Nerad is earnest, diplomatic and clear spoken. It’s a good bet that most anybody who hears him talk will find something they like in his message. Whether that adds up to support for a coherent educational program remains to be seen.
He faces huge challenges: not just closing the achievement gap while maintaining programs that attract middle-class families, but doing it while state fiscal controls continually squeeze his budget.
Equally hard will be overcoming the district’s own organizational stasis — it’s tendency to stick with the status quo. For all of Madison’s reputation as a progressive community, Madison schools are conservatively run and seriously resistant to change.
Authoritarian, top-down management grew under Nerad’s predecessor, Art Rainwater. Innovations like charter schools are still viewed skeptically, including by Nerad. Four-year-old kindergarten, which could be key to narrowing the achievement gap, is still seen as a problem. The middle school redesign project of a few years ago has been judged by insiders as pretty much a non-event. The high school redesign effort that Nerad inherited seems intent on embracing a program that is still unproven at West and Memorial.