After working for nearly nine years as the Superintendent of the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD), Art Rainwater will be retiring on June 30, 2008. This means one of the school board's major tasks before that time will be to identify and hire his replacement. In this second week of the Take Home Test for board candidates, Isthmus asks each to evaluate Rainwater's performance and explain what they're looking for in his successor.
Here are the responses from the two candidates for Seat 4, incumbent Johnny Winston, Jr. and challenger Tom Brew.
The Daily Page: What do you see as the strong and weak points of Art Rainwater's term as superintendent?
Johnny Winston, Jr.
I have evaluated Superintendent Art Rainwater for the past two years, including leading the process as board president this past year. He is a strong and respected leader, who is well respected by peers in similar leadership positions for his outstanding work in spite of the financial constraints of the district. He has been effective in closing the student achievement gap in third grade reading scores, improved graduation rates for all students and developed a better working relationship with labor unions. His success is a testament to the way he has worked with the elected Board, district staff and the community to improve outcomes in those areas.
While the district has improved in areas, the state imposed revenue limits and the challenge of closing the achievement gap have hindered the Superintendent's position. The district's changing demographics make it more important than ever to attract and retain middle income and affluent families by continuing to offer programs such as strings, Advanced Placement, TAG and other extracurricular activities offered in suburban school districts. The Superintendent's need to prioritize yearly budget reductions has divided our community and created more special interest groups that want to make sure their issues are being addressed in the budget cycle.
One of the main qualities of Superintendent Rainwater was that he was able to bring the administration and the teachers "together" and opened up a dialogue between the two sides. One of his weak points was he was not willing to make the "tough" cuts in the budget under the caps that all school districts are faced with.
The Daily Page: What qualities do you want to see in the new superintendent?
Johnny Winston, Jr.
If re-elected on April 3rd, I will be looking for several key qualities in the next superintendent. These qualities include, but are not limited to: Strong leadership, excellent communication skills, visionary, fiscally prudent, and politically aware.
The next superintendent will need to have proven leadership. I would like this person to have experience in educational leadership. The district's organizational structure may have to change to reduce administrative staff, including sharing administrative staff with other school districts. The next superintendent will need to lead in collaborations that develop and build relationships with City and County government to share resources and strengthen infrastructure (e.g. bus service, large purchasing and technologies). This person also will need to be cognizant of our current fiscal climate.
I hope that the new superintendent will develop a new vision, strategic plan and student achievement goals in collaboration with the members of the elected school board and community. All areas of the plan should be able to be measured and reported to the board and community on an annual basis.
Politically, the next superintendent must ensure the protection of the school district's tax base by balancing the needs of students of color and low-income students with the needs of middle income and affluent families. In addition, this person must have the trust and respect of the elected school board and be able to work effectively with all of its members.
The new Superintendent is going to have to be able to bring new ideas to the table in regard to teaching, staffing, and facilities. The person is going to have be innovative and open to all ideas from teachers, taxpayers, and the community.
Extra Credit: What was your favorite movie of 2006 and why?
Johnny Winston, Jr.
My favorite movie of 2006 was Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth. I enjoyed the movie for several reasons. First, the subject of global warming fascinated me. The Hurricane Katrina catastrophe, our unusual weather patterns and our relatively mild Wisconsin winter should concern us all regarding changes in our environment. Second, I was inspired by the courage of our former Vice President. Even though he was not elected President of the United States and he has not had success in lobbying the government, he has not given up on his mission to educate the world on the subject of global warming one person at a time.
This has inspired me to talk to constituencies one person at a time about the importance of parent involvement for our students and the harsh reality of the current state finance laws that cripple the school district's efforts to improve student achievement.
For students to have success in the MMSD, parents must be involved by developing positive relationships with their children's teacher. In addition, our schools need to be welcoming environments for parents to attend conferences, extra-curricular activities and to volunteer. In addition, the challenges of school finance must be addressed. The current system of unfunded mandates, revenue limits and the qualified economic offer are splitting our community as well as school staff members. It will take a grassroots effort like Al Gore's to educate our community to make lawmakers change the funding formula. I am committed to that effort.
My favorite movie of 2006 was Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man's Chest, because it was an action movie that was well done with good acting.