Jennifer Cheatham resigning as Madison school superintendent

Dylan Brogan:

Jennifer Cheatham is expected to resign as superintendent of the Madison school district at a news conference Wednesday. Isthmus confirmed the news with three members of the Madison school board and other sources. It is not known when Cheatham, who has led the district since 2013, will step down.

Rachel Strauch-Nelson, district spokesperson, did not immediately respond to a call and email for comment on Tuesday evening.

During an April 28 interview with Channel 3000’s On The Record, Cheatham said she was “really excited” about working with the new school board, which she described as a “new group of powerful women” who are going to help bring transformative change to the district. This school year, Cheatham implemented an updated strategic framework to guide district policy to help usher in that transformation.

“We have a new set of goals. A new set of core values. And a new refreshed strategy for the future,” said Cheatham. “The framework has a new set of core values that are all about voice, racial equity and social justice. Which is powerful. And we are learning how best to make decisions with those core values in mind.”

Cheatham said she planned on working with the new school board to “refresh the district’s equity tool,” which she added, “is essentially the set of questions we always want to ask ourselves when making decisions together. I think that’s powerful and has real potential for the future.”

Negassi Tesfamichael:

Cheatham’s departure leaves a slew of questions for the Madison School Board that was sworn in last month. With the exception of Burke, the other six board members have a collective five years of experience on the board. Cheatham’s administration introduced a $462.6 million budget proposal, and the board is planning to vote on a preliminary budget in June.

Hanks, MMSD’s elementary schools chief, also came to Madison in 2013 from Chicago Public Schools. She served as principal at Melody Elementary School on Chicago’s west side, near the neighborhood she grew up in. She earned her Master’s in Educational Leadership and Administration from Harvard. The Root previously recognized her as one of the 100 most influential African-Americans in the country.

Hanks, a black woman, would temporarily lead a school district that is majority-nonwhite if appointed. Cheatham’s “trying year” comment in a speech to the Rotary Club of Madison followed high-profile incidents this past school year, including several instances where MMSD employees used a racial slur in front of students and another involving an altercation between a black girl and a white positive behavior coach at Whitehorse Middle School that did not result in any criminal charges. In a previous interview with the Cap Times, Whitehorse staffer Rob Mueller-Owens described how he felt thrown under the bus by Cheatham following the handling of school-based side of the investigation.

Related: Superintendent Cheatham’s 2013 Madison Rotary Club speech and, again in 2019.

December, 2018: “The data clearly indicate that being able to read is not a requirement for graduation at (Madison) East, especially if you are black or Hispanic”