Archive for the 'Community Spotlight' Category

Wise Words From Our 2019 Commencement Speaker: Dr. Phillip Ertl

On May 19, 2019, the College of Education and all of Marquette University celebrated the graduating Class of 2019. At our college ceremony, we were inspired by the words of Dr. Phillip Ertl, Superintendent of the Wauwatosa School District. We are grateful for his wisdom and would like to share his speech with you, our readers!

0011_optimizedCongratulations to the Marquette College of Education graduates from the class of 2019 – and congratulations to all the family and friends of the graduates as I know nobody does this alone, and you have all had an impact on these graduates.

I would like to thank Dean Henk and the rest of the College of Education at Marquette University. I am incredibly honored to be here with you today on the most exciting day of the year for any educational institution–graduation day. We all know commencement means “a beginning or a start.” But of what? That is up to each of you and THAT is what makes graduation so exciting.

For me, being able to see what the students of the Wauwatosa School District do in the years after graduation is very gratifying–knowing that in some way we have had an impact. This year’s graduation has an extra special meaning for me- not only is my oldest son graduating from Wauwatosa West High School, but his time in Tosa schools also coincides with my time as Superintendent of the Wauwatosa School District. So, I guess I am the only one the class of 2019 can blame if things do not go well for them!

I have had the good fortune to be in education for over 30 years with 19 of those as a superintendent of schools. My path was certainly not linear. I struggled as a student and, as many that have a similar story, was not encouraged to attend college by some staff in my school that I think should have been doing that. My real motivation for going to college was to play football. It was not until a couple years into my college experience that something clicked–I really wanted to become a teacher. After graduating from UW Lacrosse, I left for Texas for my first teaching and coaching position and loved it. I had some incredible mentors, in particular Tommy Rhea, my principal. He encouraged me to follow my dreams. I guess my dreams took me back to Wisconsin after a year, and I landed in Tomah where I also had the opportunity to work with some top-notch administrators who encouraged me to get my Master’s Degree in educational administration. After completing that degree, I thought I would give my new license a try and applied for two jobs. I interviewed and was offered an associate principal (AP) position in Menasha. I spent one year as an AP and was promoted to the middle school principal position the following year. My superintendent, Bill Decker, saw something in me that I did not. He encouraged me to pursue my doctorate, something that honestly never crossed my mind until I understood that he really believed in me.

Principals and teachers that I have worked with over my time in education have had such a profound impact on me–I could talk about each of them, but I am sure you would like to get out of here today at some point–but I think you get the jist, I had a lot of great mentors and I think it is important for all of us to serve as mentors so that others have the same stories. There are a few challenges we face in education–funding, public perception, declining numbers entering the teacher workforce, testing accountability, increasing demands on our time and energy, and mental health issues. One could argue that most of these are longstanding challenges we have faced for many years in some way, shape or form.

However, mental health concerns have become one of the most prevalent. More and more students are coming to school with significant mental health challenges, that if not addressed, will stand in their way of learning and succeeding. Everything is not known why more and more students are facing those challenges but what we do know is that we must find new and innovative ways to address those needs. I am thrilled to hear that there are a number of graduates here today in clinical mental health and counseling. We need more of you working with and supporting our students. But…with all the challenges in education there are a few things that I have learned that have made a difference in my career to help me overcome those challenges and others.

First: we are in a relationship business. We don’t make widgets or ball bearings—we create relationships that lead to greater learning. Each and every person involved in education is creating relationships every single day–multiple times a day. I believe the most important relationship is the one between teacher and student. The ability to be a great teacher is based on the ability to develop and sustain positive relationships with students. To have the type of impact that we want with students we need to engage with students on many different levels (mentor, expert and friend). The old saying that “students really do not care what you know until they know that you care” is so true. Other relationships in the educational arena are critical as well. Principal leadership matters, and that leadership can only be developed through relationships with many constituencies including staff, students, parents, and the community. Find me a great principal, and I assure you their stakeholders will talk about the relationships they have with that principal. School Boards need to gain the trust of the community and have to have trust in the superintendent. Those relationships need to be healthy for a school district to thrive. There is a reason we have moved to a more collaborative model in education– it is a critical skill that all students need before they leave our doors, and in life–and we must be committed to making sure everyone understands, supports and values strong relationships to help realize that goal.

Next: every interaction will have an impact — you have to believe that! We have all been in a meeting or class or professional development activity where we are asked to think of someone that has had a great impact on our lives. Often times the people we think about never knew that they made a difference in our lives. I, personally, have gone out of my way to make sure that those people in my life, know it. For each of them it was things they said or did that they did not think were a big deal–but really did have a profound impact on me. They were simple interactions with people I looked up to and trusted. I try to think of that when I talk with students—as well as colleagues, parents and community members. You never really know what people take away from each and every conversation or interaction—- I always want it to be something positive.

Treat people with compassion and respect as it will come back to you — In 1992 when I was teaching in Tomah, I also served the school as the head football coach. We had great student athletes that I was able to get to know and work with. I had this one young man that was our starting right tackle. He was also a hockey player, really good student and a great overall kid. That student, Dr. Eric Jessup-Anger, is now my School Board President in Wauwatosa! Of course my first question to him when he came on the Board was “did I ever make you run or yell at you too much–or is that why you wanted to be on the Board?” I really do believe that what goes around comes around with how we treat people. I think that holds MOST true with how we treat students. If we don’t show them respect–those relationships that I talked about earlier will never be as good as we would like.

Be the voice for others – The focus on equity in schools may be one of the most important shifts to ever occur—and one of the most difficult to implement. Everyone says they believe all children can learn but very few schools have been able to raise expectations for ALL students and meet those expectations. Our previous school structure was not set up for all students to be successful, it really was for “many” to be successful. We must raise expectations for all students and do everything humanly possible to ensure they meet those them. We have to change societal beliefs, challenge our own biases, and push like we never have before. It is not easy work, it is not quick work, but it is work that we need to do to be successful. There are too many students that do not have a voice in their education and we need to be that voice for them by believing in them, having high expectations and helping them meet their goals. I am proud to say it is the overriding focus of all our work in the Wauwatosa School District- and it is making a difference.

Know your “why” – We really need a strong conviction and understanding of why we are in this business. For some folks, their why is to make a difference in the world or simply that they love kids. I still have never gone to a day of work: I am still going to school. I love approaching every day with the opportunity to make a difference and that is my why. In education we are tasked with selling the why to everyone. Students say “why do I need to learn algebra?” Teachers will say “why do we need to change the reading curriculum?”, school boards say, “why should be adopt this policy?”, community members will say “why should we pay this amount of taxes?” We spend our days talking about the why so we better be pretty clear on what our “why” is and what our school communities’ is.

Failure is critical for success – This is a statement I make in every interview and ask for a response. Most of the success I have had in life is because of learning from mistakes. We must encourage students to be risk-takers and not be afraid of failure. “You cannot discover new oceans unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.” I am not big on living by quotes, but this is one that I believe is important for living with a growth mindset. Too many students come to us without the willingness to take risks or the ability to deal with adversity, and we have an obligation to teach them.

Celebrate successes – People that go into education generally are humble and want to serve others. Often what goes along with that is an unwillingness to talk about accomplishments. We need to take every opportunity we can to celebrate the great things going on in our schools, whether it is an individual accomplishment of a student, a group of students accomplishing something they never thought they could, a team winning a competition that was unexpected, a whole school reaching a milestone, or a whole district implementing a new policy well. We need to make sure everyone knows the great things happening in our schools. Simple emails to parents about the good things their children are doing may be the most effective communication you make!

Focus on controlling what you can control – There are so many things that we deal with that are out of our control. As I get further along in my career, I understand that there are more things we may not have control over, but we still can impact. There are a lot of state statutes that impact what we do on a daily basis, from minutes of instruction, school start dates, standards, standardized testing, how much money we have to use in schools, as well as what subjects must be taught. I have learned even some of THOSE have flexibility in them! More importantly I think we need to understand that we don’t control who the kids are in our classes – with all the intelligences, attitudes, backgrounds, and beliefs that come with them. We need to meet them where they are and take them to greater heights. All parents send their children to us hoping and expecting us to give them our best. And we owe it to the parents to do just that.

I don’t often take the opportunity to reflect on my career as I still have a long time left, but taking this opportunity to do so has reminded me of how fortunate I have been to be around some great students, teachers, administrators and school supporters – and even better people. I hope all of you have the same experiences as you go through your career.

So, as you leave here today, I challenge you to do one thing: to be THAT person, that person that makes a difference for each and every student —every day. YOU may not know you were that person—but they certainly will!!

Congratulations again and best of luck to you in the future! And if that future involves applying for a job in the Wauwatosa School District, give me a call or shoot me an email to remind me that we met today!

Thank you.

Elizabeth Gulden, 2019 Wisconsin Elementary Teacher of the Year

On April 3, 2019, the College of Education hosted a panel of outstanding educators who have been recognized as Wisconsin Teachers of the Year. Their personal stories, reflections, and words of advice were inspiring and greatly appreciated by our audience. We wanted to introduce them to you, our readers, as well!

a Gulden headshot_16Hi! I’m Elizabeth (Liz) Gulden, a kindergarten teacher at Gordon L. Willson Elementary School (G.L.W.) in Baraboo, and I was named Wisconsin Elementary School Teacher of the Year in 2019. Over the past 14 years as a teacher of some of our youngest learners, I motivate and inspire my students’ love of learning by practicing and learning along with them. I am a tireless advocate for young elementary students, ensuring my teaching practices are engaging and developmentally appropriate. And my core, deep-rooted educational philosophy is that learning, above all else, should be FUN!

I actually grew up in Baraboo, and it has been so exciting to come back to my hometown to teach. The timing could not have been more perfect, as I returned just as Baraboo was implementing a full day Kindergarten program and had designed a new Kindergarten Center. My husband and I live in Baraboo, and we take advantage of all that this amazing small town has to offer including: a phenomenal downtown area, the extremely picturesque Devil’s Lake State Park, and of course an annual visit to Circus World Museum. My parents and older brother also live in town still, so my support system here remains strong.

Serving in the field of education is instilled deep within my genes, as my mom is a retired teacher of 47 years. Yes, she taught for 47 years, and most of these years were spent in a third-grade classroom in the Wisconsin Dells School District. Needless to say, I have an amazing role model in her, who I am now fortunate to have serving as a guest substitute teacher for my class of students. Yes, my mom is my kindergarten class’s favorite guest teacher! My dad also loves to pop into our classroom to help us out during Math Workshop whenever he can, and he loves to go on our field trips with us too. I am just so lucky, and I’m sure I’ll never be able to verbalize the impact they have had on me and on all of my students over the years.

Never underestimate the value and power of children at play! Our school playground is nestled within a busy neighborhood community, and after roughly 45 years of use for most of the pieces, it was absolutely time for a safety and equipment upgrade! I set to work championing a Playground Fundraising Committee that took on a multiphase action plan to improve our play space for kids. The committee was comprised of teachers, administration, and parents/community members. Countless hours were spent hosting annual Fun Runs, local restaurant community impact and share nights, book fairs, profitable yearbook sales, and MORE!

In four short years we raised over $75,000, completing our three-phase plan. We no longer have voided areas of our school/community playground, all of the equipment meets safety codes, and there are enough pieces to engage our entire student body (350 students) and the neighborhood children! This is some of the work I am most proud of in my career thus far.

We are still outgrowing our space within our elementary walls, so next on my “passion project” list is the creation of an Outdoor Learning Space for our kids. Our hope is to obtain a grant to construct a mini amphitheater for our G.L.W. students where outdoor learning lessons could take place. The possibilities for the space are endless…reader’s theater performances, teacher read-alouds, local library book talks, Scout meetings, the beginning of a Planting/Growing Club, and more! The benefits of spending time outdoors are substantial: improved mental health, increased cognitive and academic performance, and decreased risk for other health factors.

In 2014 I embarked on my journey to earn my National Board teaching certification. I convinced a colleague to join me in this endeavor, and I was forever grateful to have this support along the way. Saying the process is difficult would be an understatement, but it was also extremely rewarding. Becoming a NBCT taught me so much about myself as an educator through deep reflection, and it made me a much better teacher than I ever thought I could be. My improved teaching practices and strategies had a significant academic impact on my students. The process involved taking a much deeper look at student achievement data, videotaping and analyzing one’s own teaching practices, and a content/teaching strategy-based test.

I have so many favorite educational experiences, some of which were my own experiences and some of which were my students’ experiences. I had absolutely phenomenal student teaching placements in La Crosse, Wisconsin. I am forever indebted to: Deb Bemis (Emerson Elementary), Kathy Shikonya (La Crosse Cathedral), and the entire staff at the UW-La Crosse Campus Childcare Center. These experiences were so rewarding, and I still implement some of the methods I learned even “way back then” into my daily teaching routines.

The kindergarten teachers in our district have completely transformed sight word learning for our students in recent years, improving student reading accuracy scores, and this has been deeply satisfying work. My kindergarten teaching team has increased the number of sight words we teach our students, and we introduce the words using multiple learning modalities. We post the words visually on classroom word walls and also spell each sight word with our bodies, appealing to kinesthetic learners. Each child has a personalized, sight word goal list where he/she is able to track growth in sight word recognition. Whereas students used to master twenty-five sight words within the year, some children are now reading seventy-five to one hundred sight words in the year!

I LOVE creating new dramatic play centers for our classroom. These are so engaging for the kids and incorporate so much academic learning too. Some of the kids’ favorites include our classroom restaurant, grocery store, and vet clinic! It is so fun to watch the kids writing down food orders, adding up grocery bills, and building language skills as they diagnose pet medical “orders” in such authentic learning scenarios. These are some of my most beloved times in our Kindergarten classroom where the kids are involved in imaginative and meaningful play, where the learning is happening almost as if by magic.


Ms. Jackie Herd-Barber: Advocate for Milwaukee Youth

Below is the keynote address given by Ms. Jackie Herd-Barber at the Youth Frontiers Ethical Leadership Luncheon on Thursday, March 28, 2019. An extraordinary community volunteer, Ms. Herd-Barber received the organization’s prestigious Ethical Leadership Award on this occasion. She is also the recipient of the Education Advocacy Award given by our College of Education and the Champion of Education Award bestowed by the Education Deans of Greater Milwaukee. Her words were so inspiring that we asked if we could share them here, and she graciously agreed. In so very many ways, Jackie embodies what we espouse at Marquette: the pursuit of personal and professional excellence, the promotion of a life of faith, and leadership expressed in service to others. We could all better ourselves by embodying the spirit and actions of what she outlines in her remarks.

Helpinghands.svgI am humbled to accept this award from Youth Frontiers, and I do so in honor of the many volunteers who serve as models and mentors for Milwaukee youth. The word volunteer means doing something from the heart. I can volunteer because of the support I receive from my dear husband and best friend, Michael, my wonderful children Lauren and Justin, and my parents, who showed me by their example what it means to really care. My mom is with us today. I am grateful to be a part of Youth Frontiers’ mission to inspire today’s kids to grow in the virtues of kindness, courage and respect.

There is no such thing as a self-made person. No one can boast about accomplishing anything all by themselves. Everyone has received help along the way from both human and divine hands. I can stand here because, when I was a teenager, I had adults in my life, like my parents and teachers who loved me and taught me the difference between right and wrong. I stand on their shoulders. We stand on the shoulders of the great people who have gone before us.

Now, it is our turn to provide strong shoulders for today’s youth to stand on. Whenever I hear people complain about “these kids today,” I get fired up. Because I want to say: “When you see a struggling youth, are you allowing that kid to stand on your shoulders?” You and I have built careers, lives and families because someone was there to help when we needed it the most. Just think, if there was no one by our sides to lend a hand, where would we be now?

Youth Frontiers’ mission is to build the next generation of ethical leaders. The starting point to becoming an ethical person is to listen to our inner voice. Our inner voice tells us to do what is good and to avoid doing what is bad. It is a voice which tells us to be decent people and to treat others fairly, to be honest and to take responsibility for our mistakes, and to learn from them. Some of our youth hear their inner voice loud and clear, others barely hear a whisper. Youth Frontiers helps kids turn up the volume.

But life can become very hard for many Milwaukee kids. Violence, family tragedies and poverty traumatize our kids to a point when they can no longer hear the words of hope and courage deep within their souls. To help turn up the volume, it takes a caring adult to show the way. Through story and personal testimonies, kids can tune in to their inner voice and discover the correct path to take. Easier said than done, but I have seen first hand how a parent, a coach, a teacher, and any adult who cares enough to reach out to a struggling kid can make a profound difference and turn a life around.

I attended the Youth Frontiers’ retreat this past December, and the theme was courage. It takes courage to do the right thing. Think for a moment. Have you ever been bullied? Have you bullied someone else? Did you ever stand by and watched someone be bullied? Let’s be honest. Most of us can say yes to at least one or two of those questions.

Let me share a story with you. There once was a star football player who entered the cafeteria and saw the skinniest freshman sitting in his favorite place. The football player said, “Hey, why are you here?” The freshman froze and couldn’t move. The football player grabbed the kid by his shoulder and tossed him aside along with his lunch. No one protested as the skinny freshman went to find another seat. That is often how the world is – the strong win and the weak lose.

Imagine in your mind’s eye: what if the skinny freshman stood up and said “no” to the star football player? What if some other students stood up to protect the freshman? And now, imagine this: What if the star football player sat down next to the freshman and said: “How are you doin’ man?” and began a conversation because that star football player was once a skinny freshman who needed a friend.

Imagine if we could find a way for kids to have the COURAGE to not be the bystander, not be the bully or the bullied. How do we build confidence and courage in a society that isn’t doing it? I do believe that Youth Frontiers has the recipe and the formula to start changing hearts and minds.

In my work with students – one of the main reasons I do this is I want ALL kids to have the same opportunities that I had, and that my kids have. All kids should have the chance to go as far as their talents, abilities and determination will allow them. When obstacles like poverty, violence and racism get in the way, we need to be there to allow the kids to stand on our shoulders and see a better future.

And so, here’s my challenge to you: can everyone in the room think of a way to have an impact in 2019 and beyond?

Make it a goal, that I’m going to make a difference in a kid’s life who needs me. There’s always someone that needs someone. Make a commitment to make a difference in a school! And, since this is a fundraising lunch, invest in our kids with a gift in any amount that is right for you. Your gift will help Youth Frontiers serve more kids and help them overcome obstacles and enter a path to education and a family sustaining career.

Together, let’s make a difference. Thank you!

Celebrating 10 Years and Giving Back

IMG_1505By Hannah Jablonowski

Marquette University’s College of Education is collecting warm winter clothes for Penfield Montessori Academy (PMA), a local elementary school, in celebration of the tenth anniversary since we became a college. Marquette and the College of Education have a strong connection with PMA. Located close to Marquette’s campus, current students and alumni work within the school, and the College of Education could not think of a better way to celebrate our tenth anniversary than to help out!

The weather in the Midwest has been at a record low, and it is necessary for everyone to be warm. PMA is in need of winter clothes for their students. As part of a Jesuit community that embraces helping those in need, the College of Education started a winter clothing drive to collect materials needed to help keep these students warm and safe. The drive is continuing through February 15th, but items that were already donated were delivered this week due to the recent cold temperatures. With multiple coats, hats, scarves, and gloves already donated, Marquette’s College of Education is excited to see what other items will be donated and how we can continue to be the difference within our community.

If you are willing and able to help out but cannot make it to campus to drop off any donations, please view Penfield Montessori’s Amazon Wishlist for items you can buy and have automatically shipped to the school!


Changing the Game: How Julia Magnasco Has Redefined What Teaching Looks Like Outside of the Classroom


Julia Magnasco, Education Director for First Stage

In March 2017, Marquette University’s College of Education launched its new undergraduate major and minor, Educational Studies. To highlight professionals working in the field, the college profiled Community Advisory Board Member Julia Magnasco of First Stage. For 30 years, First Stage has been transforming lives through theater. As one of the nation’s most acclaimed children’s theaters and the second-largest company in Milwaukee, First Stage runs academies for children and schools while also producing plays and musicals for the city’s entertainment.

Julia Magnasco serves as First Stage’s Education Director and is a member of the College of Education’s Educational Studies Community Advisory Board. A program for students interested in education but not the traditional licensure of a classroom teacher, Educational Studies will prepare graduates to work in non-profit organizations or informal learning institutions such as First Stage. We sat down with Julia to learn more about her day-to-day life both on and off the stage along with her insight into what this new program could mean for our students and Milwaukee.

I’m very excited for this new major. There is a great need for educators outside the normal realm, whether it be an artist in schools or in community centers.

College of Education (COED): Thank you, Julia, for joining us! Can you tell us a bit about First Stage, your role in the organization, and what your day looks like?

Julia Magnasco (JM): I feel very lucky because my world is play! I’m the Education Director for First Stage. We are a professional theater for young audiences in Milwaukee. We are the second-largest theater company in the state and one of the largest theaters for young audiences in the nation. We have this incredible commitment to our community, but also to the field of theater for young people and families.

At First Stage we say we have three pillars. We have our productions where we put on shows for young people and families from three years old all the way through high school. Something we do that is really unique is “age-appropriate” casting. We use young performers side by with professional actors. It’s important to us that when young people are watching a show that they see themselves and their stories. They’re able to do some social bridging and social bonding from the experience of seeing productions. Young people have to see themselves on stage. Part of that is the need to see someone their age playing that character.

JM5The second pillar is theater academy. Our motto is teaching life skills through stage skills. The real goal of all of our programming in the academy is to nurture those socio-emotional abilities, EQ skills.

Our third pillar is education. We go into schools and community centers throughout the Milwaukee area with different workshops and opportunities right within that setting. We primarily use a method of teaching called “arts integration.” The idea of arts integration — and in our case, it’s drama — is looking at the process and actually teaching the standards that go along with it. The arts, like every other curricular subject, has its own set of standards and skills that need to be learned, and they need to be taught appropriately with that. We’re teaching the drama process while simultaneously teaching another curricular or social subject.

COED: How many students do you interact with in the course of a year? How do you work with schools and with community organizations?

JM: We end up facilitating over 2500 workshops every school year in over 750 classrooms, so we reach about 20,000 students. We want our students and community to have three touchpoints and come into the First Stage family. You might enter from coming to see a show, you might enter from First Stage coming to your classroom, you might enter by taking an academy class, but the idea is the connection with all these different levels in First Stage.

COED: How do you think our new program can be effective for tomorrow’s educational landscape?

JM: How do you look at education in a nontraditional setting? We’re looking at what the educational mandates are, what the new, exciting initiatives are — how we connect with those and how we can be game-changers both in the local community and on a national level. I think now more than ever our classrooms are so diverse, and it is important as educators to acknowledge that. We need to be responsive in our teaching and use the proper tools, giving opportunities to acknowledge and embrace that diversity — and to take the next generation to that level.

I’m very excited for this new major. There is a great need for educators outside the normal realm, whether it be an artist in schools or in community centers. This opportunity for engaged conversations and art has great power; art has the power to change. K-12 education for me looks different from what I experienced to what my daughter is experiencing now. There’s not a lot of art specialization right now in education, but that does not mean art is not present. We’re looking at it from a different lens. There is an opportunity to partner with school, teachers, and other organizations to bring these experiences to our community.

Want to learn more about the College of Education and its undergraduate educator preparation programs? Visit us online today!


Célébrez le District Scolaire Public Milwaukee

By Bill Henk – Humility prevents me from claiming to be fluent in French.  Well, that plus the fact that I’m not.

So, don’t be fooled by today’s title, which means “Celebrate the Milwaukee Public School District.”  Truth be told, I used a web-based English-to-French translator to create themere  illusion of foreign language competence.  Apparently I’m willing to stoop to almost any length to capture our audience’s attention for a post that hopefully deserves to be read.

No matter, as you’ll soon learn, the inspiration for today’s blog entry grew out of a tour I took last week of two MPS schools arranged by the Greater Milwaukee Committee (GMC).  I’m a new member of the GMC’s Education Committee, and jumped at the opportunity to spend time with school kids again.  I always do, because I miss working with them.

For the record, we were accompanied on our visits by district superintendent Dr. Gregory Thornton and Roseann St. Aubin, Communications Director at MPS.  Also, the previous day other Committee members toured two MPS high schools:  Pulaski and Ronald Reagan.  Unfortunately my schedule didn’t allow me to participate that day.

Aiming Hi

Our group was first treated to a visit to the Hi-Mount Community School, one of the few remaining neighborhood schools around these days.  Let me start by saying that the building itself qualifies as an exceptional facility, beautiful on both the outside and inside, and meticulously maintained.

Even more importantly, my fellow committee members and I were impressed both by an informative and skilled presentation made by Toni Dinkins, the school’s principal, and by the robust teaching and learning we observed.  The school fit the district’s designation of ‘high value/ low attainment,’ which means that strong progress is being made,  but achievement levels need to coninute increasing.  Given the school’s vision and strategic direction, as well as its talented leadership and teaching staff, I genuinely like its chances of moving the achievement needle to high attainment.

Parlez-vous français?

It’s true that I took two years of French in high school.  And to this day, thanks to my passionate teacher, Mr. Randall Lafferty, I can read French text aloud with such precision,  inflection, and conviction that most listeners would swear I was a native speaker.  The problem is that I have almost no idea what I’m actually saying.  Neither could I express a single, complete, original thought in French if my life depended on it.

Sure, I can usually figure out the meaning of a few words in a French text from their roots.  But after that, it doesn’t even amount to guesswork.  Both my oral expressive and receptive facilities in French are laughable.  Shamefully, I’m THAT clueless.   Poor Mr. Lafferty would be mortified.  If he’s now in a grave, he’d be turning over in it.

Anyway, my own shortcomings are  why I’m truly impressed when people are conversant in another language.  I’m even more impressed when those people happen to be elementary school children.  And last week I experienced just that.  Why?  Because the second stop on our tour was MPS’s French Immersion School (FIS) and what I witnessed there blew me away.

You see, in the FIS the teachers talk to the children almost exclusively in French.  Admittedly  there are some exceptions within the curriculum, and the instruction is developmentally-paced so the younger kids can grow more gradually into the experience.   But overwhelmingly, teachers and students are communicating in a foreign language.

No doubt the novelty of the situation contributed to my amazement.  I had never seen anything quite like this before.  And I’ve been in this business a long time.

My shock began with a visit to one classroom that was either third or fourth grade.  The teacher sat on a stool at the front of the room talking  children through the completion of a worksheet of some kind.  The kids followed along, fully engaged and staying on task throughout — actively responding to the teacher’s comments, prompts and questions — all in French!

And here’s the thing.   She spoke at an adult-like pace, never once slowing down in deference to the students’ young age or to the fact that they were  second language learners dealing with regular grade-level subject matter.

Although there is a somewhat different student demographic in the school, racially and socioeconmically, and the FIS rates as ‘high-attainment’ status, it still has a large proportion of urban children who would still typically be at-risk for school failure.  These are kids who many adults would predict can’t learn much.  Well, not only were they learning, but they were doing so at an exceptionally high rate — and in a foreign language.  In a word, “WOW!”

Frankly, I found myself being caught up in the learning environment.  “Hello” wouldn’t do for my greetings any longer.  No sir, now each staff member had to endure my saying “bonjour.”   Equally pretentious, while leaving some classrooms, I turned to the teacher and said, “Merci et au revoir.”  And I felt right at home “dans la bibliothèque” listening to Gina Bianchi, a first grade teacher, do a great job talking to us about the school and answering questionis as a pinch hitter for principal Virginia McFadden who could not join us.

By the way, one of the things I noticed at each school was the wonderful way Dr. Thornton interacted with the kids.   His warm acknowledgments left no doubt how fondly he regarded them.

But I couldn’t leave well enough alone.  At one point he said to a cute little girl, “Hello Baby.”  Before you knew it, I blurted out, “Excusez-moi, monsieur.  Il est bonjour, bébé.”

I had no idea where this stuff was coming from.   It was either a flashback, a demonic possession, or an out-of-body experience; I couldn’t tell which.  Thankfully I don’t think Dr. Thornton heard me.

Either way, sit up and take note, Mr. Lafferty!

Un dernier mot

OK, I admit to using the translator once again, this time to come up with the last  subheading – “A final word.”  But although my facility with French is phony and I’m a colossal pretender, the sentiment of celebrating MPS ranks as authentic for me.  Many success stories exist in the district, and my sincere hope is that some of them might be told on the Marquette Educator in the near future.


Tireless Champion for Children: A Tribute to Howard Fuller

By Dr. Bob Pavlik —

“And how are the children?”

This question, a traditional greeting among Maasai warriors, appears on the directory outside the Institute for the Transformation of Learning that Howard Fuller founded in 1995.  For staff and visitors to the Institute, where I have worked with Howard for the past 14 years, the question invites honest discussions and timely actions to address the daily reality of children living in poverty and attending inadequate schools.

The most [A] recent example of Howard’s timely work on behalf of children began this past March when the Journal-Sentinel reported shocking findings from the National Assessment of Educational Progress: Fourth and eighth graders in Milwaukee ranked last among their peers throughout the country for reading.  Howard was distressed over these findings and the apparent lack of outrage by city and school leaders over the poor test results.  Even though his schedule was packed, he made dozens of phone calls and convened meetings involving over 50 people to study the components of effective reading programs.  This summer, due to Howard’s relentless preparation, coalition-building and fund-raising, 86 second and third graders from public and private schools were engaged in the Milwaukee Summer Reading Project.

This fall, director of “An Inconvenient Truth” Davis Guggenheim features Howard in the nationally-distributed documentary “Waiting for Superman”.  The highly controversial documentary posits that public education increasingly protects its teachers as the expense of students.  At one point, Howard describes the “dance of the lemons”, an annual process of reassigning ineffective teachers among schools as one example of how difficult it is for many school districts to remove ineffective teachers due to constraints in contracts with teacher unions.

Howard’s career has never been without challenge and controversy.

Continue reading ‘Tireless Champion for Children: A Tribute to Howard Fuller’

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