By Bill Henk – Ever since expressing my fond hopes for Milwaukee Succeeds publicly several months ago, I often get asked how the broad-based community partnership whose aim is to ensure success for our region’s school children is faring.
Regular readers of the Marquette Educator may recall that I first voiced my support in a post here on the blog, and readers of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel may know that I expressed essentially the same sentiments later in an op-ed piece for that venue.
Back then I took on the question, “Can Milwaukee Succeeds Succeed?” At that point my thoughts pretty much amounted to speculation, because the partnership had essentially just started to unfold. My conclusions were that the initiative not only represented our very best chance to address our acute educational challenges here, but that we MUST make it work as a matter of moral imperative. I feel exactly the same way now, but in the present, the question becomes, “Is Milwaukee Succeeds succeeding?”
All told I’ve engaged with the initiative for over a year, as a member of its Leadership Council, Operations Team, and Communications Team. I’ve participated in lots of meetings and spent a great deal of time working on the large-scale enterprise.
Why? Because its aspirations are squarely rooted in social justice, and in our College of Education at Marquette, we build professionals who take on inequality in all of its unseemly forms and attempt to right them. In this case, it’s the uneven playing field too many Milwaukee children face in receiving a genuinely high quality education that compels me.
So, has my investment of time, energy, and effort been worthwhile?
A recent communication to the Milwaukee Succeeds membership included news of some important advances:
- the hiring of its first director, Mike Soika
- a $500,000 operating grant from Northwestern Mutual
- quick updates on the three 3rd grade reading networks (in-school, out-of-school, and at-home)
- the emergence of early childhood networks through the special work of the United Way of Greater Milwaukee
- the promise of forthcoming college and career networks
- influential work of the impressive Executive Committee — which includes members from the Milwaukee Urban League, the United Way of Greater Milwaukee, the Helen Bader Foundation, Northwestern Mutual, GE Healthcare (which has provided extraordinary facilitators for the strategy networks), the Milwaukee Public Schools, the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, the Greater Milwaukee Committee, the Mayor’s office, and the Greater Milwaukee Foundation (whose gifted staff sprearheads the partnership). Each of these groups is joined by representatives from the nonprofit sector, funders, civic groups, corporations, government, and education to round out the 40+ member Leadership Council.
- an inaugural Milestone Report will be published soon that will provide aggregate baseline data about how Milwaukee’s profile matches up with the goals of Milwaukee Succeeds
Believe me, it’s gratifying to note this progress, because building an infrastructure sufficiently robust to address the scope and severity of our community’s educational problems is no small feat. And it’s exceedingly time-consuming. Not surprisingly, tension is bound to manifest, because there is an urgent need to remedy the situation so that young lives are not lost in the meantime. For those of us who want systemic, rapid change, it’s hard to be patient, but we must, because the work is enormous in scale, complicated, organizationally and politically unwieldy, and messy. Against this formidable backdrop, we need, more than anything else, to stay the course.
Why This Post Now?
But so you know, my primary motivation for writing this post comes down to one recent, particularly interesting and instructive meeting. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve seen progress being made every step of the way although sometimes small and uneven. But this meeting stood apart for me, because I could truly see the rubber hitting the proverbial road.
As a matter of professional discretion, I won’t go into detail about what played out, but rather the way it played out. Basically, representatives from one of the Third Grade Reading networks came to make their case to the Operations Team that their work deserved to be chartered. In the Milwaukee Succeeds model, this step is essential for any network in order to move forward. For all of us gathered, the meeting represented a test case. None of us had experienced a Milwaukee Succeeds chartering meeting before.
The representatives did a very competent job; they were knowledgeable, passionate, and well spoken, and you could see that much had been discussed and debated in the meetings that led up to their testimony. The experience served as a valuable learning experience for the Operations Team in that we got a firsthand and strong introduction to the processes of presentation, questioning, and deliberation. By the end, we could discern the possibilities and the opportunities, as well as the gaps, the levers, and the barriers to moving the achievement needle, and we could provide constructive counsel.
But something very important struck me most of all: THIS CAN WORK!
There’s NO question whatsoever that much remains to be done and that the jury is out on whether Milwaukee Succeeds will ultimately succeed. However, at this moment, I honestly believe we’re getting there.