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Monday, October 20, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 43.0° F  A Few Clouds
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Departing Madison schools Superintendent Dan Nerad looks back and forward
Nerad: 'In a very difficult time in public education in the state, I believe that we have been able to keep ourselves focused on learning improvement.'
Nerad: 'In a very difficult time in public education in the state, I believe that we have been able to keep ourselves focused on learning improvement.'

The last day for Madison schools superintendent Dan Nerad will be July 27. Nerad, who led the Madison Metropolitan School District for four years, will be replaced by newly appointed interim superintendent Jane Belmore. In March, Nerad submitted his resignation to the school board and was subsequently offered the job of schools superintendent in Birmingham, Michigan. He will start there in August.

Isthmus recently sat down with Nerad to discuss his tenure in Madison and his new post.

Isthmus: What were some of the factors that went into your decision to ask the school board to terminate your contract by August 1?
Nerad: We had been in a discussion for several months about my leaving the district, so that is not a brand new thing. But, I have an opportunity to continue this work in another school district in Michigan, and that's really what drove the more immediate consideration about leaving at this point in time.

What were your goals when you took on the position of district superintendent four years ago? Do you feel like you achieved them?
I view myself as a superintendent that has a focus on student learning. Obviously there are things in the role of a chief executive officer that go to ensuring the district is managed well, and the finances are taken care of well. But ultimately my top priority was ensuring the focus was on the improvement of student learning.

I've described our school district publicly as a tale of two school districts where we have many high achieving kids that call for our support and nurturing, and we have many young people that are not meeting our educational standards. My hope is that my work has been focused on all of our kids, ensuring that we have better outcomes for all. I've tried to advance an agenda that is focusing on a wide range of learners, while also recognizing that if you are meeting standards, that's not the end goal. The end goal is to advance beyond that, and at the same time, to have a very clear focus on the elimination of the achievement gap.

What achievements are you most proud of?
In a very difficult time in public education in the state, I believe that we have been able to keep ourselves focused on learning improvement. I'm very pleased that we've been focusing on how to improve curriculum, instruction, and assessment practices within the district, because ultimately, it has to be about a focus on the classroom and ensuring the best practices educationally for all children.

Obviously I'm very proud of the fact that after many years, we've been able to implement a comprehensive four-year-old kindergarten program. That's a major strategy to advance early learning, to prevent and eliminate achievement gaps earlier.

I feel very good about the expansion of dual language programming within the district. It's an example of taking our language diversity and using it as a positive for many kids.

I feel good that we've been able to increase our fund equity, which has led to the improvement of our bond rating.

I feel really good about the work that's been done in partnership with the community.

If you look at the [recently approved] achievement gap plan, it's full of many new partnership opportunities with community organizations. I feel good about that work.

How did you feel about the evaluation the school board members gave you earlier this year. Were the assessments fair?
At this point in time, I want to leave that as an evaluation that has been provided me. I understand that there were mixed views of the quality of the work, but I believe, just as with every employee in the school district, it's about our continued growth as professionals.

I've always been open to feedback about my performance. I believe I have many strengths, but I also believe there are things that I must improve and I've always been committed to that improvement.

Are you looking forward to your new chapter in Michigan?
I very much am. I concluded that this work is still in me. My life work, my mission has been about ensuring good educational outcomes for children. I'm very grateful for this new leadership opportunity. I'm excited about it, and excited to join a new community, just as I was excited to come and join this community. I put a high priority on connecting with the community, and now I have a new opportunity to do that.

What's Birmingham like?
I'm getting to know it. I have a lot to learn about it. It's a suburb of Detroit. It's a different community than Madison. There are some similarities, but it also has its differences. But it appears to me that it's a community that's very focused on meeting the needs of their children, and that really was what attracted me to that community.

Do you have any regrets about leaving Madison?
Sure, there are regrets. There's always work that's unfinished. Over the time I've been here, I've developed many relationships with important community partners that the school district works with, and I'm going to miss that contact. Life is full of regret and opportunity, and I'm looking at it from both points of view.

What do you think a new superintendent will need to bring to the school district once you're gone?
A person coming in will have to get their own lay of the land and do their own assessment, so my encouragement is that the person should be provided that time to do that, and the community should work in support of that person. These are very challenging jobs, and there's plenty of room for difference of opinion. But what's most important is that the school district and the community find a way to work with each other in good and just ways.

So my biggest hope is that there's great support for this person. And the agenda that I've established here, I hope that those parts [the new superintendent] feels should continue, will continue, and I hope that person is given the opportunity to bring in new ideas as well.

What do you think the school board should be looking for in someone to replace you?
It truly is the board's place to make that judgment, so I don't really don't want to weigh in on that. And I know they're working very hard to address that responsibility in the right kind of way. May they find someone that cares a great deal about children, and cares a great deal about the community, and cares a great deal about the school district that they will be shepherding.

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