Why Thornton Is Leaving MPS
It's all about moving back home, not about frustration with Milwaukee.
I was browsing through the exhibit hall at the national school board convention, picking up ink pens and magnetic refrigerator clips, when Gary Ray grabbed me.
“I just want you to know we didn’t recruit Gregory Thornton.”
Gary Ray is president of Ray and Associates, one of the top search companies for school superintendents. His company conducted the search and recruited Gregory Thornton for Milwaukee Public Schools. Ray did the same in Baltimore that recently hired Thornton away from Milwaukee.
Ray is sensitive to the possible allegation that his firm helps to place superintendents in one school district only to steal them away for other districts a few years later.
No, said Ray, Thornton applied for Baltimore on his own. According to Ray, one of the Baltimore school board members heard Thornton speak at a conference of Great City Schools and encouraged Thornton to apply.
Of course, Thornton has every reason not to trash his relationship with the Milwaukee board. When we previously considered candidates for superintendent, board members were turned off by one candidate who spend half his time telling us how terrible his present school board was. What would he say about us once he was hired?
And of course, Gary Ray is going to tell me that he didn’t recruit Thornton and throw compliments towards the Milwaukee board. After all, Ray would like to be the firm that again helps conduct the search for another Milwaukee superintendent.
However, Milwaukee School Board President Michael Bonds and I had an opportunity to have lunch with two members of the Baltimore school board while we were at the convention. Baltimore School Board Vice Chair David Stone pretty much confirmed Ray’s story. Thornton praised the Milwaukee board and was the only candidate who told Baltimore board members they were free to contact members of his present board and ask their opinion of him.
Milwaukee journalist Alan Borsuk has suggested that Thornton had major frustrations working with the present Milwaukee school board and that could have played as a factor in his leaving, but Borsuk offers little evidence that Thornton’s reason for leaving Milwaukee involved anything other than his desire to return to the East Coast.
Thornton never made it a secret of his desire to return to his hometown of Philadelphia where he still owns a home. He never purchased a residence in Milwaukee, instead renting an apartment northeast of Downtown. However, his move to Milwaukee came during the real estate bust, which may also have been a factor.
He did apply over a year ago to a superintendent position in Prince George’s County, Maryland, just outside of Washington, DC, although he claims that they sought him out, rather than the other way around. But he still had to apply and submit a resume.
Baltimore is only an hour and half drive to Philadelphia. Thornton pretty much is going home.
Terry Falk is a Milwaukee School Board member.
For another take on Thornton, see Murphy’s Law: Why Did Thornton Leave?