The appointment of Mequon-Thiensville Superintendent Demond Means to help turn around the Milwaukee Public Schools was met with some indifference and some opposition Thursday.
Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele made the appointment to comply with the Opportunity Schools Program provision in the state budget that requires Abele to appoint a czar with the authority to take over a limited number schools deemed to be poor-performing. The provision allows the new commissioner to take over up to three schools next school year and five the year after that.
Means was appointed by Abele after a months-long search that Abele said he had never asked for. He said that the provision in the budget was a surprise to him.
Means is going to continue as superintendent in Mequon-Thiensville and work with MPS on a part-time basis.
MPS board president Dr. Michael Bonds scoffed at the appointment of Means.
"If fixing things were as simple as naming a part-time superintendent then every urban district in the country would be doing it," he said. "This whole thing is unrealistic.
"I was opposed to this when it was passed in the budget. We have a superintendent who is doing a good job. Do we have more to do? Of course. But we are making progress. It’s not as fast as we would like, but this is a serious job."
Dr. Howard Fuller a former MPS superintendent, said he knew Means and knew "he has a strong commitment to children and to public education."
But a number of education experts contacted by OnMilwaukee Thursday laughed at the idea of having a part-time administrator come in and be expected to fix things.
Fuller said the idea of the part-time superintendent didn’t seem to be "the kind of thing that’s going to be much help."
State Rep. Dale Kooyenga, R-Brookfield was one of the sponsors of the takeover plan.
"If I had my choice Desmond (sic, Means' first name is actually Demond) would not have been my choice," he said. "But we’re willing to give him some time. MPS had made some progress like the Carmen charter school at Pulaski and the plans for Bradley Tech. I think those changes came about as a result of the discussion we have started with this measure.
"As long as they continue those kinds of efforts, then we will give them time. But if you look at a school like Auer Avenue, they have a zero percent reading proficiency. Obviously a new approach is needed there.
"I’m willing to give Desmond (sic) the benefit of the doubt. I think he and Donald Driver, I mean Darienne (Driver, the MPS Superintendent), need to go faster in reforming the district."
Alan Borsuk, a former education reporter who is now a respected fellow in the Marquette Law School, specializes in education reform.
"Demond is a committed guy to urban education," Borsuk said. "He’s engaging and smart and he’s wanted to get into MPS for a long time. Several years ago he said his goal in life was the be the superintendent in MPS.
"He’s a public school guy. If they are looking for someone to turn the district on its head for reform, he’s not the guy to do that."
With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.
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