By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
Walter Bond is fulfilling what he considers his “debt to society,” and in doing so, is sparking conversations and creating change in Milwaukee’s education system.
Bond is the Executive Director of Teach For America (TFA), here in Milwaukee. As both a former teacher for TFA and a Milwaukee native, he’s quite familiar with the program and the Milwaukee Public School System (MPS).
As a child, Bond grew up in Sherman Park Neighborhood and attended the local schools which included Washington High and Marquette University. It was at Washington that he received what he considered an amazing education and learned, “the power of the individual teacher.”
His AP Literature teacher, Mrs. Smith, impressed upon him and his fellow classmates what it meant to be a good leader. According to Mrs. Smith, leadership is a necessity, a good leader cares about others and understands the importance of their position.
She also ensured that they all passed the AP Lit. exam. It was from her dedication and earnestness in the classroom that inspired Bond to seek a position with TFA.
From an intellectual standpoint, TFA intrigued him. Created in 1990, TFA was designed to address disparities in education by supplying schools with “high-performing college graduates.”
As a political science and philosophy major, Bond originally intended to attend law school and make his way to Capitol Hill.
“It stuck out to me like a sore thumb that I was on a different life trajectory than the other people I graduated with,” he said about his Washington High graduating class.
When he heard about TFA, he knew he had found his true calling.
“It was a way for me to live out my second lesson,” he said, referring to Mrs. Smith’s belief that a good leader cares about others. It was also his way of paying forward the gifts that his teachers, like Mrs. Smith, had bestowed upon him.
And so, he went to teach at Anacostia High School in Washington D.C. While there, he earned his Master’s in Education at George Mason University, and worked as an administrator. During his time at D.C., he noticed the pride D.C. natives felt about their hometown, a tone that was distinctly lacking in Milwaukee. This pride, he theorized allowed educators and community members to make bold reforms and to create an atmosphere that encouraged unity.
In D.C., he said, there was a very acute focus on the children.
Bearing this in mind, Bond decided to make a change. In 2009, Bond returned to Milwaukee and with it came TFA. Last year, he was appointed to the Executive Director position, and an opportunity to give to students what his teachers had given to him.
“Even before my leadership we’ve done some pretty remarkable things,” he said.
Under Bond, he’s working on an alumni pipeline program that gives Milwaukee the leaders and service members it needs. The plan is to recruit the best possible applicants and make them individuals who perpetuate a global society here in Milwaukee.
Currently, there’s 120 TFA teachers in Milwaukee and students receive 1.5 years of growth after one year with a TFA teacher.
“I wake up every day trying to create an excellent Milwaukee,” he said.
It’s not just Bond and TFA who will make Milwaukee change, but he thinks community members can do their part too.
“Be a bit more informed,” he said. “Care a bit more about these issues.”
The more people who are aware of these issues, which he considers the most pressing issues in Milwaukee, the more a reform can take place.
“If we don’t get this right,” Bond said, “We’ll continue to spiral.”