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THURSDAY HOT READ: THORNTON'S LOSING BATTLE

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 From the new issue of Wisconsin Interest Magazine, Mike Nichols look at the long (and lengthening) odds against MPS Superintendent Gregory Thornton.

Eight months into Greg Thornton’s attempt to bring the systemic change needed to reverse years of decline in the Milwaukee Public Schools, his own fears of being stymied by a micromanaging, fickle school board are coming true.

The new MPS school superintendent was so fearful of second-guessing that his contract assures him “individual board members agree that they will not give direction to the superintendent or any staff member regarding the management of the district or the solution of specific problems.”

Thornton stated publicly last July that if he thought he was vulnerable to micromanagement, he wouldn’t have even taken the position.

Based on what transpired at a recent board meeting, the man with the toughest job in Milwaukee may well wish he hadn’t. On that night in late January, Thornton learned a bitter lesson in how difficult it is to even take a small step, let alone a big one, to pull one of America’s lowest-performing school districts up from the bottom of the heap.
MPS has more than 180 schools, and the superintendent wanted to close just one of them — a small MPS charter high school that, according to his data, has been failing badly for more than three years.

The board’s decision to rebuff him and give the school yet another chance affects only about 100 students. Just how and why board members did so, however, illustrate why Thornton faces a Herculean struggle to improve the lives of a generation of MPS kids who, far too often, can’t even read and write.

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