Violence in Madison schools is becoming a significant political issue in town. In this week's Take Home Test, Isthmus asks the Madison Board of Education candidates to talk about perceptions of safety in the city's schools We also ask them about an influential teacher in their past.
Here are the responses from the two candidates for Seat 4, Tom Brew and Johnny Winston, Jr..
The Daily Page: Tell us how a teacher changed your life in a large or small way.
I had two teachers here in the Madison schools that I remember well that challenged me to do my best.
The first was my 6th grade teacher at Longfellow, Ms. Wendt, who showed me that it wasn't okay to just get by in school but to do the best that I could do. She pointed out that I was cheating myself when I just did the minimum and to not push myself to do the maximum that I could do.
The second teacher was Miss Cantwell in 8th grade at Central, who should me that even if I didn't do well in one subject that was no reason to give up on all subjects. She motivated me to strive to do the best that I could.
Johnny Winston, Jr.
Several teachers changed my life while attending elementary, middle and high school in the Madison Metropolitan School District. In kindergarten at Lindbergh, Mrs. Pierce told me that I had a nice smile. So I haven't stopped smiling since. In fifth grade, at Franklin, Mrs. Bell taught me how to think under pressure. Her math tests were timed and if you didn't receive 100% correct, you couldn't go out for recess.
In middle school, one of my sixth grade teachers at Lincoln was Ms. Simms. She taught me how to value my education and not waste time. Both Mrs. Bell and Ms. Simms were African-American women who were very strict; however, they were also very nurturing, set high expectations and demanded parent involvement. These are values that continue to be needed in our district. When Lincoln closed, I was transferred to Hamilton where I was one of very few African-American students. Mrs. Bach and Mr. Leidel made me feel welcomed and encouraged me to persevere.
At West, perseverance turned to lack of confidence. As a 9th grade student in a Spanish class with upperclassman, SeÃora Risser showed great patience and understanding with me. A few years later in Mass Communications class, Mrs. Moen taught me things that I still use today as a member of the school board. She taught me to gather my thoughts before interviews, project them, and speak clearly to viewers, listeners or readers. Lastly, my coaches Mr. Stevens, Mr. Hable and Mr. Wiebe taught me competitiveness and sportsmanship.
Some parents feel the Madison schools are unsafe. What do you say to those parents?
I say to those parents that they are right and that the safety of our children and teachers should be the number-one priority. I believe that we need to develop, with input from parents, teachers, and students a comprehensive student code of conduct that spells out what is expected from the students and what the rules are in school.
To go along with that, we need to spell out what the consequences will be for breaking of the rules and engaging in violent behavior, and apply it fairly to all students. Any student that attacks another student or teacher should be kicked out of school. We need to instill in the students that there are consequences for their actions and that the students have to take responsibility for their actions toward other students and teachers.
Johnny Winston, Jr.
The challenges of school safety are not just isolated to Madison schools. The changing demographics of the district and media attention have lead to this perception. However, the tragedies of Columbine and recently at the Weston school district are examples of this being a national and state problem. I encourage parents to visit schools to talk with principals and staff about their concerns. To effectively prevent bullying and harassment behaviors, we must build and maintain a climate of trust and communication between students, staff and parents.
The negative behavior by a few students that garners media attention cannot hinder students and staff from feeling safe in our schools. I will address safety concerns in a multifaceted approach.
First, our board is currently analyzing and updating our student code of conduct to change from a punitive approach to a preventative and restorative justice methodology. Students will learn from their mistakes by involving their parents, taking ownership of their wrongdoing, getting professional help (e.g. a serious fight would result in anger management counseling) and then making restitution to the victim and school.
Second, I support Madison police officers and security personnel in schools and will work to expand those positions when the state exempts safety expenditures from the revenue limits.
Third and finally, I am supportive of regular staff training on drug use, gang behavior, and de-escalation techniques. The challenges of safety are not just isolated to Madison schools. It is a state and nationwide crisis that we must all work together to solve.