Secrecy in school superintendent search was bad public policy

Bill Lueders:

The secrecy that attended the Madison School District’s pick of a new superintendent was bad form and bad public policy.
Prior to making its selection, the district announced just two finalists, one of whom was found to have a closet full of skeletons that prompted his withdrawal. The remaining finalist, Jennifer Cheatham, got the job.
State law requires that at least the top five contenders for such a position be named, but does not specify when. The Madison School District decided to do so after it was too late to matter.
And then, to add insult to injury, the district’s lawyer, Dylan Pauly, dissed the disclosure law that the district complied with only belatedly.
“We believe that by releasing these names, pursuant to our legal obligation, we are negatively contributing to the chilling effect that is occurring across the state with respect to school boards’ abilities to recruit and hire highly qualified individuals as superintendents,” she wrote.

A bit of history on Madison Superintendents. I fully agree with Lueders. I continue to be astonished at the ongoing lack of transparency in such public matters, from the local School District’s Superintendent search to the seemingly simple question of American citizen’s constitutional due process rights (is this being taught?)

And So, It Continues 2: “Pro Union” or “Union Owned”


Madison School Board.

Chris Rickert:

There’s also the obvious point: If seniority and degree attainment make for better teachers, why are seniority protections and automatic raises for degree attainment necessary in a collective bargaining agreement or an employee handbook?
One would think good teachers should have secure employment, dibs on choice positions and regular raises by virtue of being, well, good teachers.
I’m not drawing attention to the ridiculousness of seniority and degree-attainment perks because I think Walker’s decision to effectively end public-sector collective bargaining was a good one.
But support for these common contract provisions is one way to measure school board candidates.
There’s a difference, after all, between being pro-union and union-owned.

Focus needed on long-term educational goals by Dave Baskerville:

There is now much excitement around Madison and the state with the selection of a new Madison School District superintendent, the upcoming election of new School Board members, the expected re-election of State Superintendent Tony Evers, the rollout of new Common Core state standards, and now a vigorous debate, thanks to our governor, over the expansion of school vouchers.
The only problem is that for those of us who pay attention to classroom results and want to see our students really move out of second-class global standings, there is no mention of long-term “stretch goals” that could really start getting all of our kids — black and white, poor and middle class — reading like the Canadians, counting like the Singaporeans or Finns, and doing science like the Japanese — in other words, to close the gaps that count long-term.
Let’s focus on two stretch goals: Wisconsin’s per capita income will be 10 percent above Minnesota’s by 2030, and our eighth grade math, science and reading scores will be in the top 10 globally by 2030.
This would take not only vision, but some serious experimentation and radical changes for all of us. Can we do it? Of course, but not with just “feel good” improvement and endless debate over means to that end, and without clear global benchmarks, score cards, and political will.

www.wisconsin2.org
The New Madison Superintendent Needs to “Make Things Happen”, a Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

Barely half of the district’s black students are graduating from high school in four years. That’s a startling statistic. Yet it hasn’t produced a dramatic change in strategy.
Ms. Cheatham, it’s your job to make things happen.
Your top priority must be to boost the performance of struggling students, which requires innovation, not just money. At the same time, Madison needs to keep its many higher-achieving students engaged and thriving. The district has lost too many families to the suburbs, despite a talented staff, diverse offerings and significant resources.
Being Madison’s superintendent of schools will require more than smarts. You’ll need backbone to challenge the status quo. You’ll need political savvy to build support for action.
Your experience leading reform efforts in urban school districts is welcome. And as chief of instruction for Chicago Public Schools, you showed a willingness to put the interests of students ahead of the grown-ups, including a powerful teachers union.
We appreciate your support for giving parents more options, including public charter schools and magnets. You seem to understand well the value of strong teacher and student assessments, using data to track progress, as well as staff development.
The traditional classroom model of a teacher lecturing in front of students is changing, and technology can help provide more individualized attention and instruction. The long summer break — and slide in learning — needs to go.

Madison School Board Election Intrigue (Public!)

he top vote-getter in Tuesday’s Madison School Board primary said Friday she ran for the seat knowing she might not be able to serve out her term because her husband was applying for graduate school in other states.
Sarah Manski, who dropped out of the race Thursday, said she mentioned those concerns to School Board member Marj Passman, who Manski said encouraged her to run. Passman told her it wouldn’t be a problem if she had to resign her seat because the board would “appoint somebody good,” Manski said.
Passman vigorously denied encouraging Manski to run or ever knowing about her husband’s graduate school applications. After learning about Manski’s statement from the State Journal, Passman sent an email to other School Board members saying “I had no such conversation with her.”
“It’s sad to believe that this kind of a person came close to being elected to one of the most important offices in our city,” Passman wrote in the email, which she also forwarded to the State Journal.
Manski said in response “it’s possible (Passman) didn’t remember or it’s possible it’s politically inconvenient for her to remember.”

And so it continues, part 1.

Change is the Only Path to Better Schools

Chris Rickert:

Shortly after Madison schools superintendent Dan Nerad resigned last year, School Board member Ed Hughes told me that when it comes to the Madison School District, “People want improvement, but they don’t want change.”
I thought about Hughes’ words last weekend after the school district announced it had hired Chicago Public Schools chief of instruction Jennifer Cheatham as Nerad’s replacement.
Cheatham is seen as the best bet for improvement — specifically to the long history of low-income and minority student under-achievement.
The question now is: Will people tolerate her changes?
Hughes told me Sunday he was “optimistic” they would. “I think she will earn teachers’ trust and inspire them to do their best work,” he said. “If she succeeds at that, everything else will fall into place.”
I hope he’s right, but I don’t yet share his optimism.
Back in 2011, it was the district’s long-standing inability to do anything bold about the achievement gap that left it vulnerable to the Urban League of Greater Madison’s bid to open its own charter school for minority and low-income students.
Madison Preparatory Academy brought the issue of the achievement gap to the fore. But the school’s rejection — largely due to opposition from the teachers union — left notoriously progressive Madison doing some uncomfortable soul-searching.

Related: And so it continues…..

And, so it continues



Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes:

Leadership comes in different shapes and sizes. After spending time with 41-year-old Jen Cheatham and attending the community forum on Thursday, I kept thinking back to the winter day 23 years ago when 43-year-old Barry Alvarez was introduced to the Madison community and made his memorable statement about how fans interested in season tickets better get them now because they’d soon be hard to get.
Like Cheatham, Alvarez was an outsider, a rising star in a major program who was ready to take the reins of his own program and run with it. That certainly did not guarantee success, but he proved to have that rare and ineluctable something that inspired his players to raise their game, that drove them to succeed as a team because they couldn’t bear to let their coach or teammates down.
As with Barry, so with Jen. For those of us who have been able to spend time with Jen Cheatham and talk to her about her vision for our Madison schools, it is clear that whatever leadership is, she has it. What we heard time and again from those she’s worked with is that Jen is able to inspire principals and teachers to do their best possible work for the students they serve. But also like Alvarez, she’s doesn’t shy away from tough decisions when they’re necessary.

Related: Madison’s third grade reading results:

“The other useful stat buried in the materials is on the second page 3 (= 6th page), showing that the 3rd grade proficiency rate for black students on WKCE, converted to NAEP-scale proficiency, is 6.8%, with the accountability plan targeting this percentage to increase to 23% over one school year. Not sure how this happens when the proficiency rate (by any measure) has been decreasing year over year for quite some time. Because the new DPI school report cards don’t present data on an aggregated basis district-wide nor disaggregated by income and ethnicity by grade level, the stats in the MMSD report are very useful, if one reads the fine print.”

Madison School Board Needs to Address Search Fiasco:

That being the case, Cheatham would come to this position in a difficult circumstance. As Kaleem Caire, the president of the Urban League of Greater Madison, told the State Journal: “The perception of people in this community when we have one pick, they will always question the value of this woman. That’s not fair to her and not fair to our kids.”
The School Board has presided over a fiasco that board member Ed Hughes admits — in a major understatement — “has not gone as smoothly as we’d like.”
Now the board needs to get its act together.
If would be good if the board were to seek the return of the more than $30,000 in taxpayer money that was allocated for what can only charitably be referred to as a “search.” However, we don’t want the board to squander more tax money on extended legal wrangling.
The board should make it clear that it will not have further dealings with this search firm, as the firm’s vetting of applicants does not meet the basic standards that a responsible board should expect.
Perhaps most importantly, the board should engage in a serious rethink of its approach to searches for top administrators. The Madison Metropolitan School District is a great urban school district. It has challenges, especially with regard to achievement gaps and the overuse of standardized testing, that must be addressed.

Ripon Superintendent Richard Zimman – August, 2009

“Beware of legacy practices (most of what we do every day is the maintenance of the status quo), @12:40 minutes into the talk – the very public institutions intended for student learning has become focused instead on adult employment. I say that as an employee. Adult practices and attitudes have become embedded in organizational culture governed by strict regulations and union contracts that dictate most of what occurs inside schools today. Any impetus to change direction or structure is met with swift and stiff resistance. It’s as if we are stuck in a time warp keeping a 19th century school model on life support in an attempt to meet 21st century demands.” Zimman went on to discuss the Wisconsin DPI’s vigorous enforcement of teacher licensing practices and provided some unfortunate math & science teacher examples (including the “impossibility” of meeting the demand for such teachers (about 14 minutes)). He further cited exploding teacher salary, benefit and retiree costs eating instructional dollars (“Similar to GM”; “worry” about the children given this situation).
Zimman noted that the most recent State of Wisconsin Budget removed the requirement that arbitrators take into consideration revenue limits (a district’s financial condition @17:30) when considering a District’s ability to afford union negotiated compensation packages. The budget also added the amount of teacher preparation time to the list of items that must be negotiated….. “we need to breakthrough the concept that public schools are an expense, not an investment” and at the same time, we must stop looking at schools as a place for adults to work and start treating schools as a place for children to learn.”