Kaleem Caire is a national leader in preschool to grade 12 education reform with expertise in economic and workforce development and community transformation initiatives as well. Currently, he is founder and chief executive officer of One City Schools, a 21st century preschool and public charter elementary school in Madison that is dedicated to eliminating racial achievement and opportunity gaps, while simultaneously providing a high quality education to all children that’s engages them in deep learning, complex problem solving, innovation, diverse cultural experiences and thought leadership. He is also a 2018 Pahara-Aspen Education Fellow: http://pahara.org.

Madison Native: Family Roots Go Back 100 Years

Kaleem is a fifth-generation Madisonian. He is the son of Corinne Caire (d.) of Madison and Curtis Fedrick (d.) of Atlanta, Texas. He grew up on Madison’s south side and attended Franklin Elementary, St. James Catholic School, Cherokee Middle School and West High School, where he graduated in 1989. He is also a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a bachelor's degree in education, and was honored as a Distinguished Alumnus by the Wisconsin Alumni Association in 2008.

Kaleem comes from a long line of community activist and civic leaders who lived and served in Madison. His grandmother Mary B. Caire was the founder and first president of the Bram’s Neighborhood Association on Madison’s south side and a noted community activist and gospel singer. His great-grandmother Hettie Pierce was one of the longest-living people in Wisconsin, dying at age 115 in 1944 after being born into slavery in North Carolina in 1829. Her husband, John Pierce, was an elected official in New Orleans.

Kaleem’s great-uncle was a highly regarded community leader in Wisconsin, who served as executive messenger to five Wisconsin governors (1925-1936: Govs. Blaine, Zimmerman, Kohler, La Follette and Schmedeman). He settled in Madison in 1907 in a house at 1442 East Williamson St. with his mother, Hettie, after working as a porter and staffing the dignitary cars for Northwest Railway in Chicago, Mississippi and Louisiana. Sam’s brother Malborough Pierce was the first pastor of Mount Zion Baptist Church on Madison’s south side. Kaleem’s grandfather Edgar Pierce Caire Jr. moved to Madison from New Orleans with his mother Ida Bena Pierce (a schoolteacher) and father Edgar Caire Sr. (a chauffeur). Kaleem’s grandmother Mary, her mother, Jessie Lunon Thomas, and her four siblings relocated to Madison from Gurdon, Ark., in 1935 after her father, Alfred Lunon, passed away. Mary’s brother “Sailor” Art Thomas became a nationally recognized wrestler and retired from Oscar Mayer Foods (and was inducted in the World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Fame). Kaleem’s aunt Gretchen Caire, who raised him from 2½ years old until he graduated from high school, retired from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Employment Biography

Prior to One City, Kaleem challenged Madison to confront its generational challenges with racial inequity while serving as the president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Madison (2010-2014). Prior to the Urban League, Kaleem served in a number of leadership capacities, including: Target Corporation (Maryland/D.C./Virginia), Fight for Children (Washington, D.C.), American Education Reform Council (Milwaukee), Black Alliance for Educational Options (Washington, D.C.), Wisconsin Center for Academically Talent Youth (Madison) and Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (Madison). He also served from 1989 to 1992 in the U.S. Navy as a sonar technician aboard submarines. During the 1990s, before moving to Washington, he was very active in Madison education and policy circles, including running unsuccessfully for the Madison School Board in 1998, securing 46 percent of the vote.

National and Local Efforts

In 2001, Kaleem commissioned the nation’s first comprehensive study of high school graduation rates, which influenced a radical shift in how high school quality and productivity is measured in the U.S. and bolstered district and school reform efforts nationally. He also served a five-year appointment to the Independent Rules panel that advised the U.S. secretary of Education on No Child Left Behind (2002-07) and served as an expert reviewer for President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top school reform initiative (2009-10).

Kaleem’s writings and comments have appeared in various national newspapers and magazines, including ASCD/Educational Leadership, Education Next, Education Week, The New Republic, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Wisconsin State Journal and The Capital Times. He is a 2000 recipient of the City of Madison’s Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award and a 2001 recipient of the Urban League of Greater Madison’s Whitney Young Jr. Award for Leadership and Public Service.

Besides the appointments listed above, Kaleem has served on several local and national governing bodies and committees, including the national advisory board of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, U.S Department of Education’s State Charter School Grant Review Committee, DC Association of Public Charter Schools, United Way of Dane County’s Vision Council, the Madison Region Economic Partnership Strategy Committee (and organized and chaired its Diversity and Inclusion Committee) and U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin’s Service Academy Selection Committee. 

He currently serves on the board of directors of the Madison Children’s Museum, the advisory board of the Center for Research on Early Childhood Education (CRECE), the University of Wisconsin-Madison Chancellor's Advisory Council, and chairs the Edgewood College School of Business Advisory Board. Kaleem is also a veteran of the U.S. Navy, having served from 1989 to 1992 as a Sonar Technician aboard U.S. Submarines. His last two duty stations were serving aboard the USS Jacksonville (SSN-699) and the U.S. Naval Submarine Training Center in Norfolk Virginia. 

Family Biography

Kaleem has been married to Lisa Peyton-Caire for 25 years and together they have five wonderful and talented children ages 11, 16, 20, 23 and 25. Kaleem's two oldest sons, Jabari and Sekani, graduated from Madison West High School and two of his children still attend Madison's public schools. His daughter Amira graduated from Verona Area High School.