In only three months, new Milwaukee Public Schools Superintendent Gregory Thornton has introduced students and teachers in the system to a future of change. Whether it will be a longer school week or new teaching contracts, Thornton is dedicated to taking action and improving the city’s schools.
As the most recent guest of the “On the Issues” series presented by Mike Gousha, distinguished fellow in law and public policy at the Law School, Thornton referenced the progress already made since becoming superintendent in July.
An agreement with the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association reached at the beginning of the month serves as the first ever four-year contract between the two. It includes concessions on health benefits projected to save MPS up to $50 million in the next two years.
Kristin Collett, communications manager for the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, said the contract is beneficial to both sides. Teachers will have the opportunity to earn salary advancing credits by attending professional development programs.
Responding to Gousha’s question of why the teachers’ union decided to make an agreement, Thornton said the driving force was motivation to do what was best for the kids.
“The union and I are in total agreement,” Thornton said. “The kids have to win.”
Collett said Thornton’s administration is the first to understand the necessity of collaboration with the union.
“They have shown a great effort to work with us,” Collett said. “All of us in the union like to say we’re ‘guardedly optimistic’… we like what we’ve seen.”
Thornton said fundamental changes are necessary. One suggestion was potentially extending the school day or adding a sixth day to the schedule.
“I don’t have to convince people we need to move forward,” Thornton said. “We’re the fourth poorest city, our employment and attendance rates are down … something needs to happen.”
He also plans to create a more standardized and uniform approach to schooling. MPS had 17 different textbook sets at one point, but Thornton is working to see the schools teach the same curriculum.
Bringing outside sources such as charter schools to Milwaukee is another possibility, but is not the only way he suggested the system could receive help. He said local universities can play a big role.
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a Marquette University partnership elementary school?” Thornton said. “That’s the direction I think we need to work toward and I commend Marquette for getting in the game.”
Academically, students in the College of Education spend time as TA’s at public schools. Organizations promote one of Marquette’s four pillars, service, through volunteer programs.
Amanda Banas, a sophomore in the College of Nursing, said she plans on reading to the students twice a week for the next two months.
“They enjoy everything and they’re so excited about school,” Banas said. “They literally grabbed the book out of my hands so they could read it themselves.