Neil Heinen

Heinen: "Good stuff" going on in Madison now

Kaleem Caire's One City and Jennifer Cheatham's school district strategic plan two examples of initiatives that will have a big impact on our city.

Recently, I interviewed Kaleem Caire on my weekly television show by the same name as this column—For the Record. As we talked after the show, Caire told me how he was in a period of "not talking about the bad stuff, because there is so much good stuff going on in this city right now." The effect was the equivalent of someone walking in on me as I was watching the latest story on the sad and sorry presidential campaigns, turning off the set, plopping on headphones and playing the latest Peter Wolf CD—a breath of fresh air for me.

Admittedly, the topic of the show with Caire was the opening of his new One City Early Learning Centers on Fisher Street, certainly part of the "good stuff going on in this city." But as I have acknowledged before on this page, I struggle with cynicism in the ugly, dysfunctional, megalomania of 21st century American and Wisconsin politics, and during a week in which Donald Trump careened further off the rails and Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders appeared increasingly desperate and reckless, I reflected on Caire's insights. Thanks Kaleem, I needed that.

First of all, One City itself is a remarkable two-generational early childhood center that promises to prepare primarily low-income kids for success in school and offer their families support and resources. This project is a blueprint for successful partnerships, but Caire is especially unequivocal in his emotional appreciation of Salli Martyniak and Forward Community Investments, which is an under-appreciated, socially just, community-asset building organization—without which, Caire says, One City would not have happened. The payoff may not be immediate, but it is imminent.

The desire for immediate gratification is another of my civic shortcomings. At a recent lunch with Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne, we talked about initiatives his office and others have undertaken in response to racial disparities detailed in the Race to Equity report. He talked about Dane County Community Restorative Courts and the commitment to reducing corporal punishment (Google "no hit zone" and you'll find Dane County is the second mention on the page), and the work of the Dane County Treasurer's Office to help folks avoid evictions. "Good stuff" like this will reduce the glaring incarceration disparities (if I can wait the two or three years it'll take for the impact to be felt and documented).

Caire talked about the inclusive hiring he is seeing, literally, at Two Men and a Truck as it helped furnish One City, and on the construction site of the new UW Health Clinic at Union Corners.

In some cases, we can even talk about what is next. Madison Metropolitan School District Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham's strategic plan continues to produce improvement in achievement among other areas while at the same time provoking new thinking on how to address stubborn barriers to successful schools. A couple of years of experience and a stable school board give reasons for optimism as well.

And then, I just want to whet your appetite for transformational growth and development in this terrific city with this: Monona Terrace, Phase Two. I don't want to get too far ahead of myself here, but I'm getting increasingly excited about some planning underway by distinguished, successful planners, architects, urban thinkers and civic leaders for realization of John Nolen's vision of a "Great Esplanade" along Lake Monona that includes a raised deck over John Nolen Drive, a nine-acre lakefront park, the original Frank Lloyd Wright Boathouse and an improved Blair Street intersection. Stay tuned. There's a lot of good stuff going on right now.

SIDE NOTES

Trailblazer
I couldn't begin to count how many ideas for editorials, television programs and columns Joan Collins has "encouraged" me to consider, but I've done most of them. For her 50 years of running Joan Collins Publicity, Collins was honored with the Wisconsin Governor's Trailblazer Award for Women in Business. A tip of the hat to other winners, including The Creative Company president Laura Gallagher.

Adopt-A-School
More than 140 people turned out for a terrific summit on the impact of the Foundation for Madison's Public Schools Adopt-a-School program. Want to get a peek at the future of Madison's "community schools," effort? Call Mary Bartzen at FMPS and tell her you're interested in adopting a school. 

Happy retirement
I'm sure going to miss seeing Jill Sommers around here. In addition to 38 years of programming talent, management skills and warm-hearted and impassioned loyalty to Morgan Murphy Media, Sommers was a member of the WISC-TV Editorial Board from its inception, and as many a guest would agree, asked some of the best questions. 


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