The three finalists to be the next leader of the Madison Metropolitan School District will visit the city this week.
Their “Day in the District” will begin at 8 a.m. with meetings with community and staff groups until 11, followed by lunch with students until noon. The afternoon will include school visits, meetings with the School Board and community leaders and end with a public forum from 6-7:30 p.m.
Marguerite Vanden Wyngaard will visit Tuesday, Jan. 14, Matthew Gutiérrez will visit Wednesday, Jan. 15, and Eric Thomas will visit Thursday, Jan. 16. Both Vanden Wyngaard and Gutiérrez’s forums will be at East High School, while Thomas’ will be at La Follette High School.
The three were announced as the finalists Dec. 26. Consultant BWP and Associates, which helped the district in its search to replace Jennifer Cheatham, narrowed down the 31 applicants to a group of semifinalists who the board interviewed in mid-December.
Cheatham resigned last spring after six years in the district. She left to take a position at Harvard. The board appointed Jane Belmore to serve as interim superintendent for a year, just as she did the year before Cheatham was hired.
All three of the finalists are minorities, and would be the first non-white superintendent, at least in recent memory, here.
Vanden Wyngaard is an assistant professor of educational leadership at the College of St. Rose in Albany, New York, and a former superintendent in the Albany school district. She told the Cap Times in an interview that equity and social justice are “the way I live my life.”
“Because I lead from equity, my processes are around collective impact,” she said. “With that expertise in schools, those that are most impacted by decisions have to be part of the decision-making process.”
Gutiérrez has worked his entire career in Texas and is in his third year as the superintendent of the Seguin Independent School District, which has about 7,500 students. He previously worked as an assistant superintendent in the Plano Independent School District, which has 54,000 students. He said in an interview his “diverse experience” in a range of district sizes would serve him well in Madison.
“Not only when you think about size, but in the populations that I’ve had the opportunity to serve, that I believe would suit me well in a school district like Madison,” he said. “I believe that the school district needs someone who can be a uniter, someone that can bring people together."
Thomas is in charge of the Georgia State Board of Education’s "turnaround" office after previously working in a similar role with the University of Virginia’s turnaround program. Thomas, who spent much of his career in the Cincinnati school district, said in an interview he was “impressed” with Madison’s focus on academic success for all students, including closing the racial achievement gap.
“There seems to be a very committed, authentic commitment to ensuring that all students are seeing a certain level of academic success,” he said. “You hear that and most districts have some conversation about all kids will be successful and that’s sort of a catchphrase, but doing some research it appears that Madison is very serious about it.”
The Cap Times will run more detailed stories on each candidates’ background this week the day before they visit.