Newly-appointed Madison superintendent returning to his hometown

Joe Gothard graduated from and worked in Madison schools before leading St. Paul's school district

Madison Superintendent Joe Gothard
Joe Gothard starts work as superintendent for the Madison Metropolitan School District in July 2024.

After an eight-month search process, a new superintendent has been chosen to lead Wisconsin’s second-largest school district.

Madison’s school board voted unanimously this week to approve the appointment of Joe Gothard from a pool of three finalists.

Gothard is returning to Madison after serving as superintendent for the more than 30,000-student St. Paul Public School District in Minnesota.

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He graduated from Madison’s public schools, before getting his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree from Madison-based Edgewood College.

Gothard spent nearly two decades working for the Madison Metropolitan School District in roles including teacher, coach, principal and assistant superintendent. The American Association of School Administrators chose Gothard as the 2024 national superintendent of the year.

“It feels like we are super fortunate to have somebody who knows our community, who knows our district, who is a skilled and competent as Dr. Joe Gotthard coming back to lead our district,” Madison school board President Nichelle Nichols said during a special board meeting Monday night.

Gothard was a semifinalist for Madison superintendent in 2013, but he ended up moving to Minnesota to lead the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District after the Madison school board instead chose Jennifer Cheatham for the top job.

Madison’s Interim Superintendent Lisa Kvistad will continue to lead the district until Gothard’s two-year contract begins July 1.

His annual salary will be $299,000 and he’ll get a raise of at least 2 percent in his second year. The board also has the option to decide annually about whether to extend Gothard’s contract beyond the initial term of employment.

Gothard replaces former Madison Superintendent Carlton Jenkins, who retired last summer after three years with the district.

During a series of screening interviews with students, school employees and parents, Gothard promised to address achievement gaps in the district. He suggested asynchronous learning and summer school classes with experiential components could be among the options for helping students get caught up.

“Whether it’s race, whether it’s students that receive special ed services … students at many times receive outcomes that are … far different from their peers,” he said. “As a school district, this has been a call to action at MMSD for a long time and it has at districts around the country.”

During a screening interview, Gothard also touted a post-pandemic early literary program in the St. Paul District, which used federal recovery funding to assign specialists to struggling readers.

Last year, Wisconsin’s governor signed a sweeping literacy law, which aims to boost lagging literacy scores by overhauling the state’s approach to teaching reading with an emphasis on phonics. The Madison school district began using a new K-5 reading curriculum last school year which focuses more on phonics, or sounding out letters and phrases, instead of what was known as a “balanced” approach that focused more on the meaning of words.