Last month, I wrote about the potential for the Madison school district’s new superintendent, Dr. Daniel Nerad, to make Madison schools more receptive to students’ voices (“Daniel Nerad, Stop Shutting Out Student Input,” 7/24/08).
When the piece was published in Isthmus, I was traveling in central Mexico. The day after it appeared, I sat down in front of a computer at an Internet cafe in Mexico City, half expecting a barrage of messages criticizing my naiveté and idealism.
After all, how many people would take seriously a high school student who suggests not only “holding a series of listening sessions [for students] at several of the district’s middle and high schools,” but also “advancing students [on school advisory boards and task forces] from the confines of tokenism to a position of shared power”?
When I opened an email from my mom relating that Dr. Nerad had called our home shortly after my column was printed, I almost thought she was joking. He wants to meet with you, she wrote, to hear more about your ideas on student engagement.
She wasn’t kidding — and neither is Nerad, whom I met with recently at the Doyle Building, the school district’s administrative headquarters. As he told me, “When I read your article, this first thing I wanted to know was, ‘What’s her phone number?”
It appears that Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad has taken a much different approach to community engagement than previous administrations. As always, the proof is in the pudding (or was it “Trust but Verify”); we’ll see how these interactions play out in terms of rigorous curriculum, discipline policy, budget transparency, program effectiveness, expanded educational options and ultimately, growing enrollment after decades of stagnant numbers.