Matthew Gutiérrez is currently the superintendent of the Seguin Independent School District near San Antonio, Texas. Later this year, Gutiérrez will become the next superintendent of the Madison Metropolitan School District.
The school board unanimously chose him to lead the district last month, but a group of leaders in Madison’s black community have expressed concerns about his hire.
In a letter emailed to the school board last Thursday, the group says “the input of the Black Community was minimized, if considered at all.” Gutiérrez beat out the other two finalists, both of whom are black.
In their letter, the leaders reiterated their support for Eric Thomas, former Chief Turnaround Officer for the Georgia State Board of Education.
Greg Jones is the President of the Dane County NAACP and one of the thirteen individuals who signed the letter. According to Jones, the group is concerned that Gutiérrez won’t be prepared to lead the Madison Metro School District, which has nearly 20,000 more students than Seguin.
“The scope of the work and issues that that district faces, with 7,467 students, is nowhere near the scope and nature of issues in a district of 27,000 [students],” Jones says.
“That tells me that, fundamentally, the skill set needed to manage a district as large as Madison [and] the skill set needed to manage a district as small as Seguin is nowhere comparable.”
Before starting at Seguin in 2017, Gutiérrez served as the assistant superintendent in a Dallas suburb with over 50,000 students for one year.
Jones also says the group intends to meet with Gutiérrez in March or April to learn more about his goals for the district’s Black Excellence Coalition and how he plans to address the district’s poor performance among African-American students.
“We’ll be having those conversations with him moving forward, because the bottom line is, I think the black community has expressed that they’re just concerned and tired of having so many conversations and not holding the appropriate people accountable,” Jones adds.
At least one leader in Madison’s black community is pushing back against the group’s letter.
Michael Johnson is the President and CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County. He says he respects the group’s position, but argues that any potential applicant would have to adapt to the district’s unique circumstances.
“[Gutiérrez] may be coming from a smaller district, but I’ve also seen school superintendents that come from a larger school district to a smaller school district and not do well,” Johnson says.
“I look at Gregory Thornton. Greg Thornton came from Prince George’s County [the second largest county in Maryland], was the deputy superintendent there, was the deputy superintendent in Philadelphia, came to Milwaukee, and that doesn’t necessarily mean because he came from a larger district that he was able to turn Milwaukee around. So, I just don’t buy that somebody coming from a larger system gives you more experience than somebody coming from a smaller system.”
In an op-ed for Madison365.com, Johnson says that the community needs to be prepared “to hold [Gutiérrez] accountable for the work that needs to be done.”
Madison Metro school board member Savion Castro says he empathizes with the leaders’ demands for better results for the district’s students, but that Gutiérrez stood out among the three finalists for the position.
“The board was really impressed in his depth of experience and expertise, especially as a curriculum and instructional leader, and as a leader in HR as well,” Castro says.
“Mainly [what stood out was] his passion and commitment to students, and commitment to equity among all students stood out and was the leading reason why we selected him.”
Castro also says the board intends to encourage Gutiérrez to meet with community leaders about their concerns.
“We want to make sure that he forms those relationships with our community leaders so we can all serve the students. We’re under no illusions that they’re going to be very demanding, and [we] expect to be held accountable for the sake of our students here in Madison,” Castro says.
Gutiérrez is set to begin as Madison Metro’s superintendent on June 1st.
Martin Rakacolli contributed audio to this story.