When I first started running for mayor back in 2002, an elder statesman of Madison politics told me, "I don't know why you want to do this, they'll chew you up."
Well, I don't really feel chewed up. I had a great time as mayor, but I do understand now what he was talking about.
Leading this city in any capacity is tough. Whether it's as mayor, head of the Chamber of Commerce, editor of a newspaper, schools superintendent, or president of your neighborhood association, working a top job in a city like ours is a challenge.
Face it: we're a city of kibitzers, back seat drivers, and Monday morning quarterbacks. Our very educated town is full of people who are sure that, whatever it is, they could do it better.
So, I wasn't surprised when Dan Nerad announced yesterday that he wouldn't go for another contract as Madison schools superintendent. He was pretty chewed up.
I understand why -- Madison values education more than anything. And anyone in charge of educating our kids is going to come under incredible scrutiny and criticism. When it inevitably comes, it will come with passion.
When I called Dan yesterday to tell him how much good he did for our community, I told him that Madison is kind of like a bucking bronco. You hold on for as long as you can, but you will get thrown eventually.
But here's what you need to know about Dan Nerad. He's smart and passionate about education. He cares deeply about this community and our kids. No matter where I went as mayor, no matter how obscure the community function, Dan was always there, reaching out, being visible, listening.
When I sat in on his management team meetings (as he did with mine), I learned about the central tension that the Madison school district faces. On the one hand, we have a record number of National Merit scholars. On the other hand, we have an increasing population of poor kids who need remedial help. The tug of war between the resources demanded at both ends of the spectrum is just enormous.
But Dan Nerad did an incredible job of holding it all together for as long as he did. He'll be working for a little while longer, and while he's here, I hope some of us will take the time to thank him for what he did and how much he cared.