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

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Fernwood Montessori has a stone labyrinth, a garden and a greenhouse on its grounds.
Fernwood Montessori has a stone labyrinth, a garden and a greenhouse on its grounds.
Brown Street Academy's green playground is a finalist for an award.
Brown Street Academy's green playground is a finalist for an award.
The rain garden at Maryland Avenue Montessori, shown here under construction this past summer, has beautified a busy intersection.
The rain garden at Maryland Avenue Montessori, shown here under construction this past summer, has beautified a busy intersection.

Every school surrounded by a park

In 1911, Danish-born landscape architect Jens Jensen, who left a lasting imprint on the upper Midwest, wrote of the school playground, "It belongs to the school and should not be conducted as a separate institution. Each gains from an association with the other. The playground gives the school building a setting which it too often lacks, and forms a kind of outdoor gymnasium."

Even a century ago, Jensen understood that the schoolyard could be both an area of recreation and exercise and of learning. It could offer an outdoor classroom.

Nearly 30 years later, still pondering the relationship between schools, pupils and playgrounds, Jensen opined that, "Each school should be surrounded with a park so the boy and girl from early youth until it leaves this educational center can come in contact with the living green, the perfume and color of flowers, the refreshing shade of trees and the song of the birds."

Green schoolyards, Jensen said, would improve the lives of more than just the school community.

"What a change there would be in the whole life of our people when this bit of native beauty could penetrate into these homes. The park areas around the schools could also be a place where mother and father could enjoy the starry evenings under the heavens and not be blinded by the electric light that hounds them from evening until dawn."

Jensen believed schoolyards should be planted with native trees and species and that they should be open to the entire neighborhood.

I've been thinking about these words recently, as I've been noticing a trend in Milwaukee.

In recent years, I've written about the greening of the three-acre concrete  playground at Maryland Avenue Montessori, which opened in September. On a rainy day like today, the garden was holding a lot of water, making clear it's environmental value. Every day, it's obvious to passersby that the green space that was once a parking lot has helped beautify the neighborhood.

Last week,…

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The 10th annual Daddy/Daughter Dance is slated for Feb. 16 at North Division.
The 10th annual Daddy/Daughter Dance is slated for Feb. 16 at North Division. (Photo: shutterstock.com)

Doin' the Daddy/Daughter Dance

Children affect us in profound ways – it's true. But they also affect us in myriad little ways.

For example, I'm a drummer, but I'm no dancer. I'm too self-conscious and clumsy – a deadly combination on the dance floor. But then my daughter arrived.

We dance all the time lately. Sometimes in that crazy Peanuts sorta way, while a CD plays. Sometimes we just hug and move around a little and call it dancing. Sometimes, like the other night while we were making dinner, I lift her up and we do something like a waltz. On the most recent occasion, we're pretty sure our neighbor saw us through our facing kitchen windows, which made us laugh.

Maybe I should have seen it coming. Every year I get the Milwaukee Rec's press release for the annual Daddy/Daughter Dance at North Division and it makes me go, "awwww." Each year since my daughter's arrival, I momentarily ponder attending before thinking she might be a bit young.

This year's event – organized with Milwaukee Fatherhood Initiative and the Social Development Commission – is slated for Saturday, Feb. 16 from 5 to 8 p.m. at North Division, 1011 W. Center St., and once again I thought about going, but I think she's still a little young, though I don't really know the average age of the daughters (or the daddies).

"The Daddy/Daughter Dance is a chance for fathers and daughters to dress up and enjoy a great evening together," says MPS Recreation Supervisor Cedric Banks. "This event provides a great way for young ladies to strengthen their relationships with their fathers. We also encourage grandfathers, uncles, and other adult males who are father figures to sign up with the special little ladies in their lives."

Though I won't be there this year, I hope the daddies and daughters in attendance do a little waltzing – authentic or not – a little crazy Charlie Brown dancing and a whole lot of hugging.

Admission is $30 per couple, and up to two additional children may attend for $5 each…

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That is one of the best fish fries I've had in a long time.
That is one of the best fish fries I've had in a long time.
Even at lunch it comes with a hearty helping of New England clam chowder and marble rye.
Even at lunch it comes with a hearty helping of New England clam chowder and marble rye.

Packing it in at a fish fry landmark

My never-ending quest for the perfect fish fry – which, by my definition, includes potato pancakes – took me to an admittedly obvious spot last week.

The Packing House, 900 E. Layton Ave., is not only not a secret, it's the opposite of a secret. But, I admit, I'd never made it over to the restaurant across from the airport, to give it a try.

Part of what kept me away is the restaurant's reputation for popularity, which I've always assumed means long wait times. The snaking row of cars waiting for service at the Friday night drive-thru did nothing to assuage that trepidation.

But then I learned a few things. First, you can get the dinner fish fry at lunch. Second, reservations are accepted. Third, Friday nights don't really get busy until about 6:30. So, if, like me, you have little kids and fear a wait. Any of these options could prove useful.

I went over for lunch on Friday and had the perch fry, which is $14.95 and worth every penny, though, I admit, like many, I rarely want to spend $14.95 on lunch.

However, my lunch consisted of a big cup of great New England clam chowder and a bread of marble rye, two of the best potato pancakes I've had and three butterflied pieces of perch. Of course, there were the attendant sauces: apple and tartar, and lemon wedges.

The perch comes breaded and while three pieces doesn't sound like much, look at the photo above and you'll see that each piece is really two. The breading is crisp and blessedly free of grease, the fish tasty and flaky.

The potato pancakes are about hockey puck-sized but share no other traits with that hard rubber piece of sports equipment. They're dense without being tough and dry; they're lightly peppered and thoroughly satisfying.

Your humble scribe packs a pretty powerful appetite and this meal would fill me up on any day of the week. Alas, I can only enjoy it on a Friday. But, fortunately, I now know that there are a few ways I can dig in without sitting in the lo…

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Fernwood Montessori? That's an 8.
Fernwood Montessori? That's an 8.

Great Schools rankings may challenge your notions of local choices

Last week, I spied a copy of the new Great Schools school finder which rates all the area public, charter and private schools to help parents make informed choices.

The schools get a number rating, from 1 to 10, based on test scores, school climate and improvement. The rankings are also online.

Despite keeping an eye out, I haven't yet found a copy of my own so that I can really sink my teeth into the ratings. But today, a reader and concerned Milwaukee parent contacted me to share a little number crunching achieved with the new school finder.

The results may surprise you.

His analysis showed that of the K-8 and K-5 schools  earning a 5 or better on the overall rating:

  • 32 are in MPS
  • 9 are private schools
  • 9 are chartered through MPS
  • 6 are chartered through UWM or the City of Milwaukee

Three of those MPS schools scored 8 or above and one private school and one independent charter got 9s.

Among high schools scoring 4 or above:

  • 5 are in MPS (all offering moderate to intensive special education services)
  • 4 are private (three of the schools offer no special education services, the fourth offers basic services)
  • 1 is an independent charter that offers only basic special ed services