Dan Nerad, the departing Madison Metropolitan School District superintendent, talked with WISC-TV on Thursday about his four years leading the district, plus the greatest challenges going forward.
He cited the four-year-old kindergarten program, which he implemented, and tackling difficult budgets as his achievements. Nerad said on some issues, such as over the heightened debate over the district's minority achievement gap, there were shortcomings.
Nerad is scheduled to leave July 27 for the top job at the school district in Birmingham, Mich., a smaller and more affluent suburb of Detroit.
THEO KEITH, WISC-TV: Is there an issue or issues where you had your greatest success or shortcoming?
DAN NERAD: Issues today are challenging. Sometimes you can work through things with success and sometimes things can't work out. I've been part of things that can't work out and haven't worked out, and you have personal regret about those things. You can't do everything today for a lot of different reasons, but I think on balance we've been able to do a lot of constructive things for children.
WISC-TV: What are you looking forward to in your new job?
NERAD: I love this work, this is my life's work. I concluded that it's still in me and I still want to do this work, and so I'm excited. And yet, it's hard to say goodbye at the same time. So there's a lot of personal stuff that goes on with a move like this.
WISC-TV: What do you think going forward is the greatest challenge for this school district as you're leaving it?
NERAD: I think the greatest challenge is to ensure that all kids in their learning continue to advance. So, that means that our kids that are achieving really well, we need to nurture their development. I've tried to be supportive of that need. At the same time, we need to eliminate these achievement gaps.
WISC-TV: There's no doubt that minority kids have fallen behind and continue to fall behind. Why is that?
NERAD: First of all, there's no greater social justice issue in our country than this issue. It wasn't developed overnight and it won't be eliminated overnight but it must be -- these gaps in achievement must be eliminated...With increasing poverty in this community and this school district, there's no greater dis-equalizer, especially when you look at how it can affect kids in their early learning. And those things the school district cannot help alone.
WISC-TV: Do you feel like some have made you the scapegoat on this issue?
NERAD: These gaps were not of Dan Nerad's making in and of itself. But I have to accept responsibility, I am the superintendent of schools. People need to have a place to be upset about it, and I don't think it's inappropriate for people to be upset about this issue. My wish going forward is that it's not about who's the superintendent and who's upset, it's about developing a collective direction and people working together.
WISC-TV: The way state aid has been changed over the past couple of years now.
NERAD: We need to return to bipartisanship, where people with different views can come in a room and compromise and find a way to move forward to educate kids. In the end, if there's continued reductions in resources and we're not educating kids well, this state will pay for a long time.
WISC-TV: There's obviously a school of thought, which you may share, that we pay for education up front or pay for prisons later on.
NERAD: Well, I do agree with that view very much where the priority needs to be placed on investing in education. I wish I could feel a greater sense of optimism in leaving (about that issue). This has been a very difficult time politically, these last couple years. It's going to take people to rise above the fray and say, 'I respect you have a different point of view, but let's work together to serve children in this state.' And I hope that happens.