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.

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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.

 

Cities Across the Nation Ready to Walk In for Public Education on February 17th

Parents, students, educators, and community members: Please join us at a public school near you on Wednesday, February 17th at 7:00 a.m. to celebrate public education and to stand up for public schools that welcome and serve all children. Public education supporters in Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago, Green Bay,  Boston, and dozens of other cities around the nation will be also be walking in the same day.

Public education supporters will gather in front of their schools before the day starts to chant, march and share information about how school takeovers hurt our students. We will also educate others about public community schools that we know are a better solution than handing schools over to private third party operators. Finally, attendees will walk in to the school collectively just before the start of the school day as a community.

RSVP to attend an already established event or sign up to host a walk in at a public school near you. Keep checking back because new locations are signing up daily.
Instructions to help set up and host an Action Network event page are here.

Facebook event page for the day of action can be found here.

Milwaukee Walks-In for Public Education from MTEA Union on Vimeo.

Speak Up for Pulaski High School Students | 10/5

What: MPS Superintendent Dr. Darienne Driver and School Board director Bonds have scheduled two meetings at Pulaski High School (Oct. 5th and 12th) to try and sell their Takeover of Pulaski. We know that no matter how much they try to dress up this Takeover as a good thing that Pulaski will not be handed over to privately-run charter schools that operate outside the democratically elected school board. Let’s show up and show out for our students and the future of public education in Wisconsin. Not one student, not one school takeover!
Read how this experiment isn’t working in New York City here.
Where charters operate in independent buildings, the differences in resources are less stark. But co-location forces each side to contend with the fact that the charters are able to offer their students far greater advantages while siphoning off resources from children on the other side of the building. In New York, it is particularly acute as students at traditional schools are in dire need while charters enjoy the spoils of both public funding and wealthy private benefactors. It may be co-location, more than any other factor, that has frayed the nerves of parents, teachers and students, and stirred a debate that has taken a decidedly polarizing and political tone.
When: Monday, October 5th from 5:00pm – 7:00pm
Where: Pulaski High School
 RSVP to attend here.
Updates on this event and the attempt to take over Pulaski can be found here.
Updates on the attempt to take over MPS can be found here.
October 5th Facebook event page can be found here.
October 12th Facebook event page can be found here.

Thousands in Milwaukee & La Crosse “Walk In” for Public Schools & Against Takeover

A photo from Kagel School's Friday walk in.

A photo from Kagel School’s Friday walk in.

105 Milwaukee Public Schools were joined by 14 La Crosse schools in hosting morning “Walk Ins” to demonstrate the widespread support for public schools in the city and the unified outrage over a Takeover that rips local and democratic control from the people of Milwaukee.  This Storify aptly captures the story of many of the schools who took part in the Friday day of action through the social media posts of those involved. ENJOY!

 

105 Milwaukee Public Schools & Entire La Crosse District Ready to “Walk In” on Friday 9/18

105 Milwaukee Public Schools, all 14 La Crosse schools will be taking part in the Friday, September 18th day of action in support of quality public schools for ALL students. Each event will also share information about how public school takeovers will hurt our students and deny critical services, such as bilingual education and special education.

Why walk in?

Watch video of a walk in.

Click on the school you want to RSVP to walk in at:

AAL

ALBA

Alcott

Allen Field

Alliance High School

Audubon Middle & High School

Auer Avenue

Barbee Montessori

Barton

Bay View High School

Bethune

Bradley Tech High School

Bruce

Brown Street Academy

Burbank

Carson

Cass Street: No event page created. Walk in starts a 7:00am

Clarke Street

Clara Barton

Clement

Clemens

Congress

Cooper

Craig Montessori

Curtin

Doerfler

Eighty-First Street

Elm

Fairview

Fernwood

Fifty-Third Street

Forest Home

Fratney

French Immersion

Gaenslen

German Immersion: No event page created. Walk in starts at 7:00am.

Goodrich

Golda Meir Upper and Lower campus

Grant

Grantosa

Greenfield Bilingual

Groppi: No event page created. Walk in starts at 7:00am.

Hamilton High School

Hartford

Hawley

Hawthorne

Hayes Bilingual: No event page created. Walk in starts at 7:00am.

Hi-Mount

Honey Creek

Hopkins Lloyd

Howard Avenue Montessori

Humboldt Park

IDEAL

Jackson

Kagel

Keefe Avenue

Kilbourn

Kluge

Lincoln Avenue: No event created. Walk in starts at 7:00am

Longfellow

Lowell

MLK Elementary

MacDowell

Madison (JMAC)

Manitoba

Maryland Montessori

Mitchell

Milwaukee High School of the Arts (MHSA)

Milwaukee School of Languages

Milwaukee Sign Language

Morgandale

Morse Marshall

Neeskara

New School

Ninety-Fifth Street: No event page created. Walk in starts at 7:00am.

North Division High School

Obama: No event page created. Walk in starts at 7:00am.

Parkside

Pierce

Project STAY

Pulaski

Reagan

Riley

River Trail

Riverside University High School

Rogers Street Academy

Roosevelt MS of the Arts

Rufus King High School

Rufus King Middle School

Sherman

Silver Spring

South Division High School

Starms Discovery: No event page created. Walk in starts at 7:00am.

Starms Early Childhood Center

Stuart

Story

Thoreau

Thurston Woods: No event page created. Walk in starts at 7:00am.

Townsend

Trowbridge

Victory

Vieau

Washington High School

Westside I

Zablocki

Photo sent from La Crosse Education Association.

Photo sent from La Crosse Education Association.

La Crosse School walking in.

Central HS
Logan HS
Logan MS
Lincoln MS
Longfellow MS
Southern Bluffs Elementary,
Spence Elementary,
State Road Elementary,
Hintgen Elementary,
Hamilton Elementary,
Emerson Elementary,
Northside Elementary
Coulee Montessori,
Northwoods Elementary,
Summit Elementary.

LaCrosse

“Walk In” to Celebrate and Protect Public Schools Friday 9/18 | RSVP TODAY

Students at U.S. Grant Elementary during last spring’s walk-in at the school (Photo credit Mike Erdmann).

On Friday, September 18, almost 60 public schools in Milwaukee will host “walk-ins” to celebrate and protect our public schools, and to share information with parents and community members about proposed public school takeovers.

The state legislature passed a plan to take over several public schools in Milwaukee. County executive Chris Abele is expected to appoint a commissioner this fall to oversee the takeover schools. The commissioner will then identify 1-3 schools this year to be taken over next year. Very few specifics are available. For example, we do not know how the commissioner’s salary will be funded, or how the schools will be chosen.

Community allies are organizing to fight the takeover and to stand up for public schools that welcome and serve all children.

Here are the schools that are currently hosting a walk-in (click on the school to RSVP).

***Check back, this list is growing by the hour.***

AAL
ALBA
Alcott
Allen Field
Alliance High School
Audubon Middle & HS
Auer
Barbee Montessori
Barton
Bay View High School
Bethune
Bradley Tech High School
Bruce
Brown Street
Burbank
Carson
Clarke Street
Clara Barton
Clement
Clemens
Congress
Cooper
Craig Montessori
Curtin
Eighty-First Street
Elm
Fairview
Fernwood
Fifty-third Street
Forest Home
Fratney
French Immersion
Gaenslen
Goodrich
Grant
Grantosa
Greenfield Bilingual
Hamilton High School
Hartford
Hawthorne
Hi-Mount
Honey Creek
Howard Avenue Montessori
Humboldt Park
IDEAL
Jackson
James Madison Academic Campus (JMAC)
Kagel
Keefe Avenue
Kilbourn
Kluge
Longfellow
Lowell
MLK Elementary
MacDowell
Manitoba
Maryland Montessori
Milwaukee High School of the Arts (MHSA)
Milwaukee School of Languages
Milwaukee Sign Language
Morgandale
Morse Marshall
Neeskara
New School
North Division
Parkside
Pierce
Project STAY
Pulaski
Reagan High School
Riley
River Trail 
Riverside University High School
Rogers Street Academy
Roosevelt MS of the Arts
Rufus King High School
Rufus King Middle School
Sherman
South Division High School
Starms Early Childhod Center (ECC)
Stuart
Story
Thoreau
Trowbridge
Victory
Vieau
Washington High School
Westside I
Zablocki

Don’t see your school on the list? Enter the zip code of your school and click on the green button to host an event at your school.

What’s a Walk-In?

Last May, Riverside University High School held one of the first walk-ins.

Last May, Riverside University High School held one of the first walk-ins.

A walk-in is an early morning gathering of parents, students, educators and community supporters who come together to celebrate their school and to share information about how public school takeovers will hurt our students and deny critical services, such as bilingual education and special education. Watch video of a walk-in here.

Walk-In Flyer to distribute can be found here.

Spanish Walk-In Flyer to distribute can be found here..

Sign Up to Walk In for Milwaukee Public Schools!

Last Spring, dozens of MPS schools organized “walk-ins” where parents, students, and educators showed their unity for strong public schools by walking in to schools together, while also putting their foot down to say NO to all attempts to take over MPS buildings. This fall even more schools will walk in on Friday, September 18th to once again send a message that not one student, not one school will be surrendered to takeover.

 Sign your school up or RSVP at a school for what will surely be a historic day!

Register your school or RSVP to attend here.

Milwaukee Walks-In for Public Education from MTEA Union on Vimeo.

Fighting to Save Bilingual Education in Milwaukee

“When you get a bilingual education, you preserve your native language. That’s important. You also learn to see both sides of things.”

Claudio Calvario (valedictorian at ALAS high school.)

This story comes from the Schools and Communities United “Fulfill the Promise” Report.

Claudia Calvario was born in Sayula, Mexico and came to Milwaukee when she was seven years old. She did not speak a word of English and had no legal papers.

Claudia is the first in her family to attend college. She was the valedictorian at ALAS, an MPS school where students learn in both English and Spanish, in 2014.

A twist of fate brought Claudia to ALAS. When it came time to choose a high school, she went to a fair at Grand Avenue Mall. ALAS was the only school at the fair that was bilingual. “My mother said, ‘That’s the school for us,’” she remembers.

This fall ALAS became part of a reinvigorated bilingual program at South Division High School. It has the largest bilingual high school program in Wisconsin.

MPS is known nationally for bilingual programs that encourage students to maintain their Spanish while learning English.

The district provides bilingual education to almost 5,900 students at 24 schools, and offers English Language Learner (ELL) services to almost 5,200 students.

Some 15 languages are spoken at South Division, from Hmong to Burmese, Arabic, Somali and Karen. MPS enrolls students speaking 49 languages.

Recognizing the legal rights of English Language Learners is one of several areas where public schools differ significantly from private schools. There is, for instance, no state law requiring bilingual or ELL services at voucher schools.

In Milwaukee, as is true throughout the country, student demographics are changing dramatically; by 2050, whites will be a minority in the United States. As demographics reshape the United States, the role of public education in building
a multiracial democracy is increasingly essential.

If MPS schools are handed over to private third party operators through the Senator Alberta Darling and Representative Dale Kooyenga’s Takeover bill, then these newly created charter schools would not be required by law to have bilingual education programs since they would be privately run. We must make sure that MPS schools stay in the hands of our democratically elected school board, who are accountable to the people of Milwaukee through elections and who have shown to value bilingual education in our schools.

The Wisconsin Association of Bilingual Education has already started to organize to fight the Takeover as well preserve bilingual education in Milwaukee. Join them!

A group of parents in Milwaukee are already organizing to fight the Takeover of MPS and preserve bilingual education for future generations.

A group of parents in Milwaukee are already organizing to fight the Takeover of MPS and preserve bilingual education for future generations.

Milwaukee Residents Deliver 5000+ No Takeover Petitions to Sen. Darling

“Alberta! You cheat us! But you will not defeat us!”

Over a hundred parents, educators and other public school supporters from Milwaukee shouted this chant and others yesterday as they delivered a petition with more than 5500 signatures opposing Senator Alberta Darling’s public school takeover plan.

The crowd gathered to deliver the petitions in front of Senator Darling’s Menomonee Falls office, chanting, waving to passing cars, and distributing flyers that asked, “Menomonee Falls residents: Do you want the Milwaukee County Executive to run your schools?”

Jennifer Epps-Addison, a resident of Menomonee Falls who serves as executive director of Wisconsin Jobs Now and is also an MPS parent and graduate, told the crowd: “We came here to Senator Darling’s Menomonee Falls office because this is the last place we’ve seen her anywhere near Milwaukee.” Epps-Addison continued, “We have a plan to improve our schools and to support our students and rather than privatizing our kids’ education, we want Senator Alberta Darling and Representative Dale Kooyenga to support the parent-driven plan to improve our communities.”

Jennifer Epps-Addison speaks to large gathering outside of Senator Aberta Darling's office.

Jennifer Epps-Addison speaks to large gathering outside of Senator Aberta Darling’s office.

Mike Wilder of the African American Round Table said: “We are ready to fight back against Senator Alberta Darling and her allies’ plans to privatize – cause let’s just be clear. The end goal here is to privatize the entire system in Milwaukee, handing over a civil right – public education is a civil right – handing that over to private companies and corporations.”

An employee of the Menomonee Falls Chamber of Commerce said Darling’s sign had been recently removed from the building. A typewritten sign on the front door said the office was closing at 3 p.m. for off-site meetings.

 

Can You Hear Milwaukee Now?! from MTEA Union on Vimeo.