He Is the First Black Superintendent in District History

Photos courtesy of Verona Area School District

Dr. Tremayne Clardy has spent his career breaking down barriers as a Black man. 

He was the first certified African American teacher at a Beloit middle school. He was the first Black principal at Sennett Middle School in Madison. Now, Clardy is Verona Area School District’s newest and first Black superintendent overseeing 5,720 students, faculty and staff. 

Without hesitation, Clardy acknowledged the broad shoulders of those who came before him and fought the good fight, adding it’s his responsibility to make sure he’s not the last.

“While it’s an honor to be the first, it’s also my responsibility to make sure that barriers are not there,” Clardy said. “I don’t want African American success to be an anomaly. That doesn’t just happen naturally. We have to intentionally work to uplift and remove those barriers.”

Clardy channels the spirit of a nonviolent protest espoused by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He’s passionate about hearing all the voices in the school district; dreams of opportunities to provide the best of everything for the students; and, supports the cultivation of diversity, equity, and inclusion in educational environments.

“I honestly, truly believe that the Verona Area School District is positioned to be the national model for excellence and equity, and we’ll continue to hold true to that belief, and we’ll make it come to fruition as a team,” said Clardy, who earned his doctorate in educational leadership from Aurora University.

An admitted Momma’s Boy, Clardy is the oldest of three sons born in St. Paul, Minnesota and raised in rural east Texas. He’s spent much of his professional career in southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois, most recently as the co-chief of schools for elementary education for the Madison Metropolitan School District. He began the top educator position on July 1 to succeed Dr. Dean Gorrell, who retired from a 16-year tenure with the district. 

What sets Clardy apart from others learning about deficits and barriers for students of color,is that he flipped the script and examined shared traits of Black students who were academically successful. He’s also intentional in referring to his students as scholars.

As the 2021-22 school year gets underway, Clardy delights in welcoming students to the brand new, 592,000-square-foot Verona High School that was designed by Eppstein Uhen Architects. It is said to be the largest high school (by square feet) in the state of Wisconsin.

Here are other topics Clardy answered about his leadership goals and other hot topics in education:

UMOJA: What is your No. 1 priority for Verona Area School District?

Dr. Clardy: My number one priority is to ensure that every student that walks into a Verona Area School District building has the same level of access and opportunity to the greatness that we have. I expect that our students are prepared to navigate and succeed in the most diverse global society that they will see and will encounter, ever. And, I want our families to be able to also know that there is life outside of Dane County, and they can succeed anywhere in our world, because of the education they got in the Verona Area School District.

UMOJA: What, if any, new initiatives are you planning for this year?

Dr. Clardy: There’s 100 things I want us to do, but I can’t do them all at once.  We had to really narrow it down to a few big things, but they’re all under the umbrella of equity work. We are not going to back away from equity work. We are actually going to go deeper.

Under that umbrella our main priorities are continuous improvement planning. Each building will establish goals, as well as strategies and metrics for student achievement. We will also make sure we have goals that are set for all students, especially our focus students, to make sure that across our demographics and across our different abilities that those students are having the same amount of success as well. You can’t do that if you just have one strategy for everyone. You have to actually look at the data to make sure that your focus groups are receiving the same access and having the same amount of outcomes as all of our students.

We are also going to build very strong school-based leadership teams to be able to uplift the voice of our staff and have them part of the planning process. We want very strong school-based leadership teams that design the professional development that is important to the strategies and monitoring and metrics.

UMOJA: Why is diversity, equity and inclusion a strong passion of yours?

Dr. Clardy: I’ve always been a leader that’s talked about my “why?” My why in education comes from George Washington Carver. Education is the key that unlocks the golden door to freedom. It’s the freedom to navigate society the way we choose, live where we choose, and take on any career that we choose. I see education as a key that provides access that opens all of those doors.

My job and my mission in life is to analyze and look at barriers within our system that are getting in the way ꟷ remove those barriers, and elevate students to the next level. That’s the debt I owe to society because people who have worked before me have removed those barriers for me to be able to take the seat that I have in education.

UMOJA: What are your plans for a successful reopening in the fall?

Dr. Clardy: We are mandating mask requirements for all students and staff members entering the school year this fall. We are still highly promoting vaccinations and helping staff and students, if they’re age appropriate, be able to access the vaccines because we know those two strategies work hand-in-hand. Additionally, the CDC has recommended that we can move down the spacing to three feet. What this does is it allows us to prioritize our number one goal of having every single student in our building five days a week. Once our kids come in the fall, we want them to stay.

I also understand that there are some parents that are not proponents of masking. I understand that perspective. But my perspective as leader of Verona Area School District is I can’t, in one sense say my top priority is to make sure that your students have a safe and healthy environment, and then say, well that’s your option. You can’t have it both ways. I think it’s a minor discomfort for an ultimate goal of making sure that our students are not missing the instruction and they’re safe in that environment. I also know that it is my responsibility to be the voice to those that have been systematically oppressed into being the voiceless.