Judy McNeal said the one place that would make her get back into the traditional workforce was One City Schools.
A small-business owner and avid community volunteer, McNeal started her role as One City School’s senior administrative manager on May 3. When she was offered the job, she thought back to 10 years ago when she was hoping her son could enroll in Madison Preparatory Academy – the first charter school proposed by Kaleem Caire that was denied by the Madison School Board in 2011.
“I’ve always kept my eye on One City and have always been their cheerleader,” McNeal told Madison365. “Kaleem jokes that I was his first donor.”
Caire, the founder and CEO of One City Schools, tells Madison365 that it is “truly wonderful to have Judy as a member of our team.”
“In 2014 when I began raising money to develop One City Schools, Judy was the very first person to donate to our campaign,” Caire says. “She is a lifelong Madisonian with a strong commitment to education and has been a champion of ours since we first started enrolling children six years ago. She is also bringing significant experience in administrative leadership and customer service. It’s going to be a great year ahead of us.”
After starting two weeks ago, McNeal said her focus right now is building relationships; an important skill that she developed as a tutor at Frank Allis and Glendale Elementary schools, and as the owner of QB Magnetics. She also had more than 20 years of administrator services experience, according to her One City school online bio, including 12 years as an administrative assistant with WEA Member Benefits.
“This job comes from a true belief in something greater than ourselves,” McNeal said. “It’s like, I can see where our kids are benefiting and looking at the future [and] I can see where so many more kids would be benefiting from One City Schools from an educational standpoint. There’s going to be education, eating healthy, activity, outings, music — you name it. But I think the greatest thing about being here is really feeling a sense of belonging.”
Developing relationships with the staff, teachers and students is always critical but even more so in a time of transition, McNeal said.
“My role at OCS is to ensure that all support activities are carried on efficiently and effectively to allow the other operations to function properly,” McNeal said. “The ultimate goal is to provide a welcoming environment for scholars, staff, families, and the community.”
This year, One City School will add a 157,000-square-foot WPS Health Solutions building in Monona to their Charter. It will expand to offer education to 4K through 12th grade and One City is expecting to add at least 600 more students by 2024. McNeal said during these first few weeks while these big transitions are taking place she hopes to build relationships and trust with staff and students.
She compared what she is doing now, to meeting students in a tutoring setting.
“We didn’t start off talking about reading and math but what I started out with each one of the students was getting to know who they were,” said McNeal, who is a graduate of Madison West High School and Madison College. “We go around and we share bits and pieces about ourselves so it was just as important for them to meet and get to know them as it was for them to get to know me because these are the individuals that I was going to be communicating with. I think that that is such a critical piece that builds trust and which is vital for any role that you’re in.”
She plans to still operate her business selling magnetic jewelry, something that was her only focus in 2020. But she couldn’t turn away from the vision, the students or the staff of One City.
“It was this dream, this goal, this vision that One City has that I’m like, ‘I’ve been waiting for this,’” she said. “Even though my son and my kids are now too old, other kids need this, my grandkids need this. And so it’s like, ‘how can I be a part of something greater than myself?’”