The Milwaukee Public Schools system is “at a tipping point” where improvements in how the system is run and a strong base of community support need to lead to better overall academic achievement for students, the new superintendent of MPS, Darienne Driver, said Wednesday.
Speaking at an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program at Eckstein Hall, Driver said, “We have to get results.” But she said MPS is going through a lot of transitions that are helping make schools poised to do that.
But Driver, who became superintendent Oct. 1, spoke a short time after two influential Republican legislators in Madison released the outlines of a plan to deal with poverty in Milwaukee that could see control of some low-performing schools taken from MPS and given to independent charter schools. The ideas floated by Sen. Alberta Darling and Rep. Dale Kooyenga suggest the tough time MPS is likely to have in the current legislative session.
Driver said the ideas from Darling and Kooyenga “really get away from the investment we should be making in our public schools.” She said it could be “devastating” to schools that would be closed and re-opened. The idea of creating something similar to the Recovery School District in New Orleans, which the legislators suggested, is a distraction that would not yield good results overall, Driver said.
Driver told an audience that included key figures from all sectors of Milwaukee education that the financial state of MPS had improved, thanks to actions including reductions in long-term commitments to retirees.
Gousha asked Driver why it was hard to replicate the success of some schools that get better overall results with high-needs populations of student. She said, “We’re dealing with students, we’re dealing with people,” and creating a successful school is a difficult, case-by-case undertaking. Milwaukee’s high level of racial and economic segregation make it more challenging to develop high performing schools, she said.
Gousha said many people have a poor perception of MPS. He asked how that could be changed. “The number one way to do that is results,” Driver said. But she said the system is trying to do more to get out the word on good things happening in Milwaukee schools and there is more support for MPS, including from the business community, than many people realize. “We have countless ways we are being supported by the business community,” she said.
Gousha told Driver that “in some respects, we’ve lost our way” in valuing and emphasizing success in education to young people. Driver responded that is hard to make education relevant to a lot of young people who don’t see enough evidence that succeeding in school will help them. She said more needs to be done to convince students that education is a life-long pursuit that pays off.
To view the video of the session, click here.