WSJ: What is Madison’s biggest challenge?
DN: Unless we get more of our kids to standards, children will not remain strong and the community will not remain strong. Our vision has to be about advancing learning for all kids while we work to address these very notable achievement gaps for certain groups of kids. It’s not an either-or. It’s not a zero sum. That’s why I believe we can be about a conversation about achievement gaps and we can be about a conversation about how we can better serve talented-and-gifted students.
WSJ: Is that the central tension?
DN: That’s the manifestation. If it’s about human capital development, it has to be about all kids moving forward, but there’s real constraints around that because we do in fact make budget decisions year by year and people feel disaffected by those budget decisions. There’s real concern, and I’m right in line with that concern, that we aren’t doing enough to face these achievement gaps in an aggressive enough way. (Other) people feel very strongly that we’re not doing enough to advance the needs of our advanced learners.
WSJ: Summarize your first 2½ years in Madison.
DN: We immediately jumped into a referendum discussion. The need for that was identified prior to my coming. We spent a considerable amount of time in that first year focused on those issues. From there I worked with the board on some board reorganization. And then it moved into comprehensive strategic planning with our community. From there we did the reorganization of the administration. Creating a teacher and a parent council was part of our thinking about how we do our work differently. And then we had a major focus needed on this current year’s budget. That was a very difficult conversation. We were looking at this huge gap and this huge amount of money. There has been one major thing after another. Take one, it’s significant. Take them all, it’s been very significant. And while I’ve been here 30 months, I’m still learning the culture of this organization and of this community. I’ve tried to be sensitive to the culture and there’s been some tension about how we’ve done our work and has it been sensitive enough to the culture. None of that is lost on me.