MADISON (WKOW) -- New Madison schools superintendent Jennifer Cheatham's first day on the job Monday allowed her time to briefly reflect on landing the position she coveted.
The former Chicago schools administrator said she and her husband established criteria when her job exploration began: mid-size, Midwest urban district; educational challenges to tackle; and a good place to raise a family.
"As soon as I saw that the advertisement (for Madison schools superintendent) was there, I told my husband, 'Wow, this is dream job material,' " Cheatham told 27 News.
"This is the one, and I couldn't be happier. It's a real dream come true," Cheatham said.
Cheatham says she applied to two school districts.
Cheatham tells 27 News her tenure will begin with a visit to every one of Madison's schools over her first sixty days.
During April and May, she is also scheduled to hold community forums at the city's four, primary high schools.
Cheatham tells 27 News the district's high schools are keys to shrinking the gap in achievement between the district's majority and minority students. Approximately fifty percent of the district's students of colors fail to graduate, a statistic Cheatham labeled as "horrendous" during her interview process.
"I suspect students are dropping out because they don't see the relevance of what they're learning in high school," Cheatham said.
"They can't picture, imagine the future that's ahead of them, so they become disengaged."
Cheatham says her three-pronged approach to the achievement gap problem includes making high school more relevant, reviewing curriculum in all schools, and identifying more excellent teachers.
"There is research that shows that just having five years of great teachers in a row, will close the achievement gap," Cheatham tells 27 News.
Cheatham also says she wants to give teachers more educational tools, and strategies for intervention to help low-achieving students.
Cheatham tells 27 News her roots as a teacher define her, and she wants to work cooperatively with the district's teachers. She says she's already reached out to Madison teachers union president John Matthews.
Madison Teachers Inc.'s contract with the district for teachers and other staff members runs through the middle of next year.
If Wisconsin's law limiting public employee collective bargaining is upheld by courts, Cheatham will be involved in replacing the contract, with work rules and conditions specified in an employee handbook. The law allows districts to unilaterally impose working conditions if they choose.
Cheatham tells 27 News whether it's negotiating a new contract or an employee handbook, respecting input from teachers will be a priority.
Cheatham is 41, and may be the youngest person to have ever led the 25,000 student district.