For one superintendent candidate, Greendale presents not only a good professional opportunity, but a good place to send his own children to school.
Meet John Tharp, a former high school teacher and now administrator for a high-achieving district in Tennessee and the .
Tharp is a rather tall man (former basketball player for Illinois Wesleyan University) with a slight southern twang to his voice (as he most recently lived in North Carolina and Tennessee). During a "meet and greet" at Greendale High School Monday evening, he told around 40 school officials and community members that Greendale "fits the bill" for him and his family.
"I'm a father and a husband. In those roles, you seek out places to live that are high quality," Tharp said, noting the district's emphasis on educating "the whole child."
In fact, Tharp said he was recently offered a statewide education position in Tennessee. But he said if given the choice, he would go with Greendale.
After graduating from Illinois Wesleyan, Tharp, an Illinois native, took teaching and coaching positions in North Carolina. A James Madison Fellowship put him on the path to University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he earned his doctorate in educational leadership, and he later published a book on school reform.
Most recently, Tharp has served as assistant superintendent for middle and high schools in Williamson County, Tennessee, at a suburban Nashville district about 10 times the size of Greendale's. Tharp said that district is the state's highest-performing, with a 22.8 average ACT score, and during his time there, Advanced Placement enrollment increased from about 4,200 to 7,000.
But aside from Tharp's history as an educator, those attending Monday's session wanted to know how he would approach certain issues facing Greendale schools and what he sees as major issues there.
While he acknowledged that much is working in Greendale schools, he pinpointed literacy initiatives as one area on which to focus.
"There is some concern in the state of Wisconsin about some reading scores," Tharp said. "We would work as a district to dig deep and make sure the things we're teaching in the classroom and continuing in middle and high school are positive in terms of helping students gain the literacy skills that they need to be successful."
He fielded a wide range of questions, spanning everything from accomodating diversity, special education programs and "gifted" learners to working with changing federal regulations and vocational programs. Some questions were geared toward teacher compensation and union relations.
When asked about teacher pay and benefits, he said "my leadership philosophy is that you create conditions to help people work to their full potential. ... (Teachers) really want to go in and really be successful in helping students grow and achieve.
"When you create a system full of anxiety and fear instead of growth and achievement, guess what? People say, 'Well, I'll find another job.'"
On a similar note, he stressed that there must be a "collaborative relationship" between a superintendent and a teachers' union - for the sake of the students.
"I think we're in it together," Tharp said. "When the adults take adversarial positions in a school bureaucracy, over time the students suffer from that."
And when asked about the role of technology in the school, he said it can serve as an important tool, but nothing is more important than the teacher's role.
"We've got to remember: the vital piece to education is the teacher," Tharp said. "We can expose kids to all kinds of stuff, but if we don't teach them how to think and how to process the information, what do we have? ... You still have to have that critical piece, the most important piece of education - the teacher."
Monday's session was the first of two with the superintendent candidates. The second will be held from 5:30 to 6:30 Tuesday at the Greendale High School Library.
The other candidate, Susan Borden, has been serving as the district administrator in the Germantown Schoolol District since 2010. She holds a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in educational leadership and policy analysis.
This position opened up earlier this year when to take a position with Schools That Can Milwaukee.