MMSD Superintendent Carlton Jenkins Announces Retierment in July

MMSD Superintendent Carlton Jenkins Announces Retierment in July

Jonathan Buscher

Carlton Jenkins, MMSD’s superintendent for the past three years, recently revealed his decision to retire, effective July 28, 2023, during a district announcement on Wednesday, February 8, 2023. In the statement, Jenkins said that “there are times when we all struggle between choosing between doing what is right and doing what is right,” referring to the fact that, while there is still work to be done in the district, Jenkins also has a 3-year-old grandson, who he hopes to support in some of the child’s most important years. Jenkins’ time as superintendent, if he sticks with retiring this July, will be the shortest tenure since the 1920s Charles Meek, who only spent a single year in the position.  

Before his arrival in Madison, Jenkins acted as the superintendent of the suburban Minneapolis Robbinsdale Area Schools. Prior to this, Jenkins was not only a health teacher, but also an associate principal at our own Memorial High School from 1993 to 1994, accompanied by other roles in administration in various states including Ohio, Michigan, Georgia, and Minnesota. This represents a net 34 years in public education, a topic Jenkins is well versed in given both his 1993 master’s degree in educational administration and 2009 doctorate in educational leadership and policy analysis, both from UW-Madison. 

Taking the role of superintendent at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic as a result of the initial candidate backing out, Jenkins is MMSD’s first Black superintendent. Entering the position in August of 2020, Jenkins was immediately thrown into the difficulty of virtual learning and the ongoing social justice issues in the greater United States. In the wake of the pandemic, budgeting issues, online learning educational disparities, an increase in behavior issues, and staff pressures have been some of the major topics dealt with by the Superintendent. More particularly, many staff members disagreed with the decision to partially reopen schools in the spring of 2021, along with requesting wage increases as inflation grows. Several particular initiatives developed by Jenkins were both efforts to change the reading curriculum in the district, and two 2020 referendums representing a total of $350 million, part of which was designated for high school renovations. 

Prior to his announcement of retirement, Jenkins highlighted his vision of the future of MMSD during a State of the District address. In a letter directed to the MMSD community at large, Jenkins stated that “The (Madison School District) community’s talented scholars, teachers, staff, administrators, families and community members have worked hard to move the district forward. We remain committed to continue our focus on equity, collaboration and co-creation of our district,” according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

Ali Muldrow, the current Madison School Board President, commented on Jenkins’ retirement saying that she had a “little bit of sadness,” yet “there was also an incredible amount of respect for the work he’s done and appreciation for what he’s meant to our community,” as was stated in the Wisconsin State Journal. Muldrow also understands the personal nature of the decision and recognizes the work that Jenkins has put in for the district over his 3-year-term. Similarly, the decision was somewhat unexpected to Mike Jones, the president of Madison Teachers Inc., the Madison teachers’ union. Jones noted that “Dr. Jenkins’ continued emphasis on doing better for our Black and brown students is something the district, and our union, must continue to focus on. 

However, there were also some pleas from community organizations and members requesting that Jenkins hold off his retirement, especially given that it can take five to six years to see the results of the superintendent’s initiatives. Michael Johnson, the CEO of Boys & Girls Club, talked with Jenkins after the announcement, and voiced his opinion according to a Cap Times article on the subject, saying “do I think he can bring value to our district? I believe he can and I believe that in the right circumstances, I hope he will consider staying.” Yet, Jenkins has also experienced backlash during his time leading MMSD, as school staff and teachers acting through Madison Teachers Inc. have been upset with Employee Handbook changes along with the failure to increase wages and staffing shortages. Johnson, however, does admit that “It’s a tough job and we are all imperfect leaders,” while still hoping that Jenkins, if he does decide to stay, would listen more to feedback from educators “to earn their respect and their support.” In addition to leaders, a Cap Times email to district spokesperson Tim LeMonds revealed that Jenkins “has been flooded with an overwhelming amount of support from the community, including multiple requests to stay longer.”

In terms of the next steps for hiring a superintendent, MMSD has some experience, especially given the three superintendents of MMSD over the past ten years. From 2013 to 2019, Jennifer Cheatham was Superintendent, briefly followed by Jane Belmore from 2019 to 2020, when Jenkins was hired. While there are not specific details yet as to the district’s specific process, the Madison School Board will determine if an interim superintendent is needed, as it took 9 months to find Cheatham’s replacement, Matthew Gutierrez, and a further three months to find Jenkins after Gutierrez backed out of the position. 

While Jenkins’ retirement could mean significant change for the district over the past few years, along with mixed emotions, growth is still being made to recover from pandemic-related issues among both staff and students.