School district program offers alternative path

The Madison school district's Innovative and...
School district program offers alternative path
IAE instructor Erik Shager and student Ivan Lozada

As a freshman at East High School, Ivan Lozada found the traditional learning environment challenging. He simply couldn’t concentrate. Plus, he says “certain classes catered to certain kids,” which he felt did not include him. His parents noticed a change in him too–something he describes as “going into a dark place.” Yet one teacher recognized Lozada’s work ethic and recommended him for the Alternative Education Resource Options program through the district’s Innovative and Alternative Education program. He checked it out and enrolled, and eventually landed an office job at Goodman Community Center, one of Innovative and Alternative Education’s fifty program partners.

Although that job wasn’t the right fit for him, Lozada returned to East High School and eventually found something that suited his interests through the school’s Work and Learn program. As a junior, he landed an apprenticeship with Smart Motors, another IAE partner. He graduated this January and is attending Madison College’s auto technician program. Last semester he went to school daily, worked every day for credit, attended night school once a week and helped out at the family’s bakery. While traditional schooling was not his thing, hard work was.

Work and Learn is one of six core programs offered through IAE at eight different sites throughout Madison. The IAE has 364 students across all programs, but historically that number grows in the second semester and can hit five hundred.

In the past, IAE catered primarily to students who were not attending classes and failing to earn credits, and prepared students to get their diplomas and jobs, with less focus on postsecondary education options. But principal Karyn Stocks-Glover, who came to the district two years ago, is a fan of the strategic framework. She calls it a great vision for “how to create a model urban school district.”

“We as an organization have gotten smarter about postsecondary options,” says Stocks-Glover, crediting the district’s leadership and the excellence with equity goal. “When I came on board, there was still some vestige of ‘get them a diploma’ as the end game. We’re really shifting. Now all students need to leave us with a postsecondary plan. That’s our excellence with equity plan. We now have a full-time counselor in her second year in that role, and she is working with us to set up those systems for making sure we are creating long-term plans with our students.”

The IAE stays connected to Madison College, making sure all students can visit the college campus, take the compass test–Madison College’s entrance exam–and are working to create more dual-credit courses in which classes through IAE transfer as credit to Madison College.

“Last year [and this year] the compass assessment lived in our school improvement plan,” says Mary Jankovich, IAE’s assistant principal. “We bumped the compass back so every junior is given the opportunity to take the compass twice a year, the fall and spring, so we can show growth to students. All of that is going to connect in the triangle at the end–where you are, where you’re going to be and when you’re there. That’s going to be a connective piece, which is new to us.”

In the future, Stocks-Glover wants to create what she calls a 9-12 pathway for her students. Currently the school is structured without continuity across programs. Gaps can contribute to some kids like Lozada returning to a traditional setting in which they flounder. A goal is to guarantee Madison College-readiness, which gives students an opportunity to learn a skill there or move from there to a four-year institution.

During professional development days, a large chunk of the school’s conversations are around excellence with equity. Along with the rest of the district, IAE is aligning its work with the National Equity Project. Stocks-Glover frequently shares with her staff conversations about creating equitable learning environments, in particular, how implicit bias influences classroom practices–topics she learns about in her monthly principals’ meetings and quarterly leadership institutes.

“So we do deep reflective work, personal and professional,” she says. “The nice thing about teachers in Innovate and Alternative is that they are comfortable doing this work; they are comfortable with the discomfort. They recognize the discomfort that comes with the conversations about equity, [and] that the factual reality applies to them as much as any other individual or school in the district, but they’re willing to lean in and do the work.”