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2023 Schools Make Madison Summit Educates Community; Inspires Action

The first annual Schools Make Madison Summit (SMMS) was presented by the Madison Public Schools Foundation and brought out nearly 150 community advocates to Thermo Fisher Scientific’s campus. The goal for the morning was to educate, collaborate and inspire action around creating systems of support and opportunity for our MMSD students. Attendees heard from educators, and business and community leaders on the significance of K12 public schools to our community and regional economy, and from current Adopt-a-School partners about the difference they’re making through their involvement with our schools and students.

Partnerships Create Equity and Build Opportunity

Attendees, comprising Adopt-a-School partners, school leaders, business professionals, and interested community members, heard stories of incredible partnerships and relationships among our schools, students, businesses, and civic organizations. The stories below are a testament to what we can achieve when we work together.

  • Alliant Energy designed a Tipping the Scales program which introduces East High students to the legal profession through a series of experiential-based learning field trips
  • Summit Credit Union has a branch in each high school, hiring students and providing valuable lifelong financial literacy training.
  • Wisconsin Evaluation Cooperative designed a 3-credit college course for Capital High students on culturally responsive research and evaluation. They’ll also be hands-on when Capital High moves into their new building in late summer 2023. 
  • UnityPoint Health-Meriter is a health care pathways partner to Memorial High School and their funding of student after-school activity meals is helping to nourish and build relationships and community among students.
  • American Family mentors East High students helping them with resume writing and interview skills, and supports the East Asian Student Club among other things.
  • Event host, Thermo Fisher Scientific, is a long-time partner to Cherokee Heights Middle School, creating opportunities for students to learn about careers in the STEM field, as well as providing needed supplies such as snacks and winter gear for students. 

These stories are evidence of the invaluable impact that our Adopt-a-School partnerships are making on students and schools. They also demonstrate the uniqueness of every partnership, each one created in alignment with the organization’s values and capacity, and the needs of the school.

“Our Adopt-a-School partners collaborate with our teachers to share their expertise and help bridge the gap between what is happening in their field and what is being taught in the classroom. This sharing of their work inspires students and creates meaningful and engaging learning experiences for our students.” 
– Summit Panelist, Steve Guziewski, Pathways Learning Coordinator, Vel Phillips Memorial High School

Another important partnership that attendees had the opportuntiy to learn about was Madison’s participation in the National League of Cities’ (NLC) Youth Excel initiative which is focused on supporting cities’ efforts to improve outcomes for youth and young people who are marginalized from economic success. To inform and guide city leaders, NLC has developed the Youth Excel Framework to help cities promote long-term community economic security by:

  • Developing partnerships and implementing strategies that improve access to quality postsecondary education and career pathway opportunities that lead to higher-wage jobs.
  • Focusing on job quality improvement strategies.
  • Integrating the critical perspectives and voice of marginalized youth and young adults.

The Current Funding Model is Broken – Act Now to Help Change It

Attendees also heard stories of the deep challenges and inequities among Wisconsin’s K12 schools due to our 30-year-old funding model, a model of disinvestment that continues to erode our school systems. A model that is self-defeating and a detriment to the long-term economic health and vitality of Wisconsin. A state with an aging population where more families are moving out than in. Wisconsin’s unprecedented $7 billion dollar budget surplus must be used to reverse these trends! Following are some highlights from the “Stand Up. Speak Up. Champion K-12 Public Education” panel discussion:

  • State funding is a critical part of Wisconsin school district budgets, yet funding varies widely district-to-district. For example, Beloit receives 100% of its funding from the state, whereas Madison’s funding is a 10/90 split, 10% from the state, and 90% from property taxes. 
  • State-wide, public education is being largely funded through operations referendums, which are inefficient and detract from the daily work of educating our students. And it’s not a sustainable business model.
  • Public schools must serve every student regardless of their needs. Devastatingly though, Wisconsin’s special education reimbursement rates are among the lowest in the country at 30%. English as a second language services reimbursement rate is only 8%. 
  • Wisconsin schools have plummeted from 11th to 25th in the nation in per-pupil funding.
  • Governor Evers’ $2.6 billion dollar education budget proposal restores K12 funding to 2013 levels.
  • More information on school finance in Wisconsin >>

These astounding facts and figures demonstrate the urgent need for all of us to take action. Thirty years of disinvestment is a lot to stare down, but we must do that, and by working together, we can turn things around.

Lifting Lives Through Literacy

During the Summit’s “Lifting Lives Through Literacy” panel, Gabi Bell Jiminez, Director of Instruction at Madison Metropolitan School District commented: “As we set forth on a path to ensure that each of our students is literate, we must ensure that writing is our end goal. Reading will allow our students to understand what is known up to now. Writing, on the other hand, will allow them to contribute to the body of knowledge. Readers are consumers of ideas; writers are its merchants. When you are confronted with a child’s brilliance, ask them immediately to write it down. Tell them, ‘What you said is worth recording and reading one hundred years from now.'” Other soundbites, facts and figures shared during the panel included:

  • For all student groups, the U.S. has a 33% proficiency rate in reading; Wisconsin is at 34.8% and MMSD at 37.5%. For Black students, it drops to 17%, 7.9%, and 7.4%, respectively, far below any other student group.
  • Recently launched systematic approach to early reading instruction includes phonological awareness, phonics, and oral language, intentionally building background knowledge.
  • Literacy includes intentional instruction in writing and comprehension. MMSD has made a historic $5.6M investment in elementary core literacy materials and the science of reading and is investing in middle school curriculum. MMSD is also committed to providing culturally and linguistically relevant books for classroom libraries and take-home books.
  • Local school boards determine curriculum, another very important reason to pay attention to and vote in school board elections.
  • Success Story: Practice Makes Perfect at Crestwood

In Closing

In her Summit closing remarks, Melinda Heinritz, President of Madison Public Schools Foundation shared this Eleanor Roosevelt quote:

“Courage is more exhilarating than fear and in the long run it is easier. We do not have to become heroes overnight. Just one step at a time, meeting each thing that comes up, seeing it is not as dreadful as it initially appeared, discovering we have the strength to stare it down.”

She asked all of us to lean into our civic responsibility to step up and fight for our kids, our schools, and our beloved state of Wisconsin. 

“I wanted to congratulate you on a fantastic summit, and also express my gratitude as an attendee! Immediately after, I called my mom who is a retired educator and children’s healthcare lobbyist, and told her about how inspired I was by the programming. The need to do better for our children was the heartbeat felt throughout. The panelists were fantastic, the topics challenging and informative.” – Anne Ehrhart, SLED representative, Google public sector


  • 7:30 AM – Check-In, Breakfast & Networking
  • 8:00 AM – Panel Conversations
  • 9:15 AM – Break
  • 9:30 AM – Breakout Sessions (A/B)
  • 10:30 AM – Becoming a Partner for Progress in Our Schools
  • 11:00 AM – Summit Concludes / Optional Tour of Thermo Fisher Scientific Facilities

“Since 2011, WIDA has been fortunate to share an invaluable Adopt a School relationship with Midvale Elementary. Over the years, we’ve had the privilege of not just collaborating and connecting with educators, but also with students through our volunteer work in classrooms and at school events. Through events like educator roundtables, we’ve gained valuable insight into how to better support educators, students, and families.” 

– Rachel Maske, Finance Coordinator

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