An MPS Teacher’s Open Letter to Chris Abele

Mr. Abele,

Dr. Means has publicly stated that MPS needs to be gutted; in other words, destroyed. I invite him to start with my classroom, which is located in one of the 53 buildings that has been made available for takeover by the state legislature.

I’m happy to take home my classroom library of 5oo plus books and all the other teaching materials that I have purchased. I’ll also remove everything else purchased with my own money: classroom sets of scissors, markers, colored pencils, glue, and dry erase markers; staplers, paper clips, tape, Post-it notes and pencil sharpeners; cleaning supplies; science lab materials; Kleenex and first aid supplies. That leaves you with a Smartboard purchased with Title III funds, a 5 year old desktop computer, an 8 year old laptop, student tables and chairs, a filing cabinet marked “University of Wisconsin 1921” and a teacher’s desk held together with duct tape in school colors. Oh, wait – the duct tape is mine, let me remove that.

Now that the room has been gutted of materials, let’s move on to the elephant in the room – me. Despite working an average of 65 hours per work, I must not be doing enough or doing it well enough. I am licensed in K-8 bilingual education and have 14 years of teaching experience. There is a dire shortage of bilingual teachers in our district; it is so bad that MPS is recruiting abroad. Landing a new job in a new district will not be a problem. I’ve even heard that there are districts where class sizes are lower than 34.

The law allows you to replace me with an unlicensed “teacher”. Would you go to an unlicensed doctor? Allow an unlicensed electrician to wire your house? Hire an unlicensed lawyer to represent you? Being poor does not mean our families deserve substandard services.

The only thing left to gut is the soul of MPS – the students. 27% of my students receive special education services, 60% are English language learners, and some fall in both categories. While it takes ELLs a year or so to acquire conversational English, it takes many years for them to acquire academic English. Neither of these groups is good for high standardized test scores, so Dr. Means will have to gut them. He can send them to another teacher in another building – one you are not taking over – to deal with the problem. That leaves just a handful of 13 year olds who have other issues that directly affect their learning. Who would be next on your list – the one who stays after school every day until 6:30 because school is safer than home, the one whose family is doubled up in their cousin’s apartment, the one whose parent is incarcerated, the one who has a seriously physically ill mother, or the one who suffers from untreated mental illness? Is Dr. Means going to counsel them out of my school to turn it around, thus overburdening my colleagues across town with those additional challenges? You can “gut” the students who can’t help you look good on test scores but these students will just go to another school or drop out because changing schools too many times is too tough to do in poverty.

All of the students in MPS have something in common – they live in a community marked by devastating poverty, the highest rate of male African-American incarceration in the nation, institutionalized discrimination and a public school system that has already been financially decimated by charter schools. Until Milwaukee seriously and systematically addresses all of these issues, no amount of gutting will bring about the changes that you and Dr. Means are dreaming about.

Instead of making inane comments that only serve to continue to oppress our most marginalized families, why don’t you do something constructive to help rebuild our community. Just this week the New York Times reported on Stanford’s Center for Education Policy Analysis findings between academic achievement and socioeconomic status. “Children in the school districts with the highest concentrations of poverty score an average of more than four grade levels below children in the richest districts.”
Dr. Means, as a superintendent of a well-resourced district, should have some connections. Perhaps you two could write grants or even set up a partnership program between Mequon and Milwaukee where we could share resources. Perhaps you two could facilitate donations. Money, when it is used to give students in poverty the same services and benefits that students in Mequon have, can solve problems. Also, you should work on getting family sustaining jobs in the 53212, 53202, 53204, 53205, 53206, 53210, 53216, 53208 and 53215 areas. Whatever your family needs to sustain itself is what the families of my students need to sustain themselves. Until poverty is addressed, you will simply be concentrating poverty in whatever schools remain open.

I challenge you to take over and gut what is really affecting MPS – poverty, institutionalized racism, the excessive rate of male African-American incarceration, and the charter school system which drains urgently needed resources away from our most vulnerable populations.
Sincerely,
Jennifer Engel
MPS educator and parent

Here’s what you can do right now to help.

 

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One thought on “An MPS Teacher’s Open Letter to Chris Abele

  1. Jennifer Engel, Your letter is so very well written. If I could afford it, I would put it on the front page of every major newspaper in this country. You are one of our country’s finest teachers. You are a teacher not for the chosen few. You work tirelessly for the American Dream which has always been a better life for our children through education. I’m praying that those children who need you so much will not lose you.

    Like

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