Milwaukee County Exec. Selects Mequon-Thiensville Superintendent to Lead MPS Turnaround District

From the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

Demond Means, a Milwaukee Public Schools graduate who heads one of the state’s highest-performing school systems, has been tapped to lead — at least for now — a Milwaukee turnaround district mandated by the Legislature in hopes of turning around some of the city’s poorest-performing schools, County Executive Chris Abele is expected to announce Thursday.

Abele is scheduled to introduce Means, superintendent of the Mequon-Thiensville School District, as commissioner of the Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program at a noon news conference.

Means said in an interview Wednesday that his priority would be to close the district’s achievement gap between white and minority students, which ranks among the widest in the nation. He said he has no intention of taking control of any of MPS’ struggling schools and instead will work with district officials to ensure they have the resources and support they need to improve outcomes for students.

“Closing the gap is the civil rights movement of the 21st century, and we have to be deliberate and serious about this work,” said Means, who led a 2014 statewide task force on the issue and will continue his duties in Mequon-Thiensville.

He said he would engage all stakeholders in the discussions involving MPS, including charter- and voucher-school proponents. But he made it clear that he would not preside over a dismantling of schools.

“I’m a pro-traditional-public-schools person. I believe they are the backbone of our democracy,” said Means, who grew up in Milwaukee’s Sherman Park neighborhood and graduated from Riverside University High School.

“I will do whatever Dr. Driver and the board of directors believe will help them achieve their goals and aspirations as a school system,” he said of MPS Superintendent Darienne Driver.

At least one person with knowledge of the appointment described it as temporary, made to fulfill the legislative mandate that required Abele to appoint the commissioner by Nov. 15.

Means said the length of his term has not been decided and he sees the post as part time, at least for now. It is not clear whether that is tied to funding. Abele has vowed not to use county tax dollars to finance the district and has been seeking philanthropic dollars to support it.

The county executive’s appointment fulfills a provision of Gov. Scott Walker’s 2015-’17 budget that required Abele to name a special commissioner with authority to take over a limited number of poorly performing MPS schools.

The Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program would allow Abele’s commissioner — and Driver, if she chooses — to restructure up to three schools in 2016-’17 and 2017-’18, and up to five a year after that.

MPS is the state’s largest school district, with almost 78,000 students and a $1.1 billion budget. While there are high-performing students and schools throughout the district, it ranks poorly overall on a host of measures, from test scores to suspensions, truancy and graduation rates. Its latest state report card, for 2013-’14, found it did not meet expectations.

The Opportunity Schools measure was drafted by Republican lawmakers, Sen. Alberta Darling of River Hills and Rep. Dale Kooyenga of Brookfield. The intent was to turn MPS’ poorest-performing schools over to public charter or private non-parochial voucher schools, and to add wraparound health and social services.

Read More: Abele taps suburban school leader Means to lead MPS turnaround district