An open letter to all stakeholders and supporters of MPS
Let me introduce myself. I am Sister Joel Read. Before I retired, I was for many years at Alverno College where I was privileged to work with a very creative faculty who helped me understand what effective education can do for all students. Now, I co-chair the Education Committee of the Greater Milwaukee Committee (GMC).
Five years ago, the GMC asked its members what their major concerns were for the future of Milwaukee. The two concerns holding first place were education and jobs. Committees were then formed around each of these concerns, as well as others. The Jobs Committee has developed into the much larger economic development effort now known as the Milwaukee 7 Plan, and it is gaining some momentum. The Education Committee, following two years of more than 100+ interviews, decided to focus on finding ways to assist MPS to be more effective in educating all its students.
After a significant number of joint meetings with the then school board president, the superintendent and the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association (MTEA) officers, we mutually agreed that a strategic plan could bring together the excellent initiatives already under way in Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) by providing more specific direction. Because MPS had not written a strategic plan with metrics to measure results, the GMC agreed to raise funds to hire a mutually agreed upon consultant. Focus on Results was mutually selected to serve as that consultant, not to write the plan but to help facilitate its development by, metaphorically, holding the district’s feet to the fire to produce such a plan.
What followed were 48 public meetings from November 2006 through January 2007. More than 1.000 people told MPS what to stop doing and what to start doing. All that data was produced in unedited hard copy and presented to a group of 40 teachers, principals and staff who agreed to write a Strategic Plan.
After multiple iterations, that plan was sent back to the public during the last week of April 2007. Input from that screening was included in the final version of the strategic plan, appropriately named: "Working Together, Achieving More." It was presented to the school board, which unanimously approved it in July 2007.
The plan promises, by 2012…
- No less than 70 percent of MPS students will be on grade level in Math.
- No less than 75 percent of MPS students will complete rigorous high school coursework.
- No less than 80 percent of MPS students will be reading at grade level.
- The Achievement Gap will be cut in half and then eliminated.
In October 2007, the school board approved the MPS plan for the implementation of "Working Together, Achieving More." MPS created an Implementation Team of teachers, principals, staff and community members to critique its efforts to ensure they are well-designed and equal to the instructional effort they are meant to improve.
While MPS is thus engaged, a citizens group has been formed by the GMC to also assist with critiquing and supporting this work of MPS. This group is known as the Accountability and Support Group (ASG). I am a member of this group. We met for the first time in November 2007 not only to become acquainted with one another, but also to share why we agreed to become a member of the ASG and what our convictions are about the need for public schools as basic to democracy.
The ASG held a press conference on Feb. 4 to introduce its members and other stakeholders to the public. On Feb. 21, we held our first quarterly meeting with the members of the MPS Implementation team. Their presentation focused on the results of the five-year NSF-funded work that MPS has done on mathematics instruction. While it was gratifying to see the improvement in math scores, particularly in the schools that have been struggling, it was also clear that the pace needs to be quickened. ASG was also pleased to see the rigorous mathematics curriculum developed for high schools.
As a result of this presentation, ASG made three recommendations:
1. Accelerate and expand the program’s initial successes to all schools within MPS.
2. Develop a clearer communication plan for teachers and families to increase their understanding of the Comprehensive Mathematics Framework and how it helps students learn.
3. Communicate and create a tighter connection between this work and the "Working Together, Achieving More" Strategic Plan’s promise of having 70 percent of all MPS students become proficient in math by 2012.
So why am I writing this open letter to all stakeholders and supporters of MPS? Because I still hear and meet with cynicism and skepticism that any change can really be accomplished. I hear comments like: we have been down this road before;; this is simply the latest reform du jour; this, too, will pass; NCLB will go away after the presidential elections and many others.
This open letter is a plea that all of us – and all of us really are stakeholders in MPS – unite in this most difficult task of assisting MPS to be a most effective educator of our children. Let’s take the high ground, put aside our differences and find the common ground. Our children’s minds are made for learning. It is we, the adults, who need to change our mindset and get on board with their education.
Will you join us in this effort to keep the implementation of the "Working Together, Achieving More" strategic plan front and center by doing whatever you can, in the work you do, to keep asking for reports on the results, to keep reminding parents to see that their children are in school, by visiting classrooms when the opportunity is available? In general, refer to the "Working Together, Achieving More" strategic plan that is giving direction to MPS and demand that MPS keep its eye on the prize – so that the promises from the strategic plan are fulfilled by 2012.
Upward and onward. Time is short. Get moving, stakeholders!
Sister Joel Read, the retired president of Alverno College, is the co-chair of the Greater Milwaukee Committee’s Education Committee.