Madison’s Latest Superintendent, one year hence: Deja Vu?

My simple thoughts on Madison’s latest Superintendent, Jennifer Cheatham:

How is the new Superintendent Doing?

Our community faces several historic challenges:

Despite spending double the national average per student, Madison’s reading results are a disaster. The Superintendent has been talking about this and there are indications that at least administrative attention to this urgent problem has changed.

Perhaps the most significant challenge our community faces is that school districts largely remain as they were a century ago: doing the same thing over and over yet becoming more costly each year. The rest of the world is obviously not standing still (

The organizational stasis continues despite:

A. The information revolution:
I had dinner with some college students recently. All bright and motivated, they mentioned using the Khan Academy and many other online resources to learn. Sometimes supplementing coursework and in other cases replacing inadequate classroom lectures.

B. A few public schools are re-thinking their models:
Some Wisconsin Public schools are moving toward year around schedules:

Madison, meanwhile, seems largely content with the status quo:

C. Substantial growth in property taxes over the years, despite big changes in homeownership trends, demographics (rental growth) and the local economy.

D. Michael Barry (the Madison School District’s Business Services Director) recently confirmed to me via email that 25% of the District’s 2014-2015 budget is spent on benefits (!)

Those trends will be very difficult to address within the current structure.

In summary: two big challenges: disastrous reading problems and an organization structure created for 1914.

It is too early to tell how things are going, though the District could certainly share reading results throughout the most recent school year, via its test results.

The interested reader would do well to review previous Superintendent coverage before, during and after. It is revealing. Pat Schneider takes a quick survey, here.

Henry Whitehead:

Dear Editor: While I bet much of sleepy Madison loved your article on new super-intendent Jennifer Cheatham, I found it both revolting and a perfect microcosm for the extreme flaws in the way we talk about student issues in Madison. The Madison School District and local media refuse to ever put the focus of these types of conversations on students. “Locals,” to you, means 11 bureaucrats and one graduated student. I have no interest in hearing from self-serving members of various boards and committees.

What I want, and what I never get, is testimonies from actual kids in the district who are struggling, who have had a problem during their K-12 years, and who could be better served by the Madison School District. I want to hear from a kid whose only meal comes at school, telling me the actual truth about whether their situation has improved or worsened, not 12 nearly identical, nondescriptive praises by adults. Put the focus where it belongs.