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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014

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In Kids & Family Commentary

A number of MPS schools hosted public presentations, like this one at Reagan High, on the facilities master plan in September.

Schools prepping for facilities action


A few weeks ago MPS released the results of its months-long facilities plan research. It's an exercise the district undertakes every 10 years. In the report were a number of suggestions that weren't yet actual proposals.

But most folks pretty much assumed these first-year ideas would quickly be turned into specific administration proposals to the board and you can expect them to be on the agenda when the Committee on Accountability, Finance and Personnel meets at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 8. In fact, one school board director told me just that yesterday.

Public testimony will be heard at that meeting, too. It will likely be a long night.

The full board would then vote on proposals the following Thursday. A district rule says all such changes must be completed by Dec. 31, to accommodate the start of enrollment in January for the 2012-13 school year.

The result is that the schools tabbed for closure in the report have been preparing to battle to stay alive. Others named are strategizing to make sure their programs' delicate cultures won't crumble during proposed moves or expansions.

Elizabeth Witt, a parent at 68th Street School – which managed to stay open this year after Superintendent Gregory Thornton proposed closing this West Side K3-K5 early childhood program last year – sent out an e-mail via the Enderis Park and Enderis East Neighborhood Associations about efforts to close the school again.

The program is a small one, which is toxic in the current economic environment. Add in that K3 students are entirely board funded (the state does not fund K3 education), and the equation for 68th Street School seems deadly.

Mother of Good Counsel Catholic school across the street added a K3 program this year, and that likely won't help at 68th Street.

But parents fought successfully to keep the program open last year and, based on Witt's message, they appear ready to do the same again now.

"This is a chance for the neighborhood associations to have a big, big impact on the direction of MPS schools in our neighborhood," she writes. "It's also our chance to preserve the amazing program at 68th Street School and see that it's kept, intact, in our community."

Witt adds: "At the meeting (Monday) the school board members – who voted down the superintendent's closure recommendation last year – said that this year they will likely vote to close the program, but they want to hear from the neighborhoods about alternatives that would keep the 68th program intact."

One proposal would move the program – lock, stock and barrel – to nearby 81st Street School. That plan would also attempt to make 81st more of a neighborhood school, presumably by adding a walk zone or bolstering an existing walk zone.

Another plan would be to move the program to 65th Street School, which the facilities plan suggests closing, and expanding it up to 5th grade.

"The school board members made it very, very clear that they consider the opinion of the neighborhoods – Enderis Park, Enderis East, Lenox (Heights) and Cooper (Park) – much, much more important than the suggestion of the superintendent," writes Witt. "If we come up with a plan we prefer as a community, the school board is very likely to listen. In the end, it's the school board that makes decisions about schools – not the superintendent."

This is what folks on the East Side have been hearing, too, about a district plan to close Carver Academy in Brewers' Hill and open a Montessori program in the building. The program would be part of a double campus set-up with Maryland Avenue Montessori, which would move its 4th through 8th graders to Carver to build Montessori capacity at both locations. But a tinkered plan from the community might also get a good hearing from the board.

A meeting about the Montessori expansion is planned for this week at Maryland Avenue. District regional executive specialist Cynthia Ellwood will present the plan to the school community at the meeting. I'm a member of the School Governance Council at Maryland and while there is support for an expansion, that support comes with some serious concerns about how the changes might affect a successful and popular program.

Meanwhile, the Carver community turned out earlier this month when the report was presented to the board as an informational item and expect it to return next week to plead its case to avoid closure.

Further west, at MacDowell Montessori, on 17th and Highland, the school community is discussing a proposed move of their program to the former Juneau High School. MacDowell, which currently runs through 8th grade, would be expanded to include grades 9-12.

Asked about the mood at the school, teacher Katie Hummel-Dosmann says, "It's hard to tell. I think there's apprehension about leaving our 'home.'

"Some are worried we'll lose more students than we gain due to changes in transportation zone. I'd like to see the building. I'm hoping MPS won't run out of money before necessary changes are made to accommodate little children in a former high school."

Meanwhile, on the South Side, at Ronald Reagan College Preparatory High School, there is a sigh of relief. No mention was made of the school in the facilities report.

While the plan was being prepared rumors swirled around the Reagan neighborhood and school community claiming all sorts of things would occur, from expanding the school to closing it, and nearly everything in between.

Some neighbors circulated fliers saying the district planned to turn it into a school for "juvenile delinquents" and worse.

"Given the general vibe of doom and gloom, Reagan is relieved to have nothing change," says parent Christina Ward. "The overcrowding is still a problem. But the real and easy solution is moving I.D.E.A.L. (a charter that shares the former Sholes Middle School with Reagan) out of the building. And that isn't happening. So everyone is in a relieved 'wait and hope' mode."

Ward says that she was amused by the reaction from students to the report.

"They focused on the page of the report that showed the returns of the surveys from the (public) meetings (about the facilities plan). They were like 'Woo hoo! We had the most people participate. We killed it'."

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