Parents meet, offer suggestions for superintendent search

Only three parents gathered on Thursday at 4:15 p.m. at James Madison Memorial High School to share input with the school executive search firm tasked with helping select Madison Metropolitan School District’s (MMSD) next superintendent. Although their numbers were few, the attendees had abundant suggestions and insights to share.

Over the next five months the search firm Ray and Associates, Inc. will work in conjunction with the MMSD school board to secure lasting leadership for the district’s 49 schools.

The meeting in the high school’s Wisconsin Neighborhood Center room was the third of four parent input sessions. Mary Fasbender, the associate leading the search estimated that in previous parent input sessions Ray and Associates, Inc. had met and discussed the search with 150 people.

Just as Madison’s students study, so too must prospective candidates. They will be expected to research Madison’s schools before applying, Fasbender said. As such, she asked attendees to be “open and candid” in their discussion.

“We want to be able to give [the candidates] as much information as we can so they can make a reasoned choice. At the same time, working through that, we get better matches,” Fasbender said.

During the next 40 minutes, the parents shared the traits they believe the new superintendent should possess and the strengths and challenges of the district.

They cited violence, poverty and low test scores as challenges. In Madison, Allis, Falk, Lakeview, Leopold, Lowell, Midvale/Lincoln, Orchard Ridge, Sandburg, Schenk and Thoreau elementaries were recently named ‘focus’ schools. Focus schools have a large achievement gap in student performance.

“It’s not just about achievement, it’s an opportunity gap,” said Anna Moffit, parent and member of the Madison Partners for Inclusive Education, an organization that advocates for children with special needs.

Some students have “tremendous” opportunity, while others struggle with homelessness, learning disabilities and language barriers, Moffit said. “They just don’t have the same opportunities before they’re even getting to school, so it’s really broader than the achievement we’re talking about.”

To tackle the diverse needs of an urban school district like Madison, Moffit said the new superintendent must possess a personality that allows him or her to connect with and motivate teachers, students, and families in the district and listen to their unique voices.

The others mentioned the ability to take input from the educators, put students first and form relationships quickly as desirable traits.

“There is an amount of time where you have to learn about the community. You can’t just start right away. You have to get respect and build respect from people. Relationship building is very challenging and very important to be successful,” parent Vicky McCarthy said.

After final comments were recorded, Ray and Associates, Inc.’s representatives shared the projected timeline for the process. The MMSD school board wants to be “very transparent” about the search, Fasbender said.

During the weekend, Ray and Associates, Inc. will compile the criteria gathered through discussions with parents and the MMSD school board. Applications for the position are due by January 7, after which time the firm will present 20-25 candidates to the school board for screening. Members of the board will select six to eight candidates to interview. Ray and Associates, Inc.’s Jamison Rusthoven predicted advertisements and recruiting for the position will yield 60-100 applicants.

The firm hopes to offer a contract and secure acceptance by March 1 to allow the new superintendent ample transition time.