As the Verona Area School District started recruiting for a new superintendent in January 2020, Tremayne Clardy was doing some investigating of his own.
At the time, the Madison Metropolitan co-chief of schools for elementary education was researching whether Verona Area schools would be the best place for him.
Clardy had concluded it would be a good fit as he went through the application and interview processes in late 2020. And as he discussed his first few weeks in that role with the Press from his office in the district administration building earlier this month, he lit up with excitement.
“I absolutely love it,” he said. “It’s everything I dreamed of, and more. The community has been welcoming, the staff has been amazing.”
Clardy became superintendent July 1, and since then, he’s placed an emphasis on leadership through building relationships with school staff and empowering voices on the front lines.
He will look to continue those interactions with students and parents as the school year ramps up, he told the Press, and said he’s also made student success his main focus so far, even when the decisions haven’t always been popular.
Clardy began working with the district full time in April to learn the ropes, fill vacant roles in his administration team and work on the 2021-22 budget. During that time, Dean Gorrell continued to run the day-to-day operations of the district, focusing the final three months of his 16-year run as superintendent on returning students to partial in-person education and organizing COVID-19 vaccine clinics for teachers and district families.
Clardy describes himself as a relational leader, and since he began working with the district, he said, he’s most enjoyed getting to interact with people. That included working with students during summer school in July and with staff during site visits with all 11 VASD schools.
During those visits, he sought to gain a deeper understanding of the people at each building and what they need, he said. He also wanted to impress on them that the role of district administration is to support what teachers and staff were doing at the building level.
Another purpose for the site visits was to push for continuous improvement plans, which means understanding each school’s history and examining student data such as academic performance, attendance and behavioral trends to see where its strengths and weaknesses are, Clardy added.
It’s all a part of Clardy’s desire to foster school leadership teams, where the district’s leadership is an inverted pyramid with staff voices at the top carrying the most weight, and those in the administration and the school board near the bottom.
“To develop a continuous improvement plan, you have to understand the journey of a school, and then understand the supports that are in place for us to accelerate that progress,” he explained. “What I didn’t want to happen was for us to come in and tell a school what they had to do without their input.”
Clardy will also use that inverted pyramid approach with three sets of advisory panels the ear of the superintendent. He announced the panels earlier this year, one for middle and high school-age students, another for staff (including teachers and support staff such as custodians and food service employees) and a third for parents.
“I hear people say, I want voices, I want a new perspective,” he said, “and if you fail to put a system in place where it can happen, then it just kind of becomes lip service.”
Any decision made must have one key component, Clardy said: being student-focused.
That includes ensuring their safety and encouraging their achievements, and Clardy added that it has driven administrative decisions to require universal masking for the start of the school year.
“No matter what, my focus was keeping that focus on students,” he said. “As long as that is a central focus – you know a decision is going to receive pushback one way or another, (but I need to) keep my focus on ‘this is the best outcome for students and student success.’”
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