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Education

MPS Superintendent Darienne Driver Says Her Focus is Successful Students

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It’s been about three months since the Milwaukee Public School System named 36-year-old Darienne Driver as its Superintendent. While there are bright spots within MPS, Driver inherited an organization facing big challenges, including high rates of truancy and low test scores. On Wednesday, Driver appeared before a panel of journalists and members of the public to talk about how she plans to tackle many of those issues.

Darienne Driver is not new to Milwaukee Public Schools. Before taking the helm as superintendent, she held the title of Chief Innovation Officer for two-years. She says during that time, she learned how important relationship building is to a school district like MPS.

“So much emphasis is always put on the schools, on the students, on the teachers, and not realizing that it’s really the entire community that has to rally around the schools to make a difference. I'm a firm believer in the village—the fact that it takes a village to raise a child,” Driver says.

Driver says partnerships with local businesses are important, but MPS is also working to get parents involved in education.

“First, we have our parent coordinator position, and the parent coordinator in every school has created a parent center. And so it’s not just a place where they go to get donuts and we have cute little events and things like that, but it’s actually bringing in a lot of the resources that our parents need. Think of health and human services, we’ve offered a number of different workshops on everything from financial literacy to English as a second language,” Driver says.  

When it comes to issue of school funding, Driver says the state has to come up with a better way, especially when MPS is losing money to voucher and charter schools.

“Obviously, we’re asking for more funding. A good percentage, about 20 percent of our tax levy every year goes toward choice schools. We also have about $21 million of our Title One budget that goes to our choice schools and our charter schools. We’re the only district that has that situation,” Driver says.

Driver says when you get outside of Milwaukee, the state fully funds choice schools.

Over the years, the district has been criticized for being unwilling to sell vacant buildings to competing institutions. She says MPS is working with the city to unload unwanted property.

“We actually have a list that we’re taking to the board in January of buildings that we no longer use, and therefore we put them on a list to the city for them to be able to be able to decide,” Driver says.

Still, Driver says her first priority is ensuring that MPS has the space it needs to grow and expand opportunities for Milwaukee students.

Driver will soon begin plugging numbers into her first district budget.