Is It Difficult for Milwaukee to Keep School Superintendents?

Apr 9, 2018

Being superintendent is a tough job, and it may not be one in which it's easy to last. MPS finds itself having to look for a new school superintendent after Darienne Driver announced last week that she'll be leaving the post in July, after what will be at that point four years in the post.

Her decision raised questions about superintendent turnover in Milwaukee.

William Andrekopoulus was MPS superintendent from 2002-2010. From his perspective, Driver’s tenure should be considered a success. “In Milwaukee, if you include my tenure, over the past 16 years, there’s been three superintendents," he says. "So when you look at it from a longer lens, Milwaukee’s actually done a pretty good job of retaining their superintendents.” 

He says Milwaukee’s track record is also solid compared with Chicago, which has had five superintendents in 10 years.

George Petersen, Dean of the Clemson University School of Education, made his career out of studying superintendents and boards of education. He says in urban places like Milwaukee, 4-6 years in the position would be considered average because of the challenges that urban districts face.

“It takes time to hire and make sure you have people in the right place, to make sure that you’ve put in professional development for principals in these settings," he says. "So, with a tenure of four years, unless it’s a really small school district, that’s a bit difficult to do.”

Art Rainwater, former superintendent of the Madison Public School system, says providing quality education with scarce resources is a challenge facing superintendents across the board. He cited the Oklahoma teacher walkouts in which teachers are demanding more resources for education. 

Rainwater says there’s also the political demands from all directions - the school board, parents, teachers, and special interests. He says a superintendent can’t please everybody all the time.

It’s an extraordinarily difficult job, Rainwater says, but certain qualities can help a new superintendent be successful on the job, though not necessarily to stay longer. "You want a superintendent who is committed, first and foremost to children, to all children, committed social justice and equity, has an understanding of instruction has a history of leadership."

For his part, Andrekopoulos says now MPS needs to decide whether it’s looking for a change agent in the new superintendent or for someone to protect the status quo. 

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