By Dylan Deprey
Some individuals called it legislation. Others referred to it as a fight or a war.
The battle lines were drawn in the debate in the Opportunity Schools Partnership Program (OSPP) at Milwaukee Public Schools.
Cars were lined up end-to-end down 9th St. and the adjacent blocks in front of St. Matthew CME Church at 2944 N. 9th St.
The church’s basement was just as packed as the street outside for the annual Community Brainstorming Conference.
Concerned members of the community lined the tables of the basement.
Students from local Milwaukee Public Schools and Milwaukee Area Technical College attended along with teachers, parents, and politicians from scattered districts around the city including Mayor Tom Barrett.
Some displayed a button on their chest that read “takeover” surrounded by a dark red no-sign over it.
Others were advocates, wielding clipboards and attempting to get signatures for their favored candidate.
At the stroke of nine a.m., the free breakfast was over and the conference began.
Dr. Pamela Malone stood at the podium. She was accompanied by five panelists: Chris Abele, County Executive, Dr. Darienne Driver, MPS Superintendent, Danae Davis, Executive Director of Milwaukee Succeeds, Angela McManaman, President of Parents for Public Schools and Kim Schroeder, President of Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association (MTEA).
The panelists were given exactly twelve minutes to address the failing Milwaukee Public Schools and the affects of the Opportunity Schools Partnership Program.
According to a Brief on Opportunity Schools Partnership, the OSPP is a solution provided by the state that appoints a commissioner to structure how the nonperforming schools are governed.
The three-step plan asks for the selection of specific failing schools, the appointment of a commissioner by County Executive Chris Abele and the ability to offer schools up to charter and private schools.
The appointed commissioner was Dr. Demond Means, an MPS graduate.
“We support public schools. Our partnership is with MPS,” Means said.
Superintendent Dr. Darienne Driver expressed to the crowd that the solution was to utilize multiple resources and a collective approach to the issue.
Children aren’t just our future, they are our now,” Driver said.
Driver gave a synopsis of the four objectives that the schools were attempting to accomplish over the year.
They included increased literacy and reading rates, attendance through association with the Milwaukee Bucks, employing President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper program, and educating the child as a whole.
“We can’t just admire the problem,” Driver said. “We need to provide a passport to life.”
The redefined MPS experience would include options like a universal drivers education program.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, Angela McManaman, president of the national sector of the Parents for Public Schools has three children that attend Milwaukee Public Schools.
She has witnessed increased class sizes and the media’s negative focus on the subject of public schools.
“Parents don’t like repeating ourselves; public education is like that. Is anyone listening to us?” McManaman said.
Kim Schroeder, president of the MTEA, was blunt on her viewpoint of the new bill in question.
“Public schools have been set up to fail,” Schroeder said. “This is an attack on us; this is war.”
With shouts from the crowd and the panelist’s time over, it was the audience’s chance to ask questions.
This forum varied from long-winded statements about individual’s memories of Milwaukee Public Schools to the straightforward questions directed primarily to County Executive Chris Abele.
Questions ranged from the handling of handicap students during the new plan, to the insinuation of bias in the choices of certain administrative appointments made.
Abele ensured the crowd that although the State of Wisconsin will most likely go through with the plan, students are the first priority in the deal.
“This isn’t the way I would approach this,” Abele said. “I’m not going to do anything to hurt MPS.”
Just like the rising temperature in the basement, the irritability on both sides rose until Dr. Malone cut off the last inquiry.
“We chose to put our children first,” Danae Davis said. “Adults working together can make this happen.”