MADISON (WKOW) -- Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) administrators and students told a group of bipartisan lawmakers to provide urban schools with more funding for specialized programs and more stability for teachers Tuesday.
The lawmakers toured two Madison schools and heard testimony as part of a Task Force on Urban Education set up by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester).
The goal of the task force is to identify solutions to current problems facing urban schools and come up with statewide recommendations for improvements by 2017.
Madison East High Senior Siron Offord told the legislators he didn't know what he wanted to achieve or how to achieve it until getting involved with the Avid Tops program. That program is a joint effort between MMSD and the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County, which offers disadvantaged students tutoring, mentorship and paid summer internships, in addition to eligibility for college scholarships.
Siron told 27 News the program helped him find direction, but he knows he is a rare case.
"I know a lot (of students) of who do not know, they're undecided," said Offord. "Like me, I'm a person who dreams and for me, I want those dreams to come true. So, for me, I was lucky enough to have a support system."
As legislators look for ways to improve all urban schools, East High Principal Mike Hernandez says they should use programs like Avid Tops as a blueprint for success.
"It is absolutely essential to find ways, the best ways, to engage the students," said Hernandez. "Today, our students talked to our guests about the teacher being like their mom."
But MMSD Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham said those types of programs rely on generous donors, such as one that focuses on mentoring new teachers.
"And because of the CUNA Mutual Foundation - that covers all the cost of all the mentors that work with our teachers," Dr. Cheatham told the Task Force members at a hearing at the State Capitol Tuesday afternoon.
Cheatham implored the legislature to step up and put some money behind similar efforts, while providing more stability for educators so they can better help students.
"We need to place that value on teachers and an environment that really supports them," said Dr. Cheatham.
Teacher recruitment, training and retention is a major focus of the Task Force, because urban districts experience far higher turnover rates.
The Task Force is also focusing on early childhood education and student behavior/mental health. The Task Force Chair - Rep. Jessie Rodriguez (R-Franklin) - hopes to have recommendations developed by next year, with implementation by 2017.