By Jarett Fields
Perhaps Milwaukee School Board member Meagan Holman said it best last week when asked to comment on Gregory Thornton’s decision to step down as Milwaukee Public Schools superintendent: “I feel like it’s a chance for something new.”
It definitely is, so let’s make sure we seize that opportunity. We need someone at the helm of Milwaukee’s schools who can take the steps necessary to ensure all children have access to a quality education. Thornton made strides in the right direction and created a framework for positive change, but we still have a long way to go in terms of providing options and improving outcomes for students and their families.
We are presented with a rare opportunity for reflection and optimism, and we should use it to have an important conversation about the type of leadership required to build a solid foundation for the future of our city.
Milwaukee has some of the widest racial achievement gaps in the country and a high school graduation rate hovering around 62%. Test scores in Milwaukee are not only among the lowest in the country; they are also stagnant, which means the changes made so far are not reaching the students who need them most. The new superintendent will have a lot of work to do, and he or she needs to be ready to embrace the reforms necessary to tackle these issues head-on.
But it won’t be easy. Just last month, the School Board stalled an initiative that included turning over 25 of the district’s weakest schools to successful charter operators, leaving thousands of students in under-performing limbo. The new superintendent must work to break through bureaucratic barriers that stifle innovative solutions and partnerships for students and families who have been underserved and forgotten for too long.
Good schools inspire students and give them the tools they need to make a difference. They shape the lives of our future leaders and set them on a path to reach their highest potential. The next superintendent must bring bold strategies that seek to improve conditions in public schools and address the widening achievement gap.
Too many of our children are being deprived of all the benefits that come with a quality education. We can’t continue to turn a blind eye to this problem; the costs of inefficient schools are simply too great to ignore.
It’s time for something new in Milwaukee. It’s time to put aside politics and prejudices in favor of access and equity. It’s time for education policies that put our children first. We need intrepid leadership that emphasizes transparency, creates partnerships out of stalemates and refuses to give up.
As the School Board begins its search for a new superintendent, I urge its members to do so in the spirit of reflection and cooperation. The type of leadership needed to bring new, creative changes to our schools will be most effective with the support of everyone who believes in its end goal: making a truly great education available to all of our children.
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