Welcome to the Nerad era
Madison’s new school chief seems ready for a tough job

Marc Eisen:

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.

Much more on Dan Nerad here, including his January, 2008 public appearance video.

One thought on “Welcome to the Nerad era
Madison’s new school chief seems ready for a tough job”

  1. This is a telling piece. It sounds for the most part like he is trying to hold back until he has a better idea of what many various factions and individuals feel is the best course for the district in the near future. But he also seems to recognize that the tipping point is here, or perhaps even slightly over the apex. I know our elementary school has seen a huge number and proportion of our neighborhood upper-middle class and educated families move their children to another public school in the district, to a private school, or the whole family is moving. (An aside: upper-middle class and educated do not necessarily go hand-in-hand – I am way over-educated, and yet cannot find a job. If my husband had the same problems, we would not be able to afford a mortgage, much less that and some food. Seriously.)
    He has a good idea about the differentiation that may be possible within the schools we currently have, instead of reaching for more charters. The problem is, our teachers, for the most part, have not been allowed or trained to differentiate in their heterogeneous classrooms. And his idea of having “academy focus clusters” (not what he calls it exactly) at the different high schools? That’s a fine idea, but not doable in our district right now, or at any time until transportation problems are solved. If they make LaFollette a computer technology focus high school (or even a concentrated, smaller program within it), then how do my children who live in Southwest Madison get there? They are NOT taking three or four different city buses for over 90 minutes each way! And what if Memorial becomes the health services focus high school? How do the kids who want to be LPN’s or even vet techs who live way up by Cherokee Marsh get there? And if we use school buses, that will cost a lot of money too. Don’t they claim something like 30K per school route? Like that is going to happen. At least with Nuestro Mundo (which we supported), the parents are expected to provide their own transportation. That means that our daughter could not go, even though she was interested and selected, because we could not get her there and back at school start and end times every single day. Even if we could have done it for the first year, we would have no guarantees that our jobs or hours would not have changed hugely after the first year, making it impossible to get her there – or for her to adjust to a new school where everyone has been doing everything in one language since the first day of Kindergarten.
    I am looking forward to seeing how this plays out. But we are so tired of waiting for this. Our kids had barely started school when we moved here, and now we have two middle schoolers and an elementary-aged child. One of the reasons we moved here was the schools, and the acceptance of diversity. Both have changed and suffered since we came, only eight years ago. Yes, both. Is any of this going to “be okay” to make a difference for our kids? What about our two older kids? I am not holding my breath.

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