Madison has many wonderful traits. This town's obsession with process is not one of them.
All indications are that the one remaining choice for the Madison public schools' new superintendent, Dr. Jennifer Cheatham, would be a great pick. I'm told by people close to the decision that the Chief Instruction Officer for the Chicago Public Schools has been the top candidate all along, and that she is a "rock star" in the education world.
There is no job harder or more important in our city than being its schools superintendent. This is a city full of education experts whose child is clearly a genius (just like them) and yet isn't being challenged enough by their teachers. At the same time, we have a growing number of poor kids who come to school without the basics, even a good breakfast. So, the challenge is to meet the high expectations of highly educated parents, while trying to give underprivileged kids the best chance possible to succeed, all in the context of constricted budgets.
At the same time, the stakes for our whole city are enormous. Failing public schools have been the downfall of dozens of American cities.
So, I was especially impressed to learn that Cheatham stood up to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel over some issue during the recent teachers strike there. Anybody who can stand up to Rahm Emanuel can stare down a bunch of grumpy Madison parents any day. This job takes skin as thick as a rhino's. Chicago is a good place to grow that kind of tough hide.
Cheatham runs the gauntlet today, facing a bunch of eight year olds in my own neighborhood at Randall School, the full school board for a relaxing lunch, and the general public at an open "meet and greet" tonight. Somebody needs to take this woman out for a drink when it's all over.
Then, if she meets expectations, the school board should offer her the job.
And then, when the smoke clears, they should ask themselves why they even bothered to spend taxpayer money to hire a search firm in the first place. I only used a headhunter a couple of times as mayor and they did okay. But the vast majority of top manager hires were made using the city's in-house Human Resources department. As general rule, I don't think search firms are worth the money they're paid.
So, yes, it looks to me like the search firm did a poor job of screening candidates and providing information to the decision-makers. How the other candidate even got into the mix is a good question that should be publicly answered at some point.
But he dropped out and we still have Dr. Cheatham left standing. Let's not let her slip away because of a botched process. The result is a whole lot more important than how we arrived at it.