The Birmingham Board of Education continued its search for its next superintendent, as finalist Daniel Nerad returned to Birmingham on Thursday evening for a second round of interviews and tours.
The school board is working to replace , who announced in late March that he would be taking a superintendent position in Glenbard Township, IL. The board plans to choose a new superintendent at a special meeting Monday and have someone in place by July 1.
Nerad — superintendent of the Madison Metropolitan School District in Madison, WI — was alongside Robert Shaner, executive director of instruction and technology at the Warren Consolidated School District.
Nerad spent the entire day in Birmingham on Thursday, touring school buildings before meeting with two committees made up of parents, teachers and community members. The community was also invited to meet Nerad during an informal reception at the district's administrative offices Thursday afternoon before he gave a 15-minute presentation to the school board and interviewed a second time.
All interviews, including Nerad's Thursday night interview and Shaner's second interview Wednesday, can be watched on Birmingham's Public Access Channel 17.
Plan to close achievement gap
In his 15-minute presentation to the school board, Nerad chose to focus on Madison's proposed plan to close the achievement gap between Madison's various racial demographics.
Nerad first presented the ambitious plan, Building Our Future: Closing the Achievement Gap, to the Madison Board of Education in February, though his administration has since whittled the plan's scope from a $12 million to $4 million price tag due to budget constraints.
According to Nerad, closing these gaps involves creating culturally relevant curriculum, safe and positive school environments and engaging the community so families are part of school operations.
"Achievement gap issues are not uncomplicated," Nerad said. "This is the challenge of our time and we can no longer accept disparate achievement within our school district."
Nerad's plan is before the Madison Board of Education.
The interview: Trustees ask about time in Madison, community engagement
Highlights from Nerad's interview:
In 2006, you were the Wisconsin Superintendent of the Year. Can you address why some of your later evaluations in Madison haven't reflected that?
In March, the Madison Board of Education evaluated Nerad on the low end of "proficient" in an evaluations system designed to mimic the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination.
According to the Wisconsin State Journal, Nerad scored lowest in "strategic leadership and district culture," and in "staff evaluation and personnel management."
However, Nerad said Thursday there are two things he has not been deserving of: being named superintendent of the year and being assessed as barely proficient.
"The last couple years in Madison have been challenging (and) there's no one that wishes I could be more of a unifying force than me," Nerad said. "I ask only to be judged on my whole record."
What is your recommended evaluation process between yourself and the school board?
"I'm a big believer in evaluation," Nerad said, noting that if he were hired, he and the school board would have to agree on evaluation metrics.
"We should have a conversation about what that assessment should look like, (but) I believe in holding myself to the highest standards when it comes to improvement goals."
How did you whittle down your plan to reduce the achievement gap from $12 million to $4 million?
Nerad admitted that upon cutting down his plan's price tag, it wasn't able to accomplish everything it originally set out to do. According to the Wisconsin State Journal, the original plan included 40 strategies for reducing the achievement gap; the revised plan has 21 strategies.
"I felt it was my responsibility to present something (to the school board) that's stable financially," Nerad said, noting he and his team had to prioritize the most important strategies.
His plan to fund the first year of the achievement gap plan? Nerad said he is proposing to use Madison's fund balance — similiar to 's fund equity — and leaving it to the school board to decide where funding should come from in coming years.
How do you encourage parents to get involved?
Nerad said in both districts where he's worked, he has helped form parent councils that give community members the opportunity to "talk out loud" and provide input on school projects.
How do you encourage building principals to become instructional leaders?
Nerad said turning principals into instructional leaders has been a "priority vision" of his, and to do that, time must be taken during a principal's day for learning and collective growth.
Nerad said he's also made it a goal to repurpose the structure of the central office, taking those administrators back out into the schools.
How do you balance the need for organizational growth with system capacity?
"Where we fail is not the content of ideas, but the implementation of ideas," Nerad said, noting that school districts need to focus on their priorities while creating systems to ensure risks are well worth it.
That's not to say Nerad doesn't support innovation, however. "I support risk-taking behavior for innovation," he said.
Tell us about the collective bargaining protests that occurred in Madison in January 2011?
"It was a seminal moment. We were ground zero for these protests," Nerad said of the sit-ins at Wisconsin's state capital following the passage of Act 10, which severely cut collective bargaining for state employees.
Before Act 10 passed, the Madison Board of Education rebargained the district's various collective bargaining agreements.
"I tried to keep as much calm as I could in a very contentious situation," Nerad said. "I try to work through difficult situations and keep my head about me."
"I also tried to let staff know that their work is really important and that they're doing good work, and they're really valued," Nerad added.
Why come to Birmingham schools? Why not stay in Wisconsin? Are you able to start on July 1?
"I am interested in finding a place to spend the remainder of my career," Nerad said, noting he's been selective in his career search and was recommended to apply for the position by Linda Hanson, president of .
Nerad admitted there may be complications with his current contract, which stipulates that he give the Madison Board of Education a five-month notice before leaving. His currently contract, which he elected not to renew in March, expires next June.
"Given where they are, I'm not comfortable ... to just walk out at the end of the month," Nerad said. "But I'm hoping there would be some negotiations."
How would you define 21st century teaching and learning?
"I would have an interest in knowing how various stakeholders in our district view 21st century teaching and learning," Nerad said. "I want to see if we're all on the same page."
However, Nerad said ultimately, 21st century teaching and learning is about quality teaching and creating environments where kids can be inquisitive.
What would your first 90 days look like?
Nerad said he would spend his first 90 days as a learner, spending time in the various buildings, talking to principals and engaging with staff. Nerad said he would also provide the school board with an assessment with what's he learned, lessons that could feed into the beginning of strategic planning work.
What do you think of the importance of the arts?
"I'm a big supporter of the arts and co-curricular programs," Nerad said. "It's where young people meet themselves."
Would you be in Birmingham in five years?
"I would love to do that," Nerad said. "I have no defined timeline for when my work would be done."
Read what Nerad had to say in his first interview in .
Check out Birmingham Schools Superintendent Search 2012 for more on Birmingham Public Schools' search for a new superintendent this spring and summer.