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Valerie June met the kids at MPS' Lancaster Elementary in September. She'll see them again today before her gig at Turner Hall.
Valerie June met the kids at MPS' Lancaster Elementary in September. She'll see them again today before her gig at Turner Hall.

At Turner Hall, Valerie June reunites with friends from MPS' Lancaster School

Folk-blues singer/songwriter Valerie June plays at Turner Hall Ballroom at 8 tonight as part of the tour for her anticipated new record, "The Order of Time."

But I’m pretty sure the best moment of the day will come when she welcomes about 15 kids from MPS’ Lancaster Elementary School to the venue at 4:30 p.m. to watch her soundcheck and then spend some time at a meet-and-greet.

The event was organized as part of the Turnaround Arts program of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities. Four MPS schools – Lancaster, MLK, Sherman Creative Arts and Roosevelt Middle School of the Arts – participate in the program, which integrates art, dance, music, theater and more across other subject areas.

The meet-and-greet will be something of a reunion because June visited Lancaster Elementary, a K3-8 school near 68th and Hampton, in September. That’s when the photo you see above was taken.

At the school, June performed and talked to kids, who had been researching June and her music for a couple weeks – drawing pictures of and writing essays about her.

June’s connection to Lancaster via the Turnaround Arts program is expected to last two years, during which time she will continue to visit and connect with kids whenever possible.

MPS' MacDowell Montessori at the Juneau Campus hosts a candidate forum this week.
MPS' MacDowell Montessori at the Juneau Campus hosts a candidate forum this week.

Parents for Public Schools hosts school board candidate forum Wednesday night

Four of the nine seats on the Milwaukee Board of School Directors are up for grabs on April 4, and there are two candidates vying for each.

To help voters get to know the candidates, Parents for Public Schools of Milwaukee hosts a candidate forum Wednesday, Feb. 15, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at MacDowell Montessori School at the Juneau campus, 6415 W. Mount Vernon Ave.

The program will also include a brief workshop on the proposed 2017-19 Wisconsin budget.

In District 4, Aisha Carr will challenge incumbent Annie Woodward; in District 5, incumbent Larry Miller faces Kahri Phelps Okoro; Tony Baez and Jonathan Zuniga are seeking the seat representing District 6, being vacated by Tati Joseph; and in District 7, Joey Balistreri and Paula Phillips are running for the seat currently occupied by Claire Zautke, who, like Joseph, was elected in 2013 and has declined to seek re-election.

"We can’t think of a more important way to celebrate ‘I Love My Public School’ week in Wisconsin than by meeting eight people who want to help shape policy and success for our district’s children," said PPS-MKE President Jennifer Hofschulte in a statement.

"We know that Milwaukee’s future is tied to the success of our public schools. Let’s see where the candidates agree, and don’t, on a way forward for Milwaukee Public Schools."

Doors open at 5:30 p.m. and PPS-MKE says that candidates will respond to questions posed by PPS and audience members, "about the challenges facing Wisconsin’s largest school district, how parents can support and engage with the district, funding issues and more."

School board elections are held every two years for four-year terms. In 2015, voters re-elected Mark Sain (District 1), Michael Bonds (District 3) and Terry Falk (Member at large), and picked new directors in District 2 (Wendell Harris, replacing Jeff Spence) and District 8 (Carol Voss, replacing Meagan Holman).

Because no more than two candidates are running for any of the open seats, there …

What will become of this beautiful old schoolhouse?
What will become of this beautiful old schoolhouse?

This place matters: McKinley School

Last year, the Department of City Development asked me to take a selfie in front of a building that I believe matters to Milwaukee as part of a campaign to draw attention to Milwaukee’s architectural richness, and threatened examples of it.

I didn’t even stop to think.

I took the sign to 20th and Vliet and had my kid snap a photo of me in front of the old McKinley School (aka Cold Spring Avenue School, aka 15th Ward School, aka District 15, aka District 2).

Built in the 1880s, the building was sold by MPS to a private day care and school operator a century later.

This place matters to me because:

  1. I love old schoolhouses.
  2. There is no other schoolhouse in Milwaukee that looks anything like this one; it is thoroughly unique.
  3. It is the rare schoolhouse designed by Fred Seyring, who also designed, well, not much else that I can find. He did apparently work as a county surveyor from 1886 until at least 1888, right after he’d have designed McKinley, perhaps as part of a plan to create a model schoolhouse design that could be replicated (but never was).
  4. It’s a beautiful building, despite its ragged condition.
  5. It’s an important part of the neighborhood’s history, as the place where tens of thousands of area kids spent much of their childhood over its many years of operation.
  6. It has personal meaning for me, too, though I’ve never stepped inside. Driving past frequently, it became the first school – other than their own – that my kids could identify by name. And they still do. Like me, they still seem excited to see it. While many interesting places fly by unobserved, they always look at it out the windows as we drive past and say, "there’s McKinley!"

(PHOTO: Courtesy Milwaukee Department of City Development)

I’ve written about McKinley in the past, and about its historic designation (thanks to Ald. Bob Bauman), and you can read the report (PDF) written by the city’s amazing historian Carlen Hatala here. All the background on its history…

Helen Levitt's photographs span about seven decades of New York City history.
Helen Levitt's photographs span about seven decades of New York City history.

New York City people watching - at Milwaukee Art Museum

You can take the boy out of New York but you can’t take New York out of the boy. Long after I left the Big Apple, I still visit often, read tons of books about the city and its history and, as I was reminded last week during a visit to Milwaukee Art Museum, I can stand and stare at images of the city for a really, really long time.

A pair of shows on view in the museum’s Herzfeld Center for Photography and Media Arts galleries on the lower level focus on the city.

"James Nares: In the City" captures New York City street life in a pair of films made in the city by British artist James Nares.

The black and white "Pendulum," from 1976 is an exploration of movement and repetition that follows a concrete ball as it swings over a TriBeCa street. Because of its gritty monochrome Super 8 film and the street’s almost timeless New York appearance, the film looks as though it could’ve been made at almost anytime since the birth of the medium.

More engrossing for me was Nares’ 2011 "Street," a high-def video that allows us to people watch via a stream of almost hypnotic and often painterly images.

But it was the more than 40 works by photographer Helen Levitt in "Helen Levitt: In the Street" that really drew me in. Levitt’s work, which spans the 1930s to the first decade of the 2000s, is the ultimate in New York City people watching.

She captures children playing, folks strolling, others seated on their stoops or on chairs on the sidewalk. There are folks hanging out windows, shopkeepers, lovers. Levitt often photographed people surreptitiously using a right-angle lens.

I recognize places and types. When I see images from the 1970s, my memory is juiced. When I see kids playing on the street in a 1940 image, I see my dad. When I see 1930s images, I look for my grandparents. Though I never find them specifically, I find their neighbors, perhaps their friends and co-workers.

I devour the architecture in the backgrounds, the urban landscapes, the disappeared…