Due to limitations presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, Matthew Gutiérrez announced in April that he would not accept the job for Superintendent of Schools in Madison, prompting a new superintendent search that resulted in two finalists who introduced themselves to the community this week.
The two finalists, Dr. Carlton Jenkins and Dr. Carol Kelley, were recently featured in a publicly hosted Facebook Live events where they addressed their educational philosophies and plans to implement them within the Madison School District. Jenkins’ session was Tuesday night and Kelley’s was Wednesday.
Either Dr. Jenkins or Dr. Kelley will be the first Black superintendent in Madison’s schools history.
“At times a system might feel like you have a knee on your neck, and you can’t breathe. Working collaboratively with the community it will not be an easy journey to have an anti-racism agenda, but I would say sign me up,” said Kelley.
Dr. Kelley has worked as the Superintendent of Oak Park Elementary School District 97 in Oak Park, Illinois for the past five years. Kelley received her doctoral degree from the University of Pennsylvania, and hopes to bring her philosophies on equity advocacy to the Madison School District.
“One of the equity challenges that I’ve been working on is around literacy,” said Kelley. Kelley said that innovation was necessary within the district to ensure Black student literacy is a priority within Madison schools.
“Learning can be measured by observing students and looking at different characteristics. Their ability to persist on a project, and their ability to try again. I think at many of our public and private institutions that we define learning probably too narrowly,” said Kelley.
Kelley said she’d start with higher expectations for Black students.
“Talking to the students, talking to their families, and really coaching them through and supporting them in those courses. The same way that I did with my sons, like minimally you have to take one AP class. Whether it’s art, whether it’s French, whatever it is. So, if I do that as a mom for my sons, it would be my same expectations that I would have for every single student that is in every one of our high schools,” said Kelley.
Kelley said disparities in discipline must also be addressed.
“I think in terms of reducing suspension, I definitely would want to listen to the lived experiences of our students, and definitely would want to talk to our staff members,” she said.
Dr. Kelley plans on implementing her engineering experience by using a Liberatory Design approach to reduce suspension rates. Her approach will focus on an equity-centered education for all students within the Madison School District.
In terms of diversifying the staff within the school district Kelley plans on focusing on metrics around the number of diverse applicants for teaching positions.
“For every four applicants our goal is to have at least one applicant of color.” said Kelley. “We want to see from each candidate who is hired, who are the individuals who are being invited in, so that we can ensure that we are being intentional with inviting in a diverse candidate pool.” Kelley said.
Kelley and Jenkins both hold the COVID-19 pandemic as a challenge to reopening schools and hope to do what is best for the community by communicating with health officials, staff, and parents to ensure safety in classrooms.
“We definitely want to provide the sense of leadership, where the staff, the students, families and school board, feel very comfortable and confident with what our reopening plan is. It is going to be really important for us to communicate, communicate, communicate to reduce any anxiety or any levels of distress,” Kelley said.
MMSD has listed early August as a preferred start date for the new superintendent.
“We were very fortunate to have an impressive pool of highly qualified candidates participate in the process,” said School Board President Gloria Reyes. “With a focus on how candidates aligned with the Leadership Profile, the Board was able to select two phenomenal finalists, both with deep roots in education and instruction.”