Waiting for Superman is a false hope

“We need to love our kids more than the institutions in which they are educated.”
– Former MPS Superintendent Howard Fuller

Peterson, Jasna, Fuller, Brown, Korte, Andrekopolus, and now Thornton… all are on the list of former Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) superintendents, just during the period I have been president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC).

It is often noted that MPS superintendents should play for the NFL (noted for its acronym Not For Long), as they have a tenure shorter than most NFL linemen.

Unstable leadership should not diminish the importance of MPS to Milwaukee’s future, nor should it cause us to take our eye off the ball of increasing student performance. Many students – those in MPS as well as charter and choice schools — are facing significant challenges including poverty and disrupted families. But Milwaukee has a growing list of schools that are breaking the cycle of low-income children failing to get an education and then repeating the path to poverty and teenage pregnancy. Schools like Carmen High School, Milwaukee Collegiate Academy, Milwaukee College Prep., St. Marcus and Hope Christian, to name a few, are producing solid academic gains with their kids. Here’s what is making the difference:

  • High standards, no excuses school culture.
  • Singularly focused and experienced school leaders.
  • Determined, passionate and supported teachers.
  • Strong student focus and family engagement.

For kids in these schools, their ZIP code no longer determines their destiny. Some of these schools are MPS schools, and we can and should demand more of them from MPS. Excellence does not come from a school system, it comes from a system of high quality schools. For MPS to succeed, it must care more for its kids than the institution in which they are educated, and that is a culture that starts at the top with the MPS board of directors, not the next Superintendent.

Yes, we want a great superintendent for MPS, but waiting for Superman is a false hope. Milwaukee’s super heroes are already here at work in these and other phenomenally committed schools. They are proving the impossible can be done. What we need to do is figure out how to better support their growth (see the work of Teach for America, Schools That Can, City Year), encourage the expansion of these best practice schools, and unite around the cause of quality schools. If we do unite as a community around quality schools, no matter who’s sponsoring that school, then as Robert W. Baird & Co. Inc.’s CEO Paul Purcell says, “Kids win.”

Tim Sheehy is president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC).

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