MILWAUKEE -- After nearly six years with Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) -- four as Superintendent -- Darienne Driver is no longer the head of Wisconsin's largest and most challenging school district. Before departing for her new job in Detroit, Michigan with United Way, she granted only one television interview with FOX6 News.
Here are FOX6's Ben Handelman's five takeaways from their exclusive conversation:
1.) Driver believes Governor Walker's plan to split the district up will create segregated schools.
Calling it a "moral imperative," Governor Scott Walker believes MPS must be turned around -- hinting state intervention may be necessary. While saying he does not have a specific proposal yet, one idea floated by Governor Walker is to break MPS into smaller districts, possibly as many as 12.
Driver said the idea is a bad one.
"This has come up before in the past. If you really look at the history of the school system, where people have talked about splitting up the school system, with the segregation challenges that we have, you would end up creating systems where all the students are of the same race and of the same class. I think that’s a danger. Diversity is our greatest strength," said Driver.
2.) Big changes are ahead for MPS.
Milwaukee Public Schools will not survive if there are not drastic changes, according to Driver.
"To some extent, there are going to be big changes every year, but I do think the way the district has been operating is going to have to fundamentally change in order to ensure a long-term stability and sustainability for the system and the schools," Driver said.
Driver's administration is in the process of passing a budget that must fill a more than $30 million budget deficit for next year. However, the challenge may pale in comparison to what the district could face in years to come. Current projections show in five years, if changes are not made, MPS could face a $177 million budget hole.
"This is really something we have to be thinking about long-term," said Driver.
Driver does not believe the state is providing enough funding for public schools, but also said changes need be made within the district on how money is spent.
"I don't think this is an either/or. I really do think money is a problem. It's been a problem for quite some time, and we have to be willing to make some tough decisions and be strategic with the partnerships that we have," said Driver.
3.) What keeps Driver up at night? The city's achievement gap.
Driver was first hired at MPS as the district's first chief innovation officer. Part of her role was to find ways to close the city's drastic differences in results between minority students and their white peers. As she departs as superintendent, the gap remains drastically wide.
For example, results from 2017 show 41 percent of fourth-grade students who are white scored at or above proficiency compared with just seven percent of their peers who are black.
Driver admitted the numbers do not sit well with her.
"I would say something that still keeps me up at night -- it’s definitely our achievement gap that we have not been able to permeate. We do have an office now of black and Latino male achievement because we have seen that’s definitely our student group regardless of what the indicator is, so if you’re looking at suspensions, attendance, reading and math proficiency across all grade levels, that is perpetually the group that is in the bottom, and if we can figure out how help improve outcomes for our black and Latino males, we really improve our outcomes across the system," said Driver.
Driver said she believes one area that needs tackling is getting parents involved.
"I think parent involvement is usually seen as an afterthought. It’s something that is set on the side. Our parents have to be front and center in the work that is happening," said Driver.
Driver said the district needs to think of new strategies to engage not just students, but their parents.
"We've got to figure out how we make learning 24/7, so we’ve done a lot to try and bring our families in, but we also have to think differently about how we push out to our families and make sure they have a lot of the strategies at home that would help continue that learning," said Driver.
4.) Driver did not want to leave on May 20.
Driver is leaving to take a job in Detroit, Michigan with United Way. She was planning on staying through the end of the school year, however the Milwaukee Public Schools' Board of School Directors wanted her out as soon as possible.
Driver said she's not happy with her end date, saying she is disappointed in the way her exit was handled.
"I announced I was leaving and I gave 90 days notice that I would be leaving on July 6, and I found out through a press release there was going to be an interim superintendent on May 21, so that was disappointing just simply for the distraction that it caused. This is celebration times in our schools. It’s prom. It’s celebration, ceremonies. We just had our Year of the Arts Festival. I just thought it was really unfortunate and somewhat of a distraction from what we really should be focusing on with our young people" said Driver.
Below is her response when asked if she was hurt by the board:
"Disappointed, definitely. No one wants to not finish what they start and the end of the school year is just a few weeks out," said Driver.
5.) Driver believes we all need to do a better job of working together.
Driver departs amid talks of a possible teacher strike, threats of a state takeover, budget cuts and poor test scores. Driver said the district will never be turned around if there is not cooperation from everyone who has a stake in education.
"Unfortunately I think there is a lot of energy that is trying to separate everyone -- pitting different people together, but if we want a better Wisconsin, we've got to find the common ground. If there is anything I am leaving here with, it’s just the importance of the people finding common ground, not through Facebook posts and videos, but actual face-to-face conversation and communication and not letting go with what we have already started that we have seen work. Then remember what that felt like to bring people together, to see outcomes change for kids and see those strategies and continue to apply them," said Driver.
Driver said everyone has a role in creating a successful school district and the blame should not be passed on to others.
"If you look at school districts around the country that have had success, long-term success, it’s because communities, state, local, county all got together and said 'we’re going to make this school businesses better. We've got to figure it out together.' It’s not going to be pretty, but there’s common ground somewhere and stay really focused on that goal and move forward," said Driver.
Driver said as she leaves, more students are graduating, early literacy rates are improving and students have access to more advanced classes and extracurricular opportunities. She said she loves all 76,000 children as if they were her own.
"There is so much to celebrate and those are the things that I will really be able to hold onto for a lifetime," said Driver.
Keith Posely, a current Milwaukee Public Schools' administrator has signed a one-year interim superintendent contract with the district. His first day is Monday, May 21.