Madison Superintendent To Retire In 18 Months

From Channel 3000:

MADISON, Wis. — Madison Metropolitan School District Superintendent Art Rainwater announced on Monday night that he will retire next year.
Rainwater informed the district’s Board of Education at their Monday meeting. His retirement will be effective the end of next school year, which will be June 30, 2008, according to a district press release.
“I am thankful for the opportunity to serve the board and the Madison community,” said Rainwater in the news release. “This is a great school district and a great community that has always put the welfare of our children first. I am honored to contribute to this effort.”
Rainwater said that he gave the board 18 months notice so they would have sufficient time to conduct a search for the next superintendent.
Rainwater has been the district’s superintendent since February 1999.

16 thoughts on “Madison Superintendent To Retire In 18 Months”

  1. Let’s assume there really will be a nationwide search for Rainwater’s replacement, i.e., that there isn’t a designated successor in the wings. Just who the people of Madison want to see in charge (and in my view, tasked with undoing some very bad ideas and decisions) will be decided by the BOE. Thus, I hope what the candidates would look for in a new superintendent is a central topic for debate and discussion in the upcoming race.

  2. Big news, Ed! Those salivary glands must be working overtime;) Seriously, do folks now see Art as a lame duck (and Mary Gulbrandsen as well)? Who is jockeying, internally, to get the job? I know that many of the employees at Doyle would *really* like to see an internal, lifelong MMSD person lead our district. How much time will the Board spend replacing Art and will that interfere with their energy being spent on more important issues?

  3. With 18 months of lead time, the BOE has the opportunity to conduct a broad needs assessment of what qualities the community would prefer in the next superitendent. Ultimately, it is a Board decision and one of the BOE’s most important responsibilities, but it would be very beneficial to have an organized input process from the community before the official search process gets underway.
    My prediction, and some here will scoff at it, is that it is more likely than not that Art Rainwater’s tenure will be more favorably regarded in 5 years and that some of his current critics may even miss him by then. Hopefully, I’ll be surprised and his successor will exceed expectations.

  4. Well, Tim, you may be right that some of Art’s critics will find we miss him down the road. For instance, George Bush has made me downright nostalgic for Nixon.
    But it is my hope that the next superintendent will better reflect the larger community vision for our schools than Rainwater has.

  5. Joan:
    What is that larger community vision? Would yours differ than that of, for instance, a single Mom living on Allied Drive raising three children by herself? Or that of the UW-Madison professor and her husband living in Nakoma whose children attend West High? Of the retired electrician and his wife living on Fair Oaks Drive who have no children in the district?

  6. Phil M
    I’d like to discover through a broad, inclusive dialogue what the community wants for its schools, rather than simply live with what Art Rainwater believes.
    The point–Rainwater has run the district by fiat not consensus. So just in case you missed my meaning, I don’t pretend to know what the community wants but I sure would like to hear from some other voices for a change.

  7. Using the rhetoric favored by educators, we’d have to conclude that “the community” does not have a vision. Just as no two students learn the same way, no two members of the community will have the same vision. The community has 200,000 visions!
    Seriously, the community can have a shared vision, and I’ve often articulated mine. I want the Madison schools to raise the academic achievements of every student every year. I want nearly 100% of all third graders reading at grade level at the end of third grade. I want nearly 100% of all Madison high school graduates to read and do math at no less than a 10 grade level at graduation. (I won’t say 100% because we can all think of cases where some students won’t reach grade level, but I’d be willing to say something like 97% or 98% could.)
    It’s also a vision each and every community group — rich, poor, retired, working, childless, black, white, red and yellow — can endorse.

  8. I agree with most of your point — the discussion of a school district’s role/vision/mission is one of the most important any community can have, and a superintendency vacancy can be a very appropriate time to have one.
    But I think it’s a bit of a stretch to suggest a district as wide-ranging as MMSD will have a singular community vision. One of the more difficult problems for school districts these days — and this plays out in issues such as 100 percent compliance with NCLB — is the competing demands placed on it by parents, students, teachers, community leaders, business folks and the body politic. And like it or not, there are competing and limited “resources” — be it dollars, people, buildings, whatever — that often put those demands in conflict with each other.
    I do think the discussion ought to be held, and ought to include more than the usual suspects, and ought to include visits by the board to places like Allied Drive’s neighborhood center, Oscar Mayer’s lunchroom, the board room of the Madison Area Chamber of Commerce, and various school cafeterias at meal time, for starters.
    As for Art, I was unaware that he had been elected by the citizens of MMSD to run the school district. If he has run the district by fiat, it’s been with the explicit support of the MMSD school board and the electorate that put the board there.

  9. There is general consensus, as discussed in other posts, that the success of a district or schools depend on a strong superintendent or principal, or some other “charismatic” leader that is able to move an institution in a given direction that defines success.
    Further, when that person leaves, the consensus is that the success of that institution declines drastically.
    We see that in “one-shot” successes that are publicized as the way to nirvana (the teacher of the year who can’t duplicate their success when he/she goes to a different school) or a school with a strong principal who hand-picks teachers all of a like mind, but whose success can’t be duplicated in other schools, etc.
    I agree with Ed’s vision — I don’t believe anyone would disagree. But I also know that attached to that vision is the statement from every parent “but I don’t want to attain that vision at my child’s expense.” I also subscribe to that vision — with the addendum!
    Inherent conflict. Who will be the winners and losers in this battle? — and it is a battle.
    The question is how much and what should the schools do to educate our kids, and what must we do as parents and society outside of the four-corners of the school to reach that vision?
    The American, as the ultimate consumer, who desires not to be burdened by such responsibilities, will prefer to pay their money to send in a kid tabla rasa, and get an educated, moral, responsible young adult out. And if the result is not what we envisioned then it’s the schools’ fault.
    I cannot shake the idea that what parents want, and think they can get, is a school/educational system that is especially designed for each indivdual child — their child. The educational fads du jour (learning style, computer-based education) so promise, and the public buys into such silliness.
    Now, we’re going out for another superintendent. Literature and current sentiment is that this person must be a strong leader.
    But at the same time, infinitely malleable to whomever is on the Board or the current public views and politics, and whatever our particular child needs. Or, at least, what we (individually) think is right.
    Given this, I think I know that the public vision is, and the problem will be molding that vision from something mythological into something realistic.

  10. I agree with what I think Larry is saying, that there probably is a general consensus of the results we would hope to see, but agreement can break down when we view opportunity costs through the lens of our own children’s interests.
    Madison is a unique district because it is both a high poverty district and is in a community with high educational attainment. In some respects, we’re a good illustration of the debate Hess and Rotherham describe here:
    Personally, I’m more optimistic than Hess and Rotherham, because I believe that resource reallocation can allow for some productivity gains and allow schools to push equity and excellence in combination. But shifting resources to the core content areas is controversial in itself. The equity-excellence trade-off shouldn’t have to be so stark, but *historically* the two have rarely been emphasized together.
    I think these are important questions that the next superintendent will be tackling in association with staff, parents, and community. To the extent there is consensus on how, specifically, the district should approach equity, excellence, and resource allocation, explicitly defining that in advance can only help hiring a district administrator that is a good match to help in achieving this vision.

  11. One point I was alluding to in my comments is that I believe that the requirement for a “strong superintendent” and likewise the necessity for strong leadership of principals, as Rainwater mentions here is proof of failure of schools, school districts and society.
    It is proof of failure because success in educating kids is not institutionalized, and routine. That is, schools should simply “just work”, requiring, certainly at the principal and teacher level, a well-understood process in imparting knowledge. A properly institutionalized school system would not require an omniscient or omnipotent superintendent or like principals to successfully educate kids.
    The role of the superintendent and principal should be managerial only — ensure that teachers have the resources and support necessary to teach, to act as a buffer against interference of the teachers doing the job they are well-trained to do, and, of course, standard HR functions.
    The schools cannot directly overcome the ills which society actively causes, but we need to have agreement on institutionalizing success to the extent the schools can reasonably accomplish it. For this we need active participation by teaches and administration and citizens.

  12. Maybe in philosophy class or some mythical world, Larry, you could accurately assert that a taxpayer funded educational organization doesn’t need strong leadership. But in the real world, between teachers unions and societal ills and financial realities, we DO need strong leaders in the MMSD. Not necessarily bullies, but strong leaders. The community needs to evaluate what we believe are the hallmarks of a strong leader.

  13. My take on Larry’s comments is completely different than David’s. In my view, Larry is offering a note of pragmatism.
    A system in desperate need of strong, charismatic leadership probably also has deep institutional weaknesses that stakeholders should not be distracted from.
    All systems need strong leaders, but when this need becomes too desperate, you are veering into Spain-under-Franco territory.
    A previous thread on the principal resignation and La Follette also raised this issue. A future district relying too much on a “great-man” myth is a mythic world I’d rather not to visit.

  14. Matt (and Winkler), I don’t think that they are mutually exclusive. A system CAN have both…especially one the size and breadth of the MMSD. A weak leader in a town like Madison gets eaten for lunch…witness certain principals as well as Dr. Wilhoite.

  15. I did not see Dr Wilhoyte as weak so much as she was sandbagged, in no small measure by then Assistant Supt Rainwater and John Matthews of MTI.
    Wilhoyte courageously took on MTI by insisting on grade-level standards and guidelines, and she busted up what was then the most blatant segregation in town, the far West side where a couple of schools had less than 5% poor/at risk when other West side schools were approaching 65%. In other words, she took some very unpopular positions, tackling what desperately needed doing. Her meticulous grooming habits and southern mannerisms were the subject of ridicule but had she not wacked the hornets’ nests described above, I wonder if her appearance would have been much noted. (Frankly, feminists in town should have been shocked by her treatment. That she was a frilly rather than Birkenstock wearing woman doesn’t change the fundamental sexism that underlay many of the attacks leveled at her.)
    I don’t see Rainwater’s pact with Matthews as a sign of strength–his capitulation meant no strike but also huge insurance premiums and very little administrative oversight of teachers’ performance.
    Wilhoyte left the district better than when she found it. That’s the best evidence of strength not weakness.

  16. Matt correctly assesses my comments.
    People have emotionally attacked the school systems for being factories adhering to Fredrick Taylor ideas. I would agree with that if by this criticism the opponents are referring to mindless assembly line work.
    However, schools are factories, and should adhere to some basic principles of those that are efficient. They are data driven in the area of ensuring quality, no “rework”, efficient and effective use of resources. So to the extent schools can and do perform these assessments, I would subscribe.
    The School Improvement Rubrics by Victoria Bernhardt that I and Ed Blume have posted in part, and in full on several occasions are some of those quality assurance items that are necessary.
    It is these (kind of) rubrics and publicly available data-driven analyses that needs to be institutionalized, and it is precisely the lack of such insitutionalized practices that lead us, without evidence, to hope and demand the “great-man” solutions to problems.
    What bothers me about the search for a new superintendent is precisely that we have no good hard scientific evidence (locally or nationally) that can tell us what, under Rainwater’s leadership, we are really doing right and what we are not doing well.
    So we bring in another Superintendent, with his/her own ideas and prejudices, without an institutionalized set of behavior and data, with the ideas and prejudices of the public, who would be unable to assess evidence even if available, and we have a nightmare on our hands.
    We have no objective evidence of the effectiveness or efficiency of any of our practices. The budget system does not have the capability to show ROI of programs. We have wide variability of success within and without each of our schools, by some measures.
    MMSD has suffered irreparable harm over the years, due to a Board of Education that has been irresponsible, incapable and uninterested in the critical issues — the implementation and institutionalization of objective quality measures.

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