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Nichols’ podcast reflects on MCS’ 25th anniversary

MADISON – Twenty-five years ago, residents of Madison and Triana embarked on an ambitious and complicated journey to separate from the Madison County Schools system and establish a new school district.

Dr. Ed Nichols, Superintendent of Madison City Schools, recently devoted his podcast, “Sittin’ With the Supe,” to the 25th anniversary of the founding of Madison City Schools. Nichols spoke with Greg Curtis, Marc Jacobson and Sally Warden.

“These podcast guests, along with many others, were crucial in our transition from the county to what we now know as Madison City Schools, one of the state’s most successful districts,” Nichols said. “These three influential people (Warden, Curtis and Jacobson) sat in leadership positions in our city and helped make the decision to develop the school system we have today.”

A Florence native, Jacobson moved to Madison in 1987. “My children were two and four years old and soon started to school,” Jacobson said. “The most common complaints were overcrowding and (campuses) that resembled trailer parks with so many portable classrooms.”

“Madison parents had no say about what was going on,” Jacobson said. Parents’ pleas for new curriculum and construction of new buildings went unresolved.

Warden’s family relocated in 1983. “I had no children, was newly married and newly graduated from college,” she said. “My first child went to school in 1991.” (The Wardens other daughter and son enrolled later.)

“I attended board meetings for Madison County Schools and became heavily involved in PTA, which put me on the Madison Education Committee and eventually chairman.”

After growing up in Atlanta, Curtis attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where he and Jacobson were classmates. The Curtis family with three sons moved to Madison in 1990.

“I knew the school (discussion) was going on, but I was saying, ‘Hold on a minute. Are we doing the right thing (to start a new school district)? We had no place to play sports,” Curtis said.

Having a vested interest, Warden and Curtis each had three children; Jacobson had two. Curtis and Jacobson were elected to Madison City Council in 1992. Warden was elected in 1996.

“Five of us studied for a year and came up with a report that recommended for Madison to have its own system,” Jacobson said.

“The five-person committee was an informal parents’ group that finished its feasibility report in 1991,” Jacobson said. The members were Jacobson, Valerie McLaughlin, Percy Toney, Kim Whitworth and Vernon Wilkerson.

“City Council in conjunction with Madison Education Committee completed two studies,” Warden said. “The second report came out and Marc called me and said, ‘We can do this.’”

“It was not an acrimonious situation,” Warden said. “The county schools had limited dollars, and we (Madison) had explosive growth. We pushed in 1993 to have the 11-mill property to pass, which started the whole ball growing.”

“The City of Madison paid half and the county paid half to build Bob Jones and Horizon elementary. That moved up the construction about a decade,” Warden said.

“We also added the second gym and auditorium at Bob Jones and a cafetorium at Horizon. Those items were not standard for the county schools,” Jacobson said.

To actually create the school system, City Council held a special meeting to vote on the new school system. The vote passed. “There were a lot of naysayers. People were worried we would bankrupt the city,” Jacobson said.

Jacobson, Warden and attorney Woody Sanderson met with the county superintendent to inform him about the decision to break away. He basically said, “You can’t do this. You have a deadline in March to get everything together, including a board.”

“We had to get it done very quickly . . . and we did,” Warden said. At weekly, two-hour meetings for eight weeks, they handled a topic, like personnel, bonds and transportation. “We had to crunch a lot of number,” Curtis said.

The new district was created in 1997.

“We’re still growing at a fast pace. All of us can say that the growth that we have seen as a community in 25 years can be tied directly to what was created and the standard that was set,” Nichols said.

Nichols asked their thoughts about 25 years ago. “I never looked back,” Jacobson said. “It was the right thing to do.”

“A lot of people who have moved here don’t realize that we’re a very young school system, the result of a lot of people’s hard work,” Warden said. Many newcomers don’t realize that Madison hasn’t always had quality facilities, including new schools, Dublin Park, the stadium and Madison Public Library.

“MCS is made up of people from all over the world. We have 92 different languages in this school district,” Nichols said. “The most challenging thing in Madison is not where you will put your child in a school but where you will find a house.”

“MCS is like a 25-year-old. We have been in an infancy, adolescent stage and now we’re in adulthood,” Nichols said. “What things do we have to challenge ourselves to look at differently because we’re not that school system of 25 years ago?”

 

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