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New state superintendent sees early childhood education as key to closing racial gap

MADISON — When Carolyn Stanford Taylor became one of the first black children to attend a formerly whites-only school in her small Mississippi hometown, initial hope and excitement about societal progress soon faded as the school filled its swimming pool with cement.

Growing up during desegregation inspired Stanford Taylor to a career in education, culminating this year with her appointment as Wisconsin’s first African-American state superintendent of public instruction.

Her experience has imbued a desire to create equitable learning environments for children in a state that continues to struggle with closing its racial achievement gaps in test scores and graduation rates.

“If we want to create a society where we’re all contributing, then we have to make sure that we don’t lose anyone along the way,” the 62-year-old Stanford Taylor said in an interview.

Now in charge of the state’s 422 school districts, Stanford Taylor views early childhood education as a crucial element for improving academic performance and reducing the racial achievement gap. She would like to see districts expand 4-year-old kindergarten to full-day and have urban districts explore 3K programs.

JOHN HART, WISCONSIN STATE JOURNAL 

As the head of the state Department of Public Instruction, Stanford Taylor wants to prioritize early childhood education by having districts explore full-day 4-year-old kindergarten programs and urban districts look at 3K options.

“On this very formative end, we’re not prioritizing as much as we should,” she said about early childhood education.

She began the position weeks before Democratic Gov. Tony Evers — her predecessor who appointed the 17-year assistant state superintendent to fill the vacancy — offered an executive budget to a skeptical Republican-controlled Legislature that would boost education spending in Wisconsin by $1.4 billion over the next biennium.

Stanford Taylor said the two-year education spending package is an “equity budget” meant to target Wisconsin’s achievement gaps between races, children with or without disabilities, low-income students and limited-English learners.

“We have to be very intentional about how we’re going to go about making sure that we’re lifting all of those students up, so that there’s a playing field they can compete on,” she said.

Evers is seeking a $606 million boost for special education, $64 million more for mental health programs and $16 million for a new “Urban Excellence Initiative” targeting Wisconsin’s five largest school district, along with changes to the school funding formula that would account for poverty.

Art Rainwater, a former Madison School District superintendent and current UW-Madison professor of educational leadership and policy analysis, said the biggest challenge for a state superintendent, regardless of who is in the position, is financing education, coupled with a large increase in the proportion of low-income students since the start of the millennium.

In 2001, 21 percent of Wisconsin school children lived in poverty, according to the Department of Public Instruction. That figure now stands at 41 percent after peaking at 43 percent in 2012.

“Those are the biggest challenges,” Rainwater said. “How do you deal with a changing population, how do you deal with the issues of rural schools and urban schools, and trying to do what’s best for the children.”

AMBER ARNOLD, WISCONSIN STATE JOURNAL 

Stanford Taylor, left, meets seniors Nia Jackson, right, and Rashaan Jackson, both members of the Madison Memorial Black Student Union, at a panel last month with black leaders who are the first African-Americans to serve in their respective roles.

Stanford Taylor said she will advocate for Evers’ proposals with legislators. She views special education and mental health as possible areas of compromise, issues for which Republicans also have signaled support.

Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt, R-Fond du Lac, chairman of the Assembly Education Committee, said he agrees “100 percent” that more money is needed for special education and mental health programs, but the dollar figures Evers is proposing are “extreme.”

“She seems to have a very solid background in education,” Thiesfeldt said of Stanford Taylor. “I’m anxious to see what our new superintendent has to offer and can bring to the table.”

Stanford Taylor has lived in Madison for decades. She married her husband Larry Taylor, and they have five children between the two of them.

Less than two months into the job, Stanford Taylor said she is undecided whether she’ll run for election to the post in spring 2021.

“I’m not ruling it out, but I think it’s just a little too early to say definitively,” she said. “But it’s an option.”

Integrating schools

In Marks, Miss., a railroad track divided the black and white parts of town. Stanford Taylor grew up as the ninth of 14 siblings in her family. Her father had a third-grade education and her mother had an eighth-grade education.

Stanford Taylor recalled visiting her grandma, who lived in the white part of town as a live-in housekeeper, and passing the school for white children that was better maintained, had higher quality sports equipment and featured a swimming pool.

On the way to school one day in 1966, Stanford Taylor said her mom told her and her siblings that they would be able to attend the white school.

“At that point being kids, all we knew is what we saw and what we didn’t have,” she said. “We all decided we wanted to go to the white school, so she turned us around, marched us across the track and enrolled us in that school.”

But the experience was not what she expected. Stanford Taylor said white students would call the black children names and throw things at them, “but the heartbreaking part was that the adults did not want us there, and we were made to feel that every day.”

“They filled (the pool) with cement, so we never got to swim in that pool,” Stanford Taylor said. “They’d rather no one swim than have us swim together.”

AMBER ARNOLD, WISCONSIN STATE JOURNAL 

Stanford Taylor, center, speaks about the unwelcoming atmosphere she and other black children faced when integrating a Mississippi school in 1966. Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, left, and Rep. Shelia Stubbs were also among the participants at Memorial High's panel.

Several of the other black students dropped out of school.

“Those are folks who had just as much potential as I had, but because of that system was in place at that time, they did not go on to further their education,” she said.

Stanford Taylor said students of color still are not achieving their full potential with the persistent racial achievement gaps in Wisconsin.

During a recent appearance at Memorial High School, Stanford Taylor was asked who inspired her. She listed civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer and her mother who “instilled in us that education was our ticket out.”

Madison educational journey

Stanford Taylor moved to Madison for college in 1975 at the encouragement of her brother who was attending UW-Madison on an engineering scholarship.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and then a master’s degree in educational administration. After finishing college in the summer of 1979, Stanford Taylor started a decade-long stint teaching at Madison schools — briefly at Allis Elementary School followed by Gompers Middle School, now known as Black Hawk Middle School.

She sat on the board of directors for Madison Teachers Inc. from 1981 to 1989, serving as president during the past two years.

“I was saddened when she went into administration in the school district, not because she was going to be a difficult administrator to work with,” said John Matthews, the union’s former 48-year executive director who retired in 2016. “But because we were losing her and her intellect and her ability to communicate politically and within the school district.”

Throughout the 1990s, Stanford Taylor left the classroom to lead two Madison elementary schools as principal, spending the first half of the decade at Marquette on the Near East Side and the latter half at Lincoln on the South Side.

She became principal at Marquette on the heels of a contentious school pairing plan to split elementary grade levels between Marquette and the reopened Lapham school building — a decision that also split neighbors and parents at the time with one resident saying “there has been a civil war raging in the Marquette neighborhood on the issue.”

Lucy Mathiak had a son at Marquette during Stanford Taylor’s tenure there. Her calming presence was needed for Marquette, and it showed in the way teachers and staff cared about the students, said Mathiak, a Madison School Board member from 2006 to 2012.

“I don’t know that I have encountered as many people who have had such strong positive relationships,” Mathiak said of Stanford Taylor. “Within educational circles, her reputation has only grown from the one that she enjoyed as our principal at Marquette.”

When Stanford Taylor was transferred to Lincoln Elementary School, parents of Marquette students took their displeasure to the School Board, with Mathiak declaring at a 1995 board meeting, “I would walk through fire for that woman.”

“I can imagine it wouldn’t be that much of a stretch to step into Tony Evers’ shoes, and no offense to Gov. Evers, I would predict she will outshine him,” Mathiak said.

More responsibilities were asked of Stanford Taylor during her second stint as principal. With Wright Middle School facing a low-enrollment crisis as it opened a new school building in 1997, Stanford Taylor was tapped to be one of two interim principals at the South Side school while maintaining her job at Lincoln Elementary.

“She was right on top of everything, and that’s difficult, moving back and forth between two school sites and doing that effectively,” said Rainwater, the former Madison superintendent who was deputy superintendent at the time.

Leading on a state level

Colleagues throughout Stanford Taylor’s career describe her as a quiet, soft-spoken leader who puts value in listening to others when searching for solutions. Seventeen years as an assistant state superintendent has led to a seamless transition in leadership at DPI, co-workers said.

“Carolyn has been the mainstay among the division leaders. She’s the glue; she’s the continuity,” said Barbara Van Haren, who took over Stanford Taylor’s assistant superintendent position.

In 2001, newly elected State Superintendent Elizabeth Burmaster chose Stanford Taylor as one of her assistant superintendents, knowing her from their respective careers as principals within the Madison School District. Burmaster also tapped Evers to be her deputy superintendent after he placed third in a primary for state superintendent that year.

Stanford Taylor ran the Division for Learning Support as assistant superintendent. The branch has oversight on special education, prevention and wellness programs, and the state schools for the blind in Janesville and the deaf in Delavan. She was in charge of handling the 2004 federal re-authorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, responding to changes in the national law guaranteeing public education for children with disabilities.

Stanford Taylor said recent work in the division has focused on promoting positive behavior practices in school districts and creating a statewide framework for social and emotional learning designed to improve emotion management, decision-making and empathy.

Burmaster, who is now president of Frederick Community College in Maryland, said she selected Stanford Taylor as an assistant superintendent as she “was one of the smartest and most capable and visionary educators that I had the great privilege of calling a colleague.”

“I would hesitate to give Carolyn Stanford Taylor any advice,” Burmaster said. “I would much rather listen to her advice for me, because she’s been a lifelong educator. She knows the schools. She knows children. She knows our state.”

“If we want to create a society where we’re all contributing, then we have to make sure that we don’t lose anyone along the way.” Stanford Taylor,

new state schools superintendent

Taylor would like to see districts expand 4-year-old kindergarten to full-day and have urban districts explore 3K programs.


WIAA GIRLS BASKETBALL
Blugolds defend title: Aquinas holds off Mel-Min to win D4

It was a matchup anticipated for a year and a challenge the Aquinas High School girls basketball team met to remain a WIAA champion.

After beating Melrose-Mindoro for the Division 4 championship last season, the two matched up with the title on the line again Saturday. The top-ranked Blugolds came away with a 65-39 victory at the Resch Center in Green Bay to successfully defend what it won for the first time last year.

The third-ranked Mustangs (26-2) and Blugolds set up the rematch by winning semifinal games on Thursday. Aquinas used a 15-0 run to open the second half to break open a close game and complete a 27-1 season.

Junior Lexi Donarski scored 22 points and finished the two-game tournament with 50 as Aquinas improved its record under coach Dave Donarski to 120-12.

Aquinas junior Kayla Bahr made five 3-pointers and added 17 points for the Blugolds, who have played in three straight championship games. Melrose-Mindoro, which has a 77-4 record with three losses to the Blugolds over the past three seasons, was led by a 12-point performance by all-time leading scorer Erika Simmons.


Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune 

The Aquinas High School girls basketball team celebrates its 65-39 win against Melrose-Mindoro in the WIAA Division 4 state championship game Saturday at the Resch Center in Green Bay. For more on the game, turn to Sports, B1.


Patients experiment with prescription drugs to fight aging

Dr. Alan Green’s patients travel from around the country to his tiny practice in Queens, N.Y., lured by the prospect of longer lives.

Over the past two years, more than 200 patients have flocked to see Green after learning that two drugs he prescribes could possibly stave off aging. One 95-year-old was so intent on keeping her appointment that she asked her son to drive her from Maryland after a snowstorm had closed the schools.

Green is among a small but growing number of doctors who prescribe drugs “off-label” for their possible anti-aging effects. Metformin is typically prescribed for diabetes, and rapamycin prevents organ rejection after a transplant, but doctors can prescribe drugs off-label for other purposes — in this case, for “aging.”

Rapamycin’s anti-aging effects on animals and metformin’s on people with diabetes have encouraged Green and his patients to experiment with them as anti-aging remedies, even though there’s little evidence healthy people could benefit.

“Many of (my patients) have Ph.D.s,” said Green, who is 76 and has taken the drugs for three years. “They have read the research and think it’s worth a try.”

In fact, it’s easier for patients to experiment with the drugs — either legally off-label or illegally from a foreign supplier — than it is for researchers to launch clinical trials that would demonstrate they work in humans.

No rigorous large-scale clinical trials have been conducted aimed at aging. The FDA so far has not agreed that a treatment could be approved for delaying the onset of aging or age-related diseases, citing questions about whether research can demonstrate an overall effect on aging rather than just on a specific disease.

Given such reservations, pharmaceutical companies have little incentive to fund costly, large-scale trials. Also, both metformin and rapamycin are generic and relatively cheap.

“There’s no profit,” said Matt Kaeberlein, a professor of pathology at the University of Washington medical school whose team received a $15 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to study the effects of rapamycin in dogs, but has noted the lack of funds for studies in people. “Without profit, there’s no incentive.”

Supplements with purported anti-aging effects routinely enter the market with little scrutiny and less evidence.

Yet, late last year, the NIH rejected a $77 million grant proposal by a prominent group of researchers to determine whether metformin could target multiple age-related diseases at once. It was the second rejection of the ambitious but unorthodox bid.

“We’re going to keep trying,” said a lead author of the metformin proposal, Stephen Kritchevsky, a co-director of the Sticht Center for Healthy Aging and Alzheimer’s Prevention. “These things take time.”

Less is known about rapamycin’s anti-aging effects and its possible side effects in the general population, including the possibility it could lead to insulin resistance. Yet a litany of studies show that rapamycin extends animal life spans. It also has been shown in such studies to stave off age-related diseases, from cancer to cardiovascular diseases to cognitive diseases.

“There should have been a clinical trial for rapamycin and Alzheimer’s disease years ago,” said Kaeberlein, who has publicly urged NIH to use a historic boost in Alzheimer’s funding to study the drug’s effects. “But the fact is, the clinical trials are really hard and expensive.”

Alexander Fleming, a former FDA official and advocate for the metformin proposal, said he believed it was difficult for regulators and funders to grasp that aging can be tackled as a whole — not just one disease at a time.

In fact, NIH reviewers who rejected the metformin proposal cited problems with the project’s aim of testing multiple age-related diseases at once. The researchers considered appealing the decision, asserting those reviewers were biased against studying aging as a whole. NIH, which declined to comment, discouraged the attempt.

Dr. Evan Hadley, director of the National Institute on Aging’s division of geriatrics and clinical gerontology, told Kaiser Health News that NIH is not ruling out funding projects that target aging, saying such proposals are still “of interest.”

The FDA also is open to considering such efforts “based on the scientific evidence presented to us,” said FDA spokeswoman Amanda Turney.

Fleming, who oversaw the controversial FDA approval of metformin for Type 2 diabetes, said an argument could be made that it could approve a drug like metformin for preventing age-related diseases instead of just treating them. He points to now widely used statins, which were approved to prevent heart disease.

“There is some kind of belief that the FDA can’t approve a therapy to reduce the progress of aging or age-related conditions,” said Fleming, an endocrinologist. “It’s just not true.”

Given the lack of consensus, other researchers have moved ahead with clinical trials focused on specific age-related conditions.

Researchers have shown that a “cousin” of rapamycin boosts the effectiveness of flu shots and lowers the incidence of upper respiratory infections in seniors by up to 30 percent. This group, led by Dr. Joan Mannick, has licensed it from Novartis and is now working on getting approval to target Parkinson’s disease.

“We’re trying to be pragmatic,” Mannick said of her team’s approach.

Some doctors and patients have decided not to wait. At a recent scientific forum on aging, one of the researchers on the NIH proposal asked the 300 or so people in attendance to raise their hands if they were already taking metformin for aging.

“Half the audience raised their hands,” recalled the researcher, Dr. Nir Barzilai, director of the Institute for Aging Research at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, who said a pharmaceutical rep recently estimated that metformin sales are up 20 percent.

Barzilai is concerned about the off-label trend, although he sees metformin as promising. He contends that researchers in the longevity field first need to set up a framework for testing in clinical trials. Even if metformin doesn’t pan out as the most effective drug, he asserts a model like the metformin proposal is needed for any major clinical trial to proceed. His group is now trying to secure about half the amount of funding it requested from NIH from a mix of nonprofit and private investment.

“Much of the aging field is charlatans,” Barzilai said. “They tell you take this or that and you’ll live forever. But you have to do a clinical trial that is placebo-controlled and only then can you say what it really is and whether it’s safe.”

Green nonetheless said he plans to continue prescribing. He estimates about 5 percent of his patients are doctors themselves. Others have backgrounds in science or are in the upper-income bracket. According to his website, he charges $350 for an initial visit and does not accept insurance.

“They fly to see me on their own planes,” he said.

But other doctors who are open to prescribing metformin are holding off on rapamycin, given side effects in higher doses in sick patients.

I need to see more evidence,” said Dr. Garth Denyer, a doctor in The Woodlands, a wealthy Houston suburb, who said he prescribed metformin to a small number of patients but is waiting on rapamycin. “I’m hoping to see more data on safety.”

Michael Slattery, who has been HIV-positive since 1983, said he is taking both drugs because the virus is likely to shorten his life expectancy.

So far, he has not noticed any side effects or benefits. His partner, however, who is also HIV-positive, stopped taking rapamycin after getting kidney infections.

“I feel I have nothing left to lose,” said Slattery, a retired biotech consultant.

Other patients remain hopeful, even though the evidence is unlikely to be definitive anytime soon.

Linda Mac Dougall, 70, of Port Hueneme, Calif., said she participated in a small study that did not have a placebo control. She’s uncertain whether it had any effect on her.

“I really haven’t noticed anything, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t work,” said Mac Dougall, a massage therapist for seniors. She has slightly more confidence in the wide array of supplements she takes, she said: “If I live until I’m 110, we’ll know.”

“Many of (my patients) have Ph.D.s. They have read the research and think it’s worth a try.” Dr. Alan Green, 76, Queens, N.Y.

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Situational Awareness Workshop gives tips on how to defuse a threat without laying a hand

Robin Godolphin knows there are situations in which fighting back is a necessity. But it in some cases, it shouldn’t be the first course of action.

Godolphin, co-founder and curriculum developer for Resilience Development in Holmen, led about 20 people in the two-hour Situational Awareness Workshop on Saturday afternoon at the La Crosse Public Library, covering ways to recognize and defuse threatening situations in a nonviolent way. Unlike a typical self defense class, safety tips focused not on punches and holds but on observational clues of risk and maintaining distance from potentially dangerous people.

Through Resilience Development, Godolphin typically leads daylong seminars five or six times a month in places of business, schools or organizations, with topics including rifle and pistol safety and operation, and administering basic medical treatment after a trauma.

Saturday’s program, which Public Library programming and community engagement coordinator Barry McKnight says was arranged after requests by both staff and patrons, was similar to a condensed version of a Resilience Development program called Landing the Plane: From Pre-Assault to Calling Counsel, which uses role play scenarios to practice safer interactions with strangers and handling the aftermath.

Though he teaches gun handling, Godolphin says “to teach someone how to use a firearm and not teach them how to avoid using it is absolutely reckless.” Self defense and situational awareness are separate entities, he stresses, neither a replacement for the other. Having a handle on both is ideal — “A lot of people are looking for a one and done solution ... there isn’t one” — and training is of benefit to everyone, regardless of age, size or perceived level of violence in a community. For those looking to learn a physical component as well, Godolphin suggests practicing jiu-jitsu.

“A society that is harder to victimize is automatically a more peaceful society,” Godolphin said.

Course attendee Jen Clemmerson, 40, noted that in the digital age, many of us are glued to our phone screens or distracted by our earbuds, oblivious to cues of danger.

“We don’t always focus on the things around us,” Clemmerson said. “I believe this (training) is something we can use in everyday life.”

“You’re never too old to learn,” noted attendee Myra Kunert, 56. She says she has encountered upset individuals in her place of work and was looking for new techniques to handle those situations.

Among the main points of the Situational Awareness course were preserving space and quartering. The former stresses maintaining as much space as possible from an unknown person — “preserving space is of critical importance” — and what to do in transitional spaces, including crowded elevators or busy stores. The body, Godolphin says, reacts to physical encroachment instantly.

Quartering follows methodology of Master Sgt. Paul Howe of CSAT Combat Shooting and Tactics. The process involves “taking a fast snapshot of someone’s whole person,” in the order of hands, waistline, wingspan and face. Points include, can you see the person’s hands? What is in them? Where is their gaze? Are they looking at your purse?

The course is not meant to invoke a sense of persistent fear or paranoia, but to provide tools for early detection of a threat so one can go about their daily life feeling prepared.

Says Godolphin, “Think of the lifesaving implications of recognizing something is not right.”

For more information on Resilience Development, visit www.resiliencedev.com.

“We don’t always focus on the things around us. I believe this (training) is something we can use in everyday life.” Jen Clemmerson,

course attendee