On track: A Q&A with Karyn Stocks-Glover

On track: A Q&A with Karyn Stocks-Glover
Karyn Stocks-Glover, principal of Innovative and Alternative Education Program for the Madison Metropolitan School District

Through the Innovative Alternative Education program for high school students, Karyn Stocks-Glover, principal of Innovative and Alternative Education Program for the Madison Metropolitan School District, uses a combination of approaches to help struggling students get on track to graduate.

If you can step back and look at the big picture, what is the biggest educational challenge we face in Madison?
Our biggest challenge is also our biggest opportunities, really, which is to examine our practices through an equity lens. Under Dr. [Jennifer] Cheatham’s leadership, and in working with the National Equity Project, we’re really starting to develop the curiosity and understanding needed to address how our practices are contributing to inequitable outcomes.

Do you think the community have the capacity to meet the challenge?
At the Innovative Alternative Education program, I’m fully confident that we can do that work, because of what I see from our teachers and parents who are fully committed to fostering the dialogue necessary to build trust.

What kind of feedback have you received from your students in the short term as you’ve fostered that dialogue?
With our students we’re just now beginning to explore how to engage their voices in the process. But by taking the lead as teachers and parents we’re bringing a lot of important issues to the surface, like the implications of unconscious bias in a learning environment. The more we engage in that dialogue, the more they’ll feel a sense of belonging in the educational process.

You’ve been the IAE principal since July of 2015. What’s the program all about?
We primarily serve grades nine to twelve, responding to students who are off track to graduate [including those who may be in detention or jail] with specific programs to help get them back on track. The vast majority of our students are juniors and seniors who usually haven’t been successful in previous environments, marked by things like failure to attend and failure to earn credit. So IAE was designed to reengage them in the education process through classroom instruction on core literacy and mathematic skills and programs that emphasize student growth in social and emotional learning standards, combined with attention to career interest and exploration through work-based learning opportunities.

When you’re working to reengage folks in this process, what are the consistent root causes of where a student is going off track?
This is something I relate to personally because I was a high school dropout who eventually completed my GED, bachelor’s degree and two master’s degrees. Looking back, I never felt connected to any of the adults in the building in a meaningful way, which is where my problems began. I wasn’t tethered, and I lost sight of the relevance of my education. That’s often what I hear when I talk with our students about their journey: “I didn’t feel like I belonged there.” “I wasn’t happy there.” “Nobody knew me.” “Nobody took the time to get to know me.” So we’re offering a different environment that will help reconnect students and renew their sense of purpose.

Can you share a bit more on how that works?
First, we operate with a one-to-fifteen or one-to-ten teacher-to-student ratio. That makes a big difference in our ability to build the relationships that will support each individual. We design schedules that are more flexible. In some programs, our students are in the classroom for about half the school day, and then out in a workplace setting for the other half. Our staff also takes the initiative to create a culture of openness and inclusivity in the classrooms.

What’s one key example of the measurable successes you see IAE achieving?
One area we’ve really focused on in the last year has been literacy—specifically, writing. So we reorganized our approach to that material to target specific district and Common Core goals as they pertained to writing in narrative, expository and argumentative/persuasive forms. Going through that process we saw significant gains in our students’ writing ability, both relating to MMSD literacy scopes but also in relationship to the compass test used by Madison College. Over the course of one year we went from one-third to two-thirds of our students passing that test, which would ensure that they didn’t have to take remedial literacy courses at Madison College.

Do you think that more schools should consider the innovative approach IAE is taking as a standard approach to learning—one that all students would benefit from?
Absolutely. I think that’s in many ways the promise of our district’s approach to “personalized pathways.” This is a challenge for all of us to reconsider how students find their vocational path through an academic education. At IAE we’re founded on that model, and it’s exciting to see our district heading in that direction.