MacDonough’s diplomacy keeps Bradley Tech moving forward
Jack MacDonough is on the verge of completing a three-year diplomatic juggling act.
That act will culminate when 1,500 students move from the old Milwaukee Trade and Technical School next door to the new Lynde and Harry Bradley Technology and Trade School on Nov. 11.
The former chief executive officer of Miller Brewing Co. was asked in 1999 to serve as the chairman of the Bradley Tech Commission and president of the Bradley Tech Foundation.
Two governors, two principals, two superintendents, nearly $50 million and three years later, Bradley Tech will become a reality.
No small feat, considering the school’s main benefactor, Jane Bradley Pettit, died, and MacDonough had to bring stakeholders with diverse interests and often conflicting agendas to the table for one common objective.
Along the way, MacDonough has had to diplomatically empower and appease Milwaukee Public Schools, the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, the local business community, labor unions, the state government, the city government, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee Area Technical Schools, neighborhood groups, alumni, parents and many other parties.
MacDonough recently reflected on the journey and the impact of the school with Small Business Times executive editor Steve Jagler. The following are transcripts from that interview:
SBT: You’ve got an initial enrollment of 1,500 students. Did you have more students applying to enroll at Bradley Tech than you had space for?
MacDonough: "Not this year, but we expect that to occur in the future, once parents see a completed school and how effective we’ll make the school be."
SBT: Ultimately, what kind of impact will Bradley Tech have on the lives of the students?
MacDonough: "Some of the students will go right into jobs after high school, and they’ll be trained for that. Or they can say, ‘I’m going to go to MATC for two more years.’ Or, if you want to go to a four-year school right after Bradley Tech, you can do that also."
SBT: The staff at Bradley Tech – are they all teachers in the traditional sense?
MacDonough: "They’re all teachers in the traditional sense, but some have come from the trades. We have teachers of plumbing and electronics that came from the trades."
SBT: How does the curriculum work?
MacDonough: "You start off, and in the first two years, you just learn basic high school studies. But when you get to the mathematics, it’s all tied into how it works in the real world. How is it employed in electronics? How is it employed in carpentry?
"If a student wonders why he would ever want to learn this, he’ll see its application right off. In fact, the math will be taught on the shop floor at times.
"Everything is more, ‘How does this get applied?’ It’s more relevant, and you are more willing to stay in school, because you can see this will lead you to a career. After the first two years, you choose what you want to specialize in, and by that time, you’ve had a little taste of everything."
SBT: And then what?
MacDonough: "When you’re specializing, you can get involved with a company that may have apprenticeships, maybe working for credit at MATC or an internship at an employer."
SBT: Along the way here, there’s been some turmoil. A principal left. There’s a new superintendent. How have you politically balanced the political agendas of all the players – the teachers’ union, the business community, the school district, etc., to keep everyone on board?
MacDonough: "Go back to when Milwaukee Tech school was started. This school was started, not as a public school, but by businesses in Milwaukee. There were about 50 people that put in about $500 each to get it going. A year later, once it was up and running, they turned it over to the public schools.
"The formation of the commission that built Bradley Tech is similar to what you had then. You have interested parties, both within and without the education system. They’re interested in rebuilding a technology and trade high school that would work.
"The people in education, they’ve got a seat at the table. Then you have a representative from the teachers’ union on the commission. And then you have businesses and neighborhood people and alumni and representatives of the parents. The formation of the commission gives you the head start in making sure that everyone’s needs or desires are covered, or at least have communication."
SBT: How you been able to recruit support from the business community?
MacDonough: "When we’re talking to a prospective business about being a partner with the school, we can say, ‘Hey, this is a school that can produce employees for you. Tell me how many employees with technical background have you gotten out of the MPS system over the last 10 years.’ Usually, the answer is zero. We can say, ‘Well, wouldn’t you like to be involved in a school that can produce some for you? You’re going to have a say in the curriculum. You can get to know the teachers. You can find out which of the kids would be best for your company. You can try out these kids on an internship basis.’
"The fact that we’ve gotten the Rockwells, the Harley-Davidsons, Wisconsin Energy involved doesn’t preclude smaller companies from taking advantage of the fact that our goal is to turn out employable people."
SBT: How are smaller, owner-managed companies involved?
MacDonough: "We have industry boards that meet at the school, representing the various areas to give us input on what the curriculum should involve, what equipment we should have, what equipment we don’t need.
"In some cases, we’ve had people who say, ‘I want to get involved, and I want people to work on this particular equipment. And by the way, I’ll get the people involved with this particular equipment I work on to donate or give it to you at a real good price.’"
SBT: Do you envision a point where a large corporation or 10 smaller companies come to you and say, "We are going to have a need for 100 new employees who have ‘X’ set of skills. Can you help us? How can we help you help us?"
MacDonough: "Yes. In essence, that’s what Ameritech came to us with in the first place. We are trying to add telephone repair workers as we speak.
"The nice thing is that if we have a company or group of companies that comes to our school, they can ‘sell’ themselves to the students, saying, ‘You may not have known such a career ever existed. Let us tell you what this career is, what kind of training you need and what kind of pay you will get.’
"Suddenly, the students say, ‘Oh, I didn’t even know about that. That looks cool. I think I have an aptitude for that, and I’m going to work toward that.’ The net result is they stay in school. Two, they work harder, because they know there’s some application for the work. And three, they’re hearing about pay on the other end. It’s real-world impact."
Sept. 13, 2002 Small Business Times, Milwaukee