MILWAUKEE -- Spend any time with the new Milwaukee Public Schools superintendent and you’ll hear a few phrases repeated quite often.
“OK, let’s get rolling,” is one of them. Dr. Keith Posley doesn’t like to waste time. The second one isn’t so much a phrase as it is a mission statement in the form of a question. “So, how are the children?”
"How are the children" is an old African phrase translated to English that speaks of a community’s commitment to its young.
FOX6 was allowed to sit in on a staff meeting where a portion was spent briefing members on a state report card that showed what the district called "modest" improvements. It was a report that didn’t tell Posley’s team anything they didn’t already know, especially the part about chronic absenteeism.
Just a few months into his official two-year term, the new superintendent seeks out the small details on everything from snow day planning to test score improvements. But there are some things you just can’t read in a report, which is why Posley makes sure to stop in as many schools in his jurisdiction that he can.
“Every time I walk in, I’m looking for things I want to see for young people,” said Posley while visiting Gwen T. Jackson Elementary School. “The key thing is all the children are well and our staff get what they need.”
Aside from the obvious, there are reasons Posley would like to see this particular school do well. It’s in the heart of the 53206 ZIP code – Milwaukee’s poorest, toughest and also most-lacking in hope.
“Once we can make a difference here, we can do it in all the ZIP codes in Milwaukee,” said Posley. “The work in the areas of math, reading and writing is the same in all 160 schools.”
“I understand where the young people in this city come from,” said Posley. “I know what the golden opportunity of poverty is because I lived there.”
The seventh of 10 children raised by a single mother who had only a sixth-grade education, she demanded her kids stay in school, but unfortunately, didn’t live to see their successes.
“My mother passed when I was 15 years old,” said Posley. “Never even saw a high school graduation. Never saw a graduation at all.”
Once a pretty good athlete, Posley finds refuge a few nights a week at an area YMCA. He can’t resist the urge to check his phone or send an email.
“My biggest challenge is making sure young people get to school every day, on time and ready for learning,” said Posley.
No one knows what is needed to improve MPS more than the man who grew up professionally in it. From teacher, to assistant principal, to principal, to serving other superintendents, Posley has been preparing for his chance to lead.
“What I want to say when I walk away from this job is 'I made sure that children in the city of Milwaukee have a foundation in math, reading and writing, and they are ready to go forward to do great things,'” said Posley.
At Milwaukee School of Languages, Posley visited math, biology and German classes. He said he's confident these students will be well-prepared for jobs that may not even exist yet. He said he liked what he saw -- especially full classrooms, as success starts there.
“Every time I have children in school on a daily basis, the children are doing well,” said Posley.