Hess, Kelley share overview of School of Education’s goals for fall semester

On Tuesday, June 23, Dean Diana Hess and Senior Associate Dean Carolyn Kelley held an all-School virtual meeting to provide an overview of the School of Education’s plans related to the “Smart Restart” program for the fall semester, as well as some of the challenges the School is facing.  

Hess explained that School of Education faculty and staff are working on three challenges right now. 

The first is ensuring a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable school and society. Recent events have reinforced the importance of each of us standing against racism in all of its forms and standing for justice. The School’s efforts to increase diversity over the last few years have proven successful. The School of Education has the most diverse student body on campus, and the highest percentage of students who are PELL eligible. Since 2016, 53 faculty members have been hired and 43 percent are faculty of color. While this is meaningful work that has been done by so many students, faculty, and staff to create an anti-racist and more just School and society, there’s more work to do. As part of these efforts, Associate Dean LaVar Charleston and the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee have just launched a series of events: “Working Together to Address the Impact of Racism: A Virtual Event to Promote an Equitable and Inclusive School of Education.” These events will promote racial awareness to build a more equitable and inclusive learning and working environment in the School. 

The School’s second challenge is the COVID-19 virus, and the health and safety issues it raises. With the recent announcement by UW–Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank to bring students, faculty, and staff back to campus in the fall, the School takes very seriously its priorities to keep its community healthy and continue to provide a world-class educational experience. Classes will be held face-to-face, virtually, and in some cases, a hybrid of both. In-person labs and studio-based courses will still be offered in order to allow for the kinds of interactions that are only possible in a face-to-face instructional environment. Fall semester will begin as scheduled on Sept. 2. In-person instruction will continue through Thanksgiving. After Thanksgiving, UW–Madison will switch to a virtual format for all courses for the final nine days of instruction, plus final exams.

Kelley, the academic associate deans, the department chairs, and Lindsey Honeyager, the School’s director of facilities, have been working for weeks planning how to fulfill the School’s academic missions this fall, with the health and safety of faculty, staff, and students as one of its highest priorities. The goal is to have 50 percent of classes face-to-face, with classes that have more than 50 students held virtually. Campus is converting other available spaces into classroom space to accommodate the additional space needed for social distancing.  These include meeting spaces in places like the Pyle Center, the Memorial Union, and the Kohl Center. The School of Education is similarly leveraging all of its own classroom and meeting spaces for instruction. For example, the Wisconsin Idea Room in the Education Building will be used for classroom space. 

Masks will be required in all buildings and there will be physical distancing in classes and common areas. Researchers are already coming back to campus and plans for other faculty and staff that need to be on campus are underway. Faculty and staff who are able to perform their work responsibilities remotely will continue to do so into the fall. 

The School’s last major challenge is to address the economic hardships that are being faced by students caused by the COVID-19 crisis. In April, 190 School of Education faculty and staff worked together to reach out to undergraduate and graduate students. Through phone calls, they provided students with resources and identified students who were experiencing connectivity issues, had emotional well-being or academic concerns, or were enduring financial hardship. These challenges were documented so that the School could develop policies and garner resources to help meet students’ needs. In response, the School of Education created a Bridge to Success Summer Scholarship program to ensure its students had the resources necessary to continue their academic programs and make progress this summer. Applications were received from 374 students, including undergraduate and graduate students, for scholarships. A recently received legacy gift, plus matching funds and a generous contribution from the UW–Madison Graduate School were used to create a fund for these scholarships. To date, the School has distributed $1.26 million dollars to 347 students, and will announce a similar Bridge to Success scholarship program for the upcoming 2020-21 academic year in late July.

Due to the fluidity of this evolving situation, faculty and staff are encouraged to consistently check the Smart Restart website for updates. Questions about specific classes, programs, or units should be submitted to the relevant department chair, director, or supervisor. Anyone needing instructional design support is advised to contact MERIT. Other questions can be directed to soe-deansoffice@education.wisc.edu.