Marguerite Vanden Wyngaard began her teaching career in Racine.
The opportunity to return to Wisconsin and to a superintendent position, which she hasn’t held since a controversial exit from Albany, New York, in 2016, would be a “marvelous synergy,” she said in an interview earlier this month. That’s especially true given the district’s focus on black excellence and acknowledgement it can do better with equity, she said, specifically mentioning the 2013 Race to Equity report that identified the racial opportunity gaps in Madison.
“It’s that authentic and honest assessment of the way life is for kids that was very attractive,” Vanden Wyngaard said. “Social justice and equity is my blood, it’s what gives me life.”
She will visit the district for an interview and community meetings Tuesday, Jan. 14, ending the visit with a public meeting at 6 p.m. at East High School.
After teaching in Racine, she moved to Michigan, where she taught in the Northview School District and East Grand Rapids Public Schools. She has since been an associate director in the Ohio State Department of Education, a director of achievement initiatives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and a chief academic officer in three school districts — including another year spent in Racine.
After a little over two years as a deputy superintendent in Paterson, New Jersey, she became superintendent in Albany, a position she held from September 2012 to June 2016, according to her resume. After a confidential separation agreement with the School Board there, she became an assistant professor of educational leadership at The College of St. Rose in Albany and a founding director of EquiVisible, LLC, an education consulting group.
She said through all of those jobs, she’s learned how to bring a variety of people into the process to ultimately find what’s best for students.
“I’ve had those experiences, from big to small, that have allowed people to have a voice in decision-making,” she said.
Controversial exit from Albany
Vanden Wyngaard's only previous superintendent job came to a sudden end in 2016.
That exit from Albany was never fully explained, but a media report from the Albany Times Union from 2016 mentions “a lack of unity and trust between” the superintendent and the School Board, with the board president saying it was “philosophical differences.” The article notes “the fissure began less than two years into her tenure” following an employee complaint about invoice and billing practices in the district, followed by an “accusation of deception” the next year.
In 2015, as Vanden Wyngaard gained more control over some operations following a state law’s passage, community members said it was worrisome to see dissent from the School Board over her role, the Times Union reported. The following school year began with a speech from Vanden Wyngaard about antiracism, according to the Times Union.
"As a leader of a multimillion-dollar organization," she said, "I have to admit because I am in education, I lead an organization influenced by racist principles. I know that statement makes people uncomfortable, and holds deep consternation with leaders from the school board all the way through the organization. However, I lead an institution. Period."
That fall, “alliances were drawn” in the School Board elections, and two of the three winning candidates did not express public support or opposition to Vanden Wyngaard. Community members encouraged an extension of Vanden Wyngaard’s contract, the paper reported, but instead a lack of support on the board led to her resignation.
Vanden Wyngaard told the Cap Times in an interview that, choosing her words carefully to avoid breaking “any contract requirements,” there were “philosophical differences” between her and the board that led her to determine resigning was best for students.
“I had to not continue because there was enough friction that I would not be able to lead,” she said. “I did what was best for the board, I did what was best for the community, I did what was best for my family.”
She noted successes while she was in Albany, mentioning the graduation rate, increased attendance rate and lower disproportionality in its special education programming among them, and said maintaining the programs that helped lead to those was part of the resignation decision.
“I work from a philosophy of students first, and I always will ask the question, regardless of what the subject is, what impact will this have on student success?” she said. “When those philosophical differences started to emerge, I knew that in order for all of those programs to stay in place, in order for all of that work to be continued and in order for me to make sure my students were still successful, I had to not continue.”
‘I truly love the work’
She said her three years and four months in the Albany job showed her how much she enjoyed a position with “the ability to try and influence people, to try to help people, to gather the resources to build the networks.”
“I truly love the work,” she said. “Social justice is my passion and my calling and how I live my life. That role provided me the opportunity to do that work. For me, it showed me who I was and it showed me what impact I could have on the community at large.”
She said, while acknowledging she hopes to hear more during her visit here, that her initial impression is Madison needs to tackle trust and transparency, communication, parental involvement opportunities and “obviously equity.”
“Equity for me means that the students and the staff have what they need in order for them to be successful,” she said.