Where is Jeffrey Copeland?

There is a story in this morning’s Wisconsin State Journal that highlights three things that are wrong with the Madison School District.

The story was about new Sennett Middle School principal Jeffrey Copeland, who lasted there only a few weeks. Copeland was placed on administrative leave on September 13th and he left the district altogether on September 26th.

Here’s the first and most important problem with this: The information in the story suggests that Copeland may have been dismissed because he was imposing order and discipline at his school, something that has been a big issue in the district for years. To quote the story:

Teachers said the behavioral issues the school had been seeing in recent years, including bullying and damaging school property, nearly disappeared under Copeland’s short tenure, and some said such problems began returning after he was placed on leave.

Jeffrey Copeland

The story then quotes an eighth grade language arts teacher who appeared at a School Board meeting last night during which dozens of parents and teachers asked that Copland be reinstated. “You have the ability to save a school, save a staff, save 700 kids,” said Tom Blau. “Please, we’re all begging you. Please just do what’s right” and “bring back Dr. Copeland.”

Then the story said this: Blau said staff are aware of why Copeland left the school, but have been asked not to share details with the media.

This highlights rampant problem number two with the district: lack of transparency. The obvious question that the taxpaying public has a right to an answer for is: why did a principal who seemed to be tackling the fundamental issue of student and staff safety and good order in the classroom leave after such a short time? Blau and his colleagues apparently know that answer but have been muzzled by the administration.

We would assume that if Copeland had done something inappropriate Blau and the other teachers and parents wouldn’t have shown up at the Board meeting to speak on his behalf. So what is the reason he left? And why is it being kept from the public?

District spokesperson Tim LeMonds wouldn’t say. Which brings us to the third issue and something that may become a bit of an ongoing cause here at YSDA. Nowhere in the story does the name Carlton Jenkins appear. You may be unfamiliar with that name yourself. Dr. Jenkins is the Madison Schools Superintendent and has been for the last few years. You would be excused for not knowing that because Jenkins has assumed a low profile. He is rarely quoted in any news story about the district. Here’s a case where a principal was removed after only a few weeks, an action that must have been approved or initiated by Jenkins. He was apparently removed for something related to his imposition of good order in his school, something that has been a top concern of staff, parents, students and citizens. And yet the man responsible for the performance of the district has nothing to say about it.

The way in which Copeland left suggests that he may have received a pay out in exchange for his silence. That’s unfortunately not unusual. But at some point the conditions of any agreement need to be made public. I would hope that the State Journal or other news outlets are filing Freedom of Information Act demands as I write.

Because the health of our city is so intwined in so many ways with the health of our public schools, everyone who lives here has a deep interest in them. We have a right to know what happened to Jeffrey Copeland.

Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

10 thoughts on “Where is Jeffrey Copeland?

  1. I’ve been a long supporter and taxpayer for Madison Schools. But I think the District is lost and unable to respond to the issues seen in schools today. Their ongoing actions play into the demands for school choice. I hope they improve as well as student performance, but I do not think we’re getting an acceptable return on the money we’re investing in the District.

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  2. Give a listen to Sennett MS 6th Grade Math Teacher Erin Procter at the 09/28/2022 MMSD board meeting (~23:30 in)

    Does the School Board consider “hanging out in stairwells away from cameras (and) in bathrooms making TikTok videos and breaking sinks” to be part of a public school education?

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  3. Principals don’t just abruptly leave. There’s a process. Copeland may have received a payout for his silence? That’s illegal. A payout would have been recorded on a ledger. Except if Jenkins paid out of pocket, which is unlikely. So find that line item.

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  4. I have a kid at East. When I was last there, I was walking down the hall when two guys started hollering at each other from a distance. The F-word was prominent. I watched two staff members glide past and not even give them a look. That spoke volumes about the culture there. Are the staff unconcerned – or afraid?

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  5. We also can’t let the school board off the hook. They hired Jenkins and are supposed to be supervising him, they don’t get a free pass.

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  6. The silence of the MMSD leadership is worse than you suggest. When is the last time you remember a school board member or the board president speaking out on an educational issue?

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  7. Severance agreements are public documents and usually with school boards must be approved under personnel by the board of education. It may take some time, but the truth will come out. Students will not learn if there is a lack of order and expectation of learning in the school. This is unfortunately what we see in many of Wisconsin’s once strong districts serving cities. MPS is not even near this category. They are in a world on themselves. Look at Beloit, Green Bay, or Wausau. Even Verona seems to show signs of this decline.

    The Madison School District is a shambles due to too much funding going to administrative costs, lack of adequate and consistent training for the teachers, and rhetorical political conversations. It provides more reasons for why school board governance must be brought into the 21st century. The state laws under Section 118 must be revised to reflect the necessary changes brought on by increased state funding, bloated administrations. and the changing needs of families and students. The voters of Madison own this problem as they elect the school board.

    Educators need new skills and training to cope with the students they have. Redue administrative bloat and move the funding to hire more teachers and staff that support them so they may teach.

    School choice is gaining hold in Dane County. It won’t be the end of the Madison School District but it will drain students, which means a loss of financial and social capitol.

    It is time for the educational establishment to stop blocking the eventual changes to how public schools work in Wisconsin. DPI/WASDA/WASBA/AWSA and even the union are all dependent on the status quo instead of building a collaborative network of organizations that could redesign Wisconsin education. The calls for more money are inevitable but that hasn’t worked in the past so why not try something new. Double down on teachers and mental health support. Cut the bloat.

    Their failure to be proactive linked to a Republican governor or super majority in the legislature will be more support for the changes in the cue from the republicans.

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