Engaging to Close the Gap: Community, School District, University

Overview: According to various indicators, particularly standardized exams, public school systems across the United States have significant achievement differences among certain racialized populations, referred to as “the achievement gap,” which is currently a high-profile issue in Madison. Ladson-Billings (2006) indicates that this gap is reflective of an “education debt”: a result of cumulative social, economic and political inequalities, the cultural alienation of African American students due to the loss of black teachers in the aftermath of the 1954 Brown decision (Anderson, 2004, Fultz, 2004) and more recently, school re-segregation by race and class (Orfield et al., 2003). Because of these multiple causes and the varied ethnic and cultural groups represented in the US, closure of the gap will require multifaceted interventions that occur in both school and community settings. The Madison Metropolitan School District is working on some new curricula and has several in-school tutoring programs meant to address the gap (e.g., AVID-TOPS; Schools of Hope). However, tutor training may be inconsistent (P. Soglin, personal communication, 12-14-12), and there are children who flourish in community program settings more so than in schools (S. Jackson, personal communication, 12-5-12). While schools reform to better support families of color, the welcoming environment of community-based programs is showing promise in academic improvement for some children (Rosenberg, Harris, Wilkes, 2012), but community leaders have requested CUE’s facilitation to move farther faster. By partnering with UW-Madison, community groups will be able to access interdisciplinary expertise in culturally relevant pedagogy, curriculum, and capacity building for parents, to improve the effectiveness of their educational programming and complement MMSD’s efforts.

Program Plan and Objectives: This project will accomplish two objectives [1] Develop, enhance and assess community-based efforts in tutoring and mentoring students of color; [2] Develop parent advocacy groups to increase the capacity of families to successfully navigate schools. The collaboration includes the Community University Exchange (CUE), three Madison community organizations, and MMSD’s Family Engagement and Diversity Offices. The objectives have been identified through community focus groups with CUE, an innovative cross-campus entity with a cohesive structure and long-term community relationships that is uniquely positioned to support efforts to scale-up successful strategies throughout the city, maximizing efficiencies. CUE staff are experienced in curriculum and instruction and community-based research methods, and have spent two years working with programs at two of these centers, and a year studying the model at the Northport-Packer Community Learning Centers, where a 100% high-school graduation rate has been achieved (Taylor, 2012).

Project Activities/Courses:

  • 2013-2014 school year*: CUE staff will develop, deliver, and link distinct tutoring approaches tailored to the needs of three community centers, paired with their relevant MMSD schools: Vera Court (Mendota Elementary), Boys and Girls Club of Dane County (BGCDC)/Family Voices (Lincoln & others), and Meadowood (Toki Middle School)
  • Provide coordination/organizational support to nascent Parent Involvement group at BGCDC/Family Voices. Expand BGCDC/FV model to Vera Court and Meadowood. Operate in concert with MMSD’s related efforts at several schools (MMSD, 2012), working with their new Family Engagement Coordinator to help teach parents how to advocate for their children in the school system, and organize parent support group/mentoring sessions.
  • Beginning in spring 2014, conduct formative assessments of these tutoring, family advocacy and tutor-training methods, including surveys and feedback sessions that incorporate the voices of students, families and community partners to share with MMSD and other community centers. United Way of Dane County will utilize findings to inform future funding for complementary approaches to out-of-school assistance (K. Hubbard, personal communication, 1-22-13).
  • Spring 2015: a) Continue and expand to other centers and schools; working with MMSD. b) Submit final reports for Schools of Education and Human Ecology to expand knowledge base, and to Mayor to inform resource allocation to community education efforts through NRTs.

Additional Information

South Metropolitan Planning Council

South Metropolitan Planning Council (SMPC) is a coalition of neighborhood and business groups that work together to increase the civic capacity on Madison’s Southside.  SMPC does important work in promoting a greater sense of community and collaboration on the south side.

Our service area includes 13 south Madison neighborhoods in the area south of Regent Street, extending southward to areas along the Beltline from Seminole Hwy. to Southtowne.  Please follow this link for a map of our service area, that includes locations of individual neighborhoods.  Please contact SMPC (contact info above) if you’d like to be connected with the neighborhood association in your area.


John Quinlan, Executive Director
2300 S. Park St., Suite 107
Madison, WI 53713
Phone: 608-819-8549
Email: smpc[at]southmadison.org
Website: http://southmadison.org/

Partnership with UW-Madison:

CUE Affiliates: Beth TryonMargaret Nellis, Ariel Kaufman

Family Voices Project

Overview: Starting in fall 2010, the Family Voices (FV) began a partnership with the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County (BGCDC). The BGCDC/FV partnership is strengthening the program’s foundation and its ability to continue developing and implementing a culturally relevant model, offering a Saturday morning mentor-tutor-enrichment program for students in grades K-8 with strong parent engagement and with a focus on African American families and mentor-tutors. The overlap between Family Voices and CUE was what brought CUE in to assist FV increases its capacity to serve its targeted population, since CUE was already working with Slow Food-UW at the BGCDC, and they had capacity to cook for/with more children. CUE began assisting with this partnership in the Fall of 2011.

Objectives: While many ideas for community improvement were identified, the families in South Madison felt supporting the academic performance of the community’s children through the use of tutors would be a powerful place to begin.

Project Activities:

  • CUE supports Family Voices with program administration and development, documentation and implementation support.

Project Course:

  • CUE staff developed curriculum and taught a pilot professional development course for the UW undergraduates serving as FV mentor-tutors volunteers. This for-credit course was conducted at the BGCDC on alternating Saturdays during the spring 2012 semester. [project course page]

Additional Information: