Madison schools work to make all students feel welcome

MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -- On Monday, just over a week before kids and teens in Madison head back to school, more than 5,000 Madison Metropolitan School District teachers and staff held a district-wide meeting to discuss goals for the 2019-2020 school year.

Monday marked the first time in nearly a decade the whole district has come together for a meeting like this. The focus was combating racism and inequality in the classroom.

School district officials said they want an opportunity to rethink how to better support students of color.

"What does it really mean to embrace black excellence as a core value and anti-racism as a core value in our district?" said Marisa Flowers, coordinator of professional learning.

At Monday's meeting, staff heard from several speakers including students and teachers of color, like flowers.

"I encouraged people to think about what's the part that's going to resonate with them? What's the part that you can take back to your building and act on?" Flowers said.

In the 2018-2019 school year, NBC15 reported several alleged incidents of teachers using racial slurs in the classroom. The school district said Monday's event was not a response to those incidents, but they want to start the school year with students of color in mind.

"I want them to enjoy learning and I want their humanity and dignity to be held at the center of their interactions at school with teachers and staff," Flowers said.

Nationally recognized author and public speaker Bettina Love ended the morning with the keynote speech, encouraging educators to do more to fight racism.

"You got teachers in this district right now who are doing amazing, incredible things. Get involved. Be a co-conspirator," Love said.

Love also reminded the audience that ending inequality benefits all students.

"Doing anti-racist work is not just for little black and brown children, it's for white kids too," Love said.

After the morning's meeting, teachers went back to their schools and worked in groups all afternoon to discuss more ways to help students of color excel.