MILWAUKEE -- Dr. Darienne Driver is stepping down as superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools, the school district confirmed Tuesday.
Driver has been named as the CEO of the United Way for Southeastern Michigan. She will continue to serve as MPS superintendent until July.
"This opportunity just seemed like a natural fit, to go back to the city where I got started," Driver told Newsradio WTMJ. She added she is going back to her previous hometown for a new job.
Driver began her education career as an elementary school teacher in a Detroit public school.
She was appointed Superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools in October 2014.
"It's very difficult. I've been in Milwaukee for six years. We've done really great things together here," she said on Newsradio WTMJ's "Wisconsin's Afternoon News," stopping as she was moved to emotion.
"You build community and professionally. Anytime you have an opportunity to touch children's lives and be enriched by their lives as well, it's very hard to walk away from."
What challenges still remain for Milwaukee's schools? Many, she said, prioritizing two.
"The gaps that we have in our student achievement data. If you're looking at the progress we're making in reading and mathematics, we still have a long way to go," Driver told Newsradio WTMJ.
"We're plagued by the challenges we have in housing in Milwaukee...we have more than 3,500 students who are homeless. When you think about all the impact of trauma and poverty and how that affects their learning, much more is needed to support our young people and their families."
Driver sent a letter to parents this morning regarding her new career change. You can read that letter, here.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett called Driver's departure a great loss for the city.
"The Milwaukee Public Schools really benefited by having her here and she loves the kids in this city and did everything she could to improve education in the Milwaukee public schools and had some successes," he said. "Early literacy rates are up, the high school graduation rates are up, the summer school attendance numbers are up."
The district is now looking for a replacement. It's unclear at this time how the hiring process will work.
"It’s a challenging job and nobody disputes the fact that it’s a challenging job but she really did a good job in a really challenging environment," Barrett said.
The Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association President Kim Schroeder released the following statement Tuesday:
“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.”
MPS Board President Mark Sain released his own statement following the news of Driver's impending departure:
"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."
Parents of MPS students had mixed emotions about Driver's departure.
"These kids need a strong role model they need someone that’s a constant in their life," said Kristin West, a parent of MPS students.
"It doesn’t shock me at all. There’s a lot of trouble at MPS we’ve been having and it just takes a person that can do the job and so far she hasn’t been able to," said Kristin Illemann, whose child is an MPS student.
"What is the answer? I don’t really know. But when I have to teach them more than what they’re getting out of the school system, you tell me what’s wrong," said Tom Uyehara, a grandparent of MPS students.