Verona Area School District, one of the fastest-growing in the region, is seeking a new superintendent, and Madison’s chief of middle schools is one of four finalists for the job.
Dr. Tremayne Clardy has served in his current role since 2017. Before that, he was chief of elementary schools and principal of Sennett Middle School. He also taught in Janesville and Beloit.
In an interview this week, he said equity is his priority.
“Verona is really perfectly positioned to take the next steps to be a model of what excellence grounded in equity really is,” he said. He said he doesn’t see the rapid diversification of the district as a challenge.
“I look at it as a tremendous opportunity,” he said. “Diversity is an opportunity to prepare our students for a global society. We’re going to be supporting students that are going to enter the most diverse workforce that they’ve experienced ever and we want to make sure that we’re educated in the way that values diversity and what that means to work with others across demographic lines and so that’s why it’s such a significant opportunity to add an additional layer of diversity and what it really means to work across multiple demographic lines and be able to build a community from that mindset.”
The four finalists all had virtual meetings with stakeholders in the district as well as public listening sessions.
“Really the feedback from the stakeholders that built the superintendent profile were looking for leadership that would expand the work and equity that would continue to have an expectation of excellence and would take Verona to that next level of greatness,” he said. “Each parent we’ve talked to, students that we’ve talked to have given significant feedback about how qualified and how talented the staff is there and I just looked forward to the potentially being able to partner with staff and helping lead both from an academic excellence standpoint and from a social-emotional standpoint. I want them to feel valued and supported and as a relational leader, I believe I’ll be able to bring that.”
Clardy points to his experience as a leader focused on diversity.
“My accomplishments that I’m most proud of that I can definitely bring to Verona is my work in diversity and lifting up the experiences of students, both in their academic performance and in their social-emotional sense of well-being across demographic lines,” he said. “The formulation of multiple parent groups to authentically gain voices, to make sure all perspectives were at the table and in our decision-making. In my role as a principal, I brought the mental health services into the building and really supported the students. They had both academic and mental health supports based off their needs.”
Clardy acknowledged that he’s seeking this appointment in an extraordinary time, when schools across Dane County are fully or partially closed and operating virtually, forcing schools to reckon with more than just academic success.
“First and foremost, we have to prioritize the social, emotional well-being of our students while still having academic expectations, but really making sure that the whole child is just taken care of,” he said. “The pandemic and the loss of being able to be with their peers and to be able to be with others socially has caused some emotional damage and it’s up to us as educational leaders to really uplift and rebuild the wholeness of the child, where they feel, ‘we can succeed academically, but I am also a part of a larger community that cares, that cares about me.’”
He said the pandemic didn’t really expose shortcomings that education professionals didn’t know about, but did bring certain infrastructure and societal issues to the forefront.
“It just reinvigorated the intentionality of closing barriers that caused disproportionality … from Wi-Fi services, the location of cell phone towers and those things that households generally need to function in education now, whether we’re in a pandemic or not,” he said. “Just have to ensure that we are providing nutritional support through food services, to families who may be in need. And we understand that it’s impacting some of our traditionally marginalized families more and we as a district, we know we owe it to our community to help bridge those gaps and find a support and we need to do that by direct support to the students and by being a staunch advocates in the political world, to make sure that resources are equitable across our demographic lines.”
The other finalists include Middleton-Cross Plains director of elementary education Dr. Rainey Briggs, Verona assistant superintendent Laurie Burgos, and Waukesha deputy superintendent Dr. Joseph Koch.
“[I am] just very honored humbled to be at this stage of the process,” Clardy said. “I really appreciate Verona’s board of education for being so thorough in this process. I spent the day with the community virtually with five sessions on Monday. Truly enjoyed being able to meet all the stakeholders. Their passion for education was clear and the desire to have a new superintendent that met their profile was clear in her questioning and it was an honor to be in front of them and I hope I am blessed with the opportunity to lead Verona in the near future.”
The Verona Board of Education will interview each candidate once again next week and make a decision shortly thereafter.