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What Do Milwaukee Public Schools Need in a New Superintendent?

Helen H. Ri, Getty Images

The time of transition continues in Milwaukee Public Schools.  The state’s largest school district is looking for a new superintendent after the announcement earlier this year that Gregory Thornton is leaving to run the public school system in Baltimore.

Meanwhile, the district continues to look for ways to improve the academic performance of its students – with the unique challenges of the school choice environment and resources that are already stretched thin.

But some also see this transitional period as an opportunity for MPS.  Earlier this week, several thought leaders in public education talked about that opportunity in Milwaukee. 

Marquette Law School invited two specialists to participate in a forum about the future of MPS. Paul Hill is founder of the Center for Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington Bothell.  Michael Casserly is executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools in Washington, D.C., a group that includes leaders of large school districts around the country.

Casserly says the Board of Education needs to have a clear direction of where the school district is going. Community members, politicians, and families all need to be on board to help figure out what students need in order to thrive.

Hill says the superintendent needs to have a strategy and the school board needs to agree to the strategy in order to be successful.

“If the board agrees on any strategy, and I don’t only mean the one I’d like, any strategy, and the superintendent, they jointly agree to implement it, then there’s a chance for partnership," he says. "But so often, boards individually have their own image of what the superintendent will do and they never agree on it. That’s the death for anybody.”

Hill suggests looking into creating a "portfolio school" model in order to reshape the education system of MPS. Through the portfolio schools, community members are brought in to help educate students through their own expertise. It also creates a leveled playing field to see which schools need more help.