BizTimes Editor Blames the Victims in Milwaukee

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Milwaukee BizTimes editor, Andrew Weiland recently wrote an editorial called, “Superman! Where are you?” In the piece he questions why the Milwaukee Common Council is refusing to approve the reappointment of Department of City Development (DCD) Commissioner Richard “Rocky” Marcoux. Weiland argues that Marcoux should be reappointed because of the rapid development in downtown Milwaukee, while the Milwaukee Common Council argues that this development has been disproportional to the development of low-income neighborhoods that are suffering. South Side Alderman Tony Zielinski had this to say about the performance of Marcoux:

When I hear statements to the effect of what a great job is taking place (by Marcoux), I just have to stand up and say, you’ve got to be kidding. We have, if not the highest, one of the highest African-American male unemployment rates in the country. What has been advanced to address that issue in 12 years? You talk about development…look at the central city. What kind of development have we seen in the central city in the last 12 years? With the development we have had, it’s been downtown. Instead of addressing those most in need in our community, we are focusing on other areas, and we are not even doing a good job at that.”

Zielinski is absolutely correct! Milwaukee needs a balanced approach to development in Milwaukee and not just a “market-driven” approach as Weiland suggests. The market has ignored these communities and Weiland, who lives in Muskego, does not care for these families, who also would like to see DCD paying attention to their neighborhoods, and not just catering to the needs of wealthy developers downtown.

Next, Weiland had the gall to blame the city’s lack of economic development and jobs on Milwaukee Public Schools:

The lack of economic development in the central city is also market-driven. The high violent crime rate, poverty and poor performance of Milwaukee Public Schools creates an environment the marketplace wants to avoid. The DCD can’t change that fact.

MPS didn’t defund itself. So if the economy is failing you can’t blame it on a school district that has been attacked and defunded for decades.

Just fifteen years ago…high-poverty (MPS) schools were fully staffed with librarians, guidance counselors, full-time reading specialists, art, music and physical education specialists, program implementers, technology teachers, paraprofessionals, special education teachers, nurses, social workers, psychologists, speech pathologists, and classroom teachers with small classes that allowed them to provide plenty of individual attention to children.

These same positions have been stripped out of MPS year by year, but Weiland, whose home district of Muskego still enjoys many of the positions MPS has seen cut, somehow thinks he  knows what’s best for Milwaukee.  It’s the same kind of hypocrisy we’ve seen from MPS Takeover co-authors Rep. Dale Kooyenga and Sen. Alberta Darling, who blame MPS for not getting higher test scores, while at the same time presiding over a state budget that allocates more money per pupil for their own students than MPS.  They claim to want to “help” our students, but their actions speak louder than their words.

We don’t want the “help” of Rocky Marcoux, Dale Kooyenga, Alberta Darling, Andrew Weiland, or his “market-driven” approach to economic development in Milwaukee, because we’ve seen what their idea of help amounts to in practice. It’s good to see the Common Council taking a different approach.

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Biased Author of City’s “MPS Impact Statement” Revealed

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Marva Herndon and Larry Hoffman testify on behalf of Schools and Communities United before the Milwaukee Common Council’s Steering & Rules Committee.

The fox was let into the henhouse.

Charter schools that aren’t part of a public school district can pose a great risk because the funding diverted to them can eventually bring down the district. The Milwaukee Common Council recently passed an ordinance that requires the city’s Charter School Review Committee (CSRC) to produce an Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) financial impact statement for any new charter school they authorize for approval.

The Next Door Foundation school recently applied for a city charter under this new policy.

CSRC staffer Jarett Fields was tasked with the responsibility of researching and writing the very first impact statement to help inform the committee members before making their decision. Fields, who at the time was employed by Marquette’s Institute for Transformational Learning, presented it at the April 4 meeting of the CSRC. Fields’s statement and verbal explanation of it seemed to deliberately minimize the effects the new charter would have on MPS.

The CSRC voted to approve the new charter school and recommend it to the Common Council’s Steering and Rules Committee, which has oversight over the CSRC. But in testimony at the June 2 Steering and Rules hearing, a Schools and Communities United representative pointed out that the statement was incomplete and failed to provide sources for its information. Thankfully at that hearing Alderman Tony Zielinski and author of the impact statement legislation, Ald. Nik Kovac, discovered the real author of the statement — the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL), a right wing, Bradley Foundation funded, anti-public education group!

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That’s right, the same group that takes millions of dollars from the Bradley Foundation to end public schools was allowed to write the first MPS Impact Statement. A study by One Wisconsin Institute states:

In service of the goals of its benefactor, WILL has undertaken an aggressive campaign of actual and threatened litigation to ward off scrutiny of and crackdowns on voucher program abuses, to force taxpayers to underwrite transportation for private school voucher students and to advocate for further expansion of the voucher program in the media and with the release of pseudo-science.

Just last week a “report” that WILL released a while back in support of charter schools was debunked by actual researchers. How are Wisconsin policy makers, taxpayers, educators, and administrators able to make informed decisions about the future of public education when every step of the way WILL muddies the debate with an aggressive agenda aimed at destroying public education.

Jarett Fields, clearly unable to understand the factors involved in school finance or the data provided by the Department of Public Instruction, or MPS,  did not turn to any other Wisconsin education expert for assistance, but instead turned to WILL to write the statement. Fields recently resigned his position as staffer for the CSRC.

Milwaukee NAACP Issues Statement Against Republican Threats to Defund MPS

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The Milwaukee Branch of the NAACP issued the following statement in response to threats against MPS made from Wisconsin Republican Senator Scott Fitzgerald, Representative Dale Kooyenga, and Senator Alberta Darling.All three lashed out at the families and students of MPS, last week, following the resignation of Takeover Czar Means and the outright refusal of the people of Milwaukee to accept a Takeover of their public schools. The NAACP’s statement correctly identifies whom the anger should be focused on.

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Come and Learn About Community Schools

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Kyle Serrette, the Education Director for the Center for Popular Democracy will be presenting the national Community Schools model to the SASI School Board meeting at MPS Central Offices this Thursday, May 19 at 6:30pm. The authentic Community Schools model improves student outcomes by focusing on the whole child through six specific approaches. Bring a friend and learn more about how we continue to build authentic, public, community schools in MPS like those already started at Auer Avenue, Bradley Tech High School, James Madison Academic Campus and Hopkins Lloyd.

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.

 

Why Are Privately Run Charters Marketing to MPS Students During Instruction Time?

Milwaukee residents pack a school board meeting to say no to privately run charter schools (Photo credit: Joe Brusky).

City residents pack a school board meeting to say no to privately run charter schools (Photo credit: Joe Brusky).

Imagine your child is in math class when all of a sudden the teacher announces the lesson will be ending early so that someone can speak to the class. That person turns out to be a private third party operator who runs a privately run charter. The reason they want to interrupt your child’s instruction is to sell their unaccountable privately run charter school to your child.

That’s exactly the request being sent to fifth grade teachers in Milwaukee Public Schools through the district’s email service for a new MPS privately run charter called Milwaukee Excellence Charter School. This is the email message that was sent to a fifth grade teacher on Milwaukee’s north side:

Why are ten year old MPS students having their precious instructional time interrupted by a salesman selling his wares? Parents should be the ones making school choices for their children. Do the MPS Board of Directors and the MPS Administration know that private charter operators have unfettered access to our students during their learning time? Who has given the green light to third party operators to prey upon Milwaukee students?

Traditional MPS schools that are fully accountable to the elected school board and whose operations are completely transparent to the public do not have the luxury,  privately subsidized budget, or time to engage in marketing of their school, nor should they! Shouldn’t a school’s ability to effectively educate a child be the only marketing aspect for a school? Why and how are privately run charter schools allowed to use taxpayer money to market, when that money should be going to instruction. This is a gross misuse of taxpayer money.  You’d think MPS would be searching for ways to attract seats to the district not steal seats from it. This practice needs to be stopped and our students’ instruction time needs to be refocused on learning, not manipulating students and parents into attending schools that stifle their voice.

How a City of Milwaukee Charter School Dodges Accountability

King’s Academy charter school has been a city of Milwaukee 2R charter school for six years. Because of the work of a small group of committed Milwaukee residents to make the city’s Charter School Review Board more transparent and accountable, more attention has been placed on how the city scrutinizes contracts with charter schools like King’s Academy. Much of that attention has been placed on King’s Academy for a poor record of performance and red flags in several key areas highlighted in this 2014 report prepared by the Schools and Communities United coalition.

Screen Shot 2015-12-16 at 7.31.06 PMA report like that would seem to surely ensure the school’s removal from the city 2R charter program given such a long track record of poor performance, but who needs to be held accountable when all you have to do is go to another school system. That’s exactly what King’s Academy did at the August 13, 2015 CSRB meeting in announcing that they would no longer be seeking a contract with the city and instead would be heading back to the Wisconsin voucher program (so called Milwaukee Parental Choice Program):

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This was the response from Schools and Communities United to Board President Michael Murphy on King’s Academy and their sudden transition back to the voucher program, effectively dodging any accountability or track record as a school.

King’s Academy and other sham school operators will continue this voucher shell game of legalized corruption that fails Milwaukee students. Voucher schools run from accountability and hide from transparency. Public tax dollars belong in public schools. It is far past time to declare a moratorium on the failed private voucher system in Milwaukee.

Citywide Convening to Stop the Takeover of MPS

Stand up for the public schools our students deserve! Save the date!

RSVP HERE

Join us on Saturday, December 5th as students, parents, educators, and community allies collaborate to build a longterm strategy that both defeats the proposed Takeover of MPS, while also laying the groundwork for a new vision that embraces the successful public community schools model.

This meeting, which is being organized and planned by concerned MPS parents will both educate and activate those willing to take the necessary steps to reach these goals. Parents, educators, community members, students are all invited!

This event is being organized by Schools and Communities United. More details coming so check back on this page for updates.

Facebook event page is here.

Speak Out Against a Segregated Campus at Pulaski High School

Colocation Meme

On Tuesday, October 13 at 6:30pm, an MPS school board committee will vote on whether to allow Carmen High School, a privately run charter school, to occupy part of the Pulaski High School building. Please call your school board representative this weekend to let them know that we oppose this proposal because:

  • Pulaski students deserve better. MPS needs to take the time to create a meaningful plan that will benefit Pulaski students. Community, parents, and staff must be engaged like they’ve done at other schools, such as Bay View.
  • Privately run charter schools sharing a building with public schools doesn’t work. Public school students get to see the charter school’s resources up close, but they’re not allowed to access them. How is this a partnership if there is no collaboration and two separate campuses? (Click here for details.)
  • As a privately run charter, Carmen has external funding and big donors. They should use those resources to renovate a facility of their choosing – not prey on our public school buildings.

Please call your school board representative this weekend (click here if you do not know who your representative is).

School Board Directors

On Monday, October 12th there will also be a community meeting at Pulaski High School about the takeover, although last week’s meeting proved to be more of a sales pitch than a community meeting.

Please sign this petition to “STOP the Takeover of Pulaski High School.”