CHEATHAM

Madison School District Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham officially announced on May 8 her plans to resign as the head of the district in late August. The Madison School Board initially planned to name an interim superintendent by the end of the month.

The Madison School Board agreed during a special session on Monday to aim to hire an interim superintendent sometime between June 1 and July 1.

That hiring timeline pushes back a goal School Board President Mary Burke stated last week that would have had the board hiring an interim superintendent by the end of May.

The interim hire would take over at the beginning of the 2019-20 school year, filling in a position set to be vacant after current Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham steps down from her post to take a faculty position at Harvard University next fall. Last week, Cheatham announced her plans to resign as the head of the Madison School District.

Discussion of the hiring process for an interim superintendent was originally slated for a closed session Monday night, according to previously released agendas. The board moved the discussion into open session Monday morning. The move follows reporting from the Cap Times last week about the hiring process for an interim superintendent that happened during a closed session.

Burke, along with School Board members Ali Muldrow and Kate Toews, said they favored sticking to an earlier timeline to ensure enough time for the interim superintendent to work with Cheatham before the start of the next school year, including the chance to participate in board and senior staff retreats before September.

Burke said the board is currently in the process of identifying potential internal candidates to reach out to for the interim position.

The other four School Board members — Cris Carusi, Nicki Vander Meulen, Gloria Reyes and Ananda Mirilli — cited desires to have more community involvement in the hiring process and more transparency as reasons to push back the initial timeline, as well as avoiding confusion on who senior staff would report to at the  Doyle Administration Building. Cheatham told the board Monday that she would feel comfortable with having an interim superintendent named by July 1 at the latest.

“I think we should identify where it’s appropriate to have opportunities for community input,” Carusi said.

How much community involvement there should be in the interim hiring process was a key difference among members, with some citing a desire to include more public input in the long-term superintendent search while finding a temporary solution more quickly, similar to how MMSD hired Jane Belmore in 2012 to serve as an interim superintendent when Dan Nerad announced he would leave the district. 

“I think listening to the community for the sake of listening to the community is an exploration in vanity, personally," Muldrow said, adding that deciding who should serve as interim superintendent falls within the responsibilities of board members.

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"I think we have the integrity, as folks elected to this office, to pursue the course that allows for the most stability and the most success for the district," Muldrow said. 

School Board members emphasized a desire to hire someone internally from MMSD as well as someone who would keep the senior leadership team Cheatham works with at the Doyle Building largely intact.

A number of speakers during the board’s public comment period voiced the importance of hiring a superintendent who would advance the district’s goals, particularly as MMSD eyes a referendum in 2020 and attempts to advance work on racial equity in schools.

“I would ask that you guys go to the schools and ask the students what they want to see in the next year and further because the students are the ones who are going to be the most affected, especially in the high schools, but also in the middle schools and elementary schools,” Lydia Hester, a junior at East High School, told the board during Monday night’s public comment period. “There are a lot of students in this district that are very engaged and they know what’s going on in the School Board … these students want to have a say in what direction they want this board to go in.”

Cheatham joined MMSD in 2013, replacing then-superintendent Nerad. Belmore served as an interim superintendent for roughly a year before Cheatham took the job.

Members said they would want the interim superintendent to be available to serve for up to a year, but that they aimed to leave the possibility open to having that tenure be shorter if the board hires a new superintendent before the end of the 2019-20 school year. The School Board decided not to exclusively seek an interim superintendent candidate that would not be interested in the permanent post.

Education Reporter

Negassi Tesfamichael is the local education reporter at The Cap Times. He joined the paper in 2018. He previously worked as an intern at WISC-TV/Channel3000.com and at POLITICO.