New MPS Superintendent Launches Charm Offensive

MacIver News Service | July 29, 2010

[Milwaukee, Wisc…] With a proclamation that student performance was the only rubric that mattered, an optimistic Dr. Gregory Thornton addressed questions Wednesday night regarding his new post as Superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools.

The veteran administrator pointed to his experience in choice programs and major cities as a major influence on his decision to take the position in Milwaukee. “One of the attractions to Milwaukee was choice. I wanted the zip code not to be the driving factor as to determine whether or not a kid was successful,” said Thornton, whose past experience as Chief Academic Officer in Philadelphia aligned him with the state’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit, a program similar to Milwaukee’s Parental Choice Program. “In this financial crisis that we’re in, the choices that are not good, I need to get them off the menu.”

Thornton, just 20 days into the job, spoke to a packed room at the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce and discussed the schools’ current problems, as well as his efforts in the battle to bring better educations to local students. 

Thornton initially addressed that he had to “face the brutal facts” of poor reading skills amongst students, economic struggles, and declining populations immediately in his new post. However, with a hand picked staff, the former administrator with experience in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and North Carolina, expressed hope that Milwaukee’s embattled public schools could be turned around. With students as the “hub of the wheel” of education, Thornton laid out three key targets in his mission of reform; student achievement, efficient operation, and student retention.

A common theme of the night was tying the community back into the city’s public schools, as local business and educational leaders often questioned the school system’s current place in the everyday lives of Milwaukeeans. Citing a need for greater community buy-in, Thornton touched on programs that he plans to institute, including an “Under-credentialed, over-aged” program for continuing education to combat high school drop-outs, an increased emphasis on community members filling roles in a more complete curriculum to produce more well rounded and capable students, and sweeping improvements in the lowest-performing public academies in order to help change public perception and bring recognition to the hardest working educators.

When asked if the public would continue to be subjected to a ‘we can’t afford to do this’ line of thought when it came to school reforms, Thornton responded simply “We’re going to hear ‘we can’t afford not to do this’.”

Before leaving, Thornton appealed to the community a final time.

“We have to stop looking at the past and start looking forward as a community for the children. I can’t do this without you. It takes all of us,” Thornton said.