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What the MMSD superintendent finalists said about...

From the Cap Times coverage of the Madison schools superintendent search series
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Superintendent Finalists

The three finalists for Madison School District superintendent are, from left, Matthew Gutiérrez, Marguerite Vanden Wyngaard and Eric Thomas. 

The three finalists vying to become the next Madison Metropolitan School District superintendent visited the city this week for interviews, meetings with community groups and public forums.

The Madison School Board met for two hours in a closed session Friday to deliberate on the candidates and possibly make a decision. The announcement of the choice is not expected to come for a few days after the decision is made, though, board president Gloria Reyes said earlier this week.

The finalists are, in order of their visit to the district: Marguerite Vanden Wyngaard, Matthew Gutiérrez and Eric Thomas.

Questions from the community covered a range of topics, from school resource officers and the school-to-prison pipeline to reading instruction and the achievement gap. Here’s what the candidates said on some of those subjects during their visits, either during the public forums or the press conferences that followed:

School Resource Officers


Madison School District superintendent finalist Marguerite Vanden Wyngaard Tuesday at East High School during a public forum.

Vanden Wyngaard: “Police serve no role until a felony is charged. So unless there is a felony action taken in my district, police are not involved except for investigating of that. ...We have security personnel that take care of fights and other things that occur.”

Matthew Gutiérrez

Madison Metropolitan School District superintendent finalist Matthew Gutiérrez talks at a public forum during his Day in the District on Jan. 15.

Gutiérrez: “I think it’s important to get feedback, most importantly from students, how do they feel? We need to look at what does that relationship look like with SROs? What type of training do those SROs have?”


Madison Metropolitan School District superintendent finalist Eric Thomas talks at a public forum during his Day in the District Thursday, Jan. 16.

Thomas: “I’m convinced that if we do these (relationship-building and classroom engagement) things really, really well, I don’t think there will be a huge discussion about whether we need SRO or don’t need SRO. I don’t necessarily have a position about whether SROs should be in buildings or not.”

Achievement Gap

Vanden Wyngaard: “If the gap isn’t closing then we have perhaps not worked well in curriculum and instruction. We may not have created the pipeline for early warnings so that we know that kids are coming with related issues.”

Gutiérrez: “Based on the data, it’s evident there are some gaps. We’ve really got to dig deeper and understand why those gaps exist.”

Thomas: “We have a district that is successful for a group of kids. We have a different district that’s not being successful for a group of kids. That means our organization is uniquely and excellently designed to get the results that we’re presently getting. If we keep doing it, I can't imagine why anybody thinks we’re going to get different results.”

Black Excellence


Madison School District superintendent finalist Marguerite Vanden Wyngaard, left, talks with School board member Savion Castro Tuesday at East High School during a public forum.

Vanden Wyngaard: “Black Excellence means that we welcome black kids everywhere and they have a feeling of belonging that this is their school, that this is their work, that this is their excellent way of living and that nobody is going to stop them.”

Gutiérrez: “To me, what that means is that every educator in Madison is a champion for our black students.”

Thomas: “The worst thing that this community can do … is start gravitating toward this subgroup or this subgroup and we get into fights over which subgroup needs the most help. I’ve looked at your numbers. Quite honestly, there’s a whole lot of kids that need help, not just black kids.”

Special education student inclusion

Vanden Wyngaard: “Inclusion to me is just a way of life and it’s just what we should do.”

Gutiérrez: “It’s important that we continuously seek out ways to better serve and ensure that our special education students are represented.”

Thomas: “We’ve got to make sure that we provide our so-called general ed. teachers the experiences and professional learning that they can support all kids in the classroom.”

English Language Learners

Vanden Wyngaard: “If we treated ELL as language acquisition tied to content, the child might actually learn it faster, quicker.”

Gutiérrez: “I believe that it’s important beginning primarily in their native language (in a Dual Language Immersion setting) to ensure that they’re mastering the standards in their native language.”

Thomas: “We can’t afford to take the amount of time that it would take to teach you a new language and then teach you core academic content. We’ve got to do those things together. What’s the best structure, system, strategies to do that?”

Community involvement

Vanden Wyngaard: “The community organizations are begging for the opportunity to serve. We have to create those partnerships in order for that to happen.”

Gutiérrez: “What stood out to me is the passion that people have for the school system, that parents have, that community leaders have, that staff have, that students have.”

Thomas: “We have to address non-academic needs for our kids and here’s some external resources — sometimes free — we can have on our property.”


Vanden Wyngaard: “We treat teachers better, number one. Every once in awhile we should probably listen to them. They are the number one person that changes children’s lives. The principal is second. I am nowhere on that list.”

Matthew Gutiérrez and Ali Muldrow

Madison Metropolitan School District superintendent finalist Matthew Gutiérrez, left, talks with School Board member Ali Muldrow during his Day in the District public forum on Jan. 15.

Gutiérrez: “Strong efforts to minimize the number of initiatives that are on the plates of teachers. Initiatives affect teachers the most. Whose plate is that going to go on? It’s going to go on the plate of teachers. Right now I believe teachers can’t carry their plates.”

Thomas: “It’s really around providing observation opportunities and bringing other teachers as a part of it, so it’s not just the administrators observing. Providing effective feedback to teachers, it’s really just coaching. If you want to improve the practice of a seventh-grade language arts teacher, individuals who might be best suited to do that might be other seventh-grade language arts teachers. How do we create that strategy to do that and do that well?”

Behavior Education Plan

Vanden Wyngaard: “Just like in previous districts I have been in, it appears we have a perception issue in the community.”

Gutiérrez: “What I’ve seen is a rather comprehensive plan. I think it may be a little overwhelming for folks. How can we simplify that to be user-friendly, easy to read, easy to follow?”

Thomas: “There’s a group of teachers who are not excited and at the same time there’s a group of kids who are not excited about it, so I’m not exactly sure how we got there. We have to create structures and strategies to build relationships.”

Charter schools

Vanden Wyngaard: “I expect us to partner with charters. I would partner with any other group so why wouldn’t I do that as well? Parents made a decision on where their child could best learn. Our job is to make sure the children of Madison can be successful.”

Gutiérrez: “There are circumstances when public schools partner with a charter system to serve students. Those are very unique circumstances. I believe that we’ve got to continue to find a way to meet the needs of our students in the public school system. It’s just part of our democratic society.”

Thomas: “I’m an advocate of traditional schools. And I’m an advocate of ensuring that every school is of high-quality.”

Advanced learning

Vanden Wyngaard: “You have to push. Most children will not do that on their own. We have to set up a system of no choice — this is where you need to be and this is where you’re going.”

Gutiérrez: “We have a very small percentage of students who are surpassing grade level mastery. We’ve got to help our staff understand what does rigor look like in the classroom?”


Madison Metropolitan School District superintendent finalist Eric Thomas, left, talks with School Board member Cris Carusi at a public forum during his Day in the District Thursday, Jan. 16.

Thomas: “You can’t start talking about college-level rigor when kids are juniors and seniors. If we want to start talking about elevating the number of kids moving or being eligible to go to universities, quite honestly that’s a fourth, fifth, sixth grade conversation.”


Vanden Wyngaard: “Through a process that I will call collective impact, I bring people together that will be the most impacted by those decisions to decide how we’re going to do this differently.”

Gutiérrez: “I’m passionate about education and passionate about the work that everyone in the system does. It’s so important to connect with every person I come across and understand them and for them to understand me. It really does come down to your actions.”

Thomas: “I work really hard to give power away. Good leaders give power away. You empower other people.”

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