Leadership comes in different shapes and sizes. After spending time with 41-year-old Jen Cheatham and attending the community forum on Thursday, I kept thinking back to the winter day 23 years ago when 43-year-old Barry Alvarez was introduced to the Madison community and made his memorable statement about how fans interested in season tickets better get them now because they’d soon be hard to get.
Like Cheatham, Alvarez was an outsider, a rising star in a major program who was ready to take the reins of his own program and run with it. That certainly did not guarantee success, but he proved to have that rare and ineluctable something that inspired his players to raise their game, that drove them to succeed as a team because they couldn’t bear to let their coach or teammates down.
As with Barry, so with Jen. For those of us who have been able to spend time with Jen Cheatham and talk to her about her vision for our Madison schools, it is clear that whatever leadership is, she has it. What we heard time and again from those she’s worked with is that Jen is able to inspire principals and teachers to do their best possible work for the students they serve. But also like Alvarez, she’s doesn’t shy away from tough decisions when they’re necessary.
We on the School Board are the first in Madison to be inspired by Jen to pick up our game. In the last week or so, the Board has been more united, collaborative and effective as a group than it has ever been in my five years on the Board. What has unified us is our shared understanding that Jen will be great for Madison, our shared commitment to getting her here, and our shared anticipation of the great things that are in store for our schools, teachers and students.
We’re not quite in a position to echo Barry Alvarez and tell parents that they better enroll their students in our schools soon, while there’s still room. But our future as a 21st century school district that meets the needs of all our students never looked brighter than it does today.