New Madison superintendent plans community meetings

New energy, optimism in schools
MMSD Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham

Jen Cheatham, who started Monday as Madison’s new schools superintendent, said she was planning to visit each of the district’s schools by the end of May.

The visits will include community meetings at each of the district’s high schools, allowing parents and community members to share what’s working and what needs to improve in the district, Cheatham said.

“It’s important to me to learn about what’s working and what isn’t working,” Cheatham said. “Often, new superintendents make changes to things that are actually beneficial to the district — unknowingly.”

Cheatham said she would start working soon with the school board on a list of priorities, which would include bridging the district’s minority achievement gap. The board will have at least two new members after Tuesday’s spring election, with Maya Cole and Beth Moss retiring.

The superintendent warned that state funding cuts, which district administrators have estimated will cost Madison schools about $8 million next year, may force the district to raise property taxes. She called Gov. Scott Walker’s school voucher proposal “a real threat to the quality of education we can provide.”

Cheatham’s inclusive attitude won praise with John Matthews, executive director of Madison Teachers, Inc.

“There are a lot of people in Madison who will go down that road with her as long as it’s productive,” he said. “I’m looking forward to working with her.”

Matthews said his own research showed him that Cheatham, at the time a high-level administrator in the Chicago school district, wasn’t to blame for that district’s approach to the Chicago teachers’ strike last fall. Matthews had previously expressed concerns over her role in the strike.

New Madison superintendent plans community meetings

Matthews said he hoped Cheatham’s administration would come to the table regularly to discuss proposals. He said administrators under former superintendent Dan Nerad made too many decisions without input from workers.

“We have a lot of bridges to build. Let’s get started,” Matthews said.

Each of the meetings will be at 6:30 p.m. at the following locations:

April 18: East High School

May 9: West High School

May 16: Memorial High School

May 30: La Follette High School