The Strategy

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Kids in a classroom

To achieve our goals and make our vision a reality, we will rely on five major levers for change. Each of these levers builds on where we’ve been but proposes a shift in our strategy, one that we believe will propel us forward. Related to each lever are actions that we will further develop as we learn together over time.

Empower School Communities


We will empower principals along with school teams, providing them the resources, flexibility and integrated support necessary to collaboratively create strategies with students, staff and families that accelerate student progress.


Gaps in achievement are stubborn but not impenetrable. Over five years, we have made consistent gains in academic achievement and are narrowing gaps. We’ve learned that it takes a disciplined way of working to make progress. But to make more transformative change, it also takes a community. Schools that have made the most progress in our district have worked together with their entire community to create a strategy that builds on the school’s unique strengths and addresses its needs. Lifting voices is the key to unlocking the inherent brilliance that lies in every adult and every child.


Within parameters based on research and best practice, we will create more flexibility and make space for more creativity for schools to be responsive to their students’ strengths and needs. We will also improve our processes for school-based shared leadership to ensure staff, parents and students have a voice in decision making.

We will do that through:

The School Improvement Plan: The School Improvement Plan (SIP) is the document and process schools use to choose and implement a targeted set of strategies to accelerate progress toward goals. A re-designed SIP and streamlined process will ensure that schools are using their limited time and energy on the strategies that their school community deems most impactful.

School Instructional Design: Schools will also work annually to align their resources (time, people and money) to the needs of their individual students. A school’s “design” is the way it chooses to organize itself – who is working with which students on what, when and how in alignment with our district-approved plans for Students with Disabilities, English Language Learners and Advanced Learners within inclusive schools. By creating more flexibility to use resources based on the strengths and needs of students, we believe schools will be better able to support all learners holistically.

Integrated School Support Teams: To support a school’s unique improvement plan and instructional design, cross-functional school support teams that include expertise from key departments, will support a small portfolio of schools and meet at least quarterly to problem solve and build capacity to support the school in meeting its goals.

Invest In People


We will commit to investing in and fully supporting our staff, with a focus on anti-racist, culturally responsive and inclusive teaching and powerfully aligned hiring, placement, induction, professional growth, coaching and evaluation practices.

Equity fellows Utilizing a growing cohort of Equity Fellows who work in different capacities all over the district, we will offer ongoing specialized facilitation support for school-based and central office staff on implicit bias, structural racism, racial identity and racial equity.


We believe in empowering, encouraging, and supporting staff and student well-being. One way to do that is by offering a network of opportunities for staff to explore and experience mindfulness-based practices. Mindfulness practices can help us regulate and respond to the challenging and complex realities of our work as educators. Learning to pay attention to the present moment, without judgment, nurtures personal well-being and supports us in bringing compassion and efficacy to our relationships with colleagues, students and families. This full presence is associated with reducing implicit bias, a key condition for our continued efforts to become anti-racist practitioners, and supports us on our life-long personal and professional journey as educators.


Our highly qualified, committed staff are among our greatest assets, and to do their best work, they need tools, resources and our full support. That includes investing in their ability to grow and learn in a trusting environment where they can bring their full selves to work each day and celebrate their identities as educators. It also means investing in not just individuals but the collective power of their teams to make decisions, every day, in uncompromising alliance to children and families.


We believe that investing in our staff means investing in their collective knowledge and skill, in their ability to function efficaciously in teams and in forging career paths designed for positive impact.

We will do that through:

Culturally Responsive Teaching: Our Great Teaching Framework describes high-quality teaching in our school district and puts culturally and linguistically responsive teaching at the center – all in service of deeper learning for all students. We will more tightly align our systems for hiring, placement, induction, professional growth, coaching and evaluation for teachers to this Great Teaching Framework.

While educators must be well versed in culturally responsive teaching practices, every employee needs to function from a common understanding about the history and effects of racism, structural racism and implicit bias. This work will be embedded in induction and professional learning district- wide.

Building Collective Efficacy: Teams that engage in clear and disciplined cycles of reflection, planning and action can clearly attribute the impact of their actions on student outcomes. We’ll move from relying on mainly large group or district-wide professional development to more school-based learning, drawing on the expertise of principals, teachers and educators within and across schools. In doing so, we’ll build on the work of many successful teacher teams, as well as student services teams, across the district and focus on creating the conditions for these ongoing cycles of action and reflection to take place.

Talent Development: We will also continue to strive for a more diverse staff and a talent development model that helps every staff member forge a path to grow professionally and increase their positive impact. We will continue to enhance efforts to engage employees through the establishment of affinity groups and the articulation of clear individual promotional paths and development opportunities aligned to social justice and racial equity.

Streamline Priorities


We will focus the work of the central office team on breaking down systemic barriers and filling gaps in access, services and resources.


In addition to providing support to schools, central office must also take on work that paves the way for student success district-wide. While individual schools are best positioned to make decisions for their students, the central office is often best positioned to address systemic barriers or gaps that stand in the way of schools’ success.


We will focus on three major areas and explore key actions in those areas:

Deeper learning experiences that engage, challenge and support all learners

  • Deepen early literacy and math instruction
  • Strengthen our tiered Pre-K-12 Intervention System (academic, social/emotional/behavioral and accelerated learning options)
  • Establish historically accurate, inclusive and culturally relevant curriculum and assessment tools and resources

Positive, trusting relationships that foster safe and thriving cultures and climates

  • Develop district-wide systems to lift up youth voice and leadership
  • Develop district-wide systems for parent leadership development and advocacy
  • Strengthen teacher leadership opportunities and principal pipeline
  • Strengthen our restorative mindsets and restorative justice practices within each school
  • Strengthen proactive behavior support, classroom management and student response systems

Personalized opportunities that lead to post-secondary success

  • Redesign middle school to strengthen student engagement and relationship building
  • Coordinate student-centered case management and options to support and re-engage Opportunity Youth, youth put significantly at risk by the system, especially those who are justice-involved, have dropped out or are significantly off track to graduation
  • Develop high school pathways, including the Early College STEM Academy at Madison College

What is deeper learning?

Deeper learning means moving beyond the basics to more ambitious instruction and engaging, authentic learning that requires the skills and abilities articulated in our graduate vision. It also means never withholding ambitious instruction from students who are still working on basic skills.

Behavior Education Plan

We’ve learned an incredible amount about behavior support and what it takes to make sure every school and classroom is a safe and supportive one. We’ll take what we’ve learned and work with students, staff and families to strengthen our approach. We know that our move to proactive behavior support and restorative practices is the right direction, and by taking a step back to improve our policy and systems, we can ensure we have the right district-wide support for implementation while fostering school-based strategies and innovations aimed at strengthening relationships and students’ sense of belonging.

Plan for the Future


We will think and plan long-term in partnership and collaboration with our students, families, staff and the larger Madison community.


Our long-term success depends on addressing long-standing, structural barriers that stretch beyond MMSD. This work must be long-term and can be accomplished only in partnership with our city, community partners and our families.


In collaboration with our community, we will engage in long-term planning in the areas that are most important to support student and family success through a multi-generational lens. This means our focus isn’t just on students, but also on their future children, their parents, their grandparents.

We will do that through exploring solutions in the following areas:

Early Childhood: Working with the City of Madison, Dane County, our Early Care and Education sites, the United Way of Dane County, potential funders and other key community partners, we will explore full-day four-year-old kindergarten options, stronger links to early learning for birth to age three and more wrap-around care for our earliest learners.

Neighborhood Needs: We will continue to explore and expand models like Community Schools in support of our highest-needs neighborhoods and partner with agencies, like the Madison Out-of-School Time coalition, to increase access to the services families and students need to thrive.

School Buildings: Through long-range facilities planning, there is potential to not only improve the quality of facilities across our district, but align our investments in school facilities with our values of racial equity and social justice. By working together with our community, we can address inequities that have existed in our community and invest in facilities that serve our community well.

Embrace Innovation


To address challenges without clear solutions, we will adopt new mindsets toward risk-taking and support people in bold, new and innovative work within the classroom and beyond.


We do not have all the answers. We need to build a skill set and a mindset that supports innovative work and design at every level of our organization focused on equity-based problems that have been hard to budge. This means better identifying problems, talking with those who experience the problem to better understand them, brainstorming to surface possible solutions, trying something and learning from it. As a school district, we believe we’ve learned a lot about continuous improvement, but we need a stronger skill set around innovation.


We will more intentionally mine for current innovations, guide small groups of leadership, staff and teachers through innovation sessions when facing significant equity-based problems and build capacity to innovate throughout the district, including innovation in the classroom. As we identify innovations that produce results, we will make sure to codify them and consider them for implementation at a larger scale.

We will do that through:

Cultivating MMSD’s Strengths in Innovation: We know educators are already problem solving and innovating, but we haven’t yet captured this expertise. We’ll begin by mining for innovation already in our schools and classrooms, learn from it and make resources available in an online repository for staff across the district.

Facilitating Innovation in MMSD and Beyond: We’ll create an innovation team whose expertise is not in the subject matter of specific issues, but in design thinking and the process to develop and test ideas. This team will help facilitate the process of innovation and design with educators throughout MMSD.

Developing Innovation Skills and Capacity among MMSD Staff: We’ll also provide professional development and training opportunities for school- based and central office staff that feature hands-on skill development, highlights of successful innovation and opportunities to collaboratively solve problems.