Education Spotlight: How Milwaukee leaders are addressing the city’s educational challenges

An alarming number of children in Milwaukee are performing academically below grade level. That not only raises concerns about their own future, but also the future of the Milwaukee workforce.

However some Milwaukee schools are showing promising results. To learn more about the challenges that Milwaukee educators are facing and about what is working for education in the city, BizTimes Media hosted its inaugural Education Spotlight event. The purpose of the event was to encourage business leaders to get involved in efforts to improve education in Milwaukee.

Featured speakers at the event included: Brittany Kinser, president and executive director of City Forward Collective; Robb Rauh, CEO of Milwaukee College Prep; Anthony McHenry, CEO of Milwaukee Academy of Science; Michelle Morris-Carter, principal of Golda Meir School; Krysta DeBoer, executive director at the Center For Urban Teaching; Andrea Roberts, program administrator at GPS Education Partners; Bruce Arnold, partner at Husch Blackwell; and Abby Andrietsch, president and CEO of St. Augustine Preparatory Academy.

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Brittany Kinser, president/executive director of City Forward Collective.

Kinser, who kicked off the event with an overarching look at the issues schools are facing, said she found it hard not to become emotional. From a lack of academic achievement overall, to a disparity in funding for private and charter schools, as well as special education learners, the challenges can seem overwhelming. Only one in five students in Milwaukee are meeting their grade-specific educational standards.

“It’s hard not to cry, because as I’m talking about this I’m thinking about our children,” said Kinser. “We are failing too many of our students.”

Each educational institution on hand Thursday shared how they’re approaching closing the achievement gap.

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For McHenry, forging relationships with students from a young age has been key in gaining their trust, as well as the trust of parents. Milwaukee Academy of Science welcomes students in grades K4-12 and emphasizes taking in students regardless of what their life circumstances are.

Anthony McHenry, CEO of Milwaukee Academy of Science.

“The ability to develop healthy, strong relationships over a 14-year period is critical,” said McHenry. “If 96% of our families are living in poverty, you can guess most of those parents had educational experiences that were not favorable.”

McHenry added that a key component to Milwaukee Academy of Science’s success has been treating each student like they are the most important person in the school.

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“That can look like ensuring a student, who has gone through all our dual-credit courses, we’re going to pay for him and him alone to go to Marquette to take two courses,” said McHenry.

Milwaukee College Prep has also found success in connecting with families. About 30% of the school’s teaching staff started as educational assistants who are often family members of students. They then work their way up to a lead teaching position. This ensures an alignment of values between educators and the institution, as well as a commitment to the work.

Robb Rauh, CEO of Milwaukee College Prep.

“You’ve got to get people who believe not only that children can learn, but that they will learn,” said Rauh. “There’s a big difference between can and will.”

Golda Meir School has implemented a school enrichment model to help its students achieve success. This model tells educators they are developing both academics and personal talents in all students.

“You’re developing your strengths and you’re developing any area of talent, whether it be creative, whether it be leadership, whether it be those academic talents, by providing those enriching learning experiences,” said Morris-Carter.

Michelle Morris-Carter, principal at Golda Meir School.

At Golda Meir School, this could mean exposing students to art or allowing them the chance to travel to make them global citizens.

Professional development

The Center for Urban Teaching (CfUT) works to identify, prepare, and support urban teachers and schools. The nonprofit aims to be the number one producer and provider of high-performing urban teachers in the country. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic there was a teacher shortage of approximately 100,000 vacancies. Since then, an additional 600,000 educators have left the field.

DeBoer said the number one reason educators are leaving the field is because they feel ill-prepared and unsupported.

“Currently, 100% of our teachers and leaders reported an increase in their confidence, competence and character as a result of CfUT’s training and experience,” said DeBoer.

Andrea Roberts, program administrator of GPS Education Partners.

To support its teachers, CfUT focuses on experiential training. The organization makes sure each educator is focused on whether teaching is truly a calling, or just the next move in their career. Today, CfUT has trained 520 alumni teachers and placed them in the city of Milwaukee.

GPS Education Partners Inc. works to give high school students real-world experience in the manufacturing sector before they graduate. While students attend one of seven local education centers, they learn core skills like timeliness in the workplace and interviewing. Once they graduate, students that go through the GPS program are often hired into the manufacturing sector right away, giving them the chance to earn good pay and become financially independent.

GPS has found success in simply exposing students to the career paths available to them.

“I think that’s what’s so powerful,” said Roberts. “We lead in the power of work-based learning. We believed the more students are exposed to, they will make career choices that fit for them and that they’re passionate about.”

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