Madison School Officials Propose Black Excellence Plan

The term "Doom Loop" describes a vicious cycle. An attempted solution makes a situation worse by not addressing the root of the problem. In finance, this refers to the boom-bust structure that leads to economic crises. Sometimes Madison uses the same doom loops many times before learning hard lessons.

Local kids pay the price.

Madison school administrators recently posted a Black Excellence plan on the district’s website. The Department of Family, Youth and Community Engagement proposes a new commission. The first goal is to “begin awareness and engagement about Black Excellence.”

The district commits to “creating new narratives about our Black youth and highlight that excellence that already exists.” The district’s plan also says, “we do not believe that excellence only shows up in academic metrics.”

It seems obvious district administrators have their minds made up—at least on this point. That makes it past time for public explanations. A new plan focused on Black Excellence, in particular a plan that launches a new commission, requires the fierce urgency of now. It requires meticulous transparency. We’ve been let down too many times before.

If the district plans to lead with a simple outline plan, meatier ideas than this should be close behind. The public won’t see a press conference and a website as a new plan. Dr. Cheatham and school board members must know that. We expect more.

Our kids deserve a real plan right now. There is a crisis out here. Parents and the public know what counts. They know reading and math scores count. College readiness counts. The district’s outline plan uses the term ‘metrics’ several times but doesn’t offer specifics.

We applaud the term and certainly support Black Excellence. We’re anxious to support a new plan. But a new commission and more perfunctory downtown meetings sounds suspiciously like Madison’s old plan. It’s clear how that turned out. The old plan was a classic doom loop. We can’t get fooled again. Local kids are depending on us.

Outline of Black Excellence Plan as Posted on MMSD's Website
Retrieved January 15, 2019

  • We will commit to creating new narratives about our Black youth and highlight that excellence that already exists.
  • Competencies we want all of our graduates to possess: A growth mindset, interpersonal skills, confidence, cultural competence, community connection, wellness, creativity and self-knowledge.
  • We do not believe that excellence only shows up in academic metrics.

Evidence: Share progress with Board of Education on June 28, 2019


Project Goals and Associated Metrics

For 2018-19 the goal is to establish the Black Excellence Coalition.

  • Begin awareness and engagement about Black Excellence
  • Finalize purpose of the Coalition, refine description based on feedback
  • Work in collaboration with the MMSD Communications department to create web and social media presence
  • Determine existing groups and collaborations that can support the work
  • Set up engagement sessions / finalize meeting schedule
  • Hold initial meetings to review data, gather additional information
  • Hold meetings, review data, determine way to assess impact and identify recommendations for future work
  • If applicable, review progress on any immediate actions for this year
  • Continue to work in collaboration with MMSD Communications department
  • Hold summer meetings if necessary

Measures of Success

  1. Coalition is formed (and/or we are leveraging other existing groups to identify key recommendations)
  2. We will form an internal MMSD cross-functional team to monitor the highest impact action steps happening towards Goal 3 so that the District can report its progress
  3. The Communications Department will have stories, photos, videos and other materials developed to highlight Black Excellence.
  4. We will use Climate Survey responses from Black students, staff and families to create a baseline of experiences across the District.


  • Final report of our progress and recommendations
  • Communications materials
  • Potential new supports/events
Dane County has some of the most excellent black students in the country. And props to MMSD for taking steps to recognize that. But the problem is not just a lack of recognition.

We do those students a disservice if our plans amount to a patting them on the back and saying "yes, you are excellent." We need to also make sure they are getting the tools to stay excellent post-graduation: Hard science classes, higher level math, honors English, AP history, high SAT scores, and good grades.

Just my 2cents -- Sam – Sam , Fish Hatchery Neighborhood (2019-02-12 16:25)

I whole-heartedly agree with the ideas highlighted in the article. MMSD mentioning a focus on "Black Excellence" means little if a plan of action consists of a mere outline. The data is clear, we are and have been for myriad years, failing to provide a school system in which black and brown students feel as though they belong, feel motivated, engaged, or find themselves thriving. As a teacher, fully invested in our black and brown youth, I see very little put into action to end revolving doors of these youth in and out of classrooms. This has to stop. We have to be willing to take risks to make changes in order to meet the needs of ALL students. Lip-service is not enough. It's time for a clear, robust plan, proper allocation and resources, and ACTION. NOW! – Lara Ostrander (2019-02-12 19:06)
I agree--I think this plan needs to be fleshed out and made transparent. The bare-bones outline leaves me unsure of how to interpret the point "We do not believe that excellence only shows up in academic metrics." What does this mean? How does this point translate into our classrooms? And what is at stake--what are the practical implications here? Yes, excellence can show up outside of the classroom. Non-academic competencies should be encouraged in all students. But academics remain critical. Academics remain vital. Above all, we need to make sure our students possess academic competencies. I'm concerned that this plan--and this point in particular--lay the groundwork for the continued failure of our schools to produce Black students who graduate not only on time but also with college/career-ready skills they need to succeed in the 21st century. How does MMSD propose to encourage Black Excellence in this way? I want to support this plan, but I'm afraid of what it might cost. Of what it might be used to justify. I'd like to hear, specifically and clearly, how the district's plan will ensure that recognizing non-academic excellence doesn't distract our limited resources and efforts from the urgent need to teach our Black students academic competencies. Of course things like wellness are important. Of course we want all of our children to be well. But our graduates can't possess wellness if they can't read. So where many of our Black graduates aren't proficient according to the metrics, this plan's ostensible intent to de-emphasize said metrics raises questions. A little transparency around why, and to what end, couldn't hurt. – Mckenna Kohlenberg , UW Law School/School of Ed (2019-02-12 19:10)
Thank you Simpson Street Free Press. You are always looking out for us. – Antoneah Armour , Madison, WI (2019-02-12 21:01)
The main concept of the plan is to "Hold initial meetings to review data, gather additional information. ... Hold meetings, review data, determine way to assess impact and identify recommendations for future work." Meetings have been held for several decades. It is difficult to understand the word "initial" in talking about planning meetings. The data have been the subject of meetings of the school board and community groups for many years, such as Justified Anger in recent years. I do not understand what is being initiated. – Pragmatist , Madison, WI (2019-02-13 08:42)