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

MPS Chief Focuses On Future: 'I Don't Like Looking In The Rearview Mirror'

Emily Files
Keith Posley recently finished his first school year as MPS superintendent.

In his first months as superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools, Keith Posley announced an ambitious goal: that MPS math, reading and writing scores would surpass the state average within five years.

That would require a major leap. In the 2017-18 school year, MPS math and reading scores were more than 20 points behind the state average. The district serves a high concentration of disadvantaged students: 90% minority, 85% low-income, 19% students with disabilities.

About a year into the job, Posley stands by his pledge to skyrocket MPS test scores above the state average.

“I absolutely think it’s possible. That’s a 4% increase every year for five years, right?” Posley says. “That is something that our young people are very capable of doing and can do and are closing the gaps as we speak.”

Posley recently sat down with WUWM to reflect on his first year as superintendent and his goals for the future. His strategy to boost student performance hinges on what he calls the "Ambitious Instruction Plan." It is a revamp of MPS curriculum, instruction, and professional development in the subjects of math, reading and writing.

“We also have been able to build safety nets around young people to make sure they’re getting what they need and make our reading, writing and math groups smaller so there’s more personalized instruction,” Posley says. 

"We also have been able to ... make our reading, writing and math groups smaller so there's more personalized instruction."

He says new state funding will help support his efforts to bolster teaching staff in core areas. Gov. Tony Evers recently signed a two-year state budget that provides an about $570 million infusion for public school districts. Republican lawmakers cut down Evers’ original $1.4 billion proposal.

“We’re in a better situation than we were in the previous year,” Posley says. “In the first year, we’re in the neighborhood of close to $4 million [more state funding.]”

Posley says even though the additional state funding is helpful, he would have preferred to see Evers’ proposal to raise state reimbursement of special education costs to 60%. In the final budget, the state will reimburse districts 30% of special education expenses by the second year.

MPS leaders are considering another avenue to increase school funding: voter referendum. Board members and Posley are supportive of going to referendum next year to raise property tax funding for the district.

"I'm always looking forward to try to find out how we can get our young people where we need them to be."

That additional revenue could help MPS afford a new employee salary schedule, which was reinstated under Posley this year. Posley’s initial 2018-19 MPS budget did not include a salary schedule, but did provide inflationary increases for employees. Members of the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association pushed back – giving hours of public testimony calling for more competitive wages.

Posley says his original budget proposal was put together “with my best thinking and the best thinking of my team.” After hearing the public testimony, he put forward a plan to reinstate a salary schedule – something the school board unanimously supported. 

"I had an opportunity to sit on that stage and hear what people had to say about how long they have been compressed in a pay scale that has not moved," Posley says. "That was something I had to witness and understand for myself."

Posley says during his time with MPS, he has worked under eight or nine superintendents, and learned lessons from each one. Now that he is leading the district, Posley is unwavering in his optimism.

“I spend my time focusing on the positive side of life. I don’t focus at all looking in the rearview mirror. And if I could I would take the rearview mirror out of my car, because I don’t like looking backwards," Posley says. "I’m always looking forward to try to find out how we can get our young people where we need them to be.”

The school board recently extended Posley's contract to 2022, with a base salary of $258,148. 

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Emily is WUWM's education reporter and a news editor.
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