A Discussion with Dan Nerad
Madison School Chief Visits Free Press Newsroom
by Adaeze Okoli, age 16, and Olivia Sanderfoot, age 17
Recently Madison Metropolitan School District Superintendent Dan Nerad paid a visit to the Simpson Street Free Press newsroom. We based our discussion on Nerad’s recent speech at Wright Middle School, talking about the current state of the Madison School District and what needs to happen for students to be successful in a diverse and global society.
One of the main points Nerad emphasized during our talk was the importance of investing in the future generation. Those of us who are currently students will be our future politicians, doctors, lawyers, and business people. It is the job of school systems to help students to succeed.
However, these are difficult economic times. Our public schools are entering a period where funding is scarce. No one wants an increase in property taxes, and federal stimulus money is only available for a limited time. But Nerad told us that taxpayers will end up paying more in the long run if our schools are not funded property.
In the Madison Metropolitan School District, the average cost per year to educate a child is between nine and eleven thousand dollars. Nerad, who has completed doctorate research in education, explains that children neglected at a young age or are not given a good education, are more likely to commit crimes. The average cost to incarcerate one person for one year is twenty-five thousand dollars. That is more than double what it costs to give a Madison student an education.
“Pay now or pay more later,” Nerad says. “We need to invest in the future generation.”
Nerad also firmly believes that it is not how much money a school district has, but who they hire, that makes all the difference. It is the quality of teaching that makes or breaks student education. Teachers are the number one factor in education; principals being a close second. Nerad promotes the idea that teachers, not resources or class titles, determine how much students learn.
Another important factor in education is learning style. Some students are fast readers and slow at math. Others master math concepts quickly and struggle in English class. Nerad says it becomes an issue of the time it takes students to learn the material, rather than the material itself. He is proposing a reconstruction of Madison School schedules. His plan would make it easier for students to get a “double dose” in certain areas where they struggle, while working at faster paces through classes in which they excel.
The Madison Metropolitan School District is unique because of its diversity—students came from many different backgrounds with varying skill sets and learning styles. Most students don’t notice anything singular about their school atmosphere—after all, diversity is an easier thing for younger generations to accept and understand. Just being around diversity prepares students for the real world, where they’ll need to communicate and compromise with people of diverse backgrounds on a regular basis.
“The world we are inheriting is not one of sameness, but one of differences,” Nerad says.
Nerad says this new diversity, in combination with recent economic struggles, has renewed the need for collaboration and cooperation within Madison. He praised community groups like the Simpson Street Free Press, and stressed the importance of programs that collaborate and work with local schools.
Nerad also talked about how important it is for the Madison District to cooperate with other school districts around Wisconsin. School systems need to provide the future generation of leaders the best possible education. Compromise and collaboration will be key in these efforts.
“Many times, we debate more than we act,” Nerad declares. “Now is a time for action.”
Mr. Nerad spent about 90 minutes discussing school issues with our staff. Our overall impression was that he is knowledgeable and very committed. We expressed our appreciation for his time and for his candor.
As he was leaving, Mr. Nerad encouraged us to use the unique opportunity we have as journalists to speak out and be supportive of education. We assured him that we would continue to make our voices heard. There are always diverse opinions here at the Free Press, and not all of us always agree with school officials. But we definitely share Mr. Nerad’s obvious commitment to education.
[Sources: Wisconsin State Journal; U.S. News & World Report]