Dear Editor: Mayor Paul Soglin nailed it in your story headlined “Madison’s dilemma.” The Madison School District is grappling unsuccessfully to educate students equally because a significant number are unprepared kids who have come from other communities and cannot keep up with the work. Teachers with students with wildly different levels of learning have few effective resources to deal with this huge problem.

A starting place for dealing with this situation is the simple acknowledgment that it’s true.

I have been a tutor at a Madison middle school since the spring of 2012 in a seventh-grade language arts class. The teacher I work with welcomes tutors because she recognizes the impossible task she has been given. Her classes contain 25-30 students in varying stages of preparedness. Some of them are 12-year-olds who have transferred from other cities within the past five years or so, and simply have not learned at their grade level. The majority of these kids are capable of doing the work, but are hampered by their past.

It’s a joy to work with many of these kids — smart, curious, appealing, aware of the limitations they live with, whether it’s their past in a poor school system or a parent too tired or busy to pay the attention needed to ensure they make it through high school, not to mention college. They have a grit to them that could serve them well. These kids are part of the fabric of our city now, with a limited window of time to overcome the past, and they need our help, and their teachers need our help, and we need to help them for the sake of our city.

For 30 years I ran retail businesses in three states, but no problem I faced came close to the challenges the teacher I work with faces on a daily basis. And yet she keeps showing up, full of enthusiasm and a passion to reach every child in the classroom.

No one has the answer to this problem now, but the mayor’s courage in speaking this particular truth is a start. We need to come together as a community to talk about this and find solutions.

Janice Durand


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