Milwaukee Public Schools’ New Chief Academic Officer

Alan Borsuk

Heidi Ramirez does not drink alcohol, except for one shot a year of bourbon in honor of President Harry Truman.
Truman, she says, was a great president, and he had a shot of bourbon every day. But obviously that’s not the whole story.
Ramirez grew up in a large, low-income family in Amsterdam, a small city northwest of Albany, N.Y. She made it to Syracuse University, and won a prestigious Truman Scholarship, a program that is aimed at college juniors “with exceptional leadership potential” and an interest in public service.
So, a toast once a year to Truman. The scholarship paved the way for her to go on to Harvard, Stanford and jobs in which she worked with some of the most influential people in American education.
And then she came to Milwaukee, where, at 36 and with no experience teaching or administering a school, she immediately became one of the most influential people on the local education scene. She is chief academic officer of Milwaukee Public Schools, one of several outsiders brought into MPS this summer by new Superintendent Gregory Thornton.
If MPS’ education problems could be solved by personal energy, we already would have everything licked. Thornton is an energetic person and Ramirez, if anything, surpasses him. She is so hard-driving, yet cheerful about what she is doing, that some people tell her she sounds giddy about her job. “I really am,” she admits. “I feel so incredibly blessed to be part of the work. . . .  I get to do work that I love and that I think really matters.”