Rally to Resist the MPS Takeover

County Executive Chris Abele continues to cooperate with a Takeover of Milwaukee Public Schools despite growing community outrage against it. We want our public schools to be publicly accountable and transparent to the taxpayers who fund them. All students have a right to a fully resourced public school, regardless of their zip code.

Join Schools and Communities United on Monday, June 20 at 2pm outside the Milwaukee County Courthouse to demand public community schools, not a takeover for Milwaukee.

Facebook event page is here.

Photo credit: Sue Pezanoski-Browne

Photo credit: Sue Pezanoski-Browne

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Group, Opposed to MPS Takeover, Delivers Letter to Mequon-Thiensville School Board

Parents, students, and community members read a letter written to Mequon's school board before Monday night's meeting.

Parents, students, and community members read a letter written to Mequon’s school board before Monday night’s meeting.

Milwaukee Public School parents, students, and community members made the trip from Milwaukee to attend Monday night’s Mequon-Thiensville School Board meeting to deliver a letter the board members.  The group wanted to register their outrage over a position the district’s superintendent, Demond Means, accepted as  an appointed commissioner to the lead the Takeover of MPS. The group stood behind MPS parent Ingrid Walker-Henry as she read the following statement before the board, while the rest of the group, that traveled from Milwaukee, stood behind her:

Dear Mequon-Thiensville School Board Members,

We come to you tonight as parents, students, educators, and community members who are concerned about your superintendent’s involvement in a plan that will harm the students in the Milwaukee Public School District.

Last November, County Executive, Chris Abele appointed Mequon-Thiensville Superintendent, Demond Means as the OSPP Takeover commissioner. As commissioner, Superintendent Means is leading the efforts to take away local control of our children’s schools.

As school board directors of Mequon-Thiensville, you are familiar with the issues concerning your students, and the community trusts you to make important decisions to ensure your students’ success.

What would you do if the superintendent of Mukwonago, Madison, or some other place came here and said they were taking over Homestead High School and turning it over to a private operator? What would you do if they told you, you would no longer have control over the curriculum and policies in that school, but you would still have to cover the administrative costs associated with running the school?

That is exactly what your Superintendent has been trying to do in Milwaukee.

As school board directors, you are fully aware that resourced public schools are desirable places to learn and are the best setting for every Wisconsin student to get off toward a great future. But, public schools need to have transparency and publicly elected leaders that can be held accountable by parents and educators.

Dr. Means is participating in a coordinated attack on public education in Wisconsin and undermining our communities’ democratic rights.

You know what’s best for Mequon-Thiensville kids and Milwaukee’s school board knows what’s best for Milwaukee’s kids.

We strongly urge you to use any influence you may have over your superintendent to keep Milwaukee Public Schools in the hands of our democratically elected school board.

Thank you.

A Special Delivery for the Mequon-Thiensville School Board from MTEA Union on Vimeo.

Riverside H.S. Staff Organizes to Oust Demond Means as Commencement Speaker

Riverside-victory

When Nick Dlapa, the union building representative for Riverside University High School found out that MPS Takeover Czar Demond Means was tabbed to be the school’s graduation commencement speaker, he immediately stepped up. He and other teachers in his building mobilized and pulled together a team to fight back. Next they met with the principal to voice their displeasure and threatened to start a petition. The blow back for the decision was so immediate and loud that school administration immediately reversed the decision. Means is a graduate of the school.

Nice work Riverside High School! As Means and Abele target their Takeover schools in the coming weeks staffs in other buildings can learn a lot from the solidarity and organization of the Riverside staff. Together we will defeat this take over of our schools, and maybe Demond Means and Chris Abele will begin to see that the people of Milwaukee want public Community Schools, not Takeovers.

Takeover Czar Demond Means presents his plan to take over MPS buildings to administration and the school board.

Here’s what you can do right now to help defeat the Means and Abele Takeover:

Gutted: The “future” of Milwaukee Public Schools

Takeover Czar Demond Means presents his plan to MPS administration and the school board.

Takeover Czar Demond Means presents his plan to start taking over MPS buildings to administration and the school board.

Written by Jamaal Smith

I remember growing up how much I enjoyed going to school every day. I can still remember my third grade teacher, Señora Rivera, greeting us every morning as we walked in the classroom at 55th Street School (now known as Milwaukee Spanish Immersion). I remember Mr. Stawicki taking the classroom by storm at Samuel Morse Middle School when he introduced “The Great PHEOC,” a character he made a reality when we were discussing the scientific method in science class. Finally, I will always be indebted to Mrs. O’Keefe-Boetcher, who helped me through difficult times emotionally during my senior year at John Marshall High School and pushed me to become a strong writer. There were many more experiences that I could name, but the common denominator of these experiences is that they occurred in Milwaukee Public Schools.

Like many MPS students, I did not grow up with a silver spoon in my mouth. I was raised in the 53206 zip code and looked poverty, violence, crime, disenfranchisement, and resource deprivation in the face every day. However, the feeling I had when I walked through the doors of each MPS school I attended will always be cherished and appreciated. These types of feelings and experiences are what Dr. Demond Means, Mequon-Theinsville Schools Superintendent and the Takeover plan, would deny nearly 80,000 students across the city of Milwaukee, with nearly 90 percent of the affected population being students of color. In a city labeled the most segregated in the United States, any policy that exacerbates inequality contributes to worsening segregation.

In addition to being the most segregated city, Milwaukee is one of the poorest cities in the nation with the highest rate of Black male incarceration, Black-White achievement gap, Black male unemployment, and Black female evictions across the state. With over 80 percent of the students within Milwaukee Public Schools living in poverty, they are forced to deal with the strenuous difficulties of instability, malnourishment, and neglect. And let’s not forget the rising homicide rate that has left many students traumatized and in need of care. Students feel lost and hopeless with no direction. For many, MPS schools have become a safe haven to be free of their precarious home environment.

In spite of these circumstances, County Executive Chris Abele and his school takeover Czar, Demond Means, have decided to go along with the plans of conservative, suburban state legislators with a history of introducing racist legislation. Their plan will gut Milwaukee Public Schools, the largest school district in the state of Wisconsin, by converting it to the same type of takeover district that has produced disastrous results in cities like Detroit and New Orleans.

Chris Abele claimed during his campaign for county executive that he wanted to focus on the racial disparities that exist throughout Milwaukee County. Well, this attack on the future of students of color was a prime opportunity to do so. There is growing demand in Milwaukee for the implementation of the Community Schools model, with all of the holistic level benefits that it would provide for students and their families. Abele has mentioned to me personally how much he “loved” Community Schools. If that be the case, then why have we seen no effort from Abele to fight for the Community Schools model, to use it to transform MPS like it has transformed public schools in Cincinnati, OH, where the graduation rate has gone from 59 percent to 82 percent since its conversion to Community Schools? Why, when we have this proven model, are students of color treated like lab rats in failed school privatization experiments?

Let’s be clear, Means’ proposal to partner with the Chicago-based Acadamy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL) is alarming. If we follow down the same path as Chicago Public Schools, AUSL will remove our quality, licensed educators and replace them with young, inexperienced, unlicensed, unqualified babysitters who are not prepared to deal with the despair caused by socioeconomic ills prevalent in Milwaukee.

If Abele and Means are as concerned as they claim to be about our children, then they need to focus on models that have been proven to work, instead of gutting our public school system for the sake of another failed experiment. Until our elected officials begin to prioritize our children instead of their relationships with right-wing ideologues, our movement will continue to grow in militancy. Right now, students, parents, educators, and our allies are preparing to do whatever it takes to defend our schools.

 

Jamaal Smith speaks at a rally at the Milwaukee County Courthouse in favor of public Community Schools and against any MPS Takeover.

Jamaal Smith speaks at a rally at the Milwaukee County Courthouse in favor of public Community Schools and against any MPS Takeover.

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

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.

 

Chris Abele Continues to Change His Tune on MPS Takeover

Chris Abele now says, in a recent Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article, that he won’t take over any MPS schools as a part of the state directed public school Takeover. He only wants to provide support and wrap around services for MPS students and families. Last month, Abele’s appointed Takeover czar, Demond Means, told a crowded room at the Washington Park Senior Center that they planed to take over multiple buildings. A few months ago, Abele said he was going to take over only empty buildings.

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How many times does Abele get to rewrite the narrative on the MPS Takeover? How many times can he consult with his Republican friends who sponsored the Takeover and cut deals to give him cover during a hotly contested County Executive election? If Abele was to win the election, how many MPS schools would be threatened with takeover then?

 

The Takeover legislation specifically says at least one school falls victim this year. Abele says he talked to the legislators and they said he could ignore the Takeover program’s rules. He admits he will break the law and be supported by the same Republican legislators who created the law. Where does this chicanery end?

 

The Milwaukee community won’t be fooled by this trickery. These are our schools, our children, not some political football.

 

The Web We Weave When We Aim to Deceive from MTEA Union on Vimeo.

Please sign this petition demanding public community schools that have a proven record of success. We want community schools, not takeovers!