We have to unlearn that. Shift our mindsets [mm] and really dig in thinking, and really, you know, talking about and helping our students understand that we believe that all students can succeed at high levels [mmhmm]. So that was the first step. And then really reorganizing instruction so that students get what they need right in the classroom. And what we saw in our data was pretty incredible. [Mmm] We saw all students achieving at high level, [wow] we had 85% proficiency, or, or around that ballpark, every year –
12:26 Dr. Jenkins:
With all students?
12:28 Dr. Ebbe
Mmhmm. With all students. [Wow] And, you know, there was, there were years when I remember looking at some data where 100% of our African-American students were proficient.
12:38 Dr. Jenkins:
You said 100% of your African-American students were proficient?
12:44 Dr. Ebbe:
Were proficient in reading,
12:45 Dr. Jenkins:
In reading, specifically. And so it's possible
12:50 Dr. Ebbe:
It's possible, and that, [Wow], that's the spirit. And that's the, that's what we need to keep thinking about. This is actually possible because race is a social construct. We made it up.
13:03 Dr. Jenkins:
Well, you heard it right here only on Lead to Liberate - race is a social construct, pushing in the power of believing that all children 100% of the African-American children in reading were proficient. That’s powerful, Dr. Ebbe. That’s powerful.
13:20 Dr. Ebbe:at, as a school. And then, in:
13:35 Dr. Jenkins:
The National Blue Ribbon Award. Wow! For high academic achievement.
13:40 Dr. Ebbe.
And it's the work that the whole community did together. Right. [Wow.] The teachers, the students, the families.
13:46 Dr. Jenkins:
Wow, that's a, award, nationally recognized, for cumulative work. That just wasn't one year. [Yeah.[ So once you started in terms of pushing in, knowing that you had 30 different languages in your building, and pushing in all children – 85% proficiency, 100% proficient some years with the African-American students. That's leading to liberate. And it reminds me of that very little girl who wanted to ride a bike [laughter] n her neighborhood. And the protests happened in front of a family. And in spite of that, or should we say because of that, it led you right here to Madison, Wisconsin, what you showed as a teacher, and you showed as a principal. But now you've been elevated to Deputy Associate Superintendent, [yes]. What's your plan? What are you planning to do right here in Madison? How are you going to impact and continue to lead to liberate?
14:43 Dr. Ebbe:
So now, as the Deputy Associate Superintendent of Middle Schools – and I just love doing this work – I think about and reflect on, you know, everything. My, my experience as a leader so far, and what I've learned from all my colleagues around me in the community and our scholars. As I do this work, as well, we are in a pandemic, right? And,ah, we have learned in this pandemic, that it has exasperated all the inequities that exist in our community. So um, with, with that in mind, we are always putting social-emotional learning and well-being of students first. For example, this year, you know, the big conversation we had with principals together was, how do we start the year centering on social-emotional learning, centering on relationships, making sure that every scholar who walks into our building has a trusted adult that they can go to? How do we foster collaboration among our young people in the classroom so that they can support one another and problem solve? What routines are we establishing in the classroom? So that was the first go to, you know, to start the school year. But then also leaning into academics, right? Thinking about what do we need our students to be able to do, our scholars to be able to learn and do, not just now, but down the future? What, what are they going to be doing in high school? What are they going to be doing beyond high school? Thinking about all of those things and planning. So that means, really thinking about what standards and high expectations we are putting in front of our students every day. And how are we breaking it down for students? So if our scholars are needing a specific skill, how are we providing those, the targeted skills instruction, right in the classroom, whether it's reading, whether it's math, social-emotional learning, whatever it is. How are we doing that in the classroom and supporting them? How are we getting them to think about their futures? What does it mean to be ready for high school and beyond? Through the ACP learning? The Academic and Career Planning is ACP. What is a GPA mean? What, what is expected of you in high school? Thinking about that right away in sixth grade. So those are all of the things we are doing, and also at the same time, right now, we're in the middle of looking at curriculum adoption for literacy in middle school.
17:48 Dr. Jenkins:
Wow, Dr. Ebbe, I'm telling you, this has really been one of my favorite shows. And just to hear directly from you, she's like an icon here in Wisconsin, and throughout our district – everyone knows her, all the children know her, that's the most important part. And the way that you lead, you have led, and what you're going to do for MMSD, we are so grateful for that. And we know that we're headed, it's not good enough to just do one, right, National Blue Ribbon School. We're going to have several of our schools become National Blue Ribbon [yes] under her leadership, as she partners with her friend in crime, Dr. Hicks, herself. Okay. So thank you for joining us, listeners. Thank you, again, for listening to Lead to Liberate. Right here, we try to uncover some of those things that are breakthroughs, to help everyone to become liberated. We know that we can do it. You heard Dr. Ebbe – 100% of African-American students were proficient in reading. Did you hear her? We can do it. So let's come back together again next week, and I look forward to you being here with us. Thank you, again, Dr. Ebbe for all that you've done for us.
18:59 Dr. Ebbe:
Thank you, Dr. Jenkins.
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.