School leadership continues to churn at MPS

Lincoln Middle School is among the MPS schools in search of a new principal.

How do you know it’s spring?  Is it the birds, the crocuses (croci?), or March Madness?  No–it’s that the first list of next fall’s school principal vacancies is in the Milwaukee Public Schools is out.

Last year around this time, School Matters MKE’s own Bobby Tanzilo documented thoroughly the significant upheaval in school leadership positions around MPS (see here, for example), when nearly three dozen schools saw turnover in leadership.  Already this spring, nine schools need new principals, including one from last year’s list.

UPDATE:  MPS has dropped the listings from the “Career Opportunities” page now that the application deadline has past.  Here are the nine schools needing principals:  Audubon Middle and High School, Bay View Middle and High School, Bethune Academy, Elm Creative Arts, Fairview School, La Escuela Fratney, James Madison Academic Campus, Lincoln Center for the Arts Middle School, and Silver Spring School.

More changes may well be coming.  With a significant decrease expected in spending at central office for 2012-2013–I’ve heard from folks it could be as high as $7.5 million less–many qualified administrators will be looking for new positions in the district.  Two of the nine schools currently seeking principals are in MPS’s “Metro” region, the collection of low-performing schools that face extra scrutiny from the district and state, where turnover in leadership was high last year.  There will be more churn among that group before all is said and done, given state School Improvement Grant requirements and, frankly, the friction that has developed between many school leaders and MPS administration over how those schools are run.

Last year much of the turnover was attributable to retirements, as changes to public education in Wisconsin pushed many veteran leaders out the door.  As we have already seen among teachers, MPS is expecting retirements to be higher than normal again this year–this will certainly affect school leadership as well.

These changes present both opportunity and challenge.  It is difficult to maintain long-term stability in a district where the average tenure of a principal at any given school is so short.  (Every day at Bay View, where I teach, I see portraits of old school principals who served 10 or 15 or more years at a stretch; the last several principals have lasted three years or less.)  But the still-new Superintendent Dr. Thornton is working on remaking this district into something more unified and cohesive–One Team, One Goal, One MPS reads the slogan–and by hand-picking large groups of new leaders for several years in a row, he can better control that process.

The nine positions currently open have application deadlines of this Friday, meaning MPS is on the ball about filling these early openings.  However, we know that it took until the end of July to get some administrators in place during last year’s leadership search, so expect many more months of leadership changes, and many more than nine schools seeking new principals.

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