School and park supers challenge the status quo: Way to go!

For the first time in 40 years, I have received a letter from the Madison Metro School District (from new Superintendent Dan Nerad) asking for input on how to improve the Madison Public Schools!

Holy cow! The district wishes to “receive feedback” from families who chose to send their children to private schools “to assess how the district might better serve parents and students in the Madison schools.”

What? They want to “serve” parents and students? Am I reading this correctly?

Give Nerad credit for asking, as well as for probably taking a lot of heat from the establishment just for asking. Way to go.

Now that the Superintendent has asked, here is my input on how to improve the Madison Public Schools:

First, put the children first. Too often, the school board makes decisions based upon political considerations or political correctness — like renaming most of the schools, which cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in new signage. At the Boy Scout Council board meetings, board members always ask themselves if a decision is in the best interest of the kids.

Go back to neighborhood schools that kids can walk or ride a bike to; likewise, go back to schools that parents can easily get to for parent-teacher conferences. Stop busing kids all over town and stop switching which neighborhoods go to which schools. One year, a child attends one school, and the next year the same kid is forced to attend a different school. It’s confusing, and the long distances result in less parental involvement.

With today’s high gas prices and both parents working, they just don’t have the time (and in some cases the resources) to drive all over town.

(And make sure siblings are allowed to attend the same school.)

Third, allow for school choice within the public school system. Let’s face it, everyone knows that the first thing a homebuying family does when shopping for a house is to find the best school district and then look for a home there.

Why do you think that Verona, Middleton, Waunakee, and Sun Prairie are growing like gangbusters? Parents that can afford to choose already have choice. Now let’s allow all parents have choice.

Focus the schools back on basics. Too many kids are graduating from grade school without knowing how to read or perform basic math.

I think part of this approach may include offering an early retirement package to teachers who are burned out, but combined with this, offering incentives and merit pay to the very best teachers.

(Ask the parents; they know who the best teachers are.)

Figure out how to involve the parents as volunteers, helping the teachers in the classroom, serving lunch, etc. Another reason parents send their kids to private school is because the parents have an opportunity for input and participation. Many parents want to be involved.

Safety. Believe it or not, safety is a big reason for attending a private school. Figure out how to increase safety at the public schools and you’ll win back a lot of customers. Get the bad kids out of the regular schools; stop being so tolerant; empower the good kids to put the bad kids back in their place.

Make parents and students sign a contract at the beginning of each year that empowers the district and teachers to take appropriate action whenever kids misbehave. Hold them accountable.

Make misbehaving kids mop the floor and scrub the toilets. They’ll catch on to good behavior real quick!

Start referring to the students and the parents as “customers.” You’ll change the entire perception of teachers and others who work in the school system.

And lastly, have the students recite the Pledge of Allegiance once a week. In other words, stop trying to be so politically correct. Build patriotism and honor and you’ll rebuild the school system that, prior to the late 1980s, served Madison so very well.

Swimming in common sense
Let’s also give credit to Kevin Briski, Superintendent of the Madison Parks Department. In the face of numerous complaints, he made the tough decision to switch from a full-time, year-round pool manager to a part-time, part-year manager to save money.

Good move Kevin! (Frankly, every other private pool in the city somehow manages to “get by” on a part-time manager for the summer months only; I can’t imagine what a pool manager does in the winter.)

By cutting needless waste, the Parks Department will free up money that could be better put to use on other improvements or on long overdue maintenance.

Let’s give these managers some positive feedback when they act responsibly. There are so many people out there who complain at the slightest change that these managers need our support when they act in the best interests of the taxpayers.

T. Wall’s Business Tip of the Month: Prepare for two years of a rough economy. Set aside reserves to ride out the storm.