By Karen Stokes
Education is critical for the future of Milwaukee’s children. Milwaukee teachers, parents and concerned citizens gathered Thursday evening at St. Matthews CME Church for a discussion on the Opportunity Schools Partnership Plan (OSPP).
Nearly 100 residents let their voices be heard by holding signs and speaking out with a variety of questions directed at Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele and OSPP Commissioner Demond Means.
“It’s too important not to have a voice in our public schools and to be concerned about every child in this district,” said Ingrid Walker Henry, a teacher at Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS).
“I think we’re in a difficult place, I think we’re in a time of crisis,” said Debra Jupka, co-chair of the MICAH Educational Task Force.
“I’ve seen this go on for a number of years, I’ve been an employee of MPS, I was a teacher and a principal for a number of years. I’ve been on both sides of the fence with this and honestly in my gut that this time if we don’t do something the state is going to come in and we’re not going to be able to circumvent them anymore,” Jupka said.
The OSPP is a proposal co-authored by Wisconsin (R) Senator Alberta Darling and (R) Representative Dale Kooyenga, which called for the Milwaukee County Executive to appoint an independent commissioner to shift failing MPS schools to charter and voucher schools.
Abele and Means created a proposal on April 21 to partner with MPS to turnaround the district’s most struggling schools. This would keep the schools in the district and the teachers and staff would retain their employment and benefits.
“I like Darienne, I want to work with her, I want to work with MPS,” Abele said. “We need to be transparent with our efforts.”
MPS would continue to receive funding for each student but at a lower rate than charter schools. Means mentioned on trying to find alternative funding through philanthropic sources.
“We believe MPS should be fully funded,” Means said. “We believe schools with more poverty should receive more funding not less. We want to go to Madison, we want to advocate for more funding.”
There are plans to continue the conversation and hear additional community concerns about the education of Milwaukee students.
Andre Lee Ellis is an activist and founder of the “We Got This” program that works with young Black males in the community. He said that the students needed to provide as much input as the rest of the community.
“I think we need to start engaging the students in the conversation whether it’s through surveys or town hall meetings or going into the classrooms. The students could tell what is missing and what they need.
I think the people involved are missing that part of the equation. They need to stop playing and be wise before the state comes in. Right now, I don’t see any heart in their decisions,” Ellis said.
Means stated that he has not been in the schools or engaged with any students, but Abele has encountered students at various events. They plan on sending a survey to obtain the student voice.
Means said that the conversation should be about the students in the schools.
“If we lose sight of that, children at these schools will continue to underperform academically. We need to work with MPS to find the appropriate academic strategies to turnaround the performance, to increase family engagement and to make these schools a bright spot for the community,” Means said.