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Foreman

Kristin Foreman began as Sherman Middle School principal in 2015.

A Madison teacher’s public farewell to her former employer was described by school district leaders Tuesday as a “personal, public shaming” of a “principal of color,” and comes at a time when the district has made diversifying its overwhelmingly white staff a top priority.

In a 3,202-word blog post Monday — the first weekday after the end of the 2017-18 school year for students — former Sherman Middle School teacher Karen Vieth lays bare her dissatisfaction with the Madison School District in general and Sherman’s principal, Kristin Foreman, in particular.

“I am leaving this district, because I cannot serve the children I love in the current climate,” writes Vieth, a teacher with the district for 16 years. “I have never seen a building as deeply in crisis as Sherman Middle School, yet my cries for help went unanswered for three years.” She goes on to describe how incidents of student violence and misbehavior at the school have increased during Foreman’s three-year tenure, and alleges that Foreman is not visible or present enough among staff and students, and often treats staff disrespectfully.

Vieth said it’s become increasingly difficult to get substitute teachers to work at Sherman, and 11 days before her blog post, 26 Sherman parents expressed concern about the school’s loss of regular staff.

In a May 30 letter to Foreman and Tremayne Clardy, the district’s deputy chief of schools, the parents refer to “20 vacant positions” and say “over 60 years of collective educational experience and wisdom will be exiting at the end of this school year.”

The parents urge officials to conduct exit interviews with staff who are leaving, as “much can be learned from these individuals.”

In response to Vieth’s blog post, district Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham and the School Board’s president and vice president sent an email Tuesday to Sherman parents in which they say the district’s central office worked with Foreman over the school year, collected feedback from staff and parents, and is “committed to acting on the issues that surfaced and are equally accountable for improvements.”

At the same time, the message says: “We have grave concerns regarding the type of personal, public shaming of a principal, in this case a principal of color, that has taken place in recent days.” Vieth’s original blog post does not disclose Foreman’s race, but does say Vieth’s “emphasis” while a district teacher has been on “closing the pervasive achievement gap.” In a statement Wednesday, Cheatham said the Tuesday message referenced Foreman’s race “because we think it is important.”

“There is a history in our community, and our school district, of not sufficiently welcoming, supporting, and providing grace to staff and principals of color,” she said. “This is not about deflecting criticism. We have to do better as a community.”

Foreman, who did not respond to requests for comment, says in a letter to Sherman staff earlier this week that she will be making “some key changes in my leadership approach” in the coming school year, which she coins the “year of renewal.” Among them are meeting with teachers union officials to discuss more regular communication, and being more accessible to staff and families and more visible in the building.

In her statement, Cheatham said district officials take feedback from Sherman staff and parents seriously and met with them last semester to “understand the concerns and to create a plan to address them.

“We also understand that, for some, this progress has not been fast enough,” she said.

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Chris Rickert is the urban affairs reporter and SOS columnist for the Wisconsin State Journal.