By Dylan Deprey
As a 13-year-old, Aisha Carr never dreamed of working in education, let alone becoming a special education teacher. She would have had to work with kids, and after basically raising her younger sister, she wanted nothing to do with them.
“She was cute, but she smelled and cried a lot,” Carr said.
In preparation for the April 4th, 2017 School Board elections, she has knocked on over 3,000 doors to talk to parents and students, and ask for signatures to etch her name onto the ballot next to incumbent Annie Woodward for MPS’s 4th School Board District.
Before Carr became the first person in her family to graduate from college, or an educator at James Madison Academic Campus, she had experienced some of the same trauma her students faced on a daily basis.
She was a young girl trapped in the cycle of her mother’s drug addiction.
Her father had issues with alcoholism and rarely kept in touch with her and her three siblings. The children were eventually taken from her mother and sent to foster care. Her aunt stepped in as a foster mother, as her father took state mandated alcohol and parenting classes. She was 5-years-old.
“I clearly remember her sitting me down and telling me, ‘I can’t be your auntie and your mom. And, that’s my brother, that don’t make sense,” Carr said.
Her father attempted to get his degree, and she often stayed at her grandma’s house as she watched him work towards his diploma. She also witnessed his battle with alcoholism, and eventually experienced domestic abuse, and homelessness.
“We had a house off of Cypress and 20th, but my dad’s girlfriend burnt it to the ground,” Carr said.
Through it all, Carr’s father had stressed education near the point of what she considered child abuse.
“My dad did not play. I would be sitting at the dining room table working on school work all night, I’d fall asleep at table and in class,” Carr said. “I remember he told me, ‘People can beat you, physically, but no one can take what you know. And, the more you know you’ll be less likely to make stupid mistakes.’”
Carr said that her teenage angst towards getting out of the house and into college earned her a full ride scholarship at Marian University (Fond Du Lac.)
She would eventually learn to love children following the birth of her daughter, and a stint working with teens at the Boys & Girls Club of Fond du Lac toward her service hours for her undergraduate degree in Social Work.
She built her network by completing her Special Education Teacher certification at Cardinal Stritch University, worked as a Legislative Assistant for Former State Senator, Russell Feingold, and the Community Learning Center (“CLC”) Manager for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee.
“I started making these connections – poverty, housing, economics, environmental – and then we produce these kids and they become victims of it,” Carr said.
Her career at James Madison Academic Campus began by doing programming with students. It was outside the classroom where she first witnessed the extent of a students’ academic deficiencies.
“There were seniors in high school reading at a second-grade level,” Carr said. “As a programmer, I was very concerned. How do you help kids find jobs and apply for colleges when they don’t know what words mean on the application?”
Carr has worked in special education and is currently the Culturally Responsive Teacher Leader for Milwaukee Public Schools. She said the mass amounts of trauma kids endure inside and outside of the classroom have been a significant factor in delayed learning.
She recalled a police raid during her second year at JMAC, as helicopters hovered above the school and K-9 dogs searched the hallways.
“Police came into our classroom and told us to drop down on the ground with guns to our backs searching us all. They were looking for a student on my caseload, which eventually turned out to be a case of mistaken identity,” Carr said.
“I’ve attended funerals for eight students, and 138 kids have either been suspended, expelled or incarcerated over the past four years in teaching and the six I have been in the district,” Carr said.
She said another major issue was improving parent engagement with the schools. She added that after going door-to-door throughout the community she found that most people didn’t know the difference between public school and choice voucher/charter schools.
“People want what’s best for their children. So, when you get parents that are uniformed, then their best decision might be their worst, but they don’t know any better,” Carr said.
She said that her experiences as an MPS alum, a single mother of an MPS student and as an MPS educator, would provide the School Board with a new set of eyes.
“I’m doing this because I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired in the classroom. I’m doing it because change needs to occur. We need the energy and will power to go out and do the work and not just vote, or create resolutions. We cannot just talk the talk, without walking the walk,” Carr said.
For more information visit her campaign website at http://www.aishacarr.com/