IMPROVING CHILDREN’S LIVES
By Bill Henk
Is Milwaukee Succeeds the vehicle to boost academic performance in the city? The dean of the College of Education says the answer this time may be — and must be — “yes.” There is no mistaking that the goal of Milwaukee Succeeds, the new broadbased community partnership aimed at “helping ALL children, in EVERY school from cradle to career,” is ambitious. Neither should there be any doubt that realizing this goal is vital to the future of our region. Now in my eighth year as dean of the College of Education at Marquette, I’ve seen my fair share of well-intended initiatives fall short of moving the needle of academic achievement very far for our school children. In this time, I’ve interacted with hundreds of concerned, talented and committed individuals and several advocacy groups seeking to make a positive difference. Clearly the community “will” has been there, and probably the “skill” as well, but what has been missing is a potent, integrated vehicle to extend whatever success has been attained to a systemic level. In contemporary terms, we haven’t taken success “to scale.” All of this begs the question of whether Milwaukee Succeeds represents that vehicle. As a member of Milwaukee Succeeds’ Leadership Council and its operations planning group, I’ve witnessed the initiative take shape in recent months. The 38 community organizations pulled together by the Greater Milwaukee Foundation form an impressive group. Major partners include the Greater Milwaukee Committee, United Way, Urban League and Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce. The leaders of those organizations and several other CEOs, as well as the presidents of many local colleges and universities, sit at the table. Even with that capacity, there are those in the community who question whether Milwaukee Succeeds can live up to its aspirations. Believe me, I understand the skepticism. The obstacles are formidable, with poverty foremost among
them, followed closely in my opinion by sharp political differences over how education should be delivered. How can such disparate interests work together toward a common end? It comes down to a simple premise — because we must. Giving rational school reform everything we have amounts to a matter of social, ethical and moral responsibility. The stakes are just too high. We’re losing young lives here at an unconscionable clip. Although the time to turn the corner is long overdue, it’s not too late. I honestly believe that our community now has its best chance to provide truly high-quality education for our school children. Milwaukee Succeeds looks to be one notable piece of the puzzle, but I’m also hopeful because of numerous factors, including the excellent executive leadership we now have in Milwaukee Public Schools and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, the work of Schools That Can Milwaukee and the Greater Milwaukee Catholic Education Consortium, and the resurgence of the Milwaukee Partnership Academy. And surely many other groups can and will contribute. Maybe I’m a hopeless optimist. Maybe I’m naïve and unrealistic. Maybe my educational expertise isn’t sufficient to anticipate how much can and will go wrong. Or maybe I just can’t bear the thought of failing the kids again. The harsh truth is this: If we don’t ALL pull together, then Milwaukee Succeeds and every other initiative face long odds. We can’t afford to be lukewarm. We must tackle the challenges head on regardless of how daunting they might be. We need to believe in the will and skill of the Milwaukee community, put our political differences aside, and passionately resolve to make our educational landscape vibrant once and for all. A version of this story ran in the Sunday opinion section of the Milwaukee Journal–Sentinel.