Racine public school teacher overcomes much to testify on SB 1

Racine Unified Public School teacher Angelina Cruz testifies at Tuesday's SB1 public hearing in Madison.

Racine Unified Public School teacher Angelina Cruz testifies at Tuesday’s SB1 public hearing in Madison (Photo credit: Rebecca Kemble).

Angelina Cruz, a teacher of ten years from the Racine Unified School District, suffered a traumatic brain injury 5 months ago that has kept her out of the classroom this year, but she mustered up the strength to testify at Tuesday’s public hearing on Senate Bill 1. Here is what she had to tell the committee on how to best help schools in Wisconsin:

Thank you for the opportunity to speak today. And I would like to thank you all for dedicating your work to public service. I do the same. My name is Angelina Cruz and I am a public school teacher. For ten years, I taught 5th grade in the Racine Unified School District. This would have been my eleventh year, except that 5 months ago I suffered a traumatic brain injury.

You may be wondering what would compel someone such as myself to find a way to Madison today to speak before you. Frankly, I should not even be alive. I shouldn’t be able to do this today. And that’s just it. I’ve been told over and over by some of the best doctors that my being alive is a miracle. So I feel very strongly that I must continue to use the voice that I have been blessed with to speak for my students and their families.

My first week out of the hospital was the first week of the school year. This was extraordinarily difficult for me. I’ve always taken what I do very seriously. These past five months I have been working very hard to get back to it. I receive e-mails from former students on a daily basis. I have had the opportunity to visit the school I was at for ten years. I miss it. I miss my kids. And I sit before you concerned that the place I love being most in this world, working with these kids, public schools, will not exist very soon.

I have a degree in educational policy so I like to think that I am pretty well versed in the history of public schools and how to move our schools forward successfully. So I am seeking some clarification:

  • How will voucher and privately run charter schools be held accountable? I’m not a statistician, but it seems to me that allowing charter and voucher schools to take different tests than public schools makes comparison and accountability unrealistic.
  • How do privatizing, or abandoning, public schools deemed “failures” ensure positive results when studies have shown that these schools do not perform any better than our existing public schools?
  • The establishment of a separate board is concerning. Will creating a separate board really hold private schools receiving public money accountable?
  • It seems as though this bill would remove local control of our schools. Presently, if a parent has an issue with a teacher or an administrator, they have the freedom to approach the local school board to redress their grievances. Passage of this bill seems to eliminate this as a possibility. Please explain to me how this is not a divestment in our communities.
  • What protections are in place for our special education students and English language learners under this bill? Private schools are not required under law to provide these services, whereas public schools must. Furthermore, private schools have the freedom to deny access to students that require services that they do not provide.

Please don’t get me wrong. I have no problems with private schools. I am a product of parochial schooling, grades K-12, because my parents thought it important that I have a religious upbringing. What this religious upbringing taught me is that our world is filled with beautiful diversity that must be embraced. We must love each other and support each other. And I fear that this bill does nothing toward that effort for those most in need.

Wisconsin has one of the finest public school system in the country. Yet here we are on the precipice of losing it all. If you are truly looking for ways to move our great state forward, and I believe that you are, please consider addressing issues related to poverty. Think about requiring smaller class sizes so that students receive more individualized attention. Please consider the provision of wrap around services so that children have adequate nutrition. Please ensure that schools are staffed with highly educated and experienced teachers. Consider raising the minimum wage to a living wage, so that parents have the means to provide for their families.

When you go to bed at night and close your eyes, please think about your own children and those that you know and love. Think about what it is that you would like for them to have. Because that’s what this is about. The kids. And it takes a village to raise them up. As politically charged as education has become across this nation, I believe that the legislators in our state have the courage to do the right thing for the voiceless that have gotten lost in this debate. The kids. This is not a Republican problem or a Democrat problem. This is a doing what is right versus doing what is wrong problem. As Kid President once said, “I disagree with you but I still like you as a person who is a human being and I will treat you like that because if I didn’t it would make everything bad and that’s what a lot of people do and it’s lame.” I believe that we, in Wisconsin, can choose to model for the nation what it means to put our differences aside for just about the best reason ever. For the kids.

I have included my name, address, e-mail, and phone number on my testimony that I will be submitting for the official record. I look forward to hearing from you. And for you to do the right thing.

Thank you.

 

Public school advocates testify on Senate schools bill

photo by Rebecca Kemble

photo by Rebecca Kemble

At yesterday’s hearing on Senate Bill 1, educators and parents urged legislators to require the same standards for all schools that receive taxpayer funding – whether they are public schools, privately run charter schools, or voucher schools.

Public school advocates testified that:

  • All schools should have to take the same test
  • Schools should not be rated with A-F grades
  • Schools should be accountable to locally elected school boards, not unelected boards in Madison such as those proposed in SB 1 and AB 1

MTEA Vice President Kim Schroeder pointed out that school improvement requires support and resources, not just labeling and punishment. He said: “Public school budgets have been cut over a billion dollars in the last three years. The main resource this bill offers is advice. Advice is appreciated, but – and I think I can speak on behalf of the public school students of this state – we would rather have the billion dollars back.”

SB 1 does not sanction schools as strongly as AB 1, but it creates two unelected state boards – one to oversee public and privately run charter schools, and a separate board to oversee voucher schools. The voucher school board is attached to the Department of Administration, while the board that oversees public schools and privately run charter schools is linked to the Department of Education.

SB 1 in its current form does not require A-F letter grades. It also maintains the current law’s requirement that students at public, voucher, and privately run charter schools all take the same test. AB 1, on the other hand, would assign yearly A-F letter grades to all schools, allow voucher and privately run charter schools to take different tests than public schools, and would hand public schools over to private companies if they did not meet DPI expectations.

Substitute Teacher Explains Why “Real World Experience” Isn’t Enough to Teach

Scott Walker just announced that in his budget address he will lower standards for teachers to become licensed in the State of Wisconsin. He claims that once the teachers take a competency exam on the content they are teaching, they are prepared to teach that content to children. Listen to what Milwaukee Public School substitute teacher John Thielmann has to say about that having come into the profession of teaching with plenty of real world experience:

I am a “guest-teacher” (a sub in old-school jargon). I began more than 15 years ago under an emergency permit. I had 40+ years of “life experience.” I got by, watched others, copied techniques, etc. I went back to school, studied, and earned my teaching license. It made a HUGE difference- in classroom management, in understanding lesson plans, in improvising when there weren’t any plans or the plans weren’t working as hoped. In long-term assignments, it made a difference in MY lesson planning and instruction. Being educated and trained in HOW to teach is essential. That conclusion is based on my “life experience” of becoming a teacher.

It’s time to hold the city’s charter schools accountable

Gail Hicks and Marva Herndon from Women for an Informed Community present a portion of Schools & Communities United's findings on 4 City charter schools to the Steering & Rules Committee

Gail Hicks and Marva Herndon from Women for an Informed Community present a portion of Schools & Communities United’s findings on 4 City charter schools to the Steering & Rules Committee

 

“If Republican lawmakers think that charter schools are an effective vehicle to increase student performance while providing public transparency, they should take another look at the city of Milwaukee’s experience with its 10 charter schools.”

Shepherd Express

 

Thanks to the work of a broad community coalition, Schools and Communities United (SCU), the Milwaukee Common Council’s Steering and Rules Committee has a much more honest view of what their city charter schools currently look like; and it doesn’t look good. The committee has been left in the dark on some serious red flags that were not provided by the city’s current oversight body (the Charter School Review Committee), or the independent consultant the committee relies on for information (the Children’s Research Center). At a recent Steering and Rules Committee meeting, SCU presented information on four schools and submitted research briefs to the S&R Committee. The coalition is making three demands of S&R Committee members:

  1. Fix the broken charter school oversight process:
  2. A moratorium on any future City charter schools, regardless of where they are in the approval process.
  3. Revoke the charters of four schools: Milwaukee Math & Science, Milwaukee Collegiate Academy, Northpoint Lighthouse Academy, and King’s Academy.

 

Here are summaries of the briefs on the four schools of concern (click on the school’s name for the full report on the school)

Milwaukee Math & Science Academy 

 

In June 2014, FBI agents raided 19 of its schools in Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. In July, the corporate headquarters in Illinois was raided. An FBI statement said they were part of “an ongoing white collar crime investigation.” Also in July 2014, the Ohio Department of Education began an investigation into alleged “attendance rate falsification and test tampering” at a Concept Schools facility. Other investigations concern its use of H1-B visas (Visas made available for workers in areas of high need) to bring teachers from Turkey when there is a supply of local teachers.

 

Milwaukee Collegiate Academy

 

Milwaukee Collegiate Academy is in its 11th year of operation, first as a private voucher school and now a Milwaukee City charter. In both 2011-12 and 2012-13, the school expelled 11% of its students. In 2013-14 it expelled 16% of its students. That’s 5 times more expulsions than any other City-chartered school and 10 times more than Milwaukee Public Schools high schools. Its suspension rate was 56% in 2011-12 and 42% in 2012-13, higher than any other City charter school or MPS high school.

 

Northpoint Lighthouse Academy

 

North Point Lighthouse Academy is a Milwaukee city charter school run outside the control of the local school board. It is located in a former steel fabrication plant amid industrial and commercial properties and has an electricity tower and a transformer in back. In 2012-13, the school paid a $111,378 management fee to its parent, Lighthouse Academies as “pay down with interest” on prior funding.

 

King’s Academy

 

King’s Academy is in its 5th year as a City charter; before that it was a private religious voucher school for 11 years. In December 2014, the City’s Charter School Review Committee recommended putting King’s Academy on probation, because of poor academic performance and high turnover in staff and administration. In its 16th year as a school, it “hasn’t risen to the level one might expect” (Review Committee member) and has experienced extremely high teacher turnover.

 

Please call the alderpersons on the Steering & Rules Committee and demand they hold these charter schools accountable and follow through on these three demands:

 

1. Fix the broken charter school oversight process:

2. A moratorium on any future City charter schools, regardless of where they are in the approval process.

3. Revoke the charters of the Milwaukee Math & Science, Milwaukee Collegiate Academy, Northpoint Lighthouse Academy, and King’s Academy.

 

Ashanti Hamilton 1st district: Phone: (414) 286-2228

ahamil@milwaukee.gov

Joe Davis Sr. 2nd district: Phone: (414) 286-2221

jldavis@milwaukee.gov

Nik Kovac 3rd district: Phone: (414) 286-2221

nkovac@milwaukee.gov

Robert J. Bauman 4th district: Phone: Phone: (414) 286-2221,
 rjbauma@milwaukee.gov

Jim Bohl 5th district: Phone: (414) 286-3870
, jbohl@milwaukee.gov

Michael J. Murphy 10th district (Chairman): Phone: (414) 286-2221, 
mmurph@milwaukee.gov

Terry Witkowski 13th district: Phone: (414) 286-8537
, twitko@milwaukee.gov

Tony Zielinski 14th district: Phone: (414) 286-3769
, tzieli@milwaukee.gov

Celebrating the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

writing contest winners

Students, families and educators gathered at the Marcus Center for the Performing arts yesterday to celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and to honor the winners of this year’s Dr. King writing, speech and art contests. The theme of this year’s contest: “We have a great deal of positive work to do.”

Click for a photo gallery of the event; click here to watch powerful speeches by first-place winners Terynn Erby-Walker, a student at Alcott who won the 3-4th grade division, and Marissa Robertson, a student at Milwaukee High School of the Arts who won the 11-12th grade division.

About 4,100 students entered the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Writing Contest this year, with an additional 600 students entering the speech and art contests. The writing contest is co-sponsored by MTEA and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. All students and teachers who participated in the writing contest also received a certificate and button from MTEA last week at school.

The winning writing contest entries were published in a special section of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Sunday, January 18. They will be available online soon at jsonline.com.

2014 Writing Contest Winners:

Grades K-1 (Group project)
Grade 1 room 133, Fairview Elementary, Ms. Michaud

Grades 2-3
1st: Blaise Wood, Trowbridge School, Ms. Desire Tyler, grade 3
2nd: Vincent McMurtry, Underwood Elementary, Ms. Kathy Sicula, grade 3
3rd: Jada Akins, Hi-Mount Community School, Ms. Mary Seewald, grade 3

Grades 4-5
1st: Alexa Hernandez, Hayes Bilingual, Ms. Hayes, grade 4
2nd: Edgardo Carrasquillo, Golda Meir, Ms. Richardson, grade 4
3rd: Jasmine Wright, Elm Creative Arts, Ms. Conrad, grade 4

Grade 6
1st: Aracely Esqueda, Manitoba Elementary, Ms. Bahr, grade 6
2nd: Richard Yang, Hartford University School, Ms. Joyce Peoples, grade 6

Grades 7-8
1st: Layal Khreis, Salam School, Ms. Schauer, grade 8
2nd: Darien Crawford, Golda Meir, Ms. Razaa, grade 8
3rd: Kelaiah Smith, Golda Meir, Ms. Razaa, grade 7

Grades 9-10
1st: Pasua Chang, Hmong American Peace Academy, Ms. Meyer, grade 10
2nd: Noemi Gutierrez-Godoy, Riverside University HS, Ms. Gulbronson, grade 9
3rd: Chachee Lee, Riverside University High School, Ms. Gulbronson, grade 9

Grades 11-12
1st: Marissa Robertson, Milwaukee High School of the Arts, Ms. Katter, grade 11
2nd: Abigail Thompson, Milwaukee High School of the Arts, Ms. Katter, grade 11
3rd: Ufaira Shaik, Salam School, Mr. Jason Then, grade 11

Parents stand up for bilingual public schools

bilingual instituteParents of bilingual MPS students recently attended a Bilingual Education Parent Institute to learn leadership and advocacy skills needed to stand up for bilingual and public education in Wisconsin.

The institute was conducted completely in Spanish and was co-sponsored by Centro Hispano, Wisconsin Association of Bilingual Educators (WIABE), The MTEA Bilingual/ELL Committee, Youth Empowered in the Struggle!, and Schools and Communities United. The institute also received support from Alianza Latina Aplicando Soluciones.

Many of the participants from the Bilingual Education Parent Institute will also attend the February 7th Save Public Schools Strategy Session. Click here for more information and to RSVP.

School privatization fight heats up in Milwaukee

common council hearing

The Milwaukee Common Council’s Steering & Rules Committee received two reports on the city’s charter schools today. One was the official report from the city Charter School Review Committee (CSRC). The other was from a broad community coalition – Schools and Communities United. It made for one of the longest meetings on record and some heated exchanges.

The Milwaukee City government was the first city in the nation to authorize privately-run charter schools. They’ve been criticized for being a financial drain on the public schools and for not enrolling the equivalent percentage of students with special needs and those who are learning English as a second language.

The official report was an update on the ten charter schools the city oversees. Members from Schools and Communities United used the public testimony portion of the hearing to present what they called “new facts” on four of the city’s charter schools identified as struggling.

The coalition Schools and Communities United sent several rounds of speakers to the microphone to present new information on four schools being considered for renewal. They identified several concerns they had with Milwaukee Collegiate Academy, King’s Academy, Milwaukee Math and Science Academy, and Northpoint Lighthouse Academy and had some pretty direct examples highlighting those concerns. Below are the reports outlining their concerns.

The coalition presented all of their new information to the committee, leaving many members visibly surprised by these new facts. The hearing ended with no vote or sanctions being placed upon these four schools, but it seems clear that many Alderpersons have now seen that the city charter school review process is flawed and needs to be scrapped. Our children deserve better!

Watch video of the proceedings here.

Please call the alderpersons on the Steering & Rules Committee and demand they hold these charter schools accountable. Click here for their phone numbers.

Powerful teacher testimony on the Public School Takeover Bill

AB 1 Amy testifying“We don’t have an education problem. We have an economics problem that has caused an education problem.”

There was a common theme at yesterday’s public hearing on Assembly Bill 1, the Public School Takeover bill. The schools that AB 1 targets for takeover have high numbers of students living in poverty. AB 1 does nothing to address poverty or the huge resource disparity it creates for districts and schools in our communities. A true “accountability” bill would recognize and adjust for this truth.

One speaker in particular, MTEA member Amy Mizialko, laid this reality out clearly for committee members late in the hearing Wednesday night. When she was finished, several committee members were in tears.

Watch to see what Amy said. It’s likely that her testimony made some of the Republicans on the committee think twice about what they are proposing.

Students receive free glasses

WI Vision fall 2014 frames WI vision fall 2014 glasses fitting

MTEA, Wisconsin Vision, Prevent Blindness Wisconsin, and Milwaukee Public Schools teamed up again this year to provide vision screening and free eyeglasses to hundreds of students at Brown Street Academy and Auer Avenue School. Students who did not pass vision screenings were seen by Wisconsin Vision’s doctors and had an opportunity to choose from hundreds of fashionable frames. They received their glasses in early December. In addition, all students at both schools received a free book courtesy of First Book and WEAC.

Click to watch a video of the program.