MMSD builds a network to celebrate and connect alumni

The Madison Metropolitan School District and its foundation do much more outside (and beyond) the classroom.
(Clockwise from bottom left) Dianne Hesselbein, Savion Castro, TeKema Balentine, Jessica Mac Naughton, Carlettra Stanford, Abel De Jesus Mosqueda, Jeff Mack and Wesley Matthews.

The coronavirus challenged Madison Metropolitan School District students, staff and families in ways more serious than missing a senior prom. Many students were suddenly faced with food insecurity, technology barriers to learning and other issues due to the effects of the pandemic.

“Right now I think people have a bigger and bigger appreciation for all the things that public schools find themselves doing that have, in a sense, nothing to do with teaching them,” says Melinda Heinritz, executive director of the Foundation for Madison’s Public Schools. “We’re feeding them, or providing medical or dental services, or providing basic needs whether it’s, frankly, shampoo or underwear. There’s a whole part of the community that hasn’t understood that, because they didn’t need to.”

Capital High graduate K’Hira Bonds-Hunt says it was hard for her not to physically be at school. “It used to feel like school was our escape and we had access to everything we needed, and if we didn’t, our staff was able to help us,” she says. Bonds-Hunt, who has had a job since she was 14, started working more at her in-home care job once the coronavirus hit. But she says group chats and regular check-ins with her counselor helped keep her connected to school.

The coronavirus brought some of what the district does to the forefront. On top of planning for virtual learning, school district staff jumped right into action by building food and resource programs for students and their families during COVID-19. The district created 15 neighborhood food sites offering free healthy meals for kids, delivered thousands of digital devices to students and launched a Facebook video series. Staff also put in extra hours to plan each virtual graduation ceremony, help students finish yearbook projects and make sure the senior class received a special send off.

“People have just risen up,” says Chief of High Schools Michael Hernandez. “We have people just going above and beyond. And they’re dealing with their own personal life, too.” Heinritz hopes to tap into that understanding and show that Madison schools can be the community’s go-to partner. “Public schools are the cornerstone of our democracy,” she says. And the foundation can help ensure that children have an equitable experience and make it to graduation, she adds.

The foundation recently launched the Madison Public Schools Friends and Alumni Network in an effort to provide resources to recent graduates while also connecting alumni back to the district and community. The network is free to join but also has levels of opportunity beyond basic membership. “We want to make sure that financial considerations would not be a barrier,” Heinritz says. “We don’t want to create one more area of inequity or opportunity gaps.”

Heinritz and her team surveyed their database of alumni to see what potential members want most out of such a network. To start, they’re growing their list of alumni contacts. “There are people doing great things in their industries and we want this to be a place that those stories can be shared and celebrated,” Heinritz says of her hopes for the network’s website,

The network helped Madison Magazine track down a few of those names of former students who once upon a time were celebrating at their own graduations from the Madison Metropolitan School District:

Madison West
Evan Hill (2003) journalist for The New York Times’ visual investigations team
Tammy Baldwin (1980) U.S. senator
Kaleem Caire (1989) founder and CEO of One City Early Learning
Jeff Mack (1999) first vice president of Business Development at Park Bank
Sheri Carter (1974) first African American woman elected Madison City Council president

James Madison Memorial
Wesley Matthews (2005) NBA player
Kaaren Hanson (1988) EVP, Experience Design at Wells Fargo
Jeffrey Sprecher (1974) CEO of Intercontinental Exchange and chairman of the New York Stock Exchange
Mark Johnson (1975) UW–Madison Women’s Hockey Team head coach, former NHL player and Olympic gold medalist
Jessica Mac Naughton (1996) CPA, Wipfli Madison market leader and tax partner

Robert M. La Follette
Andrew Bentley (2002) CEO of Father Figure, co-founder of Global Health Corps
Craig Smith (2008) NHL player
Dianne Hesselbein (1989) 79th Assembly District representative
Kim Sponem (1985) CEO of Summit Credit Union
Savion Castro (2013) member of the Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education

Madison East
Pat Richter (1959) former UW–Madison athletic director and NFL player
Carlettra Stanford (1991) MMSD Chief of Schools, elementary education
Beth O’Callaghan (1995) editor at Wisconsin Collaborative Education Research Network and board member for the Foundation for Madison’s Public Schools
Natalie Healy (2006) director of American Family Insurance DreamBank
TeKema Balentine (2012) Miss Black USA 2019

Malcom Shabazz City
Kristin Diamond (1979) founder of Diamond Legal Group
Lara Kain (1980) founder of Lara Kain Consulting
Miranda Hyslop-Garza (1996) manager of executive administration, San Francisco AIDS Foundation
Josh Schmidt (1997) IT business solution services manager at Group Health Cooperative of South Central Wisconsin
Jessica (Hill) Jackson (2011) enrollment services lead at Madison College

Capital High
Abel De Jesus Mosqueda (2019) 2019 senior class speaker, pursuing an associate degree in automotive technology and a technical diploma in cabinetmaking and millwork at Madison College
*Capital High was founded in 2016, so more distinguished alumni will rise in years to come.

Click here to return to the MMSD Graduation Special Edition homepage for more content and a virtual version of the magazine this story appeared in.