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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014

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A Maryland Avenue class photo from the 1940s.
A Maryland Avenue class photo from the 1940s.
Maryland in the 1890s.
Maryland in the 1890s.
And in the 2010s.
And in the 2010s.

The 127th first day of school

Lately, I've been posting historical photos of Maryland Avenue Montessori School to the Old Eastsiders group page on Facebook and garnering lots of great feedback. Many of the group members attended the school for at least a year or two, some of them non-stop from kindergarten through eighth grade, and the photographs conjure memories of all kinds.

They are part of a long tradition of public schooling in the heart of the East Side. As I saw kids and families going into the school today -- the opening day of the 2014-15 academic year (on the traditional calendar) at Milwaukee Public Schools -- I thought about their carrying forward this tradition.

Today, students and their parents walked into the school's doors, up its steps and into its classrooms for the 127th straight year. And on the same location, the tradition dates back further, to when the Common Council's Committee on Schools recommended the purchase of a frame building on the site for a school in 1865.

Six years later, a brick schoolhouse -- designed by architect Leonard Schmidtner, who also drew St. Stanislaus Church on the South Side -- was erected on the land. In 1887, the first phase of the current building opened, followed by major expansions in 1893 and 1951. It is that amalgamation that continues to serve Milwaukee children today.

It just might be the longest continuously operating school in the city, though there are a couple others that also compete for that title.

Public education is a tradition beyond the East Side, of course, and most of MPS' more than 150 schools all across the city swung open their doors today, welcoming kids of all colors, classes, religions and needs.

At the same time MPS is seeking tutors to help foster success in the schools. As the kids head back to school, please drive carefully when you see children present, please yield to crossing guards, please urge your elected officials to support public schools, please donate to a Milwaukee classroom and please lend a hand t…

The former McKinley School on 20th and Vliet looks like no other Milwaukee schoolhouse.
The former McKinley School on 20th and Vliet looks like no other Milwaukee schoolhouse.
The western portion is a classical addition from 1898.
The western portion is a classical addition from 1898.
The eastern portions are the oldest parts of this four-part complex.
The eastern portions are the oldest parts of this four-part complex.

Old McKinley School gets a hearing

In February, I wrote about the fact that the old McKinley School on 20th and Vliet is in danger of coming down. The details of that situation can be read here.

The school is an unusual one in Milwaukee and deserves to be saved. Ald. Bob Bauman, in whose district the old school is located, has petitioned the city's Historic Preservation Commission for historic designation.

The distinctive building, with broad, hipped roofs with cupolas and louvered lanterns, had been sold by MPS in the early 1980s to the private school and day care which ran it until a fire shut it down last year.

When I spoke to Ald. Bauman about the property in June he said he'd gone inside and found pipes had been looted and the building was in a poor state in general.

Carlen Hatala, of the city's historic preservation office, has been digging up history for the documentation of the building in preparation for the Sept. 8 hearing at City Hall.

Full details of the 3 p.m. hearing, including PDFs of the application for landmarking, letters to adjacent property owners, etc., can be found here. Check out the application for an extremely detailed description of the building's architecture.

For a time, I had thought the original building to be the work of Walter Holbrook, who designed the other District 15 school, nearby on 27th Street (now named for James Groppi). Sorting out the details of these old schools is often difficult due to quirky documentation and sometimes flat out erroneous info.

Last week, after I worked with Hatala -- who was diligently digging and who helped get to the bottom of what seems like the proper attribution -- she agreed that it's often challenging work.

"It is odd," she said, "(the Common Council) authorizes MPS to advertise for plans, etc.  Next thing they are approving the installation of a boiler.  The proceedings skip over the accepting of the plans, etc."

As for the fact that MPS' documentation suggested a different architect than Holbrook for 27th Street Scho…

The Beatles played in Milwaukee one time, on Sept. 4, 1964.
The Beatles played in Milwaukee one time, on Sept. 4, 1964.

30 minutes that shook Milwaukee

As the 50th anniversary of the Fab Four's only Milwaukee appearance nears, Milwaukee Public Television launches a 30-minute documentary about the Beatles' half-hour performance at the Milwaukee Arena, Sept. 4, 1964.

"The Beatles Invade Milwaukee" -- written, directed and produced by Raul Galvan -- tells the story of the Fab Four's one day in Milwaukee that would reverberate for a half a century.

Though there isn't a wealth of footage of the Beatles' appearance here, Galvan does a fine job of collecting film of John, Paul, George and Ringo at the airport, onstage at the Arena and, sans John -- who was suffering from laryngitis -- at a press conference held on the second floor of the Coach House hotel, where the band was staying.

He interweaves this footage with memorabilia, still photos and interviews with the well-known -- like former WOKY DJ Bob Barry, and chart historian Joel Whitburn -- to the fans, as well as cultural historian Dr. Diana Belscamper and two of the daughters of the late Nick Topping, who promoted the Milwaukee concert.

 Though their visit was brief, the Beatles arrived in Milwaukee at the height of Beatlemania, just months after the landmark appearances on "The Ed Sullivan Show."

As Belscamper notes, "they were part of Milwaukee, if only for one day."

But it was a day that would live in the memories of fans for decades. One of the half-dozen or so fans interviewed says, "to this day it's a really big deal. One of the best days of my life."

You can get a peek at "The Beatles Invade Milwaukee" on Wednesday, Aug. 27. There will be two screenings, at 6 and 7 p.m. Admission is free, but seating is limited, so arrive early. After each screening, Barry, Galvan and others will take part in an audience Q&A.

The documentary will debut on channel 10 at 9 p.m., Monday, Sept. 1. It airs again at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 4 on channel 10 and Saturday, Sept. 6 at 10 p.m. on channel 36. 

MPS will roll out the first day of school carpet for kindergarteners on a staggered schedule next week.
MPS will roll out the first day of school carpet for kindergarteners on a staggered schedule next week.

MPS staggers start of school to help youngest students feel at home

Taking something of a page from the book of the district’s successful public Montessori schools, all MPS schools this year will use a staggered start to help introduce primary-aged children to their schools.

In the past, the Montessori schools -- whose K3, K4 and K5 kids share classrooms -- welcomed K5 students on the first day of school and every few days, over the course of a week and a half, phased in a few more K3 and K4 students until all students were together in their classrooms.

The idea of the staggered start is that it allows teachers to focus more on a smaller group of kids to help get them accustomed to their classrooms, schools and procedures. It also helps teachers and children to get acquainted more quickly.

This year, all MPS 3-, 4- and 5-year-old kindergarteners will begin on one of three days: the first day of school for programs on the standard academic calendar, Tuesday, Sept 2; Wednesday, Sept. 3; or Thursday, Sept. 4.

But they’re not phasing in. Instead, these students -- including Head Start and special needs students -- will have their second day of school on Friday, Sept. 5. That means some will start on Sept. 2 and have two days off before returning. Others will begin on Wednesday with a break on Thursday before heading back to school Friday.

That's an important fact for parents, who will have to be sure to arrange child care for a day or two they may have expected their kids to be in school.

The district's six public Montessori schools are still allowed to use the phase-in method, but must complete it by Friday, Sept. 5, rather than taking a week and a half to do it, as in the past.

"It's critical for our youngest students to experience a positive transition from home to school and staggered start is one way we are committed to making that happen," MPS Acting Superintendent Dr. Darienne Driver said in a statement released today.

Schools are communicating the staggered start procedure to families and it is important to note that…