New Madison superintendent Jennifer Cheatham has assembled a team of eight education experts to help diagnose the current state of the district.

The team, which is funded through about $25,000 in private donations, will advise Cheatham during her first 90 days. The experts will meet with district administrators, teachers, principals and parents, and review a variety of relevant data, Cheatham announced Wednesday.

Cheatham expects to receive a report with the team’s findings and recommendations by the end of June, she said in an interview. She said the work is necessary because she won’t have time to conduct a district diagnostic review by herself while she visits schools and meets with the community.

“I hope that this team will help bring some recommendations to the table that we might otherwise not have considered to help us address our major challenge, which is, of course, the achievement gap,” Cheatham said.

The team includes two UW-Madison professors — Gloria Ladson-Billings, who studies urban education, and Allan Odden, who studies educational leadership and policy analysis.

Robert Peterkin, a former Milwaukee superintendent and former director of Harvard University’s urban superintendents program, from which Cheatham graduated, will serve as team chairman. Bringing in a team of experts is a common practice in urban districts and something the Harvard program encouraged, he said.

“We hope to give her an objective eye and some first thoughts on where she might go,” Peterkin said.

Other members are:

• Sheila Brown, co-director of the Washington-based Aspen Institute’s education and society program and an expert on the new Common Core curriculum being implemented in schools across the country.

• Harvard education sociologist John Diamond, who will teach at UW-Madison in the fall.

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• John Peterburs, executive director of Milwaukee-based law firm Quarles & Brady, and an expert on teacher evaluations.

• Maree Sneed, a partner at the national law firm Hogan Lovells and an expert on special education, school desegregation and magnet schools.

• Wilma Valero, coordinator for English Language Learner programs in Elgin, Ill.

“I was very purposeful in whom I invited to the team,” Cheatham said. “I wanted to make sure I had a diverse group of experts who would be able to provide a deep diagnostic review.”

The funding, which will cover travel and lodging for the team, is provided by the Madison Community Foundation, CUNA Mutual, Madison Gas and Electric, Alliant Energy, Dean Health Plan, American Family Insurance and First Weber Group.

School Board member Mary Burke said the district will benefit from a review by “an experienced and knowledgeable group of people.”

T.J. Mertz, who will join the School Board later this month, said the experts appeared to be “a mainstream set of people with legitimate credentials.”

“I don’t see a bunch of people at either end of the spectrum in terms of educational politics and policy,” Mertz said. “There’s no anti-testing, anti-standards people, and also none of the ‘fire all the teachers and privatize everything’ people.”

Madison Teachers Inc. executive director John Matthews said the team illustrates how well-connected Cheatham is and “her desire to be as thorough as possible of getting a handle on the issues.”

“It also tells us that she is highly respected or people with reputations such as these would not sign on so quickly,” Matthews said. “She understands the urgency of the situation presented to her.”

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