Seeking a ‘Super Superintendent’ for MPS: Clark Kent and Wonder Woman, Where Are You?

SuperMan_shaunwongFaster than a “speeding” school board meeting!
More powerful than a loco mob of protesters!
Able to leap collective bargaining at a single bound!

“Look up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s the MPS Superintendent!”

Yes, a strange visitor from another city who came to Milwaukee with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal humans… defender of curriculum alignment and fiscal stability, champion of equal educational rights, valiant, courageous fighter against the forces of ignorance and illiteracy who wages a never-ending battle for student achievement, stakeholder engagement, and urban school excellence.

OK, it’s probably bad form to parody the search for a new superintendent of the Milwaukee Public Schools for at least two reasons.

First, the children of MPS deserve the finest leader who can be recruited to the position.  Their future literally hangs in the balance.  The clock is ticking on whether the system as a whole can truly educate the majority of  its students to 21st century standards.

Second, the search will be, by far, the most important determinant of whether the district can right itself any time soon – if ever.   The time is right to attract an indisputable difference maker.  If Milwaukee doesn’t get this search right, the less than stellar achievement results of its students and the downward fiscal spiral will either continue to cripple the district for decades or cause it to go completely belly up.  Well, at least that’s my take.

If, on the other hand, the search nets Milwaukee a “super” superintendent, then lots of things figure to happen, and they’ll all be good.

  • Most importantly, the kids will receive the high quality education that they need and deserve.  Nothing is more important than the new leader moving with an unbridled sense of urgency toward academic achievement goals.

But what else would a genuinely “super” superintendent bring to the Milwaukee educational landscape?  Here’s nine more possible benefits to round out my Top Ten:

  • The fiscal demise of the district need not be imminent.
  • The MPS Board will have impressive results to tout, and look good to the electorate because of them.
  • The Milwaukee Teacher and Education Association would be inclined to pursue a trust relationship with central administration that will benefit the children.
  • Community groups will be allies instead of critics.
  • The proliferation of other entities that believe MPS ought to answer to them might cease.
  • The Milwaukee media would cover the district in a more affirming way, allowing the many deserving teachers and principals in MPS to take some well earned pride in their work, be truly gratified by it, and receive some long overdue public recognition.
  • The Department of Public Instruction will do the dance of joy, because its biggest challenge will have been addressed.
  • The talk of mayoral control or a takeover by DPI might be moot, because MPS governance issues could rightly appear to be resolved.
  • The district could focus less on constantly demonstrating accountability and devote precious time, energy, and resources to improving the system.

Wishful thinking? Maybe.  But maybe not with the right leader.  So, let’s suspend disbelief, assume great things are truly possible, and focus on the type of professional necessary to “Be The Difference.”  With that thought in mind,  we pose the following question and await your responses.

What qualifications would an ideal MPS Superintendent possess?

6 Responses to “Seeking a ‘Super Superintendent’ for MPS: Clark Kent and Wonder Woman, Where Are You?”


  1. 1 Alex Weightman August 20, 2009 at 5:55 pm

    I think that one qualification that this Super superintendent needs, is a clear understanding of the potential that MPS has. Being a former MPS student I grew up realizing that the school district had many flaws, but what I also realized is the determination the teachers have to want to make MPS a great school district. If MPS was given the oppourtinities that other schools in sournding suburbs have its teacher would work hard to insure that MPS becomes a successfull district and altimately helping MPS reach its full potential.

    • 2 billhenk August 20, 2009 at 9:35 pm

      If the new superintendent doesn’t grasp the potential of the district and recognize that there are teachers who want to make a difference, then there is little hope for success I’m afraid, Alex. I hope that the community will rally around the district and the new leader to give it the best chance. Thanks for all of your comments.

  2. 3 Mike Karolewicz August 25, 2009 at 4:17 pm

    I have had experience in private and public schools, MPS and suburban schools, elementary, middle and high schools. One consistent them is relationship between schools and home or the community. I believe the first step in improving the situation in MPS is to engage the community with meaningful and sincere relationships. This was done successfully in Chicago where many parents were skeptical of the positive expectations that changes in leadership talent and structure would bring. There was a tremendous amount of listening done to understand the pain points so solutions could be developed.

    MPS needs to do the same. Marquette and other local colleges and universities should form a consortium to help build success in the system. The number of children served is so large that a big solution is needed.

  3. 4 billhenk August 26, 2009 at 8:22 am

    You couldn’t be more right that engaging the community is a vital step in moving MPS forward, Mike. When pain gives rise to good faith solutions, systems have the opportunity to get significantly better. For me, the jury is still out on whether Chicago, New York, Boston, and other major urban areas have truly made dramatic strides, but your point is VERY well taken nonetheless. It’s interesting that you mention the consortium concept, because that’s exactly what has been done to help our K-12 Catholic schools. Along with great partners at Alverno, Cardinal Stritch, Mount Mary, and Marian, we formed the Greater Milwaukee Catholic Education Consortium, and the collaboration is making a genuine difference for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee I believe. Besides the volunteer efforts of many of our Education professionals at the five institutions, the initiative required funding, and fortunately the Stollenwerk Family Foundation stepped up to the plate in a big way. It’s not as clear to me how a partnership might be formed to help MPS, so the ideas of readers are most welcome on that count. I’ll just say that although our local colleges and universities do connect with the district, I’m not sure our voice is an especially potent one with its various leadership groups.


  1. 1 From Movie Clips to Leadership to Scholarship to Stewardship « The Marquette Educator Trackback on July 19, 2010 at 1:35 am
  2. 2 New Hope for MPS: Welcome to MU, Dr. Thornton « The Marquette Educator Trackback on October 11, 2010 at 7:03 am

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