You can’t build a home from the roof down. You have to start with the foundation and build upward. And that’s what Keith Posley, interim superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools, is stressing in the early months of leading Wisconsin’s largest and most challenging school district.
Educators often get caught up in new programs and ideas for education that sound appealing, Posley said during an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program Wednesday at Marquette Law School. But education – and building greater success for MPS – needs to be start with teaching the basics so that all students learn to read, write and do math early in their school years. Add to that building good school attendance and the ability to work well with others and you have grounds for a bright future for kids and for MPS, Posley said.
Posley offered Gousha, the Law School’s distinguished fellow in law and public policy, and an audience of about 200, including many key figures in education in Milwaukee, an optimistic vision of what lies ahead for MPS.
“Milwaukee Public Schools is alive and well and we’re going to do great things,” Posley said. “Give me five years,” Posley said, and MPS tests scores in reading and math will be above the state average. Maybe it can be done in three, he added. Overall, MPS scores as of last year were far below state averages.
Gousha asked how patient people should be with seeing improvement in the overall success of MPS students. It will take some time to see results, Posley said, but people should see right away how energized Posley and MPS as a whole are in improving. “We have to move at a fast pace and I am moving at a fast pace, my team is moving at a fast pace.” Posley said. “I know exactly what needs to happen.”
He said, “Everyone knows if we have a strong Milwaukee Public Schools, we’re going to have a strong Milwaukee and a strong Wisconsin. . . . We’ve got to continue to work – to work until we can get to where we need to be.”
Posley proposed to the School Board during its budget work in the spring that large cuts be made in the central administration of MPS rather than cutting budgets in schools. Posley said he did that because “if we’re going to make a change, it’s going to happen in the classroom.” He said, “I have to put every ounce of money we have – I put 89 cents of every dollar we have — in the classroom.” His goal for next year is to raise that to 90 cents, he said.
Concerns were raised in a recent report from the Wisconsin Policy Forum about the long-term financial picture for MPS. Asked about that, Posley said MPS could use more money, but he would not be deterred by finances. “I’m going to make it happen with whatever I have,” he said. What will he do if MPS gets fresh revenue in upcoming state budgets? “I’ve created a wish list already,” he said. The list, he said, includes reviving an effort of about a decade ago called the Milwaukee Math Partnership and doing more to strengthen offerings for children from birth to five.
Posley grew up in a small town in Mississippi and was recruited for a teaching job in Milwaukee almost three decades ago. He said he expected to stay in Milwaukee for one year. But he loved working in schools and advanced from being a teacher to an assistant principal to a principal to a series of administrative positions before being named to head the system.
His willing to make a long-term commitment to this job? “Mike, this is home,” he said. “Mississippi is in the rear-view mirror.” Posley wants to drop the word “interim” from his title, a step the Milwaukee School Board is likely to take soon. He certainly is not acting like someone who intends to fill the job for a short time. “I have the steering wheel now, and I’m driving,” Posley said.
To view the one-hour video of the program, click here.