Verona Superintendent Dr. Tremayne Clardy on Leadership: Educational Leadership in the Suburbs
Dr. Tremayne Clardy officially took over the reins of the Verona Area School District on July1, although he had been transitioning into the position since April.
Part 2 of 2
By Jonathan Gramling
“Each student has access to the resources and educational rigor they NEED, at the right moment in their education, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, ability, language, family background, or family income.” – Verona Area School District Educational Equity Statement
It was these words that attracted Dr. Tremayne Clardy, the former MMSD chief of schools, to the VASD superintendent’s job when it came open last year.
Although he has been a part-time “consultant” for VASD since April as the district transitioned between superintendents, Clardy officially assumed his roleb on July 1st. For him, it’s an opportunity of a lifetime.
Clardy has an infectious sense of optimism and belief in the students, teachers and staff of VASD that they can take it to the next level.
“We are going to be the National Model for Excellence Grounded in Equity,” Clardy emphasized. “I guarantee it.”
Clardy has the energy, optimism and expertise to make it happen. He counts Dr. Carlton Jenkins, the superintendent of Madison schools, as his longtime mentor. Clardy credits Jenkins with his smooth transition to VASD. And it has allowed Clardy to get ahead of the game in terms of getting kids into the schools in a healthy and safe way and that each student’s educational, emotional and social needs are met so that they can reach their full potential. The Verona schools opened on September 1st and one of the first issuesbhe faced as superintendent was masking.
“We announced our mask mandate Wednesday of last week,” Clardy said. “Our priority was to make sure that every student has the ability to return to school five-days-per week and stay in school. With the mask mandate, that allows us, even if there is a COVID-19 incident in the school, the rest of the class doesn’t have to quarantine in a fully-masked environment. When you think about the ability to stay in school and not have to worry about the contact
tracing and all of those things that go along with it, we felt that was the bestnmechanism to support our number one goal, which was every student coming back five-days-per-week and staying in school.”
t’s one thing to enact a mask policy. It’s another thing to make sure that the political and social debate about masking — and vaccinations — does not enter into the students’ learning environment.
“We are making sure that we are monitoring and giving clear advice around masking,” Clardy said. “We’re not going to have this become a social stigma. On top of that, the moment you become an optional mask environment, then you lose the ability to not have to quarantine. Obviously number one thing overall is to get everyone vaccinated who is eligible to get vaccinated. We continue to promote that as the number one prevention. The higher the vaccination rates, the more likely we quickly move out of the mask mandates and things of that nature.”
And he has also had to deal with the side effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, like a lack of qualified school bus drivers.
“We’re now moving to a triple-loop, which impacted our start times,” Clardy said. “Our elementary students will go a little bit earlier. It was a five minute adjustment. We have made a lot of friends with the high school kids because they are going to start at 8:45 a.m., so they can sleep in. But they will still be out on time for athletics and for their jobs. The chamber of commerce has been very accommodating and understanding that we may have some of their employees who aren’t getting there until after 4 p.m. But they understand that is what we have to do to make sure every student has a ride to school who deserves a ride to school.”
Clardy realizes that equity and inclusion impact every aspect of the schools and how the district goes about carrying out its educational mandate. And he knows that begins with the leader at the top.
“I would not be here if there was any indication that we were not going to do equity work,” Clardy said. “I will reiterate that. Equity work means that across all gender and racial demographics, socioeconomic ability and language that we remove all barriers to access to the world class education that Verona Area Schools provides. I can’t think of a leader who would not want every student to access that great opportunity. I definitely am a leader who is committed to making sure that every student has that access. I understand that there is a small fraction that would like to do a play on words. We’re not doing that. When we say equity, we are saying that we are going to remove all of the barriers across race, gender, statuses and abilities, and language and we are committed to making sure that each student is reflected in the academic, social and emotional outcomes and our budget reflects that as well.”
Clardy got to work right away to move the district’s budget in the direction of equity and inclusion.
“We’ve removed fees,” Clardy said in how they have promoted equity through the budget. “There was a fee structure that you were paying different fees based on some of the courses that you took. We’ve gone to one standard, low $35 fee per student to make sure that never became a barrier to a highlevel class a student wanted to take or a barrier a student wanted within a class. That $35 per student is for our academic and instructional side of it. We’re also helping to support our extracurriculars and co-curriculars. How are we making sure that we have clubs that are equitable and represent our student population? How do we make sure that every student gets a sense of belonging within their school environment? That doesn’t just happen. Naturally, you have to be very intentional about the structures that allow that to happen. We’ve really worked with families that started to feel a little disconnected from the school. We intentionally reached out to those families. We have what I think is going to be the most phenomenal family liaisons, Ms. Tamera Stanley. From executive assistant, she was promoted to the family community liaison. And our work in that department is reaching out to families that for whatever reason, we have lost engagement with and that is our responsibility. It’s not their responsibility. It’s our responsibility as a district to make sure that we engage the families. We are opening that door back up. We’re reaching out. We’re making sure that we are meeting family needs and we are servicing their child the way that they expect.”
Clardy has also added three advisory panels that will help the district stay focused on equity and inclusion issues.
“One is a student advisory who reports directly to me and a staff and a parent advisory,” Clardy said. “Those are going to be comprised of representation across our multiple demographics. We have been very strategic in how we have designed these advisories to give me the necessary advice to make sound leadership decisions.”
While Clardy feels that the educational staff should reflect the students they are in charge of and will look to emphasize equity in the hiring process, Clardy is enthusiastic about the teachers and staff in the district.
“I also am so proud of some of the greatest teachers and staff I’ve ever been around,” Clardy said. “They are dedicated, hard-working and believe in kids. The magic happens in our classrooms. And it is my job as a leader to support outcomes in the classroom. That means directly supporting our teachers and our staff to allow them to do their best work. And that is also what I’ve seen as a tremendous opportunity, to make sure that our focus is on classroom outcomes and we stay in that lane. When outside forces try to remove you out of student achievement lanes, then we’ve lost our focus as leaders. My focus, what I’ve been trained to do for decades is to teach students and that is what I am going to keep doing. We’re going to keep teaching students.”
And Clardy will work to ensure that they are equipped to do the work of equity and inclusion in the classroom and all phases of district work.
“We are investing in our staff,” Clardy emphasized. “We are hiring, in a way where we are talking about equity during the hiring process. ‘How do you think about equity? How do ensure access to all of your students? How do you ensure that when we are servicing students that you are looking across demographics to make sure that every student in your class is successful? I think that’s the overarching lens of it, but then how do you act upon it in all of the departments, from human resources to business to food service to athletics to our classrooms so that we have a strong advocacy stance at Verona Area Schools.”
Dr. Tremayne Clardy is in an educational sweet spot. He heads a fast growing school district that is investing in its educational infrastructure. He has a board and staff who are committed to equity and inclusion so that all students regardless of their backgrounds are able to take full advantage of the academic opportunities the schools have to offer. And he has the energy, optimism and intellect to make the district’s dreams of being a national equity and inclusion model a reality. It sounds like a winning combination.