In August, Jennifer Cheatham resigned as the Madison Metropolitan School District superintendent to begin teaching at Harvard University. Now, the district has shared progress on its search for Cheatham’s replacement.
Last week, consulting firm BWP and Associates, which the district hired to aid in its search, released the results of a study that asked Madison residents what they were looking for in a new superintendent.
They found that the respondents wanted a superintendent with what they describe as “collaborative leadership skills, communication skills, and cultural competency.” Dr. Debra Hill, the managing director of BWP, said that they will soon start vetting qualified candidates.
“We have a number of candidates,” says Hill. “We have a few more days, as a matter of fact tomorrow is the deadline for applicants. And then we will take a look at who we have. We’ve already begun to do some informal background checks on some of the candidates. Then we will be reviewing those candidates in order to make a presentation to the board with regards to who we think the best candidates are that meet that profile that’s outlined in the report.”
Hill says they will present their chosen candidates to the board in December.
According to the Wisconsin State Journal, former superintendent Jennifer Cheatham’s record was mixed. Under her, the four-year graduation rate, especially among black and low-income students, went up. However, overall enrollment declined and the rate of low-income student enrollment stayed the same.
She also instituted a zero-tolerance approach to racial slurs, which led to the temporary firing of Marlon Anderson, a black security guard who told a student to not call him the N-word. While the school district gave Anderson his job back after a student walkout and national attention , the incident highlights concerns with diversity surrounding the district.
BWP’s study found that three-fourths of respondents wanted a superintendent who had experience with what they call culturally responsive practices in a diverse multicultural environment.
Forty percent of respondents also believed that increasing diversity in the staff is one of the most important issues facing the school district in the upcoming years. Less than half of the students in the district are white, but over ninety percent of the teachers are.
Gloria Reyes, president of the Madison Metropolitan School Board, says they are taking those concerns into account
“I think the biggest takeaways was being able to navigate and really support the anti-racist vision that we have, brings a racial equity lens to them and a restorative perspective and experience,” says Reyes. “Someone who has experience around those areas and being able to work with community to bring them in to participate and be part of guiding the school and supporting our school. Those were the biggest takeaways that I got. Those are the main things I found from what we’re hearing from our community.”
The position is currently occupied by interim superintendent Jane Belmore.
The school board plans to choose a new superintendent in February.