Heidi Ramirez, an urban educator and outspoken former Philadelphia School Reform Commission member, has been named the chief academic officer of Milwaukee Public Schools.

Ramirez, who currently heads the Urban Education Collaborative at Temple University, resigned from the commission last year after clashing with Superintendent Arlene Ackerman. She was known for asking tough questions of Ackerman and her staff.

Of Milwaukee, Ramirez said, "the opportunities are there for us to make changes in a big urban system. It needs all hands on deck and different voices to challenge and learn from each other."

Ramirez will receive $138,671 and will report directly to incoming Milwaukee Superintendent Gregory Thornton, who heads the Chester-Upland district. Thornton previously worked as chief academic officer in Philadelphia.

Thornton said he's gotten to know Ramirez through her Temple job, and he's been impressed.

"I would be foolish to not recommend her for this job," he said Tuesday. "She's very committed to urban education, and very passionate about the whole issue of youngsters in underserved areas."

Milwaukee, Wisconsin's largest school district, with 82,000 students, has lots of challenges in terms of students' literacy education, and Ramirez is well-positioned to help in that area, said Thornton, a graduate of Overbrook High School.

Her time on the commission is also a plus, he said.

"I think Philly positions her well to understand both the governance perspective as well as a practitioner's perspective," he said.

Ramirez, who has a Ph.D from Stanford University, has never worked for a school district directly but said the Milwaukee job was "exciting."

"I think that Milwaukee really understands and has a sense of urgency about school reform," she said. "I think being in a district that wants to learn and wants to help children learn can be powerful. It's not often enough that you have that combination."

Thornton starts July 1. Pending school board approval of the Milwaukee district's budget, Ramirez and Naomi P. Gubernick, Thornton's current chief of staff, would start the same day.

Gubernick would also work as chief of staff in Milwaukee and be paid $138,671.

Contact staff writer Kristen Graham at 215-854-5146 or kgraham@phillynews.com.