Birmingham's New Superintendent: 'I See People Who Care Greatly for Children'
Daniel Nerad settles into his new job in Birmingham ahead of the 2012-13 school year and begins work on a transition plan.
Daniel Nerad, Birmingham Public Schools’ newest superintendent, is still busy moving into his new office on East Merrill Street.
Framed pictures lean against the wall waiting to be hung, but Nerad, 60, already has added a few personal touches: There are new books on the shelves, photos of his two children throughout the room and a row of colorful cat figurines on his desk.
He’s also been busy getting to know Birmingham, whether that’s spending time at the Farmers Market, hitting up restaurants around town or welcoming curious parents and community members into his office, all of whom are wondering: “Who is Daniel Nerad?”
Nerad, the former superintendent of the Madison Metropolitan School District in Madision, WI, was hired as Birmingham’s superintendent in mid-June, replacing David Larson, who took a job in Glenbard Township, IL, in March.
Birmingham has 'good foundation'
Nerad officially began working with the district Aug. 6 and since then he’s been slowing learning everything he can about the city, the school district and its students.
“I’ve been meeting a lot of people face-to-face,” Nerad said. “I want to learn what our community is like, and I’ve always learned things on a relationship basis.”
So far, Nerad said Birmingham and its residents have been very welcoming and helpful as he adapts. Nerad said he already sees much that inspires him.
“I see people who care greatly for children,” he said of Birmingham residents, teachers and school administrators. “They have an interest in being helpful to the school district. This is a great foundation to have.”
'Sense of trust' will be crucial
Coming to Birmingham from Madison — and from Green Bay, WI, before that — has been an adjustment for Nerad, he said, and not just because Birmingham is significantly smaller.
In Madison, Nerad and the school board there were mired in controversy, resulting in Nerad’s March announcement that he wouldn’t seek an extension of his contract, even though it didn’t expire until June 2013.
Nerad had served as Madison’s superintendent since 2008 and before that, was the superintendent in Green Bay, where he had moved up through the ranks, beginning his career as a school social worker.
"As much as I look at myself as a unifier, I don't feel like I've necessarily been successful in doing that (in Madison)," Nerad said during his first interview with the school board in May.
However, Nerad said communities are what develop perceptions, and now that he’s in Birmingham, he’s dedicated to providing “child-centered” leadership, remaining transparent and adding value to programs already in place.
“There has to be a sense of trust (between a school district and a community),” Nerad said. “I think that exists here. Tensions can exist and it’s incumbent upon all of us to address those tensions and be available.”
Plans involve assessing current programs
In the next few months, Nerad said he plans on studying programs already in place in Birmingham ahead of this spring’s scheduled revamp of the district’s strategic plan.
“In many ways, these first several days can be overwhelming,” Nerad told the Birmingham Board of Education during its Aug. 14 meeting. “But it’s really exiting for me to be in this process of learning about the great work you’ve been doing.”
Nerad also is working on a superintendent transition plan, which he hopes will serve as a springboard for forward progress in the district. Nerad said he'll spend three months crafting plan, after which he’ll return to the school board for a formal assessment of where he sees the district now and in the future.
“The plan is not a re-do of our strategic plan,” he said. “I’m not adding new initiatives. But I come here with ideas and with the hope that we’ll create new conversations about where we need to go as a school district.”
“In the life of children, we’re always committed to getting better,” he added.
Relationships are key
Family is important to Nerad, a fact you can’t help but notice if you sit down to talk with him. Nerad said he’s renting an apartment while his wife works on selling their Madison house and transitioning her career to Michigan.
He also has two grown children: a daughter who works in the marketing department for American Apparel in Los Angeles and a son studying public policy in graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Whether it's his family or career, Nerad says his focus is all about relationships. It was as a social worker in Green Bay that Nerad said he realized how much was at stake in the educational field.
“When there aren’t good outcomes (at school), there can be profound effects on individuals and communities,” he said.
In his role as superintendent, Nerad said he understands that his day-to-day interactions with students are less important than the relationships students share with teachers.
“When I was in the fourth grade, I didn’t know we had a superintendent. But I do like to have as many relationships with as many young people as possible,” he said. “What is important is that we’re doing all the right things to get these students educated."