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Cheatham steps down, MMSD looks ahead to continuing progress

MADISON (WKOW) — After six years leading the second largest school district in the state, Madison Metro School District Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham says she’s resigning her job and leaving the state.

Cheatham called her departure “a natural transition” because she is leaving to take on a new role teaching at Harvard’s Graduate School. “I’m ready to make a larger impact on the education field.”

“I have never had a more fulfilling job as the one serving as a superintendent of Madison,” said Cheatham during her announcement Wednesday at Mendota Elementary.

The district has dealt with some high-profile incidents this school year including allegations of sexual assault at two high schools, racial slurs used by educators and an incident at Whitehorse Middle School. The incident at Whitehorse prompted Cheatham to admit, “there was a failure on our part.” Cheatham stresses none of that had any bearing on her decision to leave.

Cheatham said one of her biggest accomplishments was setting a new agenda called the “Strategic Framework” which addresses racial equity, preparing students for college and innovation.

“My leaving should not signal for a second, a lack of continued commitment by this community of leaders to continue the work that we set out to do,” she said.

School Board President Mary Burke said an interim will be named by the end of May. She said the board is looking internally to fill that position. 

Burke said it’s possible the interim could apply for the full-time position but is leaving all options open.

Some members of Madison’s school board told 27 News they were “shocked” by Cheatham’s departure but are ready to select the next leader to continue to move Madison forward.

“I was surprised,” said board member Ananda Mirilli. “When we bring someone from outside our community, it’s going to be a learning curve and it’s about understanding Madison and building relationships.”

Kate Toews said the board will make it a priority to continue to focus on elevating excellence.

“I think climate and school safety we need to continue on that and that’s a discussion the whole board should be having as to who’s the next best person to lead us forward,” said Toews.

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Emilee Fannon

Capital Bureau Chief

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