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WUWM's Emily Files reports on education in southeastern Wisconsin.

MPS Returns Volley To Turnaround Commissioner On Opportunity Schools

Rachel Morello
MPS Superintendent Darienne Driver (left) and school board president Mark Sain present an alternative plan for the Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program.

Update, 3:45p.m.: In a joint statement Friday afternoon, County Executive Abele and Commissioner Means expressed their disappointment about MPS' decision regarding the duo's OSPP proposal -- and offered district leaders another chance to join them. 

"While we still wish to partner with MPS and ensure the OSPP school remains public, we must move forward with implementing the law," the statement reads. "However, given that some School Board Directors have publicly indicated a willingness to accept our proposal, we will hold on taking action until after the June 23rd deadline we offered MPS in the case that the duly elected Board of Directors decides to accept our proposal."

"We remain hopeful that our upcoming meeting with MPS will result in an agreement that protects MPS jobs, funding, enrollment and governance."

The back and forth continues over what to do with failing MPS schools

After two months of deliberation and discussion, leaders of the Milwaukee Public Schools system responded Friday to a proposal for turning around the district's most troubled schools. 

Rather than a yes or no answer, MPS officials have tossed another idea into the ring.  

Leaders have proposed a K3-K5 early childhood education program, to be housed inside the former 35th Street Elementary School building. Part of the location is already occupied by Assata, an MPS partnership school; officials say splitting the space would allow families at both sites to access vital resources. 

Driver says focusing on the youngest students would address a community need. She also stated her belief that the idea is within the limits of the law that created the  Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program, or OSPP.

"We're always looking for additional resources in early childhood education," she says. "I'm hopeful that this will help us change conversations across our state and the way that we design policy in the state of Wisconsin to ensure that we are designed for success."

As set forth, this early childhood program would operate similar to the non-instrumentality charter modelcurrently employed in several MPS schools. Staff would be employed by the OSPP, not the district.

Leaders suggest opening the program to families in fall of 2017. They also advocate for giving families the choice whether to opt into the program. 

"This proposal is not simply about one, two or five schools," added school board president Mark Sain. "It is about the future of public education in the city of Milwaukee."

State legislators created the OSPP in early 2015. The bill gave Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele the ability to appoint a commissioner, who would have the authority to transfer one or more MPS schools into a turnaround program.

Abele tapped Mequon-Thiensville superintendent DemondMeans for the job. Back in mid-April, the duo presented MPS with a proposed outline for the program. In short, they asked MPS to partner with OSPP staffto oversee reforms. 

Although MPS Superintendent Darienne Driver and school board officials listed concerns about the proposal -- including a lack of clarity on academic programming and funding -- MPS leaders did not communicate an outright rejection of the idea.

Both Sain and Driver reiterated their willingness to discuss the alternative with County Executive Abele and Commissioner Means and say they have contacted the pair about setting up a time to meet -- although a spokesperson for the County Executive's office refutes that claim. It has provided correspondence to WUWM that indicates multiple attempts on behalf of the County Executive to schedule meetings with MPS staff and board members have gone unanswered.

In any case, MPS officials say the ball is back in the Commissioner's court. 

Driver says any and all partnerships MPS enters into should add value to the programming the district already offers.

"We must ensure our school communities are kept intact, and we believe our alternative option does just that," Driver says. 

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