Planning for Greatness: Area leaders and activists launch ambitious initiative to address opportunities and challenges that affect both communities and schools

CONTACT: Lynn Wood

Wood Communications Group


[MADISON] Today, business, academic, labor, civic, education and philanthropic leaders from the Greater Madison area began a unique journey, dedicated to understanding and addressing the issues affecting modern pre-K–12 education in the context of “community” challenges and opportunities.

“Community challenges and opportunities — including those related to unemployment; increased global competition; homelessness; the rising importance of research and development; and the need for advanced skill training and education — touch our children and our schools every day,” said Dan Nerad, Superintendent of the Metropolitan Madison School District, “and it is becoming increasingly clear that schools and the communities we serve need to energize our efforts to work collaboratively, rather than assuming that either of us can manage as effectively without the other.”

A diverse group of leaders, experts, policy makers and activists have joined together as part of an innovative, multi-year initiative called Planning for Greatness. The project’s goal is to “Develop a pre-K–12 education system in the Madison area recognized nationally and internationally for excellence and achievement.” As currently envisioned, Planning for Greatness will evolve through three related phases beginning with a year-long comprehensive learning and planning effort. The first phase is dedicated to identifying pathways that would invigorate and enhance community-school interaction with the challenges and opportunities that affect all of us. The second phase of Planning for Greatness will be dedicated to expanding on public input and interaction to help identify possible go-forward strategies and will feature neighborhood listening sessions, public opinion polling and town hall meetings. And in phase three, the Planning for Greatness learning, planning and public input and access efforts will culminate in recommendations to community decisions makers in both the public and private sectors.

The still-growing Planning for Greatness working group [attachment] consists of well-known Madison community leaders, including civic and business leaders; nonprofit directors and foundation board members; strategic communications and economic development advisers; media representatives and commentators; and higher-education leaders who are dedicated to charting a path both schools and communities can follow to greatness.

Planning for Greatness working group members will begin the initiative with a series of informational learning sessions between now and the end of the year that will focus on an exchange of information and opinion among educators, business and civic leaders, academic experts and stakeholders. These sessions will enable the group to identify topic areas that warrant further study and discussion. Based on the topic areas, the working group will break into smaller task forces to work independently in each of those specific areas. Each task force will reach out to the Greater Madison area to engage experts and obtain citizen input on their topic. The individual task forces will report back to the working group in mid-to-late summer of 2012, at which point the working group will start developing a preliminary action plan based on the recommendations.

“The Planning for Greatness process will be open and we hope that the community will learn with us as we learn about what we, as a community, can do to ensure a brighter future for our young people. In doing so, I believe we can build stronger, even more vibrant communities for the future,” said Gregory Markle, Executive Director of Operation Fresh Start.

Planning for Greatness grew out of nearly 18 months of research and conversation among community leaders, educators and activists that initially focused on attempts to understand how contemporary economic and social trends were affecting Madison area schools. It evolved into a realization that the challenges and opportunities affecting education in the region were, for the most part, manifestations of challenges and opportunities facing the whole area.

Initial funding for Planning for Greatness comes from Dean Health Plan, Madison Gas & Electric, Wood Communications Group, CUNA Mutual Group Foundation and Steve Brown Apartments.