This blog represents my opinions and my opinions alone, and certainly doesn't represent the collective thoughts of any of the Boards or organizations that I serve on. Unfortunately I make all sorts of miistakes, I'm a picky eater, I can't sing and I just recently found out I have been spelling certain words in my vocabulary wrong my entire life. That being said, I still continue to muddle ever onward. Welcome.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

My Thoughts on the Consolidation of Sixth Grade Programming, or How It Came to Pass That I Have Become The New Judas McDoodle of the City of Monona

Never mind the fact that I never said I wouldn't vote to move our sixth graders to GDS, never mind the fact that the vote on consolidation had already passed by the time it had gotten around to me, never mind the fact that vote was 6 to 1, never mind the fact that I firmly believe it is the best educational practice for our students, never mind the fact that that assertion was repeated and supported countless times to me by teachers, administrators and many parents alike, never mind the fact that pitching the idea of retaining sixth graders in Monona was a great example of giving some watered down Kool-Aid to the masses in order to garner voter support for the referendum, never mind the fact that I did an amazing amount of research and soul-searching before I made this decision, never mind the fact that it broke my heart in half to do so, NEVER MIND all of that. We'll just pretend as if those facts don't matter and it shouldn't be hard to pretend for the majority of angry Mononans that I have heard from. Because it seems that they don't want to hear what I really believe, and that is this:
  1. I strongly believe that all middle school programming should be housed under the same roof as best educational practice and most effective use of resources and teacher time.
  2. I don't believe that our Monona sixth graders were receiving the exact replica of programming and experience as they would be at GDS.
  3. I strongly believe that once housed in the same building, our sixth grade teachers can expand and enhance their programming in ways that were restricted by the inequity of resources between buildings.
  4. I strongly believe that our teachers and by extension, our students will benefit from enhanced collaboration time together.
  5. I strongly believe that our lowest students and highest students will benefit from increased resources at their disposal.
  6. I strongly believe that our district's teachers should be spending their time in a classroom, not behind the wheel of their car.
  7. I strongly believe that our sixth graders will benefit from the earlier integration into the GDS community, which will only be increasingly more overwhelming the later they enter into it.
  8. I strongly believe all students benefit socially from having a larger peer group to chose from.
  9. I strongly believe, by direct suggestion from our Superintendent, that had our Monona sixth graders stayed back at Winnequah, Superintendent Gerlach would advocate for their programming to become an elementary based model, while our district's sixth graders at GDS would continue to receive the same educational benefits of a full exploratory middle school program. That would mean that our Monona sixth graders would enter into seventh grade at GDS unfamiliar with the building that their peers have spent two years in already and a FULL YEAR behind in French, Spanish, Tech Ed. FACE and computer instruction. Really? Can one parent please contact me and tell me that they want this for their child? I refuse to put our Monona sixth graders at such a drastic academic disadvantage. When I said that I thought this was the best decision for our kids, I meant what I said. It's not good enough for my own kids and I'm not going to tell any other parent that it's good enough for theirs.
  10. I don't believe that the decision to send our sixth graders to GDS is just a step in an elaborately organized nefarious plan to close Maywood. We have members on our School Board that can barely stand to sit in the same room with each other, these are the people who are clandestinely conspiring to drain Monona of it's last drop of life-blood? News to me!

And so, because I was so brazen as to actually vote my conscience, I have been lambasted as the next Judas McDoodle of Monona. My supporters are trying to recall my position, they're blasting my name away on all the blogs and Facebook pages, and sending me emails demanding door-to-door apologies to the good citizens of Monona. My fourth grader came home from school yesterday and told me that one of his classmate's fathers said that I was a liar and that I sucked. My ten year old was confused by this, of course, he may have the same feelings occasionally himself, but he was confused as to why someones parent would say something so mean about his mom. I explained to him that people often say things that they wouldn't ordinarily say when they're upset and hurt. He looked at me with about as much sympathy as a fourth grade boy can muster and said "Yeah, a lot of the time I want to punch Avery so I know it can be hard to do the right thing". Thanks, Augustus. You're the best.


  1. I would like the dad who said that to try to be on the school board.

  2. Jessica, it takes a lot of courage to be on the school board. Even if we disagree on issues (and I'm not saying that we do here), I cannot argue with your commitment. Thank you for your time and effort on behalf of our children and our community. Your post is also a good reminder that little pitchers have big ears. I will speak a little more carefully and kindly at home, in the car, at the park, and anywhere else from here on out. Onward indeed....

  3. I just sent you an e-mail with some more detailed ideas for saving Maywood and Nichols, but I'd just like to declare publicly that I'm from Cottage Grove and was proud to vote for you in 2009 because I thought you would be able to rise above the Monona vs. Cottage Grove bitterness and do what is best for the entire district. Now it looks like you're being attacked for doing just that.

    By the same token, I'm not supporting Jennifer Pickel, because while there is nothing particularly objectionable about any of her positions, I just don't see what she brings over Susan Manning and Peter Sobol, besides additional representation for Cottage Grove. She looks like a well qualified candidate and I hope she runs again when some of the incumbents decide to step down. But for now Manning and Sobol are the clear choice to represent the entire district. We don't need Pickel right now and we definitely don't need a write-in candidate from Monona whose only mandate would be to push a pro-Monona agenda whether or not it would be the best thing for overall educational quality.

    -Alex Wagner
    MG Class of 2004

  4. While I'm not sure that I agree with the sixth grade decision, we'll see how it turns out in the future, I am so impressed by the courage and fortitude that you showed in making it. Good for you! I'm sorry that fellow citizens of Monona are acting so horribly and I want to apologize for them. Where is the outrage against Peter Sobol, who was far more instrumental in pushing the referendum through? Where is the outrage against Susan Fox, who didn't have a second thought about this decision? Where is the outrage against our Cottage Grove Board members?

  5. I'm not a person who accepts change easily...never have. I am upset that the 6th graders of Monona are being moved to GD. I'm upset by the broken promise of that extremely painful referendum. I believed it when they said my children would stay in Monona schools 5 minutes from my home until they were in 7th grade. But then, I believed it when they said we needed that land in Cottage Grove for the future...not necessarily for a middle school, maybe for another Cottage Grove elementary school. What can I say? I'm gullible...always have been. But my beef is not with Jessica. Her choice what made monumentally harder by the superintendent. What upsets me is that Superintendent Gerlach threatened to have Monona 6th graders taught an elementary curriculum if they stayed here. If this was a budget neutral move, I really don't understand why he would make that threat. That broken promise combined with the threat of losing Maywood feels like pouring salt in the wounds of Monona residents. It makes me feel that the superintendent has not done his homework on grasping the realities of the tensions in this district. Or maybe he just doesn't care. It shakes my faith, but I know that we will get through this. I guess if I become too disillusioned with the district, I will have to find room in my budget to send my youngest to Immaculate Heart of Mary. It may be the only way to be assured of 4K thru 8th grade right here in Monona.

  6. To Alex:

    If you would like to talk with me before you decide that I would only represent Cottage Grove as a board member, please do. Until you have actually spoken with me or communicated with me in any way, shape or form I would rather you not make comments on what I would or wouldn't do on the board.

  7. The POP group suggested keeping 6th graders in Monona as a compromise and the current board is dealing with that. It is not Jessica's fault. Simplistic statements about what happened during that time do not begin to describe the years of turmoil that had occurred. Nobody was trying to seek compromise until POP came along. Monona had already rejected a middle school for Cottage Grove only, which would have kept Monona k-12 intact. For that reason, Cottage Grove parents were organizing to follow the state law that permits the split. They had reach the point of making sure their petitions for the split complied with state law so they could begin circulating them. At that time they would have had no problem getting the necessary signatures because Monona had made it clear through their referendum vote that Cottage Grove would have to bus their children to Monona for grades 6-12 for the forseeable future. The POP group tried to come up with a compromise to stop the split process and it was very imperfect.

    I also do not hear anybody saying "I voted yes for GD because the 6th grade was staying in Monona, but if the 6th grade had been included in GD, I would have voted no." Therefore, the people who claim to be "betrayed" by that referendum were no voters anyway! Personally, I held my nose and supported the referendum in spite of the 6th grade situation. So again stop blaming Jessica! Also stop blaming the board about the Maywood situation! There is no vast conspiracy. As Jessica states, most of the board members can't stand each other so they are not hiding anything. They are trying to close a huge budget hole for next year. Sixth grade was/is NOT related to Maywood. There is plenty of room in Winnequah regardless of whether not the 6th grade was moved.

    I am thankful we have a board member like Jessica who will not bullied or pushed around on an important decision. I hope she runs for another term but I fear she will not because this is the way we treat board members in our community.

    My anger is with Ms. Manning. She completely imploded on the most important vote she has been asked to cast. She said she thought the move was best, but then voted against it with a lame excuse about not having enough information. She completely wimped out on an important vote and then she sold the other board members down the river leaving them to take the heat while she can sit back smugly as everyone fawns over her. If that is the type of person people believe should be on the school board then vote for her. I will not.

  8. So you like that POP played politics and do not like it when Ms. Manning does it-strange, but OK.
    I wonder if you only like the game of politics when it suits your needs or opinions?

  9. Alex-Thank you so much for your thoughts and kind words! You made my day! I also really appreciate your ideas about starting a magnet/charter school. I love the idea and would really welcome an initiative to start one in the district. I have been impressed with the planning and implementation of charter schools in the Verona district. They've had some success and some set-back but they continue to revamp and enhance their programming and seem to be coming out on the successful side of the equation. I would LOVE to see a magnet school devoted to the arts, ecological studies/sustainable living, Chinese immersion, engineering, what have you. Instead of this constant steady drone of negativity and back-biting, I wish we could focus on creating a program that would showcase the inventiveness and dedication to academic achievement in the Monona Grove School District. I'm with you on the idea that we can become a school district that parents are dying to get their kids into, not a district in which parents are dying to kill one another. It is so boring, so distracting, so needless... BUT when I hear from people like you, I remember that we're not all like that. And no one else has to be, if they would just choose not to

  10. POP played politics to get a referendum passed. Ms. Manning played politics for her own persoanl agenda of getting re-elected. One is looking out for the masses (no matter which side you are on) and one is looking out for their own individual situation. Those are 2 very different reasons.

    Ms. Manning agreed it was best to make this decision, but lack of information is a cop out excuse. If she cannot make a tough decision on this vote that she stated she agreed with, how do you think she will do when she has to make another tough decision on the budget in 2 weeks?

  11. I was active with some of the POP activities and the 6th grade thing was a sincere attempt to keep Monona kids in Monona for one more year but I agree it was not a good idea in the long run. It is very easy for people to look back and cast stones while forgetting what was happening at the time. I think the district people gave it a good shot and have discovered it is not working out. They would not have chosen to engage in this debate otherwise.

    I agree with Jessica that there is a lot of potential but where I disagree, maybe, is that there has been a tremendous void of leadership. A charter school is a great idea but that would take a ton of work on the part of a few dedicated people. Will anyone step up? Talk is cheap. Why do not a few board members step forward to get this going?

  12. "
    Ms. Manning agreed it was best to make this decision, but lack of information is a cop out excuse. If she cannot make a tough decision on this vote that she stated she agreed with, how do you think she will do when she has to make another tough decision on the budget in 2 weeks?"

    I disagree with much you have written, but the facts are-we all get to find out.

  13. I'm a new Anon from Monona, call me Anon 3

    I think the best statement on the POP post was this: "Nobody was trying to seek compromise until POP came along."

    I also think that was the problem 4 years ago, and I feel Ms. Manning's vote last week promotes this attitude in a few residents, even if not intended. If the POP was playing politics, they were still offering a compromise for everyone in the district, which is really what politics is about. I don't like the "traitor to Monona" claims I hear about POP members, or Ms. Ace or other past and present Board Members. Our district is not Monona vs. Cottage Grove, it's Monona + Cottage Grove, and Board Members need to be pro-Monona Grove.

    Thinking of the district as a whole will help both Monona and Cottage Grove kids, and compromise on tough issues is good for this reason. I feel some opposed to the 6th grade move were opposed to any compromise 4 years ago, and still opposed today.

    I give Ms. Ace credit for her vote, and for the thought she took to come to it, since she looked at the issue in the interest of the students. It is good for the district's budget, and good for the kids of Monona's education, and good for the kids of both town's socialization. It was a good compromise.

  14. To the above poster up one- I'm not sure if starting a charter school can be a Board-led initiative- I will find out the specifics if Board members can be active in their organization. I'm very receptive to the idea, but I also want to strongly urge our involved, dedicated parents to start working at it themselves. We are only seven people on the Board- we need more involvement and a larger pool of ideas and energy.

  15. Anon 3 - "Our district is not Monona vs. Cottage Grove, it's Monona + Cottage Grove, and Board Members need to be pro-Monona Grove."

    A most heartfelt well said!!

  16. There is no point in pursuing a charter school without board support because the board must authorize it, so board involvement is critical in the process. This, Jessica, could be the thing that makes you stand out from your colleagues. You could make a difference as the lead board member who supports this process. If you're tired of the same old junk in MG, go for it! Make your time on the board mean something. You have two years left in your term. Unless you do something that matters, it is not worth it to put up with the ugliness you have encountered in the past few days otherwise. The information is not difficult to find. It is right here in Madison and I bet people from that org would be thrilled to meet with you.

    You cannot do this alone, but you can be that one person who makes it start to happen.

  17. I am a Monona resident who opposed both referendums, each for different reasons.

    I felt the first was too costly. It was around $40 million, including (forgive me if I'm wrong on these numbers as I'm going by memory) $10 million for a gym in Maywood. I liked having K-8 in Monona and CG, but the cost of the school in Cottage Grove was really high (I felt there were elements in the proposal that were not needed), and the additions to Maywood were, in my opinion, not needed.

    The second referendum did what I also opposed - bussed the Monona kids out to Cottage Grove. I believe that it is best for each community to keep their kids in their own city.

    What would I have voted 'yes' for? A new school in Cottage Grove, with some wise cuts to lower the cost of the referendum. Included would have been some updates to Winnequah to make it 3-8. No need to build a gym in Maywood.

    In my opinion the first referendum was too costly and put money into things that weren't needed (not that they wouldn't have been welcome, but it was expensive enough as it was).

    The second referendum sent Monona kids out of their community.

    The thing that is important is that most everyone believed CG needed the middle school. No one believed the overcrowding at Winnequah was beneficial to anyone. I've rarely heard anyone argue that the school wasn't needed.

    I think the biggest problem people like myself had after the defeat of the first referendum was not organizing an acceptable alternative. Instead others took the initiative - and we ended up with what most people are now saying was a flawed referendum. Honestly, I thought the second referendum would be 'trim here, trim there, cut this, cut that.' The sending of 7-8 graders to the GD school was a surprise. At this point, getting alternative was too late, as the board took the proposal given to them and went with it.

    I do find it odd that people are saying that keeping the 6th graders in Monona was a compromise given to Monona residents five years in order to support the referendum. Because, as several people have pointed out, few people voted 'yes' for the referendum because 6th grade was kept in Monona. You pretty much didn't want to move the kids at all to CG, or you supported a combined middle school in CG. An extra year here in Monona was (at least in my opinion) not the reason anyone agreed to the referendum.

    Maybe the people who crafted the referendum felt that the keeping 6th grade in Monona was a bone they needed to pitch Monona, but I wish everyone would have just been honest and said that it should be way one or the other - K-8 in both communities or one middle school for all. It would have helped us plan GD better, as well as the remodel of Winnequah.

    I will say that keeping Maywood open was probably crucial to passing the referendum five years ago. If you'd been realistic and looked at the numbers (as they are doing now), you'd know that Winnequah could handle K-5 (or K-6) in Monona. But I doubt people would have accepted closing two schools in one year.

    No matter. What's done is done.

    If people are upset with Jessica, they should learn that they shouldn't assume how any person is going to vote. And if some people say that Jessica said she'd never close schools or move classes, it should teach us all to ask specific questions and get specific answers. To often we hear what we want to hear in a person's response. You can't interpret something like 'I'm for Monona Schools' as 'I won't close Maywood' or 'I won't move a class to CG'.

    And in the future everyone should do the following with regard to issues - email/call your board members to register your opinions on matters PRIOR to votes. Politely register your support or nonsupport of a board member's vote after it's done, but be civil, be even tempered, be fair. The vote, after all, is done. There's no going back.

  18. The above post is a perfect example of why referendums are 1) hard to pass and 2) very flawed.

    1) Referendums are complicated and have many parts. People will often vote "no" because of a particular part. To find a referendum where 50% of the voters can support most of the parts is very difficult. What causes one voter to say "no" will cause the next to say "yes" and so it goes. For example, for the above voter it was "too expensive," "didn't need the gym," etc. That caused him/her to vote "no." But not including these things may very well have caused a "yes" voter to vote "no."

    2) Because of this, school boards try to craft referendums that will garner 50.01% of the votes. They are not what the board members want, but what they feel they can stomach and what will pass. Essentially, they are left trying to please hundreds of Goldilocks who won't vote "yes" until things are just right. Trouble is, not every Goldilocks has the criteria.

  19. Alex,

    Thank you, you have given some very thoughtful contributions to both this blog and other venues. Thank you also for "making Jessica's day" She deserves much better treatment than she has been given from some residents of Monona.

    I too have proudly supported candidates from both CG and Monona. Like you, I voted for them because I believed they were the most qualified candidates to represent our district. I am surprised, therefore, to see that you support Susan Manning. I have seen and heard much praise for her as the only candidate who truly represents Monona, which does NOT make her the best candidate for School Board. We need School Board members who represent the MG School District and not just one community or the other. She may talk the talk, but she failed to walk the walk with her vote last week. She stated that the move of 6th graders was what was best for the students and the district, yet she didn't vote for it.

  20. "We need School Board members who represent the MG School District and not just one community or the other. "

    Wow, do you have an axe to grind with Ms. Manning or what-get over it?

  21. I like both Jessica and Susan for the same reason..they do not roll their eyes and make faces when other express opinions that they do not agree with.

  22. Anonymous up one - So you do not agree that we need school board members who represent the MG District and not just one community or the other??

  23. "I like both Jessica and Susan for the same reason..they do not roll their eyes and make faces when other express opinions that they do not agree with."

    -So true-

    "Anonymous up one - So you do not agree that we need school board members who represent the MG District and not just one community or the other??"

    Do you have other examples of how Ms. Manning is only for Monona? You have citied one example at one time. I bet if I trotted out same example of former brd members who acted only in the best interest of their community you would somehow poo-poos those.

  24. I have been reading this young lady's blog- this is the lady that people are calling a traitor? She seems to be on every committee and board in the city working her tail off to make it a better place to live. My daughter tells me Jessica did PTO for a long time and now she is pregnant too. People should be begging her not to move away.

  25. Not only is Jessica Ace a great caring parent and a responsible board member who is making a very difficult decision, but she is also SMOKIN' HOT!!!

  26. Oh, I am SO using that in my next campaign flier- lol!

  27. Jessica, the charter school effort is alive and well! Monona Grove will have at least one parent representative at the charter school conference on Monday and Tuesday. I've already spoken with 5 board members, Craig Gerlach and two other administrators. I've met with a charter school "guru" at DPI. I have lists of charter schools worth visiting. I have some pretty cool ideas/models for a charter middle school that could totally put Monona Grove on the map. I have many interested parents and we're going to get moving after spring break. I'm very excited about it, and I look forward to focusing on something constructive for our district.

  28. Another thought: Most charter schools are started by parents. The schools need board and administration support throughout development, but it is almost always committed parents that bring charter schools to fruition. Jessica, you know who I am. If you know people who want to help, please put us in touch. Thank you!

  29. Fabulous, Jen! I'm so excited to hear of your work and research on charter schools. I agree that most charter schools are started by parents. The charter needs to be approved by the Board, so it would seem that Board members can't take a lead role in their creation. However, I would be very interested in participating in whatever way I could in the process. What a wonderful, positive step in the right direction! Thank you so much for all of your initiative on this topic! Please let me know how we can colloborate.