Mequon-Thiensville Superintendent Demond Means announced Wednesday that he is stepping down from his post as commissioner of the state-mandated MPS turnaround program, indicating the process has become too adversarial.
Wisconsin lawmakers created the Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program, or OSPP, during the 2015 legislative session. The law allowed Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele to appoint a commissioner to spearhead an initiative to improve failing MPS schools. Abele hired Means for the job last November.
The project has been mired in controversy since its inception. Public education advocates call the program a "takeover," and have voiced concerns about private charter organizations coming in to run Milwaukee's public schools.
On their part, Means and Abele have insisted they do not intend for the initiative to take away MPS jobs, funding or school board authority.
In a statement, Means said his heart "aches" for the families of Milwaukee, pointing out that while there are signs of positive collaboration for public education, he worries the needs of local kids are not not at the forefront of the conversation.
"Over the last several months, it has become clear to me that efforts to implement the Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program law will become increasingly adversarial at a time when adversity is the last thing our children need," Means writes.
"I made a promise when I volunteered for this position that I would not impose anything on Milwaukee Public Schools. It is now clear to me that as implementation of the law moves forward, the environment is not conducive to collaborative partnerships - something essential for positive things to happen in Milwaukee," Means continues.
Means' announcement took many in Milwaukee's education community by surprise.
County Executive Abele, who hired Means for the OSPP job, said in a statement that he accepted Means' resignation "with regret."
"I chose Dr. Means for this role because he shares my commitment to strong public schools and to improving outcomes for Milwaukee's kids, families, and communities," Abele said. "I appreciate Demond's service over the past six months and know he will remain an advocate for helping kids succeed in our public schools."
MPS superintendent Darienne Driver also recognized Means' service to the MPS community, and vowed to push ahead.
"We continue to build partnerships and work collaboratively with our school communities to provide academic opportunities and improve the academic performance for the children of our community," Driver said in a statement.
Kim Schroeder, president of the Milwaukee teacher's union MTEA, called Means' resignation a "victory for parents, students and community members."
"We hope that Means' resignation leads to swift and serious action among state legislators to fully support the students of MPS with adequate funding to provide our students with the resources they deserve," Schroeder said in a statement.
Both of the lawmakers involved in creating the OSPP legislation shared reactions of their own to Means' announcement.
"I greatly appreciate [Means] stepping up to the plate to make underperforming Milwaukee Public Schools as successful as the schools in the district he currently leads," said Rep. Dale Kooyenga, R-Brookfield. "It is unfortunate that the powers of the status quo were so resistant to working with a man who cares so deeply and has so much to give to the educational community in Wisconsin."
Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, also expressed her dismay . She added that it is now up to County Executive Abele to hire Means' replacement as soon as possible.
"We have to look at why it took a year to get to this point," Darling says. "That was a very disappointing outcome to our legislation. But we’re going forward with this project, because we’re not going to abandon these students."
The future of the OSPP is still uncertain.
MPS leaders met with County Executive Abele last week, after the two camps presented conflicting ideas for moving forward, but concrete plans for the program's design and implementation have yet to be released.
This story will be updated.