A Texas school district superintendent, Georgia education agency official and New York education professor are under consideration to become the next superintendent of the Madison School District.
On Thursday, the district announced the trio of finalists, who are all people of color, seeking to helm Wisconsin’s second-largest school district. It means the majority-minority district will likely for the first time be led by a person of color.
“It was a tough choice, we had some really qualified candidates from across the country who applied and who are interested in coming to Madison,” School Board president Gloria Reyes said in an interview. “We are very happy with the selection of the candidates.”
The finalists for the job are:
- Matthew Gutierrez, superintendent of the Seguin Independent School District in Seguin, Texas.
- George Eric Thomas, a deputy superintendent and chief turnaround officer for the Georgia State Board of Education.
- Marguerite Vanden Wyngaard, an assistant professor in educational leadership at the College of St. Rose in Albany, New York.
The job leading the 27,000-student Madison School District drew the interest of 31 applicants. Seven people were interviewed last week in closed session by the School Board, and the three finalists were chosen from that group, Reyes said.
Reyes said she wants the next superintendent to be someone who is a problem-solver, able to work closely with the board, has strong communication skills and has experience working with diverse populations.
By late January, the School Board could choose the permanent replacement for Jennifer Cheatham, who resigned as superintendent in August for a position at Harvard University.
Whoever is hired could be coming into the job as the School Board weighs two potential referendum questions for the November 2020 election — a possible $315 million facilities ask and a possible $36 million operating referendum.
They will also come into a district where academic achievement gaps between white and black Madison students have long persisted.
A look at the finalists
Gutierrez became superintendent of the 7,500-student Seguin Independent School District, which is near San Antonio, in 2017. Before that, he was an assistant superintendent in the Plano, Texas, school district, which enrolls about 54,000 students.
Under Gutierrez, voters in the Seguin Independent School District passed a $64.7 million facilities referendum earlier this year, the Seguin Gazette reported.
He told the newspaper upgrading the schools had been on the top of his list since he started at the Texas district, which is made up of about 70% Latino students.
Gutierrez earned a Ph.D. in educational leadership from Texas Tech University three years ago.
Thomas is a deputy superintendent and chief turnaround officer for the Georgia State Board of Education. In 2017, he became the first person to fill the newly created chief turnaround officer job — a position in charge of guiding improvement at low-performing schools.
The Savannah, Georgia, native spent 17 years in Cincinnati as a teacher and also served as the chief innovation officer for Cincinnati Public Schools. Thomas earned a Ph.D. in educational leadership from Concordia University in Chicago.
According to various news reports, Thomas has been named a finalist for several education leadership positions throughout 2019, including superintendent jobs in South Carolina and New York, along with the Michigan state superintendent post.
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Vanden Wyngaard was hired in 2018 as an assistant professor at the College of St. Rose — a college that specializes in teacher training in the New York capital of Albany. Prior to that, Vanden Wyngaard was superintendent of the Albany City School District, where students of color make up about 80% of the 9,000-student district.
In an interview, Vanden Wyngaard, said it would be wonderful to return to Wisconsin, on a personal level, having started her teaching career in Racine in the early 1980s.
Vanden Wyngaard, who was the first black woman to serve as superintendent in Albany, resigned from the post in 2016 after more than three years, citing in her resignation letter a lack of trust and unity between herself and the school board, the Times Union newspaper reported.
The Albany board approved a separation agreement with Vanden Wyngaard that included a $90,000 payment and a non-disclosure clause saying neither side could discuss what led to the resignation, the report said.
Vanden Wyngaard went to Kent State University in Ohio to earn a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction after 14 years in public school classrooms.
The naming of the candidates was originally scheduled for Monday, but was pushed back until Thursday. Reyes said it was to allow her more time to vet the candidates.
The hiring process will now enter the last stage of selection.
In January, the finalists will come to Madison for a “Day in the District” visit.
Reyes said the visits will involve stopping at a few schools, meeting with members of the teacher union and interviewing with the School Board as they visit on Jan. 14, Jan. 15 and Jan. 16.
During the evening of each of those three days, one finalist will be at a public forum where they’ll introduce themselves and take questions from community members.
Reyes said a location for the forums still needs to be determined.
To help in the search process, the School Board hired an Illinois-based consultant. BWP and Associates conducted a community engagement and feedback process this fall, advertised the position, screened candidates and recommended semifinalists for the job.
The semifinalists were interviewed by the School Board last week during closed session meetings.
In the fall, BWP held 35 meetings with different groups and organizations, politicians, and community leaders to solicit feedback on the search. An online survey also received more than 1,400 responses.
Among the attributes sought in the next superintendent were being an excellent communicator, having a strong commitment to racial equity, and having experience as a classroom teacher, according to a report from BWP based on the feedback.
In all, 31 people applied for the superintendent position. During the last hiring process, 65 candidates were screened before the board chose Cheatham in 2013.
She was among two finalists the board announced. But the other candidate withdrew from consideration when questions about his background surfaced.
Jane Belmore is serving as interim superintendent — a role she also held before Cheatham’s hiring.