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‘Mixed emotions:’ Darienne Driver stepping down as superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools

Darienne Driver

MILWAUKEE — Darienne Driver is stepping down as superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) to take on the job of president and CEO for United Way for Southeastern Michigan. Her last day at MPS will be July 6.

Driver said she’s going back to where it all began — Detroit, where she started her career as an elementary school teacher.

“It is with mixed emotions that I share with you my appointment today as the President and CEO of the United Way of Southeastern Michigan. My last day as Superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools is July 6, 2018. This is a once-in-a lifetime opportunity to use the power of collective impact and equity to improve the lives of young people, their families and the communities in which they live,” said Driver in a statement.

Dr. Darienne Driver

The next MPS superintendent will inherit a district that has seen improvements, but still had more than 40 failing schools in 2017. Driver noted in her statement that the district as a whole is no longer failing, making it ineligible for a state takeover.

Abby Andrietsch

Abby Andrietsch from education non-profit “Schools That Can Milwaukee” said Driver did admirable work in a difficult job.

“There are a lot of different people pulling on you in a lot of different ways,” said Andrietsch.

Schools That Can works with public, private, and charter schools. Andrietsch said Driver is unique in her willingness to partner with a variety of people and organizations.

“She not only reached out, but she reached out to unusual suspects to build those partnerships and to build those collaborations,” Andreitsch said.

Andrietsch said that includes working with business owners and even private schools on joint initiatives.

Dr. Darienne Driver, MPS Superintendent

“She was just a fabulous person to work with. She loves the kids in this city,” said Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

Barrett noted how MPS had improved its graduation and dropout rates last year while acknowledging the issues the district still faces.

“While we all know there are still plenty of challenges because of the poverty and the transient nature of kids who attend Milwaukee Public Schools, I think she has left her mark in the city in a very positive way,” said Barrett.

Kim Schroeder

Not every reaction was glowing, however. MTEA President Kim Schroeder said this in a statement from the teachers’ union:

“Dr. Driver announced her resignation weeks before she is expected to submit a proposed budget which will include some of the most harmful cuts to MPS students and educators since Act 10. We hope that Dr. Driver seriously considers a new direction and leaves a lasting legacy as the superintendent that honors students and educators.

We wish her well in her endeavors and hope that the MPS School Board will help select a new superintendent who will unapologetically stand with our students, community, and educators and fight for the public schools our students deserve.”

Driver’s successor will find MPS with improved graduation and dropout rates, but also with 46 schools that failed to meet expectations in 2017 — more than a third of the state’s failing schools.

Darienne Driver, MPS Superintendent

Below is Driver’s complete letter to parents of students, announcing her resignation:

“It is with mixed emotions that I share with you my appointment today as the President and CEO of the United Way of Southeastern Michigan. My last day as Superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools is July 6, 2018. This is a once-in-a lifetime opportunity to use the power of collective impact and equity to improve the lives of young people, their families and the communities in which they live.

Many of you may not know of the work I have been engaged in for the last four years with the United Way of Greater Milwaukee and Waukesha County. In addition to serving on the Board of Directors, I chair the volunteer engagement committee and serve as the Season of Caring Champion for Volunteer Engagement in the Campaign Cabinet. I am excited to return to Detroit, where I began my professional career as a teacher, and to play a role in the rebirth of this great American city.

But it is a bittersweet moment; I have great admiration for so many of you and am proud of the accomplishments we achieved together since my arrival to Milwaukee in 2012 as the district’s first Chief Innovation Officer. Our work encompasses a relentless focus on equity and inclusion, building positive relationships and partnerships to improve outcomes for our young people.

I am proud of the many achievements we made together that are improving the lives of our children:

  • In 2016, the district moved into a higher performance category on the state report card, thus making us ineligible for OSPP to this day
  • We developed a strategic plan known as the Eight Big Ideas and a district-wide problem of practice that focuses on equity and will improve student achievement, strengthen community partnerships and guide resource allocation into the next decade
  • We partnered with the Panasonic Foundation in 2014 and established new procedures for the superintendent’s evaluation, conducting instructional rounds in schools and launching the MPS Way – our district culture and climate framework
  • We adopted and implemented a series of student-centered resolutions that improve safety, promote equity and advocacy and recognizes the human rights of all through gender inclusivity, expanding bilingual programming, introducing an ethnic studies curriculum in response to the Black Lives Matter movement and protecting the rights of undocumented students in our schools
  • Early Literacy scores continue to improve, with 4 percent gains over the previous year
  • The new Office of Black and Latino Male Achievement is beginning its work, including the launching of manhood academies, mentor luncheons and culturally responsive teaching practices
  • College & Career Centers grew from two off-site locations to full centers in 20 high schools. FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) increased from 49 percent to 72 percent of graduating seniors completing the application in just three years
  • The four-year graduation rate is steadily increasing and is now at 62.5 percent. There has also been a 10 percent increase in the number of students promoted to 10th grade
  • Scholarships for graduating seniors increased more than three-fold over five years, from $17 million for the Class of 2012 to more than $63 million for the Class of 2017
  • Nearly one in every four MPS high school students is taking Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate classes, thanks in part to the expansion of AP class availability via Telepresence
  • World language is now a graduation requirement and the seal of bi-literacy is now offered for high school students, helping our students become better prepared for a global society
  • Student Summer School participation climbed 27.5 percent. This allowed 241 more students to graduate post summer school last year. The early start calendar and J-Term will offer opportunities for even more students to graduate in the coming years
  • The reconstituted MPS Foundation is thriving, with close to $2 million raised in 2017, a 100% increase over prior years
  • MPS CARES and Twilight Centers give youth a safe place to gather after the civil unrest of August 2016. Seven centers are in place, serving an average of nearly 700 students nightly
  • MPS Drive has helped nearly 3,000 students in just two years receive free driving instruction. Ninety-seven percent of students earned their learner’s permit and over 600 are now licensed drivers, opening gateways to jobs and educational opportunities
  • We have successfully launched alumni engagement programming, a volunteer portal and a partnership/adopt-a-school directory to increase community engagement across all schools
  • High quality, high demand programs were expanded over the past four years through our regional development strategy including IB, Montessori, language immersion, dual language, urban agriculture and culinary arts
  • Total grant dollars received increased from $21 million to $36 million since 2014, including the Choice Neighborhood grant in partnership with the Housing Authority, Silver Spring Neighborhood Center, Johnson Controls and the Milwaukee Bucks
  • We strengthened our fundraising strategies, hosting a gala to support culinary arts and an alumni dinner that raised over $300,000 in resources for our students and programs
  • MPS is a national model for collective impact. On average, we bring $20 million in resources to schools participating in the following programs: GE Demonstration Schools, 5-n-1 collaborative, Community Schools, Turnaround Arts, Milwaukee Succeeds, Milwaukee Partnership Schools, UNSIL schools, ProStart culinary arts program, Success Mentors and the M3 Initiative with MATC and UWM

While these are accomplishments we share as a district, I know these successes are rooted in the hard work of our educators and students; the dedication and determination of families to help their children excel; and the generosity of our volunteers, community organizations and business partners.

Our students are remarkable, resilient and brilliant. But they are also fragile and depend on us more than we know for guidance, support and approval. I am in awe of what they accomplish, inspired by their focus, and both saddened and heartened by what they endure without giving up.

In the weeks and months to come, there is still plenty of work to do. We continue to work on a proposed FY19 budget to present to the Milwaukee Board of School Directors; prom season, graduations and promotion ceremonies that will be milestone events for our children will unfold in the weeks to come; and we’re all getting ready for the All-City Arts Festival at the Henry Maier Festival Park with the Summerfest Foundation, Inc. next month.”

MPS Superintendent Darienne Driver

Mark Sain

MPS Board President Mark Sain issued the following statement:

I want to acknowledge the many contributions Dr. Driver has made not only to MPS but to the City of Milwaukee and the entire state of Wisconsin.

Since coming to Milwaukee as the district’s first Chief Innovation Officer, she has engaged partners and stakeholders, building much-needed relationships with a variety of groups and organizations.

Dr. Driver is a professional who cares deeply about the children of Milwaukee. She has dedicated her professional life to making sure young people are prepared for success after they graduate from high school. She has a passion for collective impact as a means to create opportunities and equity for all our students.

I wish her the very best. Her efforts have advanced the district to a better place as we continue to move forward to improve outcomes for all young people.”

Driver became superintendent of MPS in October 2014.

Milwaukee Public Schools