NBC15's Back to School 2013 series

By: Britni McDonald Email
By: Britni McDonald Email
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UPDATED Friday, August 23, 2013--- 5:10 p.m.

"I'm thrilled to start my first school year in Madison," said Madison Schools new superintendent, Jennifer Cheatham.

With a new superintendent comes a new direction, but Cheatham doesn't plan to do it on her own.

"The schools should be the driving force of change," said Cheatham.

At the center of her vision is a school improvement plan with two specific learning priorities.

1) High Standards - "Raise a level of challenge and makes sure students are on a path of career readiness. We can't wait any more. Now's the time."

2) Good Data - "We won't be waiting a year until the test scores come out to see if we're on track."

Part of the big picture is local control. Priorities will vary with each school's needs, and Cheathem is putting that in the hands of the individual school.

"Each schools in a different place and population is different," said Cheatham. "They'll be deciding within their own context what those focus areas need to be, and we'll be working hard with those schools to help them remain focused so that they can actually meet the measurable goals that they are setting for themselves."

But to help these schools meet those goals, the district developed a strategic framework with five priorities.

1) Coherent Instruction - "Ensure that all schools have instruction materials that they need to support their students well."

2) Personalized Pathways - "More clear pathways at the high school level to graduation."

3) Family and Community Engagement - "What we heard from our families information of what their child are expected to know and learn in school so that they can demand the very best in their children."

4) Accountability - "So that everyone is held responsible in playing their part in the organization really well."

5) A Thriving Workforce - "Improving our recruitment and professional development practice and keep them in our system."

"I want everyone to look forward to what's going to absolutely be a great year in Madison," said Cheatham.


UPDATED Thursday, August 22, 2013 --- 7:28 a.m.

"When most of our schools are designed it was a time when school safety
really was not the primary consideration," said Madison Schools security
coordinator, Luis Yudice.

Schools like Franklin Elementary built in the 70s or Black Earth
Elementary with roots dating back to 1885, security was a single mirror
heading into the main office through unlocked doors, often located in
the middle of the school.

"The office is located upstairs so without the camera system someone
could walk in and not be seen where they went," said Yudice.

Times have changed since Columbine, Virginia Tech, and, more recently,
Sandy Hook-- historic tragedies in our nation's schools that redefined

"I think the schools are reflecting how society has changed," said Yudice.

Wisconsin's no exception. Just this summer, active shooter training in
the Verona School District.

In Madison Schools, only three years ago were doors locked and security
cameras installed

"The principal and the secretary are able to monitor the cameras so
they know what's going on in the school," said Yudice.

And in Black Earth this year, hundreds of thousands spent on renovations
specifically surrounding security.

"It's a whole different world this year," said

Until this year at Black Earth Elementary, anyone could walk right in to
the school but now, everyone needs to be screened through a new security
system before being let in.

"It just allows us to interact with people coming into our schools

The main office was also relocated to the front of the building with
added visibility through newly installed windows. The school is also now
operating under a 24 hour survelliance system with multiple cameras
inside and outside the school.

"It's one more layer of safety for our students," said

The last renovation in 1978, doors were even an upgrade, replacing an
open design with moveable walls.

"If we were doing a lock-down drill, our students would have to leave
our classroom and go to a secure location where a door is locked," said
"We just had enough people saying, yup, it's time."

"For us its a process of continuous improvement, always trying to do
better," said Yudice.

School staff has also had training this summer for emergency situations.


UPDATED Wednesday, August 21, 2013 --- 9:32 a.m.

"Each grade and each school puts out a list of school supplies," said 4th grade teacher at Sandburg Elementary, Miranda Salguero.

That list can be extensive and expensive.

One elementary school supply list at Target has a list of more than 20 items, coming to a total cost of just over $100.

"We try to be really thoughtful of what we ask families to bring because we realize it's a big expense," said Salguero.

Paper, pencils, markers, folders... Some school supply list also require more unique and costly items like gym shoes and art smocks.

"The list includes anything from tissues to snacks depending on the grade level but its things we absolutely need to have," said Salguero.

For a family with more than one child, that 100 dollars is multiplied, but those who can't afford to shell out hundreds of dollars in one shopping trip do have options. "Stuff the Bus" or "Backpacks for Success" are just two events that provide thousands of kids with school supplies they otherwise can't afford

The school supply list is evolving with technology beginning to replace these cumbersome items.

"It makes more sense for them to organize their information the way we are expected to do as adults later," said Salguero.

Schools are now in a digital age where paper and pencil is becoming obsolete.

"We are hoping to save families and the district itself probably a lot of resources that way. It makes sense. The district is making a big investment in technology for school. they need to acquire a new set of skills for the digital world," said Salguero.

But it will still be quite some time before we stop seeing them on the shelves and on your child's required school supply list.

"There are staples you'll always need markers, you will always need crayons because we want kids to have paper and pencil skills," said Salguero. "It hasn't changed in the last few years as it will in the next two to three."


Posted August 20, 2013--- 6:00 p.m.

Students used to have to go to the shelves to find each book to read and now, they're all on the iPad with one simple click of a button.

Students can also write and create their own stories on iPads that they can then share on a large scale.

"They can do the whole writing process. They plan, edit, revise, all on the iPads," said Sanburg Elementary's 3rd grade teacher, Ashley Coblentz. "When they're done with a finish piece of work they can then send it to every single student or teacher in their class or their school."

"It's fun because if you have a reading group we can get the books on an iPad so we can make notes," said 4th grade student, Citlali Romera.

Students still have assigments on paper and hardback.

"It's still important to me that they still read something tangible, a real book," said Coblentz.

4th grader Citlali Romero wrote a book about her cousin in the Ronald McDonald house. A QR-code on the book links to a video on YouTube of her reading the story.

But it's not just reading and writing that's changed. These iPads can be used for every subject.

"We started incorporatiing iPads into math, literacy, writing, social students, science, you name it because the instant access really changed things," said Coblentz.

A presentation goes beyond poster board and even power point with instructional videos attached to each slides.

"I made a presentation of a judge named Sonya Sotomeyer," said Romero.

The fear that this kind of techology creates distraction or isolation has so far been debunked in third grade teacher Ashley Coblentz' classroom.

"The kids are actually working together more. The amount that they're on task engaged and particpating and collaborating has actually increased. Technology has brought the kids back in a digital community," said Coblentz.

Grants were awarded to schools like Sanburg Elementary to provide students with iPads. The Madison School District hopes to expand that to more classrooms in coming years.


Posted August 19, 2013--- 2:00 p.m.

"School lunches aren't what they used to be," said UW Health clinical nutritionist, Tara Larowe.

Now required by the USDA to provide healthy options, school lunch rooms are more in line with what nutritionists recommend.

"More fruits, veggies, and whole grains," suggests Larowe.

Madison Schools food and nutrition director, Steve Youngbauer, echoes that. "Grains, fruits, veggies, and dairy products."

It's really been just over the past three years since the Hunger Free Kids Act that schools have made significant changes to menus.

"Now we have requirements for the different groups of veggies the dark greens the red orange beans once per week," said Youngbauer.

"Schools are getting behind healthier environments," said Larowe.

"Everyday students must choose at least one fruit or vegetable with their entree," said Youngbauer. "Last year we almost doubled our consumption of fruits and veggies from the prior year."

Classic options like the hot dog are still offered but now in healthier forms.

"The hot dog is a turkey frank. The turkey frank is served on a whole grain bun," said Youngbauer.

The garden bar was added just last yea.

"The value of the garden bar is to give kids more options and more choices in the fruit and veggie arena," said Youngbauer.

But it's still not quite healthy enough. This will be the last year students will be offered high calorie and high fat snacks like donuts candy bars and soda.

"I think that the one item that can be taken out of their diet is the sugary drinks," said Larowe.

Next year a national ban of junk food will replace these items with healthier options like peanuts granola bars and water.

"I think it's finding a balance of finding what kids are going to eat and a healthier component of that," said Youngbauer. "We think its important for kids to try out the cafeteria each and every year."

If your family uses the free or reduced meal program, head here to apply now: https://foodsvcweb.madison.k12.wi.us/reduced.htm

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