Community Schools put students’ needs front and center

Community schools are an outstanding model for public education in the 21st century because they put students’ needs front and center. These schools can include partnerships with health care and social service providers, mentors, and others who offer a range of services, from medical care and counseling for students, to job resources and emergency assistance for parents and others who live in the neighborhood.

Community Schools exist or are being developed in several communities throughout Wisconsin, including Madison, Green Bay, Oshkosh, Sun Prairie and Milwaukee. Recently the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel featured the impressive accomplishments of the Community School program at Auer Avenue School in Milwaukee. It is one of four schools involved in the Milwaukee Community Schools Partnership.

What defines a Community School?

  • No two community schools are exactly alike. Rather than a one-size-fits-all approach that treats all neighborhoods – and all students – the same, community schools are as unique as the children they serve.
  • Successful community schools are built on six pillars:
    • They provide a rich curriculum that includes culturally relevant, robust, and challenging course offerings.
    • They emphasize high-quality teaching instead of testing, including time for educators to collaborate.
    • They provide support services before, during, and after school.
    • They rely on extensive parent and community engagement.
    • They focus on positive discipline practices, resulting in fewer school suspensions and harsh punishments.
    • And they feature inclusive leadership and shared responsibility among the school principal, the Community School Coordinator, and a Community School Committee that includes parents, partners, school staff, youth, and other stakeholders.

The community school concept is not new; it actually dates to the turn of the 20th century when educators and philosophers such as John Dewey advocated a curriculum that was relevant to the lives of students. These educators argued that the school should be the center of neighborhood life and they wanted the building open and accessible well beyond the school day.

The concept fell in and out of favor over the passing decades. At some points, federal grants have supported the creation of community schools. But the emergence of No Child Left Behind put testing and top-down notions of reform in the driver’s seat.

With ESSA, educators – the ones who know students, parents, and neighborhoods best – have the opportunity to advocate for what we know works, and community schools should be at the top of our list.

Today’s community schools recognize that meeting our students’ needs inside the classroom means recognizing that the unmet needs they have outside the classroom affect their ability and desire to learn.

Read more:

Community Schools: As Unique as the Children They Serve – Lily’s Blackboard

Imagine a school that not only provides rich classes and challenging opportunities for students, but also builds the skills of parents who need help learning English or preparing for the GED. A school that has an inviting, cozy resource center where families who need clothing, emergency housing, or even immigration lawyers get help.

Imagine a School…

Each community school is unique, responsive to and reflective of the needs and aspirations of the students, families, and communities within its reach. However, the most successful of these schools are built on Six Pillars. Listed by @neatoday.

Community Schools

A Community School is at the center of the community – open all day, every day, to everyone – that brings together academics, health and social services, youth and community development and community engagement under one roof, leading to improved learning, stronger families, and healthier communities.

Milwaukee Community Schools Partnership

The Milwaukee Community Schools Partnership (MCSP) is a collective strategy to transform schools into a place where students, families, staff, and the surrounding community can work together to ensure every student is successful. Community Schools is a proven model to increase a school’s capacity to better engage and align partnerships centered on the self-identified, real-time priorities of schools and communities.


Educators talk about their love of teaching in ‘Humans of Oshkosh’ project


Photo courtesy of Humans of Oshkosh.

WEAC members are among the “Humans of Oshkosh” telling their stories as part of an online community project where they talk about their love of teaching, their support for kids, and the value of public education.

“A good day for me when I teach is when I see students’ excitement about learning,” says Oshkosh teacher and WEAC / Region 5 member Zong Vang, who is participating in the Teachers’ Storytelling Project called Why I Teach. It is part of the broader Humans Of Oshkosh project.

“When students talk about how they can’t wait for the next subject and when they are anxious about learning also makes it a good day because I know that I am a part of helping them explore what learning is all about,” Vang says. “Many times when I tell students that it’s the end of the day, they tell me that the day went by so fast. To me, I think that’s a good day because the students were so engaged in their learning that the time just flew by.”

HumansOfOshkosh_WilfahrtOshkosh teacher and WEAC/Region 5 member James Wilfahrt adds: “I work 70 hours a week and think or dream about it the rest of the time. My holidays are typically spent doing school work because there is really no end to the amount of time you could devote to the teaching profession.”

More from James Wilfahrt:

I don’t make a lot of money, have a lot of money, or do it for the money. I do it because it is what I love to do. To me, a good day of teaching is smooth and balanced. There needs to be fun, and there needs to be the right amount of learning as well. I want lessons to be interesting so I can send my students home in a good mood with many things to share about their day. A good day of teaching is when the students and I accomplish our learning objectives and demonstrate growth.”

More from Zong Vang:

“I was born a U.S. citizen so I was fortunate to learn English and Hmong at the same time. When I was in elementary school, my cousins came to America from Laos not knowing any English. I started teaching them the letters of the alphabet, how to write, and how to pronounce words. From this experience, my passion for helping others started and it made me feel like I was making a difference in their lives. I liked the idea of making a difference in someone’s life so I geared toward teaching.

“I want others to know that teachers work hard every day and year round. Although we may be off in summers, we are teaching summer school, training and participating in workshops all to keep up with the new and changing world so everything we teach is up to date. Teachers also work beyond the expected school hours and it’s sad to say, but we have to sacrifice our own family time to get work done. I have kids of my own and it’s a touchy subject. As a teacher, you go back and forth about if you should be home with your kids or if this is what you should be doing. Since I’ve been teaching I haven’t been able to do many special things with my own children. I’ve never been able to take my children to their first day of school, pick them up from school, or even attend a field trip without having to request a day off for a sub, along with doing lesson plans. These may seem like little things, but if it’s been completely taken away from your life, it makes a big difference especially when your children want you there with them. It’s not easy at all, but I do what I do because I make such a big difference to many children. I know that when I’m home with my children, I give them everything I have and I can do the same for other children who come to school ready to learn and explore. I do what I do because education is the most important part in everyone’s life and if I enjoy teaching, I need to be teaching. Not only that, I want to show my own children the importance of having a career because of an education and to never give up.”

Humans of Oshkosh is modeled after the Humans of New York blog and is produced by the Fall 2015 students enrolled in instructor Grace Lim’s “Telling Stories for Fun, Profit and World Peace” course at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. The project will result in a book, an exhibit and a multimedia presentation in April of 2016. A sneak preview of the project will be held at 6 p.m. December 9, 2015, at the Reeve Union Ballroom as part of the University Studies Program’s Quest Talks.


Humans of Oshkosh Facebook page

#Why I Teach

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Milwaukee fights back against school takeovers with “walk-ins” at more than 100 public schools

walk in hartford

Thousands of parents, educators, students and community leaders held “walk-ins” at more than 100 public schools across the city of Milwaukee to celebrate public schools and to share information about how a proposed public school takeover will hurt students and the Milwaukee economy. All fourteen schools in LaCrosse also held walk-ins today in solidarity with Milwaukee.

Look for pictures of your school at the end of this post – schools are listed in alphabetical order, and more will be added in the next few days.

The Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association and the Schools and Communities United coalition organized the walk-ins in response to a public school takeover plan that was passed in July as part of the Wisconsin state budget.

The school takeover plan charges Milwaukee county executive Chris Abele with choosing a takeover commissioner this fall. The commissioner would then choose 1-3 schools to convert into privately run charter or voucher schools for the 2016-17 school year. In each subsequent year, up to five schools could be handed over to private operators.

Parents and community members have raised several concerns about the takeover plan. Among them:

  • The takeover plan offers no new ideas or resources. Changing who runs a school will not provide the resources or support that students need to succeed.
  • Many students will be left without critical services. The takeover schools are not required to meet the needs of special education students or English language learners.
  • School takeovers eliminate good jobs in our city. Takeovers have hurt the local economy in New Orleans, Memphis and Detroit.
  • The takeover plan eliminates democratic local control and disenfranchises black and brown communities.
  • Takeovers will affect all public schools, not just a few individual schools. The very existence of our public school system is in jeopardy.

The walk-ins today were a step forward in building a network of school defense committees to protect and strengthen every public school in the city of Milwaukee. Parents, educators, community members and students will work together in the coming months to solidify their school defense committees and prepare for an all-city summit of school defense committees on December 5, 2015.

Cultivate family and community engagement to boost student achievement, Evers says

From the Department of Public Instruction

Evers_200px“Families are our biggest allies in our work to increase student learning and close achievement gaps so all students graduate college and career ready,” State Superintendent Tony Evers said Thursday in reviewing recommendations from his Parent Advisory Council.

Evers presented the report during his state education address at the State Capitol. The State Superintendent’s Parent Advisory Council examined the Promoting Excellence for All initiative, taking a fresh and deeper look at how Wisconsin schools can engage families of the lowest-performing students so they are partners in their children’s success.

While Wisconsin schools have many strengths, assessment and graduation data consistently confirm achievement gaps for students of color, economically disadvantaged students, students with disabilities, and English language learners.

“To change achievement gaps that exist in too many of our schools throughout the state, we must cultivate family and community engagement practices that validate families as experts on their children and partners in their students’ success,” Evers said. “The work of effective instruction, positive student and teacher relationships, and school and instructional leadership hinges on strong partnerships with families. We all have a role to play in closing achievement gaps.”

With the start of a new school year, the report from the Parent Advisory Council encourages schools and educators to ask what more can be done to tap into families’ innate desires to help children and young people succeed in school. Council members recommend that schools “accept families as they are and make frequent efforts to know, listen to, and learn from parents.”

According to the council, schools must connect families to student learning in a variety of ways throughout the year. To make families partners and decision makers in closing student achievement gaps, successful schools:

• recognize and build upon students’ unique cultural and family strengths, • communicate regularly with families in their languages and invite families to share their knowledge and needs, (more) Family and Community Engagement – Page 2 • create multiple ways for all families to gain skills and knowledge that support children’s learning and achieve school goals, and • help families become aware of and use community resources that prepare every child to be college and career ready.

Evers encouraged educators to explore the Parent Advisory Council report, which is part of the Promoting Excellence for All website.

“Ask parents, grandparents, and community members what they need to support children’s learning. Enlist their help in building relationships that help close achievement gaps,” he said. “Our children are so precious.”

The State Superintendent’s Parent Advisory Council is made up of parents, grandparents, and community members who are representative of the geographic and cultural diversity of Wisconsin’s public school students.

Community Schools Initiative helps students achieve

The Sun Prairie Community School Initiative is a partnership and collaboration between individuals and organizations to help students achieve and stay connected with the community. It provides a wide variety of services to students and their families, including after-school sports and other activities in a safe environment with adult supervision.

“Because of these activities, we’re seeing that the kids are more ready for school,” says Mary Ellen Havel-Lang, one of the group’s founding members. “They want to be at school. The attendance numbers have increased. Their progress has increased. We’re getting more parental involvement in the schools.”

One of the Initiative’s programs, Kids Achieve Together, pairs upper middle school and high school kids with elementary school students. Twice a week the older students provide tutoring and physical activities for the younger children.

“These were underachieving students. They met their peers achievement level, with that one-on-one tutoring, in math and they exceeded their peers in reading, because they had a relationship, in a safe environment, that helped them understand and learn those lessons.”

Programs also include mental health services and counseling for alcohol and drug abuse, plus programs aimed not at students, but at their families:

“Financial literacy, computer safety … our non-English speaking parents with help learning enough English to deal with the schools.”

Havel-Lang says the initiative is modeled on similar programs in other communities, and the grassroots organization currently receives no public funding. It was launched in 2010 over concern about the lack of activities for youth in the community, particularly in low-income areas. As a result, meals and nutrition play an important part in the group’s programs.

“We’re in a very actively growing community, and we have seen the increase in poverty in our community,” Havel-Lang says. “Having good nutrition and having food is a critical part of learning. Being hungry is not the situation you want to be in if you want to learn.”

Listen to interview with Mary Ellen Havel-Lang:

Read more:

Community Schools | Sun Prairie, WI – Official Website

State budget hearing in Milwaukee March 20 | Rally and testify

public ed is good for WIAll students deserve a high quality public education. But Governor Walker has proposed a $127 million cut to public schools statewide, including $12 million to MPS alone. Voucher and private charter schools are expanding statewide, and legislators want to hand over dozens of MPS schools to private companies.

Please attend a rally and action with parents, students and educators at the state budget hearing Friday, March 20 at 4:30pm at Alverno College, 3400 S. 43rd Street. Public education advocates are also needed to testify at the hearing that day, which will run from approximately 10am-5pm. Please share this information with parents and students!

RSVP below.

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Parents! STAND UP for public schools

parents stand up fight back memeThe Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association invites parents and community members to join with our union in the fight for a high quality public school for all children. If you share our vision of fair funding for public schools and increased learning opportunities for all children, sign up below so we can communicate with you about upcoming events and campaigns.


March 18 rally to support public schools

All kids deserve a high quality public education. But Governor Walker has proposed a $127 million cut to public schools statewide. Voucher and private charter schools are expanding statewide, and legislators want to hand over dozens of MPS schools to private companies. Class time spent on testing has nearly tripled since 2002, and test scores are used to punish and take over schools.  Join us on March 18 and stand up for the education our kids deserve!

Image credit: Nicolas Lampert

Image credit: Nicolas Lampert

Rally and Call to Action: Support Public Schools!
Wednesday, March 18 at 6pm
at MATC Cooley Auditorium, 700 W. State St.
featuring national education expert Diane Ravitch

Door prizes: Laptop computer, 2 iPad Minis, t-shirts
Free tickets for groups of 10 or more. Single tickets $5.

Click for a flyer you can use to invite others.

Click here for an English flyer and/or Spanish flyer; these have been approved for distribution to MPS families.

Fill out the form below to reserve your tickets.

***Parking is available for a fee in a ramp on the corner of 8th and State St and 6th and State Street***

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March 18 event will address over-testing, school takeovers

National education expert Diane Ravitch will speak to hundreds of parents, educators, students and community supporters on Wednesday, March 18 at 6pm at MATC’s Cooley Auditorium.

Ravitch, one of the country’s foremost experts on testing and school privatization, couldn’t come at a better time. Controversial budget and school takeover bills are in play in the Wisconsin state legislature. The proposed budget cuts public education by $127 million, as Republicans continue their strategy of labeling schools “failing” on the basis of test scores to justify school takeovers.

Battles are also heating up around the Smarter Balanced assessment and other tests. As the video below shows, testing has nearly tripled since the passage of “No Child Left Behind,” and nearly a third of teachers’ time is now spent on testing and preparation.

Educators, parents, students and community members are invited to bring a group from your school or organization to hear Ravitch’s talk. Together we can learn how to stop over-testing our kids, increase quality learning time, and end school takeover attempts. Click here for a flyer you can use to invite others.

Fill out the form below to register your group. Any group with 10 or more participants will receive free tickets! Single tickets are $5, available at the MTEA office.

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Help inform others! Hold a meeting at your school or organization

Greenfield parent meme

Parents, educators and community members have an interest in learning what the proposed budget cuts and takeover bills could mean for their schools and communities. If you are willing to organize a gathering (or invite us to an existing gathering) at your school, community organization, or place of worship, MTEA or Schools and Communities United will send a speaker to share information and materials, and answer questions.

Fill out the form below to request a speaker and let us know when you will meet. We will follow up by phone or email to confirm that a speaker will be sent.

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